Mountain Town News |

Mountain Town News

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 destination skiers.

The ski area recently made its 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’re not getting the visitors we as a community need to survive,” he said.

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.

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 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.”

A challenger to Tri-State’s coal-first electricity plans has been elected from the Telluride district of the San Miguel Power Association. However, in somewhat similar battles along the I-70 corridor, the incumbents were re-elected as directors of the Holy Cross Energy, another rural electrical cooperative.

Michael Saftler, the challenger in Telluride, defeated the incumbent by a more than 2-to-1 margin. Saftler told The Telluride Watch that he rejects the policy of most other existing board members from the Ouray, Silverton and Norwood areas, which he calls “burning coal until we die.”

Tri-State, a wholesale generator composed of 44 rural co-op members in Colorado and adjacent states, has been pushing to build a new coal-fired power plant in Kansas. Critics say Tri-State should meet rising demand through technological efficiencies, conservation and renewable sources like wind and solar.

Saftler said he would like to get people engaged in a discussion of how to bring down peak demand.

But baseline demand ” such as that created by your refrigerator on a 24-hour basis ” is what Tri-State is aiming to meet. The new president, Ken Anderson, said Tri-State is committed to coal because it is reliable and low-cost. Natural gas, which is used to supplement wind and other renewable sources, is far more expensive and getting more expensive yet.

Glenwood Springs-based Holy Cross Energy still overwhelmingly depends upon the burning of coal and also natural gas, which has half the carbon dioxide emissions of coal. The Aspen Skiing Co. recently endorsed two challengers to existing Holy Cross board members, but both were defeated by roughly 2-to-1 margins.

A similar challenge is being mounted to incumbents in the Gunnison Country Electric Association.

Investors like what Vail Resorts has been doing of late, but some of its policies are drawing criticism.

The company recently reported record profits of $114 million during the first nine months of the fiscal year. It operates five ski areas in Colorado and California, plus a hotel in Jackson Hole.

Shareholders earned substantial revenue from the closings of a major real estate project in Vail called Arrabelle. Also selling well is a new slopeside “club” where members can store their skis and lounge in comfort with the other extremely well-heeled members.

While skier days were down at its flagship operation, Vail Mountain, by 2 percent last winter, the number of international skiers grew 26 percent, a little bit better than the 23 percent gain in international skiers reported collectively by Colorado Ski Country USA members.

Meanwhile, however, critics have dismissed the company’s alternative-energy initiatives as mostly driven by marketing. In an article in the Vail Daily, Randy Udall, former director of Aspen’s Community Office of Resource Efficiency, said the windmills Vail wants to install on Vail Mountain would have trouble keeping a backcountry ski hut lit.

Vail Resorts also made headlines this spring because of its decision to drop out of Colorado Ski Country USA. Vail, which has 30 to 40 percent of Colorado’s ski market, had argued the organization needed to downsize, to limit its marketing. As the largest contributor, Vail believed other ski areas have been riding on its coattails. The Denver Post reported that Ski Country agreed to trim its budget from $3.6 million to $2.8 million, mostly by reduced marketing, but that wasn’t enough for Katz.

Within the town of Vail, friction also has increased, partly in response to Katz’s decision to uproot the company from its birthplace to a location in suburban Denver-Boulder.