Guest opinion: Snowmass shouldn’t imitate the mega-resorts |

Guest opinion: Snowmass shouldn’t imitate the mega-resorts

Last week I heard a story on KAJX on the debate over the proposed Intrawest Village at Snowmass. There was a comment by Mayor Michael Manchester that caught my attention:

“For four years we have been looking at resorts throughout North America and trying to understand how they succeed and why they succeed. What we lack is the product these people are looking for in a destination resort. If we can create that product, a significant part of which will be produced as part of the Base Village plan, we can become a very attractive destination both summer and winter.”

When, I wondered, did this become the goal of Snowmass? When was it decided that the way to succeed was to compete with the Vails, the Coppers, the Beaver Creeks, etc. on their terms?

That idea, certainly, was no part of the original vision. As an early employee of Snowmass, I was attracted to work for Bill Janss, the founder, Rollei Herberg, the general manager, and Fritz Benedict, the planner architect, because of their vision.

Basically, it was to create one or more small-scale villages to accommodate residents and guests alike. The model or ideal was one of several very successful European resorts, such as Klosters, Switzerland; Lech, Zürs, St. Anton or Kitzbuehel, Austria; or Val Gardena, Italy. It was not, and never would be, to build a high-rise entertainment center with floors of condos or timeshare units five or six stories above a tourist mall.

The original dream was what attracted many of us to go to work for Snowmass in the ’60s, And it was also what launched a very successful resort. It was special and it was unique ” a far cry from Beaver Creek, Copper or Whistler.

Now, clearly, I realize some of that dream may be tarnished. Different owners, starting with American Cement, modified and compromised the original idea. Nonetheless, to me, it is sad to think it should now be totally abandoned. To think our models, our competition, should just be other American mega-hub resort formula towns is disheartening ” especially when so many of the small, intimate, two-story European villages work better and are seemingly more alive. More and more Eastern skiers seem to go to Europe instead of coming west.

Those old European resort towns are better, I believe, for several reasons. They are of a low human scale ” mostly two stories. They serve residents and guests alike ” but primarily year-round residents. And most of them are more fun because they are more alive. Not only do locals hang out and get all their needs there, but there are no empty condos or timeshare units above.

To completely abandon the old vision and move to the new one, as articulated by Mayor Manchester, could in the long run change greatly the character of Snowmass and be a disappointment to present residents.

Next, I wonder what, exactly, is the critical mass Intrawest developers say must be achieved to give Snowmass the economic and social shot they want and need? How do you define this? And how was it determined?

Presumably, Highlands had some abstract threshold in mind when they developed their new village. But the reality is that there was probably more activity socially and economically per square foot in the old base village than there is in the new village.

If one or two buildings with really good businesses can work and bring vitality to an area, why do you have to build hundreds of thousands of square feet before anything makes sense? Or is this just developer verbiage?

The fact is there are many ways to skin a cat. There is not just one salvation or slightly modified salvation. The residents of Snowmass must be respected. Any new development must be designed to serve them and their community first and then the guests.

A grandiose high-rise entertainment and fun center may not be in their best interests at all. And so … I applaud those who are questioning the present proposal. I know that founders like Bill Janss, Rollei Herberg and Fritz Benedict surely would as well.

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