Mountain News: Park City anxious as ski area fate unclear 

click to enlarge SKI AREA ANXIETY
  • SKI AREA ANXIETY

PARK CITY, Utah — By the time you read this, the disposition of Park City Mountain Resort for this winter may be settled.

Or not.

As of Monday, Vail Resorts and Powdr Corp still had failed to announce an agreement and asked for an extension until Friday. Anxiety is growing on Main Street in Park City, where merchants, restaurateurs, and hoteliers are accustomed to throngs of visitors beginning at Thanksgiving. Those throngs are in doubt.

The backstory is that Vail, as an agent for the owner of the property, earlier won a court case that allows it to evict Powdr from the upper 2,800 acres of the ski area. But Powdr owns the lower quarter of the ski trails and the base area. If evicted, it threatens to remove the ski lifts and all else.

Anxiety is growing in Park City, reports The Park Record, and city and county officials felt compelled to issue a stern message, urging "a quick and mutually amicable solution to a situation that could have potentially disastrous impacts on our resort communities," in the words of Chris Robinson, chair of the Summit County Council.

Park City Mayor Jack Thomas said local governments have been "intentionally patient throughout this process," but added: "Our patience and the community's collective patience is wavering."

Meanwhile, tourism officials have started coming up with a Plan C, just in case the ski area cannot be opened this winter. Before, they could brag of having three big ski areas within a half-hour of the airport in Salt Lake City. Now, by golly, they still have two very big ski areas, Deer Valley and Canyons Resort — or so is the gist of the talking points.

But an economic expert hired by Powdr this summer said in a court filing that a shutdown of the resort could result in an economic hit of tens of millions of dollars.

The Park Record, in an editorial, said the case should cause the community to "take another hard look at the risks involved in being a one-industry town and intensify efforts to diversify the economy." Added the paper: "It is the same discussion local business leaders engage in every year when the snow is late and the climate warms up another degree."

Whitefish snags flight from the Windy City

WHITEFISH, Mont. — A new weekly flight from Chicago to Glacier Park International, located between Whitefish and Kalispell, is scheduled to start in December. Local business and tourism leaders have raised $250,000 that can be posted for revenue guarantees, in case there aren't enough passengers to cover the cost of United Airlines. There are already similar flights from Chicago in the summer.

Aspen hopes incentives lead to upgraded lodging

ASPEN, Colo. — Rents are high and lodges are frequently full. But Aspen feels it's losing ground to other mountain resorts of the West in terms of its lodging product. It has lost a significant portion of its bed base during the last 20 years, and much of what remains costs more and is of lower quality compared to competing resorts.

It's been trying to salvage the situation for over a decade.

In Aspen, the city, a two-year investigation yielded a packet of incentives designed to encourage redevelopment. The incentives, adopted by the Aspen City Council by a 3-2 vote recently, offer expedited city reviews, size bonuses, and free parking on city streets.

But the most powerful incentives, says the Aspen Daily News, are breaks on affordable housing and city fees developers are otherwise required to pay. The city estimates it may lose $50,000 in foregone revenues.

The former mayor, Mick Ireland, was infuriated by the incentive program. "It's hard to imagine handing out cash, parking passes, height bonuses and millions of dollars in housing waivers to developers as an incentive to do what they were going to do on their own without our money and assets as an incentive," he writes in the Daily News.

"Dumb, just plain dumb. It's like offering Mick Ireland $50 to ride to the Maroon Bells when I'm already past the ranger station and on the way up," added Ireland, a committed bicycle rider. "It's like paying my friends to ski on an 18-inch epic poster day. It's like paying a Republican to criticize Obamacare."

And finally this extreme insult: this, he said, will yield "Lionshead at Aspen." Lionshead is a development at Vail and, a decade ago, got a major development called Arabelle that is supposed to be reminiscent of charming Old World villages. Others see it as smothering, isolating Vail from its mountain.

The Aspen Skiing Co., as distinct from the town, has more baskets in which to put its eggs. Its primary mountain is Snowmass, and early in the last decade it pushed a development called Base Village, to make Snowmass more comparable with Beaver Creek, Deer Valley, and other mountain resorts with plenty of new and high-end product.

But the recession got in the way, and so the building is less than half completed. The latest twist has the Aspen Skiing Co.'s managing partner, Jim Crown, signing an agreement to buy a portion of the Base Village in order to develop a midrange hotel similar to the Limelight, an existing hotel in Aspen.

But the Aspen Daily News and Aspen Journalism report protests about lack of certainty of town approvals.

Steps to reduce the suicides near Taos

TAOS, N.M. — About 16 km from Taos, a bridge spans the Rio Grande, which creates a gorge there, and it's 170 metres above the river. That's an inviting opportunity for despondent people, and an average of six people a year jump to their deaths.

In response to a suicide in April, the mother of the victim has prodded officials in New Mexico to take steps to ameliorate the troubling situation. In response, New Mexico officials plan to install 10 telephones along the bridge, to invite those considering suicide to talk to a suicide counsellor. Such telephones have been in place on the Hudson Bridge in New York City for two decades.

The Taos News reports that officials are also talking about other measures, such as netting, for those who decide to jump anyway. But the cost of such anti-suicide features is substantial.

Fire on front burner at summit in Tahoe

LAKE TAHOE, Calif./Nev. — Thoughts about wildlife predominated the Lake Tahoe Environmental Summit this year, reports the Lake Tahoe News. This was the 18th year for the summit, and during that time $1.74 billion has been invested in environmental restoration, a majority of that from governments.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California's senior senator, noted that a device resembling a white dinner plate when lowered into the lake could only be seen to a depth of 19.5 metres at that first summit. Today, it is visible to 22.8 metres.

But during that time, major fires have visited the Tahoe Basin. The Angora Fire in 2007 reduced 254 houses to ashes. A fire last year left more charred trees.

U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, who represents the California side of Lake Tahoe, had stinging words for both the U.S. Forest Service and environmentalists. He wants to see trees darkened by fire removed and used to produce electricity.

He also wants to see more forest thinning. "The escalating costs of fighting fires should be treated as other natural disasters and not funded by shorting fuel reduction budgets."

Crested Butte in dither about beer commercial

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — Crested Butte is in a dither over recently revealed plans to have a beer company take over the town and literally paint it blue for an upcoming weekend as part of an online and television ad campaign, reports The Denver Post.

"The 'Are You Up for Whatever' Bud Light campaign calls for bringing more than 1,000 up-for-anything revellers from around the country to a town that will be made over into a fantasy Bud Light-drinking community called "Whatever," says the Post.

The plans have been in the making for two years and would leave the town government's coffers $250,000 richer. But the idea of a Bud Lite commercial in a town whose tastes trend toward craft beer has not gone over well.

The Post reports that a public hearing in Crested Butte was crowded by both those supporting and opposing the plans.

"I do not understand how this got this far down the road in absolute secrecy," said former U.S. Sen. Tim Wirth, who lives in Crested Butte.

But David Ochs, director of the local chamber of commerce, said a survey found strong support. "People come. They spend their money. They leave. This is the epitome of Crested Butte," he said.

Town officials have been working on the event since spring but explained the planning has been kept under wraps because secrecy is the basis for the Whatever ad campaign.

Complaints in Banff about illegal rentals

BANFF, Alberta — As in so many other mountain resort towns of the West, Banff is now fielding complaints that private homes are being rented to short-term visitors, in violation of zoning.

Keith Batstone, a planner in Banff, said planners are getting more and more requests from the public to actively enforce the law. He further said the range of properties involved in such short-term under-the-radar rentals has changed as Internet-based rental surfaces such as AirBnb and Vacation Rental by Owner have proliferated.

The Rocky Mountain Outlook says that Randall McKay, the manager of planning and development for Banff, suggests that residents first be given an opportunity to remedy their illegality, but agreed that enforcement would be cumbersome and would require something bordering on surveillance.

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