Resorts’ focus shifts to real estate projects | AspenTimes.com

Resorts’ focus shifts to real estate projects

A view of Base Village construction at the bottom of Fanny Hill at Snowmass last November. (Paul Conrad/Aspen Times file)

Colorado ski resorts are investing heavily in improvement projects this year that reflect the industry’s growing focus on real estate development.

Colorado Ski Country USA, a state trade association, said its 26 members are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on projects this summer. Four ski areas are installing five major new chairlifts, and a number of other skier/rider amenities are in the works.

But investments in new base villages and other real estate developments, by and large, are overshadowing slopeside activity. Snowmass, Steamboat, Vail and Winter Park have all undertaken major base-area projects.

Ski areas spent the 1980s and ’90s engaged in what former Aspen Skiing Co. President and CEO Pat O’Donnell labeled an “arms race,” in which the weapons were high-speed lifts.

Now the arms race has shifted to real estate development. Ski area operators aren’t concerned only about moving people uphill. They want to sell them residences or put them up in a hotel, and capture their shopping and dining dollars.

Capital investment in real estate projects “has been and continues to be immense,” said Skico Senior Vice President David Perry. He called it one of the major trends.

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Ski resort investments slowed briefly in 2001 and 2002 but have soared since the economy improved, he said.

At Steamboat, new ski resort owner Intrawest Corp. is pumping $16 million into on-mountain improvements this year, including the new six-pack Christie Peak Express chairlift.

But that investment pales in comparison to what Intrawest plans off the slopes. It kicked off the “Steamboat Unbridled” enhancement project that will stretch over several years.

“Nearly $1 billion is anticipated to be spent on Steamboat Unbridled now and in the coming years, including major upgrades to Ski Time Square, the creation of a promenade and plaza at the base area, along with the day lighting of Burgess Creek, and numerous residential and commercial developments,” Colorado Ski Country reported in a recent summary of its members’ projects.

Vail is replacing two older chairlifts with high-speed quads. The replacements of the Highline and Sourdough lifts will expedite the trip to China Bowl and Blue Sky Basin. The upgrades will boost Vail’s total uphill capacity to 56,138 riders per hour. To put that into perspective, the Skico lists Snowmass’ capacity at 31,080 riders per hour.

Like Steamboat, Vail’s on-mountain activity is a fraction of its investment in makeovers at two base areas.

Winter Park also has a mix of on-mountain and base area projects. The Panoramic Express Chairlift is scheduled to open in December. It’s being billed as North America’s “highest six-passenger chairlift.” It will access 1,123 existing acres and 100 acres of new intermediate and advanced terrain.

Winter Park also is working on a new pedestrian village at what has traditionally been a Spartan base. Construction is under way on the first two buildings, which will place lofts on top of retail shops and restaurants.

The Aspen Skiing Co.’s focus this summer is completing a two-story, 25,000 square foot Treehouse Kids’ Adventure Center at the base of Snowmass. The $17 million project will consolidate ski school check-in, rental and retail shops and apres ski activities under one roof. It will open in November.

The Skico is also working on the Elk Camp Meadows Beginner Area at mid-mountain at Snowmass. It’s designed to beginners’ exposure to the slopes and build their enthusiasm for the sport. It includes a new quad chairlift and two surface lifts, all for beginners.

Highlights at Colorado ski resorts include:

– Arapahoe Basin’s expansion into Montezuma Basin: The new Zuma lift will provide access to 400 acres of intermediate and advanced skiing in Montezuma Bowl.

– Beaver Creek is adding a 2,100-foot gondola that will transport riders from the Avon transit center to Beaver Creek landing, where they can access chairlifts. The gondola is part of the $500 million Riverfront Village, which will mix commercial and residential development. Its centerpiece will be the 291-unit, full-service Westin condominium hotel.

– At Breckenridge, the Vail Resorts Development Co. broke ground on the Breckenridge Peaks project which will create a new base area at Peak 7 and a redeveloped base area at Peak 8. It will feature 450 residences and 75,000 square feet of commercial space and guest services.

– Crested Butte Mountain Resort is undertaking $200 million of base area projects that include a new conference center and renovation of a slopeside hotel.

– Keystone is working on a new master plan that includes possible redevelopment of its original base area and proposed hotels and on-mountain restaurants.

Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com.

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