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More money called for in direct flight program


Compiled by Allen Best

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — Two years ago residents of Crested Butte and Gunnison County voted to enact a sales tax, which raises about $1 million per year for transportation. Of that, about $850,000 last year was allocated to guarantee revenues for airlines that provide direct flights from Houston, Newark, and other major cities.

The program seems to be yielding new customers. There were 3,500 more passengers into Gunnison—Crested Butte Regional Airport last year, even if somewhat comparable gains were reported at other destination ski resorts.

But promoters say it’s time to raise the ante if Crested Butte wants to keep up with other destination resorts. Kent Myers, a consultant who during the past 20 years assembled direct flight programs at the Vail-Beaver Creek ski areas as well as Steamboat, is calling for direct investment by partners such as the real estate industry, the ski area operator, and others. If they have money directly invested, he says, they will be more inclined to promote the flights themselves.

And what if they don’t promote the flights? Planes will not fill up consistently so that airlines will be willing to do it on their own.

That said, it should be noted that from Sun Valley to Jackson Hole to Vail, many direct flights to ski resorts are subsidized. Even after 15 years of direct flights, for example, Vail Resorts Inc. still has been spending about $1 million annually for revenue guarantees. Steamboat, with an even longer track record, puts up $2 million a year in guarantees.

In calling for private investment, the Crested Butte leaders point to financing packages at both Steamboat and Telluride that include a mix of public tax levies and private contributions. Telluride’s tax, for example, generates $1 million, and is met with $500,000 from the ski area operator and $800,000 from other businesses, primarily members of the real estate community. That works out to $2.3 million.

Steamboat has a new $1.2 million lodging tax that will be met by about $1.25 million in contributions from the ski area operator, for nearly $2.5 million. Vail Resorts has so far shouldered all the burden of direct flights to Eagle County, but has begun approaching the Vail-area hotel community and even Aspen with the suggestion that the funding base be broadened.

Ski area would cater to city kids

EVERGREEN, Colo. — California’s Mountain High has been the talk of the ski industry for the last few years. Despite having only 220 acres, the ski area that is located within a 45-minute drive of downtown Los Angeles last winter posted more than 600,000 skier visits. Most were snowboarders of various ethnic groups.

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