Ski area? Or a ‘turndown’ chocolate on your pillow? |

Ski area? Or a ‘turndown’ chocolate on your pillow?

Andy Stone
Aspen, CO Colorado

I know everyone’s sick of winter and snow. But I’m going to talk about skiing.

There’s a fight over a new ski resort in Minturn, right outside of Vail. The developer’s determined. Some residents are opposed. There’s a referendum coming up to overturn city council approval. The stakes are high. Tempers are frayed …

Wait a minute!

There’s a fight going on over a ski resort? Someone wants to build a new one? And someone else wants to stop them?

What’s going on here?

I thought skiing was a dead-end sport.

Hey, I know I sound like a traitor to Aspen, but really, isn’t that the way it is?

The national numbers of annual skier visits have been more or less flat over the past couple of decades ” the damned baby boomers are getting too old to ski. The number of ski areas in the country is shrinking.

OK, I know I’m exaggerating a little. That “flat” number of skier visits is almost 60 million. But still, when was the last time you heard about someone opening a brand-new ski area?

Beaver Creek or Deer Valley, I think ” and they both opened more than 20 years ago.

But here’s Ginn Resorts striding through Minturn, armed to the teeth and ready to do battle for their proposed Battle Mountain ski area.

Developer Bobby Ginn got a major boost earlier this year from the town of Minturn when the city council voted to annex his 4,300 acres, which would free him from Eagle County zoning restrictions.

Now the town’s residents are voting whether or not to overturn that council approval. But if Minturn’s voters reject him, Ginn says he’ll try his luck with neighboring Red Cliff ” or even try negotiating directly with Eagle County for zoning changes.

If rejected, says Ginn, he’s not going to give up. “We’ll come back. … We plan to develop the mountain.”

What’s going on? Well, read the standard description of the project and see if you can figure it out. Here’s how the project is usually described (quoted from the Vail Daily): “Ginn wants to build 1,700 homes and condominiums, a private ski resort and up to two 18-hole golf courses.”

What comes first? The 1,700 homes and condominiums. Then the ski area and the two (two!) golf courses.

And that’s the point. Skiing isn’t a sport anymore. It’s an amenity. A “private” amenity, if you please.

Skiing is like the chocolate they put on your pillow at a fancy hotel when they turn your sheets down ” while you, of course, are off at the spa getting your nose hairs waxed … or something. It’s just one more little thing to make you happy, to make you feel special, to make you willing to plunk down $10.5 million for that home (or $3.25 million for the condo).

“Look, Martha! A chocolate on our pillow, a golf course AND a ski area! We’re buying!”

It isn’t about the skiing. It’s about the real estate.

This, of course, isn’t news to anybody in the ski industry.

Vail Resorts (note: NOT Vail Ski Company, they’re in the resort business) makes its money selling real estate, not lift tickets ” as befits a company with its headquarters in Broomfield.

And the Aspen Skiing Co. (note: NOT Aspen Resorts … thank your lucky stars) has long been struggling with the fact that those idealistic fools who started things up back in the 1940s thought that skiing was the point of it ” so they didn’t lay claim to all the real estate at the base of the mountain.

The disaster at the base of Highlands and the vast whatever-it-is at the base of Snowmass are the result of the Skico trying to play catch-up and get in the game, despite having very limited terrain to play on.

(Say what you will, the Skico’s willingness to keep playing, despite that disadvantage, is one of the many reasons to be glad we have benevolent owners like the Crowns.)

And if I may digress for a moment (just try to stop me), people over the decades have pointed to the North of Nell building as exactly the kind of project that no sane ski company would have permitted at the base of its mountain ” if it had control of its own destiny.

(Necessary note: I have nothing against any of the people or businesses involved in the North of Nell building ” I am sure they’re all absolutely swell people and swell businesses. Really. But that building does hold the base of Aspen Mountain prisoner and forces the long, tortuous, worm-like approach to the gondola. Just imagine if that entire block were wide-open space, with a glorious view of the mountain. OK, stop. Forget that. If the Skico owned it … they’d develop it. Now that I think of it, that was my whole point. Anyway …)

I remember 30 years ago, it seemed as if everyone was trying to build the “next Aspen.” There was Adam’s Rib. Now a golf course development. (They settled for one amenity, instead of two. I assume their real estate prices reflect that amenity short-fall.) There was Wildcat. Now one of the world’s priciest subdivisions.

Back then, skiing was booming and all those projects were eager to get approval ” and all of them ran into more trouble than they could handle.

Now skiing’s not a booming business (oh, those cranky elderly knees). But amenities … ah yes! Amenities are booming.

Look out Battle Mountain. You don’t have a chance.