Ski areas grow bigger and wealthier

TRUCKEE, Calif. – The sale of Squaw Valley by Nancy Cushing, widow of the resort’s founder, Alex Cushing, has once again put a spotlight on the finances of ski areas.

Earlier this year, Northstar-at-Tahoe was sold to Vail Resorts, giving it two ski areas in the Tahoe Basin. Now, Squaw has been sold to KSL Capital Partners, which is composed of two former executives from Vail Resorts.

Taking measure of the business, Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association, points out that increased lift ticket sales have led to higher revenues.

“It’s a business with significant cash flows,” he tells theNorthern Nevada Business Weekly. “By and large, the industry does very well from a financial standpoint, and that is why we are seeing interest from groups like Vail and KSL, who have looked around and chosen to be involved in major destination resorts.”

After a long period of stagnation, the U.S. ski industry has spurted in recent years from about 52 million annual skier days to 60 million skier days.

Larger corporations can do well because of the benefits of buying power.

“Vail Resorts has an outstanding centralized marketing machine,” says Andy Wirth, the chief executive at Squaw Valley. Until August, he was also a competitor of Vail’s in Colorado while working as marketing boss for Steamboat.

Eric Resnick, managing director for KSL Capital Partners, tells the newspaper that he believes there will always be a place for smaller, family owned entrepreneurial businesses.

“If you have a loyal following and put out a good product, you will be successful,” he said. “It’s simply a matter of scale.”

He said as resorts become larger, they are more capital intensive and that can be challenging for a resort that is family owned.

Ski Cooper pushes for expansion

LEADVILLE – Ski Cooper is the essence of a small, family owned ski area – except that the family is Lake County, where it is primarily located.

Now, as has happened periodically through the years, the community is debating whether to try to expand the ski area to draw more business.

The ski area straddles the Continental Divide, about 10 miles from Leadville and 25 miles from Vail. The gentle slopes are forgiving to beginners. Plenty of soldiers during World War II learned to ski there, as it was requisitioned for use by the 10th Mountain Division.

It’s the sort of ski area that, not so many years ago, had unheated privies at the top of the hill. The cafeteria at the base serves nothing fancier than burritos, and parking for the first arrivals can be had just a few dozen steps from the lift.

The ski area is owned by Lake County, which hasn’t boomed since the Climax Molybdenum Mine closed down 30 years ago. Leadville instead became a bedroom community for Vail/Beaver Creek and Summit County.

Now, reportsThe Denver Post, there is a new push from some factions in the community to expand the ski area. The most obvious expansion would be onto the slopes of nearby Chicago Ridge, where cat skiing has been offered for about 20 years.

“We want to see them do things that get people to come to town,” said Mike Collins, founder of the Friends for Change at Cooper Hill. “It’s happening at ski areas like Monarch and Wolf Creek. It should happen at Ski Cooper.”

The quasi-independent governing board that has operated Ski Cooper since 1984 has been cautious. Ski Cooper punctually closes on Easter, even in those years when snow remains superb for weeks after. Since 1992, the board has paid $5.5 million in cash for upgrades.

About a decade ago, there was a push to build housing adjacent to the ski area, similar to destination ski areas. That idea fell apart.

TheLeadville Herald-Democrat says 200 people showed up last week at a meeting about whether to give the governing board an eight-year contract extension. The newspaper suggests more transparency should be a provision of any such contract.

Martina suffers pulmonary edema

NAIROBI, Kenya — Former tennis star Martina Navratilova was released from a hospital Sunday after suffering from the effects of thin air on Kilimanjaro.

An Associated Press story published byThe Aspen Times, where she once owned a home, said she was forced to turn back after reaching nearly 14,800 feet on the 19,341-foot mountain.

“I didn’t feel badly, I just couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t get a full breath of air,” Navratilova said shortly after her release from the Nairobi hospital. “Nothing hurt, and for an athlete that’s weird. Nothing hurt but I (couldn’t) go on.”

The lungs of people with pulmonary edema fill with fluid in some cases when there is low oxygen. Victims usually recover with no long-term effects if promptly removed to lower elevations. It sometimes affects people at elevations as low as 8,000 feet.

Navratilova was climbing Kilimanjaro as the most famous of 27 climbers in a bid to raise money and awareness for the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation.

Aspen plans more employee housing

ASPEN – Aspen and Snowmass Village have plenty of spare bedrooms at the moment. So, the Aspen Skiing Co. had no trouble filling out its peak season employment roster of 3,500 for its four ski areas and associated enterprises.

Just the same, the company continues its effort to add employee housing, reportsThe Aspen Times. The company plans to add 600 “beds” to the existing 550 in Aspen and other locations in the Roaring Fork Valley. Some units are for seasonal employees, but the company also has built single-family and other housing types for year-round workers.

Company officials tell the newspaper that when the national unemployment rate falls below 6 percent, Aspen has trouble filling all its positions. The national rate currently hovers at slightly less than 10 percent.

The Times notes that tight housing has been the norm in Aspen for decades, and those periods of easy vacancies are rare and short-lived.

Jackson debates two types of highway

JACKSON, Wyo. – Information highways? Yes! Four-lane highways? No! That would seem to be the common theme in rural parts of the West. Those that are lagging in bandwidth want more, more, more. Actual highways are a different matter.

State highway officials in Wyoming’s Teton County want to expand the existing two-lane highway south of Jackson to five lanes. County commissioners instead see a medley of three, four and five lanes. They may sue the state. They are particularly concerned that the wider highway would be less permeable to wildlife.

Local officials, meanwhile, are also considering a proposal for 120 miles of fiber-optic line across the county and into Idaho.

The new line would increase Internet speeds five-fold - 100-fold, reports theJackson Hole News&Guide. It would also provide redundancy. Earlier this year, cell phone service was lost for 26 hours when a flash flood several hundred miles away severed a cable.

Revelstoke developer unveils vision

REVELSTOKE, B.C. – Developer Ender Ilkay has previewed what he hopes to build on a 5,200-acre property he obtained from a bankrupt forestry company.

The plans include 722 units – a mixture of cottages and home sites on larger lots, plus various amenities, in a year-round resort community, he told a crowd of several dozen in Revelstoke. TheRevelstoke Times Review points out that for the plans to unfold, Ilkay will have to get the land rezoned.

Vail, Aspen markets surpass $1 billion

ASPEN – A more vigorous real estate economy has been evident in the Vail and Aspen areas this year. Eagle County, where Vail is located, surpassed $1.25 billion through October, while Pitkin County and Aspen were a few steps behind at $1.02 billion. Both had dropped below $1 billion last year.

– Allen Best

In this week's issue...

July 21, 2022
Wildlife success or deal with the devil?

Land swap approved in Southwest Colorado, but not without detractors

July 21, 2022
Tapping out

The latest strategy to save the San Luis Valley's shrinking aquifer: paying farmers not to farm

July 14, 2022
Hey, good environmental news

Despite SCOTUS ruling, San Juan Generating Station plans to shut down