Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mountain Town News


Whistler-Blackcomb to hang up 'private' sign?

WHISTLER, B.C. -- Is Whistler soon to follow where Vail, Aspen, and Park City have already gone in terms of private clubs?

Vail and Beaver Creek are at the epicenter of this privatizing of the resort experience. Its first club, Game Creek—like all the others, built on private land located within the ski area—was and is wildly successful. Instead of eating at public restaurants, members could dine with others of the club.

Soon, the same concept was applied at the base of Vail Mountain, again on private land, but this time with the major advantage of having a slope-side parking space.

The concept spread to nearby Beaver Creek. There, members of the Arrowhead Alpine Club, located on private land at the base of the ski mountain, can store their skis, have breakfast, and host guests in leather-chaired comfort.

Aspen now has a private club on its marquee ski hill -- again, on private land. So does Deer Valley.

Now Intrawest seems intent on doing the same at Whistler and Blackcomb. Michel Beaudry, writing in Pique, says the company has sent out e-mail solicitations inviting participation in a survey "regarding a private members' club that could provide privileged access to (on-mountain) amenities."

Whistler, he says, has enough people of wealth to support three or four private clubs. The issue, as he sees it, is whether public lands should be privatized in this way.

Intrawest operates its ski areas on what is called crown land, similar to the national forest lands on which most ski areas operate in the United States, but which in Canada are managed by the provincial governments.

Beaudry objects to the privatization of public lands. "Whistler's story -- Canada's story -- is about access to all," he writes.

This is part of a long story line at ski areas. In a sense, most ski areas already make a joke of the idea that they are offering recreation on public lands for the general public. Buying a ski lesson allows you to cut in lift lines. Many clients purchase lessons for simply that reason.

A couple of years ago Intrawest got the U.S. Forest Service to allow special first-tracks before the ski hill opened on powder days to those willing and able to pay more.

Western State College pulls plug on ski team

GUNNISON, Colo. -- There are ski towns, and then there are ski colleges. Western State, located in Gunnison, is one of the few schools with the latter reputation. With Crested Butte only 30 miles away, skiing ranks prominently as a reason why students enroll at the school.

But Western State is now losing its ski team. The program costs $150,000 annually, and the athletic budget has been increasingly strapped. A plan assembled several years ago called for a $3 million endowment, but donations have lagged, reports the Gunnison Country Times.

Famed Nordic ski coach Sven Wiik, now 87 and semi-retired in Steamboat Springs, retained faint hope, urging college leaders to send a letter to all alumni to "wake everyone up." Wiik coached the school's team from 1949 to 1969.

Also lamenting the program's end was Derek Taylor, editor of Powder magazine and an alum of Western State. "Skiing and Western State are synonymous," he said.

Durango bus ridership rises 34% during June

DURANGO, Colo. -- Bus systems in mountain resort valleys continue to surge with riders. In Durango, ridership on the local bus system increased 34 percent in June. An outlying bus service to the nearby town of Bayfield, about 20 miles away, has increased 168 percent, reports the Durango Telegraph.

Breckenridge ski expansion proposal now off piste

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. -- Vail Resorts has run into resistance in its bid to expand the Breckenridge ski area. Some 67 acres in the proposed expansion would be below treeline, and 285 acres would be above.

Some 100 comments criticizing the plan have been submitted to the U.S. Forest Service, reports the Summit Daily News. The newspaper did not say how many statements of support had been offered.

There are questions about whether Breckenridge, the town, has the carrying capacity to support the expansion. As well, there is resistance to the invasion of more sidecountry.

The response of Vail Resorts has been to convene a task force of community members to evaluate the plan. However, there are doubts as to how representative the task force is, says the Summit Daily.

As well, there are questions about too-cozy relationships among consultants. The Forest Service has retained Sno-Engineering to oversee the environmental review. The company previously designed the expansion while working for Vail Resorts.

Ryan Demmy Bidwell, executive director of Colorado Wild, says that a consultant working for both the applicant and the agency is not unusual, although he believes it poses a conflict of interest. Sno-Engineering, he said, has "sort of has a monopoly on this business."

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