Vail Resorts reporting record seasons

BROOMFIELD – Vail Resorts did very, very well early in the ski season. The corporation reported improving revenues its six resorts – four in Colorado and two in California.

“Revenue is outpacing growth in lift ticket revenue and visitation,” explained Rob Katz, the chief executive, in a recent conference call with analysts and theVail Daily.

He said mountain-related earnings were up $47.3 million over the same period last year. That includes $30.1 million in revenue from Northstar-at-Tahoe, the resort it purchased last year. Bundling ski passes to Heavenly, its other California resort, and Northstar proved a hit, he said.

As for the future, Vail will continue to reinvest in its resort projects. Last year it spent $80 million in upgrades, and it plans $83 million to $493 million this year – not counting another $30 million at Northstar.

With this strategy, Vail Resorts will continue to have the new-car smell at its resorts – and continue to draw the highest-income and most free-spending visitors. And over time, it intends to reduce its discounting and last-minute dealing, returning to a more traditional approach to pricing.

At Northstar, the company plans to increase skiable terrain by 10 percent this year and add a 500-seat on-mountain restaurant. Both can be done with a minimum of fuss, as the resort is located on private land, unlike most resorts in the U.S. West.

New vision for I-70 taking shape

DENVER – Earlier this winter, a young couple from the metropolitan area left Denver at 6:30 a.m. to go skiing at Breckenridge, a trip that in good conditions and traffic might have taken them 90 minutes. Two hours later, they weren’t even halfway there. Traffic was bumper-to-bumper and moving at a crawl. Cutting their losses, they turned around.

Such stories have become legendary during the last 20 years in Colorado as Interstate 70 increasingly clogs during weekends and occasionally even during the mid-week. Planners expect it to worsen as the population of the state’s Front Range, now at 4.4 million residents, continues to grow.

What to do? For the last 15 years there has been talk of a monorail, and such talk continues. A new planning document released by state and federal agencies, called a “programmatic environmental impact statement,” lays out a scenario for some new highway tunnels and widening in key spots along with mass transit using a vaguely identified automated system.

But the document has as many questions as it does answers. Among the biggest questions is who will pay for any of this. Revenues on sales of gas and diesel fuel have been flat for several years, but cost of concrete, asphalt and steel have soared.

Will tolls be accessed at some point? Will you be charged for transportation based on how many miles you drive your vehicle and how large it is, or even what time of day it is? Transportation planners everywhere are talking about such ideas, but there has been little implementation.

Solar and Victoriana clash in Breck

BRECKENRIDGE – Yesterday and tomorrow are clashing today in Breckenridge as town authorities evaluate installation of solar panels in a public area adjacent to the Riverwalk Center, a performing arts facility.

Breckenridge takes its history seriously. It can trace its history to the gold-mining that began in 1859, and is now a resort town with a variety of charming Victorian-era architecture. It’s long been a mantra in Breckenridge that it is an “authentic” Colorado mountain town unlike ... well, take your pick.

But what about the future? Like many other towns, Breckenridge has vowed to reduce its role in the accumulating greenhouse gases that climate scientists say imperils civilization as we know it if left unchecked. Its electrical provider, Xcel Energy, gets about 71 percent of its electricity by burning coal, and much of the rest by burning natural gas, both of which produce carbon dioxide.

The town government wants to erect solar panels on a variety of public buildings, including the golf course clubhouse, the ice arena, and the recreation center. More controversial is the plan for

10 stand-alone solar arrays along the parking lot for the Riverwalk Center, whose grounds are also used for weddings and other events.

That, according to some, is not the right place. “Councils long before me have created codes to maintain the historic beauty of Breckenridge,” says one council member, Mark Burke. “Solar panels will never be historical.”

But he was on the losing end of a 5-2 vote by the Town Council. Representing the majority opinion was Jeffrey Bergeron. “There is an aesthetic cost to these (solar panels), but beauty’s in the eye of the beholder.”

By allowing use of the space, the town should make out like a bandit. The panels at the Riverwalk Center are expected to generate nearly a quarter of the building’s annual electricity, saving the town $6,700 in the first year alone.

Jackson Hole greenhouse sets roots

JACKSON, Wyo. – Proponents of a vertical greenhouse adjacent to Jackson’s three-story public parking garage have first dibs on the land. The plan embraced by Jackson town officials would use innovative technologies to lengthen the notoriously short growing season in Jackson while employing local residents with disabilities. Vegetables and other produce from the greenhouse would be sold to local restaurants and stores.

Although theJackson Hole News&Guide says that the Town Council gave the nod to the greenhouse proposal from a group called Vertical Harvest, details must still be worked out and money raised.

As in most things, there was a loser. An affordable housing group wanted the land, to build 14 rental units with a ground-level space that could have been rented out for commercial purposes, delivering ongoing revenue for future housing projects. The two proposals were like kittens and rainbows, said one councilor, referring to the beneficial aspects of both projects.

TheNews&Guide, in an editorial, endorsed the idea, proclaiming: “Ready, set, grow.” It added: “Vertical Greenhouse supporters have a tall row to hoe, but there’s little doubt that the energetic group, which draws from a spectrum of interested talent across the valley, will develop a project that can put this town on yet another map, one that charts sustainability, efficiency, new ideas and compassion.”

Cell phone creator dials to save a friend

VAIL – Martin Cooper, now 82, was the leader of a team at Motorola that is credited with creating the first cell phone. That was in 1973, and his name is on the original patent.

Recently, he was skiing at Vail, where he has a condominium. He took a friend and business associate for a few runs, but his companion quickly disappeared after getting off a lift. Cooper had no idea what had happened to him while he waited.

It turns out the companion, Masami Yamamoto, had skied off the side of the run and dropped 10 feet down to a narrow ledge in a wooded area. But his leg got caught on the rope that marked the edge of the run, preventing him from going down further on the steep slope. The problem was that it left him upside down, unable to rescue himself.

As explained by Cooper in theVail Daily, when he returned home he called his friend, who had a cell phone. Eventually, Vail ski patrollers were able to discover his whereabouts and get him to safety.

Idaho town considers a bioreactor

HAILEY, Idaho – City officials in Hailey, located near Ketchum and Sun Valley, are looking at the potential of composting sewer sludge, grease from restaurants and septic tank waste in something called a bioreactor. Such bioreactors have been used by Japanese hotels, say city officials. The device would create 150-degree hot air, producing enough to heat 32 homes. But the cost of this is what caught the eye of readers: $8.1 million. Commenting on the website of theIdaho Mountain Express, several suggested that only if money were free could such an idea be possible. Further details will presumably flesh out the nuances of this story.

– Allen Best


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