Viceroy: A new cornerstone at Snowmass
December 11, 2009
SNOWMASS VILLAGE – The recession has derailed the “renaissance” of Snowmass Village, but a glimmer of hope has emerged with the opening of an upscale ski-in, ski-out hotel.
The 173-room Viceroy’s Thanksgiving Day debut makes it the first hotel to open in decades at the Roaring Fork Valley’s biggest ski resort, and it has added a level of sophistication that traditionally hasn’t been synonymous with Snowmass. The large, contemporary hotel may well change the perception of Snowmass as an aging, family-oriented resort full of shag-carpeted condos and outdated amenities.
The Viceroy is part of a multi-year building effort by Related WestPac, the real estate development firm behind Snowmass Base Village. The commercial and residential center has yet to be completed due to Related WestPac’s financial woes, leaving the centerpieces – a Little Nell hotel and arrival center – nothing more than concrete slabs at the base of the ski area.
Just down the road to the east, however, the Viceroy stands tall along Assay Hill, serving as a symbol that times are changing for Snowmass.
“We are a springboard for what’s to come,” said Viceroy General Manager Jeff David. “We hope to be the anchor for the renaissance of Snowmass.”
There’s hope that the Viceroy – which has become an established brand partly because of its properties in Santa Monica, Miami and Anguilla – will attract new guests and strengthen Snowmass as a competitor in the ski tourism market.
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“It tells a good story and a lot of destinations wish they were Snowmass because we’ve got something new,” said Kristi Kavanaugh-Bradley, the group sales director for the town’s sales and marketing department.
“It really opens doors to new markets,” she said, adding that Snowmass hasn’t focused too much on corporate groups owing to a lack of accommodations and amenities. “With a Viceroy here it puts Snowmass back on the map.”
David said he likes to think of the Viceroy in Snowmass in the same vein as the Four Seasons resort in Nevis, West Indies.
“No one knew where Nevis was, and Four Seasons put it on the map,” he said.
Figuring out who the Viceroy’s customers will be remains to be seen, but David and his sales team have a pretty good idea of who to market to.
“We are still doing CSI work on who our clientele is,” David said, adding that online bookings appear to be driving business more than expected.
“We’ve had over $1 million in online bookings,” he said. “That has been a nice surprise for us.”
David said he expects the loyal guests who come to Snowmass for the love of the mountain to be the core of the hotel’s business.
“That’s our low-hanging fruit,” he said.
Then there are those who know the brand and will come to experience the brand’s first mountain destination. A third segment represents the luxury traveler who otherwise might have stayed in Aspen – only because there was nothing of the Viceroy’s caliber offered in Snowmass Village.
“It’s an emerging brand in a quiet town,” David said. “And it complements a great mountain … we’re taking a hidden gem and showing it off.”
Maureen Poschman, a longtime local and the publicist for the hotel, said the Viceroy will reclaim many guests and their families who stopped coming to Snowmass and went to other resorts like Beaver Creek, with modern, upscale accommodations.
Susan Hamley, director of tourism for the Town of Snowmass Village, said she expects the Viceroy to take guests away from other lodging properties.
“We’re watching … we are not sure who will come, of course, but there will be some cannibalism likely for the first year with some loyal guests trying it out,” she said.
Hamley added that Snowmass lodges collectively have spent tens of millions of dollars to renovate their properties and stay competitive during a Snowmass renaissance.
Relatively speaking, David said, the Viceroy is a modest property compared to a luxury resort like the St. Regis in Aspen, and that gives his sales team and the town of Snowmass Village some leverage in getting corporate and event group business.
The Viceroy’s Eight K restaurant, bar and lounge is moderately priced, which was a conscious decision in an effort to lure locals.
There’s also the Viceroy Club card, which gives locals a 15 percent discount on food and beverages, spa treatments and retail purchases. Local members also will enjoy parties at the pool, which will be opened to the public occasionally.
Within 10 days of the card being offered, David said, 850 were sold.
“We want to be community friendly,” he said. “We want to be approachable and we don’t want pricing to be a deterrent.”
It wasn’t for longtime Snowmass resident Rhonda Coxon, who recently spent a Friday night at Eight K with other locals. She used her club card and drank three top-shelf cocktails for less than $30; the grilled salmon salad was $12.
“It’s just a different, nice, new place to go and to know you have another choice,” she said. “Everyone is so friendly and the service is impeccable.”
Snowmass Village Mayor Bill Boineau said locals serve as ambassadors throughout the resort, and it was a wise move on Viceroy’s part to cater to locals.
“They know the locals drive a lot of business,” he said. “I think they’ve got the right attitude.”
Liz Curtain, a bartender at Eight K, said her bar has been packed with a wide range of locals, everyone from homeowners up the hill who were opposed to the project to ski bums who typically hang out at watering holes like Zane’s on the Snowmass Mall.
“The feedback has been awesome,” she said.
The Viceroy is a condo-hotel, meaning that all units are for sale as whole-ownership interests. About 80 units have gone under contract with Related WestPac but none have sold yet.
Roughly 19 prospective owners are legally trying to break free from the purchase contracts and get their deposits back. The deposits were 15 percent of the purchase price. Sales price figures were based on a price of about $1,700 a square foot per unit. The condo units range in size from studios to four-bedroom residences.
“We feel certain we have fulfilled our duties and obligations in those sales contracts, and we look forward to completing the closing process with those purchasers in the near future,” said Dwayne Romero, president of Related WestPac.
Rental revenue from the 173 rooms is shared with the ownership group of the Viceroy, Base Village Operator (BVO), of which Related WestPac is the managing member. The physical plant of the Viceroy is owned by BVO and the Viceroy Hotel Group has a long-term operating agreement.
David said the hotel was at capacity the weekend of Dec. 12, although not all floors have opened. He also said reservations through the ski season are better than he expected.
“We’re very healthy,” he said, declining to give specific numbers. “Surprisingly, we’re showing a pick-up.”
The Viceroy Hotel Group committed to Snowmass in 2007, when the economy was at a high point. Two years later, in perhaps the worst economic climate since the Great Depression, Related WestPac was able to open the $200 million hotel three months early.
“We are sincerely proud of our team and their efforts in getting the hotel delivered ahead of schedule in the midst of a challenging economic climate,” Romero said. “It is on budget, and most importantly, it has exceeded expectations on quality.”
David said opening a hotel in a severe recession hasn’t really changed the business model, but the 2010 budget now reflects a more modest revenue projection.
“We certainly don’t have the mentality that if you build it they will come,” he said. “If the economy turns, we could break even in two or three years and that’s not a reach. It’s achievable.”
Viceroy Snowmass is offering introductory rates until Dec. 23 ranging from $150 to $270 a night for a studio. High-season rates for studios range from $500 to $3,000 a night.
There are plenty of community amenities and guest services under the 210,000-square-foot hotel, which also has a 100,000-square-foot parking garage.
The Nest, the Kelly Wearstler-designed pool cafe and bar, opened this past weekend along the slopes of Assay Hill. Nearby is the pool terrace, which has permanent cabanas with fire pits to keep patrons warm.
The hotel interior was designed by Jean-Michel Gathy of the Malaysia-based architectural firm Denniston International. His contemporary, alpine decor is prominent throughout the public spaces, as well as the private rooms.
It’s especially noticeable in the fine-dining restaurant, named EIGHT K for the elevation of Snowmass. The dining room has a display kitchen, an 87-foot-long glass-topped apres-ski bar and a lounge designed around a double-sided fireplace.
The hotel also offers slopeside ski valet services operated by Four Mountain Sports with complimentary ski and snowboard transfer to any of the area’s four ski mountains; a full-service spa; fitness room and 9,000 square feet of conference and event space.
David recognizes that the Viceroy won’t be all things to all people. Success will found by focusing on excellent customer service and aggressive selling.
“We are approaching it with humility,” he said. “We try not to rest on our laurels.”