Bargains boost tourism recovery

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Lodges in ski towns are getting fuller even if hoteliers aren’t necessarily getting richer. Tourists are continuing to pick over the market for bargains.

At Incline Village, on the shores of Lake Tahoe, bookings are tracking up 10 to 15 percent compared to last year at Vacation Station, a collection of 100 cabins, condominiums and rental homes. Reservations had dipped 35 to 40 percent two years ago.

But profits have lagged, says Don Cauley, general manager. “We are giving up revenue in order to get people to come back,” he tells theNorthern Nevada Business Weekly. “We are recovering somewhat, but we are nowhere near where we were two or three years ago.”

Snowfall will probably push or drag the rate of recovery.

“Eventually, snow will really get into the equation – this time of year we start to do the snow dance,” said Les Pederson, of the lodging property Squaw Creek.

Snow is already part of the equation at Steamboat Springs, where the ski area was heading into Thanksgiving with a third of the snow it received for the entire winter last year. With snow on their side and the economy edging forward, Steamboat ski officials hope for a strong winter. But, theSteamboat Pilot reports that local government officials aren’t so sure.

They assume fewer sales tax collections because there will be 11 percent fewer available passenger seats on incoming flights. Fewer seats are available this winter because the community had to cut back on its revenue guarantees – the result of having to pay out guarantees over the last two winters, when fewer people were flying.

One Steamboat lodging agency is offering gas coupons of $50 to $100, depending upon length of stay, hoping to nudge skiers into driving.

The Aspen Times reports that lodges there also continue to sweeten the deal. The Little Nell hotel, a high-profile, high-rent property operated by the Aspen Skiing Co., is offering free lift tickets and extra nights. The St. Regis also has add-ons.

“I think everybody is out there looking for a deal, even those who don’t need a deal,” said John Speers, general manager of the Little Nell.

Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a reservations agency, reports a hotel industry saying that three-star guests can afford five-star accommodations at four-star prices.

The average daily rate for rooms booked by Stay Aspen Snowmass fell from $440 two winters ago to $383 last winter, mostly because of free days tacked onto multi-day deals. But hoteliers have been reluctant to actually discount room rates for fear of consumer resistance if the economy starts charging like the bulls of Pamplona.

The average daily rate charged by hotels in mountain resorts of the West dropped 9 percent two winters ago and 6 percent last season, according to the Mountain Travel Research Program. Where will prices end up this winter? Tomcich says it’s too soon to tell.

But with new five- and four-star hotels opening this winter or last in Vail, Deer Valley, Northstar, Telluride and Snowmass, it’s a good time to be a well-heeled penny-pincher.

Tahoe snowpack could fall by half

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – A new study by scientists at the University of California Davis attempts to provide a glimpse of the changing climate for the Lake Tahoe Basin over the next 90 years.

If you’re a skier, it doesn’t look good.

The study notes that there will probably be just as much precipitation, maybe even more. But in some years, all of it may come in the form of rain. Altogether, the snowpack may decline 40 to 60 percent on average, and runoff may come up to six weeks earlier.

“While there is always some uncertainty when projecting this far into the future, the results appear reasonable,” said John Reuter, associate director of the Tahoe Environmental Research Center, an operation of the university.

The $260,000 study, paid for by federal land agencies, provides environmental managers and scientists with their first detailed glimpse of the potential impact of climate change on precipitation

runoff, water quality and plant and animal resources in Lake Tahoe, Reuter said.

The report, entitledThe Effects of Climate Change on Lake Tahoe in the 21st Century: Meteorology, Hydrology, Loading and Lake Response, also says that the clarity of the lake, already a concern, could worsen this century.

Airports upgrade for regional jets

ASPEN – Airports in both Telluride and Aspen expect to be capable of handling a new generation of planes by this time next year.

In Telluride, the airport runway has been leveled and lengthened at a cost of $50 million. Now, the terminal must be expanded to allow waiting room for passengers going through security.

But before more money is spent, the Telluride-Montrose Regional Air Organization wants evidence that airlines will schedule flights to the airport. The organization will be talking with airlines in spring.

Also being considered at Telluride is whether commercial flights can be allowed after dark, say to 10 p.m., while excluding general aviation planes.

In Aspen, the runway will be expanded by 1,000 feet next summer at a cost of $14.5 million. Airport officials tellThe Aspen Times they are confident of funding by the Federal Aviation Administration, which normally pays 95 percent of such expansions, using taxes collected on passengers, freight, and jet fuel.

Resort and airport officials have long wanted the extension, as it will allow planes to take off with more weight, including passengers. This will become particularly crucial in summer, when the warm air of afternoons causes planes to carry fewer passengers. But this will also make the airport accessible to more types of regional jets.

Vail jail has too few customers

EAGLE – In 2008, when Eagle County commissioners voted to spend nearly $33 million to expand the jail by a third, to accommodate 120 prisoners, the curve lines all showed an uphill slope.

A report in theVail Daily suggests that there were an average 96 prisoners then. But this year there have been an average of 58. The commissioners are closing the jail until business picks up.

“We were housing an average of 20 prisoners per day outside the county,” explains Commissioner Peter Runyon of the decision in 2008 to build the jail expansion.

“Will we need it (the added prison cells and beds) at some point in the future? You betcha,” he said. “In two years or less, we may have to reopen it.”

The newspaper seems to disagree on the economics of the deal, however. It points out that prisoners could be out-sourced to other jails for 27 years before the cost of doing so would catch up with cost of jail construction. That, however, assumes no growth in number of prisoners – defying the trend line for the last 50 years.

Ketchum’s final bar bans smoking

KETCHUM, Idaho – Ketchum’s last – and oldest – bar has succumbed to the marketplace and banned smoking.

The Casino – which went into business in 1920, 16 years before Averell Harriman’s Union Pacific Railroad created North America’s first destination ski resort – banned butts a week before Thanksgiving.

A bartender tells theIdaho Mountain Express that smoking was causing the bar to lose customers. To announce the ban, the bar placed posters on the wall alongside images of a stern-looking Arnold Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger, a frequent Ketchum/Sun Valley visitor, ironically has a well-known fondness for stogies.

Aspen ski areas go with local beef

ASPEN – The Aspen Skiing Co. has announced that this season it will be using only locally produced, grass-fed beef for hamburgers at all of its 17 food-vending operations.

The company also announced it will use only fair-trade certified organic coffee and cooking oils with zero trans fat. It also vows that all disposables will be either recycled or composted.

Vail Resorts several years ago launched something similar, with a push toward organic ingredients at its eateries.

Hundreds apply for handful of jobs

WHISTLER, B.C. – Job openings are scarce going into ski season at Whistler.

Pique Newsmagazine reports 300 people waiting in freezing temperatures in pursuit of the 20 jobs at a food-and-beverage business called Garfinkel’s.

At the Garibaldi Lift Co., 600 people were interviewed for 17 available positions, with just five minutes per interview. “It was a bit of a gong show that day,” said the company manager, Derek Pretty.

Whistler owners view new bottom line

WHISTLER, B.C. – Taking stock of the sale that now makes Intrawest and its parent, Fortress, a minority owner of the Whistler-Blackcomb ski areas, Bob Barnett sees plenty of upside for his hometown of Whistler.

Barnett, editor and publisher ofPique Newsmagazine, notes that ski area operations at Whistler had been consistently profitable for Intrawest, but with little return investment. Now, that money cannot be siphoned off to prop up less stable resort operations, he notes.

Identities of the stock purchasers in the new holding company that now owns 75 percent of the ski areas have not yet been revealed, but Barnett, after examining the list of officers, sees good local and ski industry representation.

“It is not 100 percent local ownership of Whistler Blackcomb, but the board … should bring a broader perspective of the operation of Whistler Blackcomb than simply the bottom line,” he writes.

– Allen Best



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January 25, 2024
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January 26, 2024
Paper chase

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January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows