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Feature sidebar - Resorts with ‘bigger and better’ grow more rapidly

Summit County, Vail Valley and Telluride lead Colorado in growth



"Nobody goes there anymore because it’s too crowded," Yogi Berra is purported to have said. That’s the story of ski resorts along the I-70 corridor in Colorado.

While the ski industry in general flattened, Colorado’s ski industry continued to grow, sometimes in spurts, until about 1993. Even in recent years, a few resorts have continued to grow. Beyond Colorado, the only notable area with significant growth was at Whistler-Blackcomb.

In 1993-94 Whistler and Blackcomb did a little more than 1.4 million skier visits. In 1998-99 the local mountains topped 2 million skier visits for the first time, and have been over 2 million skier visits annually ever since.

Yet even within the growth areas, the gains have been uneven. In Colorado, the strongest, most consistent growth has been along the Interstate 70 corridor. The Yogis of the world may disdain those megaresorts, but the masses don’t.

Leading the pack has been Beaver Creek, with nearly 30 per cent increase in skier days during the last decade. That compares with Vail’s 5 per cent. Taken together, the Vail Valley resorts have gained 11.7 per cent in skier days.

In Summit County, paced by Breckenridge and Copper Mountain, the gain in skier numbers has been even greater, nearly 429,000 during the decade, although the proportionate increase of 11.1 per cent is slightly less.

Beyond these two powerhouses, Colorado’s skiing story changes dramatically. The Aspen Skiing Co.’s four resorts in Pitkin County altogether dropped 13 per cent during the decade. Skier numbers at Durango have dropped 14 per cent. Crested Butte’s numbers have dived 35 per cent.

Even Steamboat and Winter Park have remained essentially flat. The only outlying destination resort with a significant gain has been Telluride, with an 18 per cent gain during the decade.

The key in understanding these shifts has been three-fold: proliferating real estate, infrastructure investments and terrain expansion.

Beaver Creek has had all three. It has had a growing number of high-quality hotel and condominium units, what is collectively called a "bed base." That bed base is coupled with a large increase in terrain, particularly the huge Bachelor Gulch expansion, one of the few expansions occurring on private land. As well, there has been continual investment in new lifts.

Copper Mountain, not far behind Beaver Creek in growth of skier days, has made similar changes.

Telluride has also had substantial if uneven growth in skier days. It has more terrain, Prospect Bowl, and a larger bed base, plus the gondola between the old town (Telluride) and the new town (Mountain Village). Its greatest weakness, seen from the perspective of doing more business, is its remoteness.