Crested Butte hits tourism sweet spot

CRESTED BUTTE – Crested Butte was on edge last summer. It was too busy. This summer is different, reports Mark Reaman, editor of the Crested Butte News. He describes a sweet spot of tourism.

“There always seems to be one parking space open on Elk Avenue. One seat at the bar, one person in line at the T-shirt shop,” he says, describing what he sees in his town. “That’s a sweet spot.”

Reaman identifies two reasons for last summer’s inundation. In September 2014, Budweiser had sponsored a promotion that made Crested Butte the center of attention for a weekend festival called “Whatever USA.” That next winter, Crested Butte Mountain Resort started participating in the Rocky Mountain Super Pass, which drew a ton of skiers from the Front Range. In both cases, Reaman theorizes, people decided to check out Crested Butte in summer.

“When they got here – with thousands and thousands of their closest friends – they had to deal with long waits for lunch and dinner, no place to park, so many cars in the backcountry that some felt compelled to drive around into the meadows, the only tent site was a couple feet from a stranger’s tent, human poop in the woods, and just too much city and not enough mountain,” he writes.

This year, there’s some lingering impatience by visitors, some snippiness by local workers, but overall a state of pleasantness in Crested Butte.

Aspen’s boom times slow just a bit

ASPEN – Is the bloom off of this boom? That would seem to be the story in the headlines in the Aspen Daily News, which reports of dampened revenues in both sales tax collections and real estate sales in Aspen and Pitkin County.

Aspen expects increased revenues of just 1 percent this year, compared to a 7 percent increase last year. The norm since the recession ended was 4 percent.

Adam Frisch, a town councilman, suggested this moderation is a healthy thing. “Trees don’t grow to the sky,” he said. “When you take a 4 percent a year and start to punch it out for 20 years in a row, it starts to get pretty heady.”

Real estate taxes are down sharply this year with collections coming in at half of what they were last year. The city assumes the 50 percent drop will linger through 2017.

The story here seems to be in line with what is happening with many luxury markets. “Foreign buyers have dried up, uncertainty prevails and there is an abundance of high-priced inventory,” reported Tim Estin, a local agent. In particular, there is concern about Brazil as well as the turmoil in Europe.

The state of the slowness is reflected in these statistics: last year, there were 26 single-family home sales of $15 million or more. So far this year, there have been just 2.

Yellowstone and Teton visitors up

WEST YELLOWSTONE, Mont. – Crowds continue to surge in Yellowstone National Park. Visitor volume through June this year was up 10 percent compared to the same period last year, say National Park Service officials, but up 52 percent from five years ago.

In Grand Teton National Park, the story is much the same: up 9 percent this year through June, and a 47 percent increase from the same period five years ago.

Why so many people? Park managers tell the Jackson Hole News&Guide they think it’s because of the National Park Service’s centennial, tourism promotion campaigns by Montana and Wyoming, plus a full issue of National Geographic devoted to Yellowstone.

Other sources, however, have also pointed to the surge in Chinese visitors, most of whom have been traveling in tour buses. There were 514 tour buses in Yellowstone in June alone.

In August, Yellowstone park managers will conduct surveys of visitors to get a better grip on who’s coming, where they’re from, and their hopes and needs. The survey is also designed to help park managers understand whether tourists perceive Yellowstone as crowded and congested.

Dark Sky Festival draws bright lights

JASPER, Alberta  – The Jasper Dark Sky Festival is drawing some bright lights – science educator Bill Nye and Star Trek star George Takei – to this year’s affair in October.

“Anybody who was born in the 1990s grew up watching Bill Nye, so he’s a great hook for people who might not be so familiar with our dark sky preserve and what Jasper has to offer,” said Kyle Harms, Tourism Jasper’s managing director.

Takei played Sulu on Star Trek. Also appearing this year will be Canadian astronaut Lt. Col. Jeremy R. Hansen.

Last year’s two headlining events sold out, with 1,300 people at each show, reports the Jasper Fitzhugh.

Renting a treehouse in Ketchum

HAILEY, Idaho – The 12,500 homes, condos and other lodging available for short-term rental in Idaho’s Wood River Valley have great variety. At the base of Baldy, the primary venue of the Sun Valley ski area, is a large house available for $1,400 per night. Elsewhere in Ketchum, somebody wants $69 a night for the rights to stay in a treehouse.

But what has become available for short-term rental via Airbnb, VRBO and other Internet rental sites is no longer available for long-term housing, observes the Idaho Mountain Express.

Anne Jacobi runs a property management firm that oversees 800 condominiums and other units in Ketchum, Sun Valley and Hailey. She said her clients have been turning to short-term rentals because they can get higher returns.

The Blaine County Housing Authority offers statistics to illustrate the economic incentive to shift to short-term rentals. The average three-bedroom house in Hailey, located 10 miles down-valley from Ketchum and Sun Valley, rents for $1,600 per month long term. If rented 20 days a month via Airbnb, it can produce $6,500.

This obviously pinches the housing for the local workforce.

In Crested Butte, it’s much the same story. There, bartender Alex Shelley tells the Crested Butte News that he lost his housing in June, just two weeks before he was supposed to renew his lease. It was his fifth move in two years. This time, the owner decided to put the unit into a short-term rental pool.

But another bartender in Crested Butte tells the same newspaper that her landlord gave her a year’s notice before putting it into a short-term rental.

Accidental shooting in Steamboat

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – In recent weeks, both the Washington Post and the New York Times have had stories about the accidental shootings of children. Of the 586 accidental shooting deaths in the United States in 2014, 50 of the victims were aged 14 or younger.

The 3-year-old son of a Steamboat Springs police officer became part of that national story last week.

“At this point in time, it looks like a tragic accident,” Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins told Steamboat Today. “The child got access to the weapon and was probably playing with it.”

Restoring Park City’s mining history

PARK CITY, Utah – Much of the mining infrastructure that preceded Park City’s modern career as a resort vanished long ago, but Friends of Ski Mountain Mining History are trying to restore a few of the old structures, beginning with the partially collapsed California Comstock Mill.

“If this building had been closer to town, back in the ‘30s and ‘40s, people would have taken it apart and hauled it off piece by piece,” Clark Martinez tells The Park Record.

The group’s efforts have been emboldened by a $50,000 donation from Vail Resorts, but to get the job done on this old mill will require another $100,000.

Vail Resorts blinks in dispute over trademark

PARK CITY, Utah – Vail Resorts usually gets its way. It has 25,000 employees, owns a dozen ski resorts around the world, and has managed to transform the ski industry in North America through its Epic ski pass.

In Park City, though, the company has blinked. The company announced Saturday that it was withdrawing its application to trademark the name Park City.

The news came after a stormy week in Park City. Rob Katz, the chief executive of Vail Resorts, arrived from Colorado to meet with city officials in a closed-door meeting. Outside, he had to walk past about 250 “fervent and frustrated” protestors, according to the Park Record.

A petition assembled by former mayor Dana Williams had been signed by 2,000 people.

Powdr Corp., the previous owner of Park City Mountain Resort, had initiated the trademark application, before Vail bought the resort.

Vail stressed that it sought use of the name only in the context of operating a ski area or mountain resort. Town officials remained leery of the company expanding its proprietary interests into a realm long considered part of the public domain. Why not attach the word “resort” or the words “mountain resort” to the trademark application, city officials asked.

Then, on Saturday, the company threw in the towel. In a statement attributed to Bill Rock, Vail’s chief executive at Park City, the company said the issue was a distraction from the strong working relationship needed with the community to address important issues such as affordable housing and transportation.

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