Great Recession hits resorts hard

VAIL – The rubble of the Great Recession continues to grow as restaurants close and buses shrink schedules in mountain valleys of the West. But here and there are glints of optimism.

At Minturn, a restaurant called Chili Willy’s has closed after 27 years of operation. Owner Al Brown said he had been making a little money, but at the expense of too many 16-hour days during the last two years. “If I thought (the economy) was going to turn around quickly, I might have kept it going,” Brown told theVail Daily.

At Snowmass Village, a similar story was told. “I ran out of money,” explained Butch Darden, proprietor of Butch’s Lobster Bar for the last 18 years. He estimated that business was “probably 60 percent of what it once was.”

Darden may have compounded his problems by opening another restaurant last year at Basalt, a down-valley town. It, too, has closed, reportsThe Aspen Times.

In the Vail area, the Economic Council of Eagle County found that about a third of local businesses had job openings last winter, down from about two-thirds two winters before. Most local businesses also slashed benefits and hours, said Tsu Wolin-Brown, executive director of the Vail Valley Salvation Army.

With construction of two major resort complexes in Vail now ended, 200 retail-sector jobs will be added. But the jobs are apples to oranges, notes Jim Lamont, executive director of the Vail Homeowners’ Association. “A construction worker could get $50 an hour whereas a service worker is lucky to get $15 an hour,” he said.

HJackson ole talks lodging tax

JACKSON, Wyo. – Town and county leaders in Jackson Hole have been moving toward asking local voters in November to approve a 1 percent lodging tax. Both hotel rooms and shorter-term housing—defined as 30 days or less –would be taxed.

The added revenue would benefit sagging government coffers while expanding promotion of Jackson Hole with a “world-class national campaign.”

TheJackson Hole News&Guide explains that voters three times in the 1990s rejected a lodging tax, and elected officials withdrew the idea on their own in 2006.

Whether the tax flies with hoteliers and others engaged in tourism seems to depend upon how the money will be spent. Innkeepers want agreements clarified before the vote, so they can see how money could and could not be spent.

Bob Lenz, a town councilor in Jackson, agrees. Knowing how the board overseeing this promotional campaign would operate “is every bit as important as putting it on the ballot.”

The tax would generate $1.4 million annually, according to a 2008 estimate. Locals pay about 60 percent of the general sales tax in Jackson Hole, but it was assumed visitors would pay almost all of a lodging tax.

Aspen hopes for longer runway

ASPEN – Pitkin County commissioners have approved a 1,000-foot extension of the airport runway near Aspen, giving jets 8,000 feet to get off the ground.

The practical effect of this added length is that airlines will be able to put more passengers and baggage on the planes. Because of the thinner air at 8,000 feet, particularly during the warm days of summer, the airlines offer fewer seats in and out of Aspen.

“During the summer months, Aspen is a challenging airport. As temperatures rise, performance starts to degrade,” said Dave Faddis, director of safety for Skywest, which operates flights out of the airport.

The Aspen Times, in covering the meeting, reports that two former airline pilots disputed a consultant’s report that optimistically found 15,000 more seats will be available because of the longer runway. “This is really misleading,” said former pilot Les Holst.

The Federal Aviation Administration will likely pay 90 percent of the estimated $17.5 million cost. Jim Elwood, airport director, estimated the extension could be completed by late next year.

Aspen lays down helmet law

ASPEN – Come next winter, ski instructors at the four ski areas operated by the Aspen Skiing Co. will have to wear helmets if their students have to wear helmets.

Customers 17 years of age and younger must wear helmets, as will skiers of any age in terrain parks.

The Aspen Times reports that ski company officials heard from parents who said it was difficult to get their kids to wear helmets when the ski instructors are not. “We adopted more of a role-modeling policy,” said Mike Kaplan, chief executive of Aspen Skiing. The company, he added, will “really ramp up” its education efforts next season to promote helmets.

The 500 salaried employees will also be required to wear helmets next winter, but not seasonal employees.

Avon moving to ban marijuana sales

 AVON – Add Avon to the list of ski towns looking to ban marijuana dispensaries. Vail recently did so, arguing that medical marijuana could be something that people could drive to other towns for, just as most already do when buying underwear.

– Allen Best

In this week's issue...

March 17, 2022
Critical condition

Lake Powell drops below threshold for the first time despite attempts to avoid it

March 17, 2022
Uphill climb

Purgatory Resort set for expansion but still faces hurdles

March 10, 2022
Mind, body & soul (... and not so much El Rancho)

New health care studio takes integrated approach to healing