Nearly record ski season reported

ASPEN – In Aspen as in Whistler, destination business seemed to be flat this winter. But as a whole, ski areas did marginally well – thanks both to good snow and proliferating discounted season passes.

The Denver-based National Ski Areas Association reported 60.1 million skier visits for the season, just slightly below the pre-recession record of 60.5 million.

Michael Berry, president of NSAA, attributed the strong numbers to good snow conditions. But the snowfall was too much of a good thing in California, where it limited weekend travel.

“La Niña gave, and La Niña took,” he quipped in an interview withThe Aspen Times.

Skier numbers have sagged well below population growth in the United States for the last 30 years. For whatever reasons, skiing just hasn’t caught the imagination of younger and often more ethnically diverse populations as it did with the baby boomers.

Berry told theTimesthat skier numbers are bolstered by boomers, who have stuck to the slopes at ages when previous generations have departed.

The Aspen Skiing Co. this summer plans to invest $26 million in a new quad lift and restaurants at its four ski areas.

And where would you think the top markets are for Aspen? New York, of course, but Denver and Colorado’s Front Range comes in second, followed by Chicago and Los Angeles, revealed Dave Perry, senior vice president for the company in a meeting with local officials. Then it’s Australia, Miami and Brazil.

In Whistler, meanwhile, skier visits are expected to top 2 million visitor days. Resort officials attribute the numbers to a strong pre-season campaign aimed at regional and local skiers. Numbers in that category were up 28 percent.

Whistler Blackcomb also set a record for the number of season passes and frequency passes sold prior to the first of the year. This is in line with NSAA statistics, which show that 36.2 percent of total skier visits this season came from season passes, up from 34.3 percent the prior season.

But destination visitor numbers at Whistler Blackcomb from international markets have not returned to their pre-recession levels, said Dave Brownlie, president and chief operating officer.

Back in Colorado,snow continued to fall prodigiously on mountain tops as of mid-May. Still, Arapahoe Basin plans to stay the course, ending normal operations June 7, but taking up three-day weekends as long as the snow and customers last.

“Having our greatest season in years, ideally we would like to stay open on weekends until the Fourth of July, but it’s too early to know what the conditions will be to make that call,” Alan Henceroth, chief operating officer of the resort, told theSummit Daily News.

In 1995, a year much like this year, the resort along the Continental Divide had ribbons of skiable snow until early August. The resort elevation ranges from 10,780 feet at the base to a peak of 13,050 feet.

 

Aspen readys for Cycling Challenge

ASPEN – It’s spring-time, more or less, in the high country of Colorado, and thoughts are starting to focus on the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, formerly called Quizno’s Pro Challenge. A seven-stage race set for August, it is expected to draw some of the top bicycle racers in the world to Colorado mountain towns

Downtown Aspen will be the finish line for a grueling fourth day of racing. The race will start at Gunnison and end at Aspen, both at 8,000 feet, but along the way riders must cross two 12,000-foot passes, with harrowing descents. Those routes dwarf the literal highpoint of the Tour de France, an 8,728-foot col in the Alps.

In Aspen, bicycle enthusiasts predict crowds double in size of those of the Fourth of July.

The Aspen Times points out that Aspen has long been infatuated with bicycles. Even a century ago, after mining was already petering out, races in the region drew up to 1,000 spectators. Then, in the 1970s, there were some local riders who took their avocation very seriously. “We were club riders, having a good time,” says Michael Ernemann. “Every day we’d go out and ride 30 or 40 miles, then come back and drink vino, in the great European tradition,” he told the newspaper.

 

Classic Byers ranch to be subdivided

FRASER – The Byers Peak Ranch has one of the most iconic views in the West. As seen from Fraser, the 12,804-foot peak giving the ranch its name has a classic profile above a meadow, velvety green in summer, altogether constituting what one writer called “quintessential Colorado.”

Might another scene that has become quintessential Colorado soon appear? TheSky-Hi Daily News reports that developers propose 1,436 housing units and 350 short-term rental units on the 295-acre parcel, which they seek to annex into Fraser. And if Fraser refuses? A Grand County planner tells the newspaper that the land has entitlement to eight units under Colorado law.

The newspaper reports considerable statements of opposition at this still-early stage of review.

 

Mammoth air access still in doubt

MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. – How much of a portal can the airport near Mammoth Lakes become?

For nearly two decades, local boosters have wanted to make Mammoth, located on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, less remote. Currently, it’s a 5- to 6-hour drive to either Los Angeles or the Bay Area. At one time, airport boosters even thought they could get 757s into the airport, delivering passengers from Chicago and Dallas.

That hasn’t happened for a number of reasons. Still, Mammoth hopes for more expanded air service. Vail-based airline consultant Kent Myers has said an expansion could garner close to 150,000 enplanements per year by 2020, or about 1,000 passengers a day.

Not everybody buys that projection. John Walker, who sits on the local Airport Commission, tellsThe Sheet that estimate is too optimistic. He cites the runway width, which precludes any planes larger than 737s.

At stake is whether Mammoth needs a $20 million passenger terminal. The Federal Aviation Administration typically pays 85 percent, leaving locals on the hook for just $3 million to $5 million.

 

Jackson Hole ranks high for income

JACKSON, Wyo. – Teton County lives in rarified company. It is just one of three places with a per-capita income of more than $100,000. Tops is a county in Texas of just 45 residents that sits over an incredible supply of hydrocarbons, reports Jonathan Schechter, while the third is Manhattan. Even Aspen and Pitkin County are down the list a ways.

However, Teton County ranks above all others in the country in income per capita from investments, and in no other county do residents get a lower percentage of their income from pensions.

What does this say? In part, says Schechter, a long-time analyst of business and demographics for theJackson Hole News&Guide, this means that the prices are set at the margins, which is to say for the wealthy.

The gap between “wealthy versus working stiff” will likely widen in coming years, Schechter predicts. Builders and craftsmen enjoyed a middle-class lifestyle there, but no more.

 

Whistler dog deaths investigated

WHISTLER, B.C. – Three veterinarians have been examining the remains of 52 dogs that were killed after the 2010 Winter Olympics. Their mission is to determine whether the dogs had been killed in a way considered humane, by one bullet.

A dog-sled operator ordered the dogs killed because of slack demand for sled rides. This culling seems to be somewhat common in such operations. But the co-owner and manager of the operation later claimed that he had killed the dogs in horrible ways, slitting the throats of some, clubbing others to death, and in general inciting terror. That does not seem to be common.

The case has caused worldwide controversy, especially at Whistler.Pique Newsmagazine says the B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reports it “may have found evidence” of inhumane killing.

– Allen Best


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