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Town Council viewing Snowmass in new light after base area trips

Brent Gardner-Smith

They went. They saw. They came back with their eyes opened.

The Snowmass Village Town Council went on a resort tour last week to Whistler, The Canyons, Park City, Deer Valley and the Solitude ski areas, and the trip has widened the board’s perspective on how to improve Snowmass as a resort.

“I think we are beginning to look at Snowmass Village as a business enterprise and we’re trying to look at it as if we were CEOs of a major corporation, asking how can we improve it,” said T. Michael Manchester, the mayor of Snowmass Village.

The group toured the new Mountainside Marriott at the base of the Park City ski area, which is selling fractional ownerships in one-week allotments for between $30,000 and $60,000. They also spent an afternoon at The Canyons, which is implementing a master plan that includes 8 million square feet of new hotels, condos, retail and other commercial and residential space.

Between seeing Utah and Whistler, the council seems to have a new appreciation for how a ski area and its village need to work together.

“When I think back to all the planning studies we have done in Snowmass Village over the past 15 years, we never really included an economic feasibility model as part of the analysis,” said Manchester. “We never said, `Will this bed base and this amount of commercial square feet support each other?’ “

Manchester made the trip with three other members of the council – Dick Virtue, Bob Purvis and Arnold Mordkin – and they were all especially impressed with how the Intrawest company makes a ski area’s base village work.

Intrawest, which bills itself as “the leading developer and operator of village-centered resorts across North America,” owns Whistler-Blackcomb, Copper Mountain and other ski areas, and is building villages at Keystone, Solitude and Squaw Valley.

“They enlightened us,” said Manchester. “The thing that made the strongest impression on me was the value of a vital commercial core. And the relationship of the bed base to that commercial core in terms of both numbers of beds and location of units. It’s very critical to being successful, in terms of businesses being able to sustain themselves, and in terms of being able to bring guests back. It’s an economic model that in some ways I hadn’t really given enough consideration to.”

Bill Kane, vice president of planning and development for the Aspen Skiing Co., put the trip together and spent three days with the Town Council looking at ski areas.

“My read was that they came away with a sense that the magnitude of the challenges in Snowmass are such that Base Village is not going to solve the resort’s problems,” he said. “It’s a part of the solution, but it is not going to be the total solution.”

What struck Councilman Virtue was how well Intrawest has worked with the various factions of the resort, such as the local government and the resort association.

“They seem to have relationships that are positive and forward thinking,” said Virtue. “Sometimes in the past, we have had a lack of a plan, a paralysis when it comes to making decisions and counterproductive relationships spurred on by everybody involved.”

But Virtue felt that was going to change in Snowmass Village, given the shared focus of the members of the Town Council and the positive working relationship the board now has with the Skico.

“I think everybody came out of that trip really charged up and really energized with what can be done and what should be done here,” said Virtue.

The Town Council plans to look at other ski areas this spring. They will travel to Telluride later in February and also plan to visit Beaver Creek, Vail, Copper and Breckenridge.

In addition, the Town Council will continue to listen as the Skico makes weekly presentations on ski area issues related to Base Village. The next presentation is Thursday night at 5:30 in Town Council chambers and will focus on transportation issues.

The council is also involved in a community planning process called the Village Leadership Forum, which includes representatives from different sectors of the resort. The second meeting of that group is set for today at 3 p.m. at Anderson Ranch.


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