Mountain News: Hotel construction on rise in ski towns 

click to enlarge SHUTTERSTOCK - NEW BUILDS Ground has been broken on several new hotels in the last year. In Colorado's Summit County, a Hampton Inn opened in Silverthorne and a Residence Inn opened in Breckenridge, pictured here.
  • shutterstock
  • NEW BUILDS Ground has been broken on several new hotels in the last year. In Colorado's Summit County, a Hampton Inn opened in Silverthorne and a Residence Inn opened in Breckenridge, pictured here.

DILLON, Colo. — Hotel construction is back in the news in ski towns of the West after a long hiatus.

Before the Great Recession, there was a slew of new, high-end hotels in Vail and Park City, in particular. Since the recession, the resort real estate market recovered more slowly, and construction of new hotels has been more sluggish yet.

David Corbin, a vice president for planning and development with the Aspen Skiing Co., said he thinks the construction of hotels during the last boom resulted in an "overbuilt environment." Just what effect Internet bookings have had on hotel bookings in ski towns is not entirely clear, he said. "I am not sure anybody sees it very clearly yet," he added. "I'm not sure we do."

But ground has been broken on several new hotels in the last year. In Colorado's Summit County, a Hampton Inn opened in Silverthorne and a Residence Inn opened in Breckenridge. In Idaho, a new Limelight Hotel opened just before Christmas in Ketchum, at the base of the Sun Valley's Bald Mountain.

Now come several new hotel proposals. In Idaho, a 72-room Marriott Fairfield Inn is being proposed in Hailey, 18 kilometres down-valley from Ketchum and Sun Valley. And, in the same town, plans have been submitted for expansion of an existing hotel.

In Colorado, another Limelight is expected to break ground this summer at Snowmass Village. In Steamboat, an 84-room hotel to be operated by Homewood Suites by Hilton has been proposed, and city planners recommend approval, reported Steamboat Today. The hotel would appeal to visitors planning extended stays in the Yampa Valley.

Farmers take orders for weekly delivery of goods

TELLURIDE, Colo. — Community Supported Agriculture, a program that links farmers directly to local residents, is now taking subscriptions in Telluride for weekly boxes of produce during the local harvest.

The Telluride Daily Planet explained that one of the local participating farms is Borden Farms, about 97 kilometres away at Montrose. Lynn Borden and her husband, Guy, started the farm in 1996 as a way to be self-sufficient. "We started farming because we wanted to grow good food for ourselves, and it just grew and grew, and now we have 14 acres," Lynn told the newspaper.

She said that customers should expect sparse baskets in the spring, but more bulk and variety later in the season. The boxes then include a weekly salad mix and then carrots, cucumbers, peppers, and other vegetables. In late season, the boxes will feature roasted chiles.

Banff avalanches the most in about 30 years

BANFF, Alta. — It's been a rough few weeks in Banff National Park for those who like to get out and about in the snow. Avalanches have thundered repeatedly, with one ranked powerful enough to destroy a railway car. Another one, at Lake Louise, which is near the ski area of the same name, was almost as strong and it broke the lake's ice.

Two people died in one lesser avalanche, and park officials were urging "enormous caution," in the words of Grant Statham, an avalanche expert associated with Banff, Yoho, and Kootenay national parks.

He told the Rocky Mountain Outlook that the avalanches were of a frequency that is only seen about once every 30 years.

Fewer Mexicans at Vail this year. Blame Trump?

VAIL, Colo. — Fewer Mexicans are visiting Vail this winter, and although there are several reasons to explain why, The Denver Post dangled the tantalizing question of whether the rhetoric of President Donald Trump about poor Mexican immigrants explained the absence of wealthy Mexicans at Vail.

Rob Katz, the chief executive of Vail Resorts, told analysts in March that international visitation to the company's major ski resorts in Colorado, California, and Utah was down through January. He specifically noted a decline among Mexican travellers.

The U.S. dollar is strong, the Canadian dollar weaker, making Whistler and other resorts north of the 40th parallel a better economic proposition. The Post also noted that Canada dropped its tourist visa requirements in December, which caused Aeromexico to add direct flights to Canada.

There's also the timing of Easter this year, coming in April and not March. When that happens, visits from Mexicans ebb.

Bottom line: Fewer of Mexico's über-wealthy, a mainstay in Vail for decades, have been coming this year. But there's only speculation as to how much of this has to do with Trump.

Aspen officials send climate message to Trump visitors

ASPEN, Colo. — The Trump children, spouses, and grandchildren vacationed in Aspen and Snowmass last week, as you may have heard, and 100 Secret Service agents were assigned to the resort to keep a watchful eye.

But as the Trumps prepared to leave town, locals did their best to give them a piece of their minds. There were letters in the local papers that were intended for the eyes of those on a handshake or better basis with the White House resident-in-chief.

The Pitkin County commissioners also took out a full-page advertisement in both of Aspen's daily newspapers to implore that they influence the president to steer his politics in a more climate-friendly direction. The ads cost roughly US$1,000, county officials told the Aspen Daily News.

As is its habit, Pitkin County went overwhelmingly for the Democrats in the election last November, with just short of 70 per cent voting for Hillary Clinton. That was the third highest proportion for Clinton among Colorado's 64 counties and probably among the top 100 in the country.

Bob Jenkins, the head of the local Republican Party, dismissed the advertisement aimed at the Trump clan as "blatantly partisan," and also thought that the climate-change message was nonsensical.

"It talked about climate change at a time when our snowpack was measured earlier this winter at 150 per cent of average and is still at 130 per cent of normal. I've lived lived here for 45 years and have found this winter's conditions to be outstanding," he told the Daily News.

But there was greater irony than that. Jenkins was actually in Washington D.C., having dinner with President Trump when he learned about the ad. He had met earlier that day with Vice President Michael Pence.

Pitkin County had also tried a similar strategy when Michelle Obama took skiing vacations at Aspen and Snowmass with her daughters. The burning issue then, so to speak, was drilling for natural gas in the western-most portion of Pitkin County, an area called Thompson Divide. Most locals hate the idea, and that was the message to Obama: kill the project.

Snowmass close to OK for summer activities

SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo. — Unless there are major objections from the public, the U.S. Forest Service will approve of new summer activities at the Snowmass ski area. Those activities are to include a mountain coaster, a zipline canopy tour, and new hiking and mountain biking trails.

Such activities are largely the same as those that debuted last summer on Vail Mountain, in Colorado, and at Heavenly Mountain, in California and Nevada.

Vail has its activities at the top of its gondola, on a ridge with panoramic views of the Holy Cross and the Gore Range.

At Snowmass, the Aspen Skiing Co. seeks to "present our activities really embedded in nature," said David Corbin, vice president of planning and development. He told the Aspen Daily News that the mountain coaster will be lit and can be used both in summer and winter.

Vail was the test case for how the Forest Service and ski areas will use new authority for summer use permitted by the 2011 Ski Area Recreational Opportunities Enhancement Act. A 1986 law governing use of federal land for ski area operations talked only about snow, making no mention of summer.

About a decade ago, noting the variety of mountain coasters on private ski areas, Vail Resorts led a ski industry drive to gain clear authority.

Ski areas, in appealing for new uses, mostly described the summer activities as allowing the company to grow summer revenues, a time of year when most of them bleed money.

A few have also acknowledged that that the new activities represent a step toward making themselves more resilient as the climate warms during coming decades. That said, snow pays the bills for ski companies, as it does for most everybody else in ski towns.

As spring comes on, so does residue of winter

ASPEN, Colo. — Cars buried amid the heavy snows of December are emerging in ski towns during the spring melt, but also many other legacies of winter.

Taking note of some of these legacies, letter-writer Eric Simon suggests that every dog in the area be required to have its DNA registered. "Then have any dog poop left outside tested to determine who the offending dog was and give the owner a fine and possibly a public lashing," he wrote in The Aspen Times.

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