DENVER, Colo. As they always have, Baby Boomers continue to guide the ski industry. Now that their knees are getting more creaky, ski areas are spending steadily more time grooming slopes.
The Associated Press finds that every destination ski resort from Vail to Whistler to Mammoth is spending more money to make skiing less daunting to older skiers. "Every destination resort that attracts Baby Boomers is either expanding grooming or contemplating doing it," said Bill Jensen, chief operating officer at Vail.
Vail, which years ago began investing more money in snow groomers, is beveling 1,600 acres of its 4,000 acres of terrain this season. Almost a third of its 29 snow groomers have been replaced at Vail, at a cost of up to $235,000 each. Sun Valley also has 10 new machines to create what is sometimes called "ego snow."
Numbers explain the shift. The percentage of skiers aged 45 or older was 31 per cent last year, up from 21 per cent only seven years before.
While the evolution of shaped skis has made turning easier than ever before, any ski turns more readily on groomed surfaces, Jensen explains.
Big boxes mean big revenue
FRISCO, Colo. Two years ago, former Summit County commissioner Gary Lindstrom suggested that the individual towns of Summit County be disincorporated and folded into a city and county of Summit.
Summit County has six towns, and Lindstrom saw overlap among them. But he, and many others, have also observed a disquieting competition for sales tax dollars, with towns working against one another to land the big-box retailers that by the square foot are the largest generator of taxes.
Provisions of the Colorado Constitution make sales tax, not property taxes, the primary way that city governments get funded.
Lindstroms idea was discussed, but didnt go very far. But the issue is still at hand. Frisco has a 9.4-acre parcel, and it wants to let The Home Depot build a store there. Frisco isnt hurting for revenue at the moment, but still would like the tax money to help build a campus for a community college.
One idea discussed at a recent forum, reports the Summit Daily News, is regional tax sharing. A similar idea is being talked about west along the I-70 corridor in the towns of Eagle and Gypsum.
Frisco voters are scheduled to decide the fate of The Home Depot project in December. Unlike Wal-Mart, which insisted upon peddling groceries, town officials say The Home Depot has been willing to develop in conformance with town guidelines.
Aspen drawing Brazilians
ASPEN, Colo. Reservations agents in Aspen are reporting a surge of Brazilians booking ski vacations this winter. The Aspen Times reports that the strengthening Brazilian currency mostly explains the surge, although it doesnt hurt that a Portuguese-speaking reservations agent is now at work in Aspen.
International travelers make up roughly 15 to 20 per cent of the resort's overall destination guests and Australia/New Zealand remains the top foreign market, followed by the United Kingdom and then Brazil, she said. Germany, Mexico and Canada follow close behind.
Building expected to accelerate
MAMMOTH, Calif. Rusty Gregory, the CEO of Mammoth Mountain, is predicting a picked up real estate development at the base of Mammoth Mountain as the result of new ownership.
Real estate development was a low priority for Mammoth Mountain founder Dave McCoy, who still retains an interest in the ski operation. However, several years ago he sold a portion of the operation to Intrawest, which launched major real estate development. Somewhat similar to Winter Park, Mammoth had been a weekend heavy resort that was seeking to become a major destination resort.
Now, Intrawest has sold its Stake to Starwood Capital, a private equity firm. Gregory predicts Starwood Capital will want to pick up the pace even more.
"Private capital has no incentive to even out their results. They want results now. Theyll want to move faster than Intrawest," he said. According to The Sheet, Gregory predicts Starwood will hold onto Mammoth for five to seven years.
Gay community mobilizes
DURANGO, Colo. A lesbian woman, Kate Sullivan, is creating a group called OutDurango, which she hopes will serve as both political watchdog and community mobilization tool for local homosexuals, bisexuals, and transgendered people.
The groups inaugural event, held in conjunction with Coming out Day, drew 50 people. Sullivan told the Durango Telegraph she hopes the gatherings become monthly, and that socializing will lead to political cohesion. She is, for example, distressed that Colorado law does not allow second parent adoption in same-sex partnerships.
Latinos feel typecast
CARBONDALE, Colo. Generalizations are risky, exceptions inevitable. With that said, its broadly recognized that schools with large numbers of immigrants have lower test scores.
But when does trend breed expectations, and those expectations breed inevitability? Thats a fundamental question that some Spanish-speaking parents have asked in the Roaring Fork School District, which is in a down-valley area from Aspen. The district is recruiting a new superintendent, and as part of the process it authorized interviews of both English and Spanish-speaking parents by a group called The Stepstone Center.
Among other things, the report found that some Spanish-speaking students thought they were being typecast. Even if they got good grades, they felt categorized as failures for being Latino.
As well, some parents thought the ethnic background and native language of Spanish were devaluated.
Some hope to see a school superintendent who is bilingual. As well, parents want to see a school district that seems more opening to them.
Species act could be altered
MT. CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. The town council for Mt. Crested Butte, the more pro-development town located adjacent to the Crested Butte ski area, has come out in support of a controversial bill that would alter the Endangered Species Act.
Environmentalists are crying foul about the law, which was promoted by California congressman Richard Pombo. The proposed law would compensate landowners in cases where their rights to use their land are limited because of needs of endangered species. Existing law places the onus on the private landowners.
Chris Morgan, the mayor of Mt. Crested Butte, called the current law a "well-intended, very powerful act that really is not working very well."
Mt. Crested Butte has no particular dog of its own in the fight, although habitat for the dwindling Gunnison sage grouse is 10 to 20 miles away. Earlier this year, reports the Crested Butte, the town council wrote a letter in support of the western Wildlife and Water Conservation Coalition, which is actively fighting the listing of the Gunnison sage grouse as an endangered species. The group, notes the newspaper, is made up primarily of state and local homebuilders, real estate brokers and private landowners.
Tail is wagging the dog
ROARING FORK VALLEY, Colo. In Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley, the tail is wagging the dog.
The tail in this case is down-valley growth. While Aspen is and always has been the leading job centre in the Roaring Fork Valley, the one-time down-valley bedroom communities of Basalt, Carbondale, and even Glenwood Springs have increasingly become "up-valley," which is to say job centres of their own. In turn, the "bedroom" has shifted farther down-valley yet to New Castle, Rifle, and even Parachute, some 80 miles from Aspen.
None of this is new. Nor are projections of even more volumes of growth ahead particularly new. For some time, state officials have been projecting that Garfield County, which is where most of these towns are located, will grow enormously in population, through a combination of continued tourism and, even more importantly, a Baby Boomer generation flush with money for vacation and retirement homes. A new growth pressure is the energy boom, as Aspens down-valley bedroom overlaps with one of the largest natural gas exploration areas in the West.
The latest projections show Garfield County doubling or tripling its current population, 50,000, in the next quarter century, with more population growth yet in Eagle County, where Basalt and El Jebel are located, and in Pitkin County, where Aspen and Snowmass are.
From the perspective of traffic-clogged Aspen, all these projections are getting close and personal. "Aspen is not going to build six lanes (into town) to accommodate growth thats way over the top in other jurisdictions," said Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud at a recent meeting.
Tellingly, Klanderud made the comments at a recent meeting of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, the only government agency that spans Aspens economic zone of influence. The towns are located within three different counties.
A previous plan for handling transportation issues was shelved some years ago. A consortium of governments had secured the old railroad line from Glenwood Springs to Aspen. However, impetus for the commuter trains faltered even as the state government continued to ream out a four-lane highway that now connects from Glenwood Springs to the entrance to Aspen. Thats where the bottleneck has resulted in years of debate and daily gridlock.
While Klanderud is calling for a regional summit meeting, Pitkin County Commissioner Dorthea Farris hints at an even more substantial step, saying, "We need to get beyond dialogue." She believes rising fuel prices and the new population projections make a commuter train more justified.
Exurban growth snarls traffic
DURANGO, Colo. Like many pretty parts of the West, Durango has a traffic problem thats going to require an expensive solution.
The traffic is partly explained by rapid population growth. Just as important is the location of the growth. The low-density unincorporated areas outside of Durango, in what some call the exurbs, are growing more rapidly than Durango itself. But, because the jobs, the stories and the cultural facilities are all located in Durango, thats where the traffic problem is greatest.
With the population of the region projected to increase by 75 per cent in the next quarter-century, city and county officials are working on a transportation plan. One study recommendations an interstate highway-type solution that would cost $100 million. But at least one city council member sees another tact, a moratorium on upzonings
But that city councilor, Renee Parsons, also notes that its not just a city issue. She wants dialogue with the county, something she believes should have happened 10 years ago.
In general, county governments are tolerant of low-density housing. However, it is virtually impossible to provide mass transit for low-density housing.
Architects head down-valley
ASPEN, Colo. The best-known Aspen architects arent actually in Aspen any more. All have moved down-valley 18 miles or more.
Latest to make the down-valley move is Harry Teague, who has been in Aspen since 1972. Seven of the eight people in his office live-downvalley anyway, he said, so on balance theyll be spending less time commuting. Nor, for that matter, is an Aspen location vital. "Most of our clients dont walk in off the streets and hire us," he said.
14 illegals spill out of pickup
VAIL PASS, Colo. A Ford pickup spun off Interstate 70 at Vail Pass Sunday morning, and when it came to a halt, 13 men and one women jumped out. Dressed only in jeans and short-sleeved shirts, most began running. Following the footprints in the snow, police ultimately detained 12 people from Mexico and two from Guatemala. The Vail Daily reported that they were to face a judge in Denver and most would likely be returned to their homelands. No word on the status of the "coyote" who was shipping the immigrants.
Telluride has roundabout
TELLURIDE, Colo. Telluride now has a traffic roundabout at the entrance to the town. Stan Berryman, the towns public works director, pointed out that roundabouts are much safer than the other options for the intersection, a stoplight or a four-way stop. A raised red-concrete crossing lane slows down cars going through the roundabout, allowing pedestrians an opportunity to pick their way across traffic lanes.
Vail gambled on the first traffic roundabout in the Rocky Mountains in 1994 amid warnings of colossal failure. It was anything but and since then has been widely imitated.
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