By Allen Best
BROOMFIELD, Colo. – Vail Resorts is stepping up its commitment to introduce skiing and snowboarding to ethnic minorities at its four ski areas in Colorado. But numbers issued by one of the ski industry’s loyal critics points out that Vail lags Aspen and several other resorts in commitment, if commitment is measured by pure numbers.
For the last several years Vail Resorts has provided scholarships to local youngsters and also those in the urban Front Range corridor, altogether 2,500 “scholarship days.” This year, it is upping it to 3,000. In most cases, the company is providing not only free lift tickets, but also lessons and other items necessary to complete the ski experience.
Vail also announced it would administer its program in-house. The scholarships were previously administered by a Denver-based group called Alpino, the creation of Roberto Moreno, a former ski instructor. The company, in a press release, did not explain the reason for the move.
Moreno then issued a press release announcing that it would continue its relationships with Eldora, Loveland and Echo Mountain ski areas, and that each would contribute 1,000 scholarship days. Furthermore, he noted, the Aspen Skiing Co. has been a “leader in promoting ethnic diversity on the slopes, making available more than 9,200 visits at Aspen’s four areas to underserved youth in the Roaring Fork Valley last year.”
Moreno has been critical of ski areas, whose customers remain mostly white. And while skiing itself is no longer strictly expensive in Colorado, because of low-cost ski passes, he contends that skiing constitutes something of a country club type use of public lands.
He further points out that the ski industry has essentially plateaued in user days even as the general population has been growing vigorously. To grow proportionate to the general population, he says, the industry must more aggressively reach out to minorities, particularly Hispanics. Part of that strategy is to install Hispanics and blacks in front-line positions, to make the skiing experience less intimidating to novice customers.
Mammoth targets 2 million skier days
MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. – Back in the day — gulp, was it really 35 years ago? — Mammoth Mountain led the nation in skier days. Then Vail surged, Mammoth slipped a few notches, and that’s been the story pretty much ever since. Vail has been No. 1, Breckenridge No. 2, and somewhere down the list was Mammoth.
But in the last several years Mammoth has been surging again. It has been aggressively reaching out for mid-week business, and the efforts are starting to show. While Vail has held more-or-less steady at about 1.6 million skiers, Mammoth is now at 1.5 million skier days — and hopes to hit 2 million skier days annually, the ski area’s marketing director, Lynn Carpenter, told The Sheet.
One strategy is a mid-week season pass offered at a cost of $700. The ski company hopes to see 9,000 to 13,000 skiers a day, but not peak days surging past 18,000. And to do that it hopes to improve the return rate of visitors.
Whistler-Blackcomb has topped 2 million skier visits for several years in a row.
Sight but no sign of griz
LEADVILLE, Colo. – Two hunters believe they saw grizzly bears near Independence Pass, located in the Sawatch Range between Aspen and Leadville. Because the hunters have had past experience with both black bears and grizzly bears while in Alaska, the Colorado Division of Wildlife considers the two hunters credible.
However, neither the hunters, who studied the bears from a distance of 80 yards using field glasses and rifle scopes, nor wildlife biologists who later scoured the area, could find tracks or scat to confirm the sightings, reports The Aspen Times. This was during Colorado’s first big snowfall of the season.
Grizzly bears were mostly gone from Colorado by the early 1940s, and were thought extinct until 1979, when a hunting guide killed a grizzly in the San Juan Mountains near the New Mexico border.
“Ghost Grizzlies,” a 1994 book by Durango-based author David Petersen, narrated a search for remaining grizzly bears and found strong evidence in support of a small population of grizzlies in the same area, one of Colorado’s most remote. It remains remote partly because much of the access is across private land, and partly because it is so distant from major population centers.
Vail rethinking low-cost housing
VAIL, Colo. – Vail municipal officials during the last decade have steadily erected ever-more deed-restricted housing in an effort to ensure that it does not become a de facto gated community. The town now has 624 deed-restricted homes, or 9 per cent of all the housing stock. Town officials believe that 30 per cent of the town’s workforce live in town, which is considered something of a minimum.
But that may not be enough. First, the number of jobs is expanding. The town is redeveloping. That construction has added 1,500 new jobs. When the bigger, bulkier buildings are complete, according to projections by the town government, the businesses and lodging in them are expected to generate an increase of 2,115 jobs.
Meanwhile, plenty is happening outside of Vail’s borders that may well draw workers from the same labor pool farther down the Eagle Valley or in Leadville. About 8,300 jobs are predicted during the next two decades in the Minturn, Avon and Edwards areas.
On the other side of the equation, town officials are predicting that two-thirds of homes occupied by people employed in the local economy could be sold to people not engaged in the local economy.
All of this has Vail town officials again looking at ways to boost the housing stock for the work force in a narrow valley where nearly all the land has already been developed. A measure of that concern is that the town council is scheduled to spend four hours on the topic next week.
Backcountry.com gets award
PARK CITY, Utah – A small Internet-based business based in Park City has been named one of the top small, online businesses in the country by PC Magazine. The magazine was looking for innovative use of technology, and Backcountry has an Internet site that makes it easy to buy outdoor gear.
Jim Holland, chief executive officer of Backcoiuntry.com, said one of the reasons for his company’s success has been the ingenuity of its online forums. Backcountry.com is the parent site of four others: Dogfunk.com (snowboarding specialty), Tramdock.com (“all things skiing”), Backcountry outlet.com (spotty sizes, but the best prices) and Steepandcheap.com (“The QVC model for gear”).
Holland told the Park Record that the goal is to create an experience that is as devoid of friction as possible. “That’s what e-commerce is all about, making the navigation intuitive. We want something that anyone, even my grandmother, could figure out.”
The company operates out of a space above a Bed, Bath & Beyond store, and Holland said the company was drawn to Park City because of the outdoor lifestyle. “It makes it easier for us to find excellent people, because people who are attracted to this sort of thing are in Park City already,” he said.
Hemingway fans dine in his digs
KETCHUM, Idaho – The second annual Ernest Hemingway Festival was held in Ketchum and Sun Valley in late September. Hemingway, a novelist, was a second-home owner in Ketchum in the 1940s and 1950s and indeed, committed suicide at his house there in 1961.
The house is still very much as it was the day he died, with issues of Look and Life magazines from 1961 still in place. Hemingway’s wife, Mary, donated the house to The Nature Conservancy. That group has kept it as something of a museum, except that due to opposition from neighbors, it’s not really open to the public. But the upkeep is costing money, an estimated $50,000 so far.
To help recoup the costs, a sit-down dinner at a cost of $1,000 was held at the house. Elsewhere during the weekend, the daughter of Gary Cooper, an actor and a close friend of Hemingway’s, was to give a talk, some movies based on his novels were to be shown, and there were to be tours of his favorite haunts.
Climate change gets traction
JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – What might have seemed a hare-brained proposal a decade ago is getting at least a respectful reaction as candidates for the Teton County Board of Commissioners outline their visions of the future.
One of the candidates, Ben Ellis, generates electricity for his house with solar power and uses biodiesel to partly fuel his car. He thinks the county in general should reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases to a point that is called carbon neutral. This, he says, can be done in four years.
Ellis is among two Democrats and three Republicans running for the one at-large seat. When contacted by the Jackson Hole News & Guide, none of them outright called Ellis’s ideas starry eyed, although the Republicans offered less ambitious ideas. For example, incumbent Commissioner Bill Paddleford said he wants to see the county move away from using foreign oil. Another Republican, Abe Tabatabai, currently a council member in Jackson, noted that he has pushed for high-efficiency light bulbs and use of biodiesel in town fleets, and had advocated green building designs.
Hillary gets most from Aspen
ASPEN, Colo. – Hillary Rodham Clinton may not be an announced candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, but she’s already pulling in campaign contributions from Aspen. The Aspen Times reports contributions of nearly $44,000 this year through early September. The local congressman, U.S. Rep. John Salazar, who, like Clinton, is a Democrat, had received only $14,300. But also a significant beneficiary of Aspen money was a political action committee called Straight Talk American, which supports potential Republican candidate John McCain.
Winter to be warm and wet
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – Steamboat is expecting another solid winter based on the prediction of Jim Pringle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Pringle predicts a moderate El Niño episode, which means a relatively warm and wet winter. Unlike last year, when the southern half of Colorado tended toward dryness until late in winter while northern resorts bragged of early season records, this year the blessings of snow appear to be more evenly distributed, reports the Steamboat Pilot & Today.
School numbers rising
CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – The dip in school enrolment of the early 21 st century seems to be ending. Several school districts in mountain resort areas are reporting marginally increased student enrolments this fall.
In the Crested Butte-Gunnison Schools, enrolment was up by 83 students. However, this compares against a drop of 100 students since 2000. The school district in Steamboat Springs and an adjoining school district, South Routt, are also reporting a slight increase in enrolment.
While public schools in most of the rapidly growing resort areas of the West swelled during the 1990s, enrolments leveled off or even dropped beginning in about 2000 — even as resort areas continued to grow. One reason is that the Gen Xers, who have been in their 20s and 30s, were small in number to begin with, as compared to Baby Boomers. Too, because of the high prices in resort areas, many had chosen to instead move to cities when rearing families.
Wolf Creek goes for wind-power
WOLF CREEK PASS, Colo. – Add Wolf Creek ski area to the growing number of resorts who are buying electricity that is created on wind farms, in this case in Wyoming. The Durango Telegraph reports that the lifts need an average of almost 146,000 kilowatts a month to operate. This is part of a major ski industry initiative organized by the trade organization, the National Ski Areas Association.
Wolf Creek, one of Colorado’s most traditional ski areas, with not a stick of slope-side lodging, is also getting more modern with the addition of a new detachable quad. As for the future, ski area president Davey Pitcher is talking of leaving the door open for expansion on the west side of the pass, but does not have concrete plans.
French school likely in Revelstoke
REVELSTOKE, B.C. – A proposal to build a French immersion school is gaining momentum in Revelstoke. The Revelstoke Times Review reports that while there has been talk for some time, pledges have been made for 19 students in kindergarten next year.
Proponents say the French program would be a valuable addition to Revelstoke, where an increasingly robust tourism economy is expected as a ski resort, Mount MacKenzie, is expanded. Revelstoke also expects more residents based on the quality of life, and for some prospective residents, a French immersion school is among the important amenities.
Park City cleans up
PARK CITY, Utah – In Park City, as in so many other former mining districts of the West, the resort boom continues to remediate the mining boom of the last century.
There, a former mining claim where silver was mined from 1920 to 1935 is being cleaned up by a development firm, called King Development Group, and also the city government. There was no cost estimate for the cleanup.
“We have a thin veneer of resort over 100 years of heavily industrial mining activity,” observes Myles Rademan, Park city’s director of public affairs.
Active mining continued until mid-way through the 20 th century at Park City, whose silver lode was said to be second in the United States only to the Comstoke Lodge of the Sierra Nevada, and limited mining even persisted within the last 20 years, says Rademan.
Today, Park city gets 40 per cent of its water from abandoned mining tunnels, although the water has high concentrations of heavy metals, and hence must be cleaned up at great expense.
Also involved in cleanup operations in Park City is Colorado-based East West Partners, which has removed hundreds of thousands of yards of polluted soil and other material to make an area at Empire Pass developable.
Aspen vehicle making comeback
ASPEN, Colo. – In the 1970s, Dodge manufactured a car called the Aspen that was designed to be more fuel-efficient. In the wake of the oil embargo of 1973, consumers cared about such things. Whether the car was all that economical is another matter. It didn’t survive long.
Now, with gas prices marching upward again, this time backed by
growing concerns about green-house emissions, consumers are again caring about
fuel efficiency. And Dodge, which is part of Chrysler, is again issuing a
vehicle called the Aspen, this time an eight-passenger SUV, reports The Aspen Times.
The Detroit News Autos Insider reported last year that the
company chose the name Aspen "to position the vehicle — like the
Colorado ski town — as both rugged and upscale."
Another Colorado mountain town, Durango, is the namesake for
another of its SUVs, and Lake Tahoe provides the identity for a SUV
manufactured by GMC.
Who knows, maybe the manufactures of the smart cars — which are about half or less the length of regular cars or pickups — may choose tiny mountain towns for model names. How about a Rico, a Silverton, or a Red Cliff, or a Tabernash, Blue River or a Woody Creek?