Crested Butte debates expansion |

Crested Butte debates expansion

Allen Best
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. ” The conversation continues in Crested Butte about ski terrain expansion.

The ski area operator wants to expand onto an adjoining mountain called Snodgrass, arguing that it needs more intermediate-level terrain to sustain the interests of out-of-state skiers.

The ski area recently made it case before 250 people, reports the Crested Butte News. Most of the information was recycled from the past six years, illustrating just how long some of these dialogues can last. The expansion has been proposed off-and-on since the early 1980s.

Ken Stone, formerly of Telluride and now the vice president and chief marketing officer for Crested Butte Mountain Resort, said visitors to Crested Butte stay more briefly, spend less money, and return less often.

“We’ve been the discount leaders in the destination resort service,” he said. “We’re not getting the visitors we as a community need to survive.”

While about 80 percent of visitors to Vail- and Aspen-area resorts return, at Crested Butte it’s 54 percent, resort officials said. That makes marketing more expensive and the profit margin thinner.

The key to getting better-heeled visitors who return, they said, is more intermediate terrain.

Mountain planner Roark Kiklevich challenged audience members to spend four days skiing next winter ” but within the bookends experienced by intermediate skiers.

“You can’t ski in the extremes, and you can’t ski the trees,” he said.

He also urged his listeners to unbuckle their ski boots while on one expert run “so you can feel the true terror an intermediate skier feels going down.”

How about if Crested Butte positioned itself as a resort for extreme skiers, or perhaps boosts the skiing ability of intermediates? Stone said unless people are able to ski a difficult mountain consistently, it is very hard to progress past the intermediate level.

Opponents question whether the geology of the mountain will accommodate ski lifts. John Norton, a former Aspen Skiing Co. executive who is a special consultant for Crested Butte, said a highly credentialed geologist had been hired to independently evaluate the risk. “If he had serious heartburn about this project as a scientist, we wouldn’t be here today,” Norton said.

The goal of the expansion, and an associated real estate project, is to get Crested Butte’s skiers days to 550,000 to 600,000 per season. It was hitting that stride a decade ago, but the numbers were padded by weeks of free skiing, a promotion now mostly ended. Now, it’s at 300,000 to 400,000.

Chuck Cligget, a resident of Crested Butte since 1968, said the community needs a viable economy.

“I’m not telling anybody anything new when I say wages are low, cost of living is high,” he said. “I am absolutely totally against the (proposed molybdenum) mine, and I am absolutely, totally for the ski area expansion.”