Breck rejects Main Street cannabis

BRECKENRIDGE – Whatever happened to slightly counter-cultural Breckenridge? Is it now wearing wing-tips and getting regular haircuts?

You might interpret last week’s election that way. Keep in mind that in 2009, by a three-to-one vote, Breckenridge voted to decriminalize marijuana use, the second city in the country to do so.

This was before Colorado’s vote in 2012 that decriminalized marijuana use and possession. The town now has five dispensaries, one devoted strictly to cannabis for medicinal purposes, but the other four for recreational use.

Four are located in a service-oriented business district on the edge of Breckenridge, but one is located above a retail shop along Main Street, the primary tourist district.

Should that lone Main Street dispensary be allowed to stay? Unable to decide, the town council sent the issue to the public. Resoundingly, by a margin of 70 percent, voters said no – make that heck no.

The core issue was not about cannabis sales, but where they should be allowed. The fundamental concern of many, including a group called Breckenridge for Thoughtful Marijuana, was that cannabis stores on Main Street posed too much risk to the town’s family-friendly brand.

An old mining town first settled in 1859, Breckenridge has long called itself “authentic Colorado.” Today, it has a strong destination market, drawing visitors from beyond Colorado, but also has a healthy mix of day and weekend skiers from Denver and the Front Range.

Has Breck changed? There’s anecdotal evidence that the town has become more conservative as retirees in their ‘60s, many with past lives in corporate America, converted second homes into primary residences. That demographic shift seemed to be evident in a recent vote in which a proposal for public funding for child care failed. It may also have been evident several years ago in pushback against mandatory removal of woody debris around homes.

Tim Gagen, the town manager, says anecdotal evidence suggests most segments of the community, including long-time locals, preferred to keep cannabis on the town fringes and off Main Street. The only demographic in support was newer, younger residents, such as those recently arrived to work for the winter season.

Unlike Breckenridge and most other mountain towns of Colorado, Aspen and Telluride both allowed cannabis shops in their main tourist districts.

Just how many visitors to ski areas are put off by the legalized marijuana? That’s hard to know, but Gagen said a survey may be conducted in an attempt to probe that question.

Will a similar survey be done to gauge how many people are put off by alcohol dispensaries? He said he didn’t know.

In other developments, just 9 miles from Breckenridge and hard by the side of Interstate 70, a chain cannabis retailer has now opened.

It’s called Native Roots and offers such products as Snoop Dogg OG. The Denver-based chain has five stores, including one just west of Vail, reports the Summit Daily News.

Granby annexes land to avoid cannabis

GRANBY – Granby, located halfway between Winter Park and the west portal to Rocky Mountain National Park, has annexed a parcel of land near the town in an effort to ensure that a cannabis store stays out.

It was a heated meeting, reports the Sky-Hi News, which also explains that Granby residents are somewhat divided about cannabis. In 2010, a majority of residents voted against allowing medical marijuana. In the 2012 statewide vote, the two precincts that include Granby voted for marijuana legalization. Those two precincts, however, also included some residents outside the town.

There’s a sharp disagreement between Granby town officials and the retailer who wanted to open the cannabis shop about whether the annexation was legal. This dispute has already arrived in court.

Vail’s Epic Pass a tough competitor

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – The Epic Pass offered by Vail Resorts is arguably the biggest, and most disruptive, business innovation in the industry so far this century. Priced at $769, it allows holders to ski or ride at 21 different resorts in the United States and Europe.

Make that 22 with the addition of Park City this winter.

This fact certainly has not gone unnoticed in Steamboat or, for that matter, just about any other ski area on the continent.

The question has become how do you compete with such an attractive option. Or, as the Steamboat Pilot & Today put it, “Once they sign up, will traveling skiers ever leave the fold?”

To answer its own question, the newspaper tapped the expertise of Tim Cohee, director of the ski business and resort management program at Sierra Nevada College. His assessment is a grim one for competitors.

“As far as passes go, they are creating a product that no one can compete with,” he told the Pilot & Today’s Tom Ross. “That pass is ridiculous. It’s insane. You have the best resorts in the best market in the United States, and where it goes from here, nobody knows.”

Others have been trying, of course. Intrawest, the operator of Steamboat, has a Rocky Mountain Super Pass, good at Winter Park, Copper Mountain, Eldora and Crested Butte.

The Mountain Collective offers skiing privileges at Lake Louise, Mammoth, Whistler, Snowbird, Jackson Hole, Squaw Valley, Aspen and Snowmass.

Other passes of smaller ski areas have also been assembled.

But Vail Resorts has also been assembling a farm team in the Midwest.

“If I’m a family of four living in Minnesota and I ski Afton (Alps, which Vail purchased in 2012), why would I not ski Vail with my Epic Pass?” said Mike Martin, associate professor of ski and snowboard business at Colorado Mountain College’s Alpine Campus.

Martin said the mega ski passes are a means to claim more market share absent true growth in skier days. U.S. skier days first reached 50 million in the late 1970s and now have only reached a high of 60.5 million before faltering last winter back to 56.49 million.

Cohee said it’s clear that Rob Katz, chief executive of Vail Resorts, and his executive team set out to capture the high-end luxury market. “Strategically, they are clearly carving out the absolute top end of the business,” he said. “There are 5 to 6 million (skier) visits in that top echelon of wealthy skiers.”

In his remarks with the Steamboat paper, Cohee also said that Utah and California will “never be able to match the ski resorts of Colorado with their 3,000 feet of vertical and never-ending broad intermediate runs.”

Deer Valley looking at new gondola link

PARK CITY, Utah – Will Park City’s three ski areas become cheek to jowl? Vail Resorts plans to link Canyons with Park City Mountain Resort to create the largest ski area in the United States.

Deer Valley, meanwhile, has announced hopes of creating a gondola from Old Town Park City to its slopes to the south. If this occurs, the lifts for the two competing ski areas would be just a few blocks away.

Bob Wheaton, the general manager for Deer Valley, also outlined plans for an additional 800 to 1,000 skiable acres, with at least seven and perhaps eight new lifts.

Remaining aware when powder beckons

JACKSON, Wyo. – Avalanche Awareness Night in Jackson Hole last year drew 579 people, and this year it pushed 650. The Jackson Hole News&Guide reports that they heard a story of life and death.

The story was told by Alex Do, who went skiing with his friend Mike Kazanjy last Christmas in the sidecountry near Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. In other words, they left the gates and skied into an area not mitigated for avalanches.

Then, disregarding everything they had heard in avalanche awareness classes, they skied a slope that posed a high risk. The friend died; Do lived.

“Why do we make decisions in the real world that we wouldn’t make in the classroom?” Do asked.

In this case, the pre-established protocol for assessing risk was altered by last-minute change of plans and a collective decision to ignore the blatant evidence of risk posed by an avalanche on a nearby peak.

Phil Leeds, owner of a local shop geared to backcountry skiers, pointed out that the story should resonate. “A lot of us have been in exactly the same situation, and we’ve been just fortunate enough not to have a big accident,” he said.

By the odds, at next year’s avalanche awareness night, there will be a new story to tell about bad decisions made by well-informed people in the backcountry. Just about every year, somebody dies from an avalanche in the Teton backcountry, and sometimes it’s several. Invariably, the victims are later described as expert and knowledgeable.

Neighborhood cat has primary school on edge

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – A cat – a very big one – has been on the prowl south of Glenwood Springs. No surprise there. Glenwood has deer, and where you find deer there are probably mountain lions.

But when the lion was seen near an elementary school, officials locked the doors and notified parents, escorting some children home at day’s end themselves.

It wasn’t all bad, said Sopris Elementary Principal Kathy Whiting. “This was a great learning opportunity,” she told The Aspen Times. “We live in the mountains and we share our back yard (with wild animals).”

– Allen Best For more, go to

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