West sees strong signs of recovery

BROOMFIELD – Vail Resorts, with four ski areas in Colorado and one in California, reports increased revenues during this ski season compared to the season prior. Chief executive Rob Katz said the company saw lots of lucrative destination visitors, especially during spring break and at Easter.

As a result, lift ticket revenue increased 4.6 percent, ski school revenues rose 8.3 percent, and rental and retail revenue was 8.1 percent greater. Overall, skier visits were up 2.3 percent at the five resorts.

Because of the improvement in revenue, said Katz, the company has reinstated some of the wages and benefits that had been cut last year. Year-round employees got a 2 percent wage increase plus partial reinstatement of 401(k) matches.

Business also picked up in Park City, with city officials estimating gross receipts growing 5.8 percent compared to the last ski season.

Bookseller Liza Simpson told theSalt Lake Tribune that she did even better. “The store was busy all winter. Overall, it wasn’t anything to start a parade about, but it’s moving in the right direction.”

Ski season proved more lucrative than most people had feared. But there has been a change. Visitors on ski vacations continue to buy lift tickets, but they haven’t been spending as freely on eating and shopping, explained Bill Malone, executive director of the Park City Chamber of Commerce.

“The (rebounding stock) market has helped, but there is still a little bit of a gut-check when it comes to vacations spending,” he said.

As in other ski towns, hoteliers reported improved occupancies but at lower prices. “The net came out pretty much on a par with last year,” Malone told theTribune.

Up in Jackson, Wyo., more evidence has arrived of the modest growth in real-estate sales. TheJackson Hole Report, a quarterly real-estate analysis for Teton County and adjoining areas, reports 137 percent more sales for January, February and March as compared with 2009.

Report authors David Viehman and his daughter, Devon Wheeldon, warn against too much excitement. There were 67 sales this year compared with 29 last year for the same period. But before the market tumble, they were up to 219 sales.

Moreover, increased sales don’t immediately mean increased prices. Some prices are back to 2004 levels, according to their report. They also note the most dramatic improvement was in the market for condos and townhomes. But they also observe that many sales were for distressed properties, meaning the properties were sold for less than owners owed the bank, were foreclosures, or were bank owned.

And over in Steamboat Springs and Routt County, real estate sales improved during March. Sales doubled, owing largely to entry-level and move-up sales, Land Title Guarantee Co. reported. TheSteamboat Pilot also notes some sales in the higher-end market of $2.5 million and higher.


Aspen doctor to sell ‘affordable’ home

ASPEN – An obstetrician and gynecologist who works part-time in Aspen has been ordered to sell his deed-restricted affordable housing because he hasn’t spent enough time in Aspen.

Because the house was built through a city-subsidized program intended to provide housing for the local workforce, it must be occupied a minimum of 275 days a year. But the doctor, Kenton Bruice, also worked in Denver and failed to meet that threshold.

The Aspen Times reports that directors of the municipal agency that oversee the housing program said he must try to sell the house. However, it’s possible that the doctor may come into compliance while the house is on the market by shifting his work commitments or by putting the house in the name of his wife, who does spend more time in Aspen.

The deed restriction caps the amount of appreciation, keeping it relatively affordable – if, as in this case, what is affordable to a

doctor is very different from what might be affordable to a bookkeeper or chef. The cap in this case is $1.4 million. However, the doctor may not be able to sell it immediately. Demand for deed-restricted housing, like all real estate, remains soft.

The Times reports that the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority spends $145,000 annually investigating complaints that people have abused the system. Tom McCabe, the director, denies the perception that the program is “rife with abuse.”

During the last three years, 88 allegations of infractions were filed, resulting in 25 owners of deed-restricted housing and 14 renters being ordered to sell or vacate.


Clean air act rankles Steamboat miners

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Oh, what a tangled web even something as simple as clean air can be. Consider the new law in Colorado that seeks to curb coal-fired generation at several plants in the Denver-Boulder area.

The law provides a framework that allows Xcel Energy the latitude to switch out two or three aging coal-fired power plants with natural gas.

Natural gas, when burned, produces fewer pollutants such as nitrous oxide and sulfur oxide, mercury, and particulate matter. Further, it produces 40 to 50 percent less carbon dioxide than coal for an equivalent amount of energy.

Everybody should love this, right?

However, much of the coal for the power plants comes from a mine near Steamboat Springs at Twentymile Park. Company officials say that the reduced demand will cause anywhere from 125 to 200 employees to be laid off, and those employees make $90,000 - $100,000 a year, when benefits are included.

Conversion of the plants may cause an increase in drilling for natural gas – conceivably in the San Juan Basin near Durango, the Piceance Basin west of Vail and Aspen, and even in Wyoming’s Jonah Field south of Jackson Hole. None of this is ever simple.


Truckee Rotarians take up composting

TRUCKEE, Calif. – One of Truckee’s larger annual events is the Rotary Club’s crab feed and auction. This year 450 people attended. And, had it been like last year’s event, a big dumpster would have been needed for all the trash.

This year, they did things differently. Writing in theSierra Sun, a town official explains that compostable eating utensils were purchased and volunteers staffed zero-waste stations.

Partygoers sorted their trash into 36 bags for composting, 18 for recycling and 3 for trash. Only the latter will go to the landfill.


Canmore aims to grow tourism 10%

CANMORE, Alberta – Canmore’s municipal government has issued a report calling for a 10 percent growth in tourism by 2015. Among the drivers identified in the report is the often-mentioned, loosely defined health and wellness sector. The report also sees business growth based on knowledge-based and arts sector specialists. But the report did not identify a link between sports-recreation and increased tourism. City officials identified this absence as a crucial omission, reports theRocky Mountain Outlook.

– Allen Best



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows