Vail and Aspen pass lift ticket barrier

VAIL – Quietly this winter, a milestone was surpassed in the ski industry. Two ski areas are now charging more than $100 per day for lift tickets.

Vail was the first, during the Christmas holidays, charging $108. Then, on the Presidents’ Day Weekend, Aspen came in with a $104 price.

“It’s been looming there for a long time,” David Perry, senior vice president of the Aspen Skiing Co., referring to the $100 threshold. “Had the recession not occurred, the barrier would have been cracked more rapidly,” he toldThe Aspen Times.

“The price increase has garnered little media attention and ‘not one negative guest comment,” Perry said.

But theAspen Times does note that there had been an uproar in 1987 when the company announced an increase to $35 a day. By at least one measure, inflation would have turned that to not quite $68 today.

How many skiers will actually pay the $104 price at Aspen? In the past, walk-up lift-ticket sales have accounted for 10 percent at Aspen, Perry explains, but the company’s evolving pricing structures encourage multi-day ticket packages purchased in advance at discounted rates. For example, a two-day ticket purchased at least seven days in advance goes for $91 per day. A six-day ticket a week in advance costs $85 per day.

How about the skier who buys a six-pack but uses only four days? The company offers a refund for a processing cost of $5 or offers to apply the difference as credit for future skiing.

Meanwhile, Vail is headed toward another high-end, and expensive real estate has started to move in Eagle County. The county recorded $1.5 billion in sales volume last year, a 67 percent increase over the dark-of-night 2009. However, that figure still lags far behind the boom years of 2006-08.

Some sellers are getting buyers by dropping prices, 25 to 30 percent, or by sweetening the benefits, reports theVail Daily. Such is the case with the new Ritz Carlton Residences. The 14 units sold last year had an average price of $1,379 per square foot. But the developer, Vail Resorts, also threw in two lifetime ski passes per unit plus membership in the private slope-side club.

“We were all drinking the same Kool-Aid back in the heyday, and I think some sellers are still drinking the Kool-Aid,” said long-time real estate agent Larry Agneberg. “For the owners who have stopped drinking it, the deals are getting done.”

Will prices continue to rise and more deals get done? Citing other agents, theVail Daily offers an answer that is less than bridled with optimism. “It feels better year after year, but we still have a long way to go,” said Kyle Denton, an associate agent.

Crested Butte streets swamped by slush

CRESTED BUTTE – Crested Butte got moody in mid-March after extended days of warmer weather turned side streets into car-swallowing marshes of partially melted snow.

Unlike the more affluent, polished resorts, Crested Butte allows packed snow to build on some of its less-traveled parts of town in big snow years, as this one has been. In late February, normally the time when winter begins loosening its grip, town crews begin “peeling” back the snow.

But during this peeling, town crews got hit by another big storm, officials tell theCrested Butte News, and then got diverted by the need to import snow into a downtown celebration for a special event. So, when spring temperatures suddenly arrived, remaining snow on side streets turned to slush, making them impassable for buses, tourists and delivery trucks.

There was plenty of concern, some of it markedly annoyed. Town Manager Susan Parker reported getting more than 70 phone calls, and expected more. “No one is very happy, and we understand. We are as frustrated as everyone else.”

Chris Larsen, director of the local bus agency Mountain Express, offered another perspective, saying, “The reality is, we are a town located at 9,000 feet, and sometimes it snows a lot. This is one of those years. It’s life.” More funding would help remedy the problem, he explained. “But how close to Vail do we all want to get?” he added.

West Coast bracing for earthquakes

WHISTLER, B.C. – The earthquake, tsunami and radiation releases in Japan have everybody recalculating risks, but it would seem more so on the West Coast.

In Revelstoke, B.C., people were trying to get iodine pills, to reduce their risk of radioactive fallout. They were turned away, informed by the pharmacist that the risk wasn’t high enough to justify such action, reports theRevelstoke Times Review.

But earthquakes are a constant potential in British Columbia, with major earthquakes of magnitude 8.7 to 9.2 – the Japan quake was rated 9.0 – occurring every 250 to 850 years. By that measure, one could occur at any time. An earth sciences professor at Simon Fraser University describes tsunami danger similar to that of Japan.

Landslides, however, are the more immediate threat – and they occur somewhat frequently, if mostly in isolated areas, as was the case near Whistler just last year. No one was hurt, much less killed, in that landslide.

Taking stock of the situation,Pique editor Claire Ogilvy recalls the words she heard eight years ago from an engineer. “We can’t stop natural events, but you can stop them from being disasters.”

But Japan seemed to have done its homework. “No other country takes earthquake preparedness more seriously, no country has such strict seismic regulations – and the Japanese have a state-of-the-art tsunami warning system. Indeed, they gave us the word tsunami,” she writes.

In Idaho, columnist Mark Trahant notes the limits of planning. If Yellowstone, a super volcano, should erupt, there’s not much that can be done, he writes at

“But not every disaster is inevitable,” he adds, and points to lingering plans to build a repository for nuclear wastes in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain. “I think the story from Japan ought to be a call to rethink what could happen because of our own folly.”

Aspen architects start hiring again

ASPEN – Architectural firms in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley have been hiring employees, although nowhere near the level of the boom years, reportsThe Aspen Times.

Poss Architecture and Planning, for example, peaked at 56 employees three years ago, then cut back to 22 and is now creeping back toward 30, Bill Pass said. He said that 2007-08 were the best in his business’s 35-year history.

As theTimespoints out, architectural firms are somewhat like a canary in the coal mine for the construction industry. Projects they work on translate into work for contractors and subcontracts six months or so later.

Harry Teague, another longtime veteran architect in Aspen, said that it has always been common for architectural firms to expand and contract, depending upon their projects. In those cases, employees commonly drift from one company to another. What’s different this time is that all the firms cut back by about half.

John Cottle said the Aspen market is stronger than other markets his firm, Cottle Carr Yaw, has been working in.

Design Workshop has also been doing more international projects. Kurt Culbertson, chairman of the board for the firm, said that he has been with the firm through five recessions, and the name of the game is living to fight another day.

Avalanche warning signs posted

KETCHUM, Idaho – New signs warning skiers of potential avalanche risk beyond the boundary ropes are being erected atop Sun Valley’s Seattle Ridge and Bald Mountain.

“Anyone getting off the lifts and going out of bounds should be able to see them,” said Chris Lundy, executive director of the Sawtooth National Avalanche Center.

The concern, reports theIdaho Mountain Express, is whether the signs will be effective in deterring inexperienced or unprepared skiers. Many local skiers are savvy to the avalanche risk that will be posted.

– Allen Best

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High and dry

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