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Mountain News: Vail's land prized as much as $30 million



BROOMFIELD, Colo. — Vail Resorts Inc. last week announced a $30-million commitment to development of new seasonal and year-round employee housing. But it was the mention of the company's land, as much as the money, that seemed to provoke comments in local communities where the company does business.

Vail said it will use its own land, capital, or commitments to long-term lease guarantees to assist in bringing new employee housing projects to fruition. It described potential partnerships with local governments and other businesses.

The company manages four ski areas in Colorado along the I-70 corridor, one in Utah, and three in the Tahoe Basin along the California-Nevada border. It also manages three lodging properties within Grand Teton National Park, in Wyoming's Jackson Hole, and a business in Telluride.

The company currently is focused on places where it has ski areas and hence the largest concentration of employees needing seasonal housing, says Kelly Ladyga, a spokeswoman for Vail Resorts.

"One of the struggles here in Vail — and I'm guessing across all mountain communities — is that money is scarce, but land resources are often just as scarce," George Ruther, the community development director in Vail, told The Denver Post.

In Park City, land was also foremost in the mind of Scott Loomis, the executive director of Mountainlands Community Housing Trust. He told the Park Record that Vail Resorts could perhaps develop housing on land the firm owns or controls in the Park City area using some of the $30 million.

In Colorado, land was also front and center in the comments of Gary Martinez, the county manager. "They have some land, we have some land," he told The Summit Daily News. "We need to find ways to leverage each other's resources and build strong partnerships to get a couple projects going in the not-so-distant future."

Ladyga says the $30 million commitment might include land, "but we expect the bulk of the commitment to be new funding of some sort."

Breckenridge has a healthy fund dedicated to worker housing. Still, finding the land for an apartment complex is difficult, and the capital available isn't enough to meet demand. The money from Vail Resorts "will make our local dollars go further," said Rich Holman, the town manager of Breckenridge.

Vail Resorts has added 650 beds of employee housing in the last three years, and it now owns and manages 3,200 beds.

It's not enough, says Rob Katz, Vail's chief executive. "With the incredible success of our resort communities, the strength of the travel economy and the growing prevalence of rent-by-owner options, fewer housing units in mountain resort communities are being made available to local employees," he said in a press release.

Melanie Rees, an affordable housing consultant based in Crested Butte, says the tight housing market has tightened since last summer. "Employers are being hard hit by the housing shortage in all of the mountain towns. This winter will be even tighter than the past summer," she says.

"Sure keeps my phone ringing. Usually at this time of the year I am happy to have two or three projects lined up for the next year. I now have 16 projects on my list for 2016."

Grizzly gives climbers an emphatic warning

LAKE LOUISE, Alberta — Two rock climbers scouting a planned 12-pitch, 500-metre climb in Banff National Park were attacked by a grizzly bear on the Sunday after the American Thanksgiving holiday.

Both survived, and a human-wildlife conflict specialist for Parks Canada said it was probably because the bear did not intend to kill them.

"These folks startled the bear. It came out of the den and attacked them in a defensive way," Jon Stuart-Smith told the Rocky Mountain Outlook. "As the bear is trying to den, it's quite sensitive to disturbance and, unfortunately, they got too close to the den."

"The bear, he added, "was just trying to tell these guys 'you are in my area, go away.' It wasn't necessarily trying to kill them or injure them in any way, just trying to get its message to them."

Not all grizzly bears let encroachers to den sites off so easily. In 2006, a grizzly bear killed a man near Whitehorse when he came within five metres of the den, which had two cubs inside.

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