Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mountain Town News


Big ski areas get bigger, wealthier

TRUCKEE, Calif.—The sale of Squaw Valley by Nancy Cushing, widow of the resort's founder, Alex Cushing, has once again put a spotlight on the finances of ski areas.

Earlier this year, Northstar-at-Tahoe was sold to Vail Resorts, giving it two ski areas in the Tahoe Basin. Now, Squaw Valley has been sold to KSL Capital Partners, which is composed of two former executives from Vail Resorts.

Taking measure of the business, Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association, pointed out that increased lift ticket sales have led to higher revenues.

"It's a business with significant cash flows," he told the Northern Nevada Business Weekly. "By and large, the industry does very well from a financial standpoint, and that's why we're seeing interest from groups like Vail and KSL, who have looked around and chosen to be involved in major destination resorts."

After a long period of stagnation, the U.S. ski industry has spurted in recent years from about 52 million annual skier days to 60 million skier days.

Larger corporations can do well because of the benefits of buying power.

"Vail Resorts has an outstanding centralized marketing machine," said Andy Wirth, chief executive at Squaw Valley.

Can itty-bitty ski area get bigger?

LEADVILLE, Colo.—Ski Cooper is the essence of a small, family-owned ski area—except that the family is Lake County, Colo., in which it is primarily located.

Now, as has happened periodically through the years, the community is debating whether to try to expand the ski area to draw more business.

The ski area straddles the Continental Divide, about 10 miles from Leadville and 25 miles from Vail. The gentle slopes are forgiving to beginners. Plenty of soldiers during World War II learned to ski there, as it was requisitioned for use by the 10th Mountain Division.

It's the sort of ski area that not that many years ago had unheated privies at the top of the ski area. The cafeteria at the base serves nothing fancier than burritos, and parking to the first arrivals can be had just a few dozen steps from the lift.

Lake County hasn't boomed in nearly 30 years, since the Climax Molybdenum Mine closed down. Leadville instead became a bedroom community for Vail/Beaver Creek and Summit County.

Now, reports The Denver Post, there is a new push from some factions in the community to expand the ski area. The most obvious expansion would be onto the slopes of nearby Chicago Ridge, where snowcat skiing has been offered for about 20 years.

The quasi-independent governing board that has operated Ski Cooper since 1984 has been cautious. Ski Cooper punctually closes on Easter, even in those years when snow remains superb for weeks after. Since 1992, the board has paid $5.5 million in cash for upgrades.

About a decade ago, there was a push to build housing adjacent to the ski area, similar to destination ski areas. That idea fell apart.


Streetlights on in Durango

DURANGO, Colo. -- For those in Durango distressed by the encroachment of city lights into the night sky, there's a margin of good news. All 765 of the city's overhead streetlights have been changed out to fixtures that are compliant with dark-sky regulations adopted by the city in 2003.

Dark-sky fixtures contain the light and focus it downward toward the streets and pathways, instead of allowing the light to pollute surrounding hillsides and the sky.

"On the ground it hasn't changed," explained Steve Gregg, manager of operations for the La Plata Electric Association. "You can see and you're still safe. The lights just aren't streaming into the sky."

The electrical co-op has similarly gone to only dark-sky fixtures at ranches, parking lots and other locations throughout its two-county service area.

Manes to fly on Main Street

PARK CITY, Utah—A proposal to allow horse-drawn carriages on Park City's Main Street is being reviewed by city officials. The local newspaper calls it "Manes on Main." The street is steep, but horses seem to handle the grade just fine. They certainly did so during the Olympics in 2002, when the Budweiser Clydesdales were brought in. But the street was closed to automobiles then. The question seems to be whether steeds and steel can coexist.

Eagle Valley pursues assisted-care facility

EAGLE, Colo.—Negotiations have begun among town officials in Eagle, Eagle County and a private company called Augustana Care Corp., which operates senior care facilities.

The Eagle Valley, including Vail, currently has only limited senior housing and no formal assisted-care or nursing home facilities, despite a rapidly aging population.

"I was able to visit eight different facilities run by Augustana and was thoroughly impressed by the caliber of their operation," said Commissioner Jon Stavney.

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