Friday, January 21, 2011

Mountain Town News


Snow and economy yield surge of skiers

ASPEN, Colo. -- Reports from the Aspen Skiing Co. and Vail Resorts suggest a very, very good winter so far for destination resorts in the West.

Aspen has logged a 7 percent increase through December at its four ski areas in the Aspen-Snowmass Village area.

The snowpack in the Aspen area as of last week was 25 percent above average. In addition, the company attributed the increase to boosted service levels that yielded return visits, plus its "value-added marketing," a company official tells The Aspen Times.

Vail Resorts, meanwhile, reported a 10 percent increase through early January at its four ski areas in Colorado and two ski areas in the Lake Tahoe basin of California and Nevada. The company said revenue for lift tickets, ski rentals and lodging was up at all resorts.

Sales of snow-related sporting goods have also been robust. SnowSports Industries America reported a 22 percent increase in dollar volume of goods for equipment through November—but 30 percent in the West.

Especially noteworthy were sales of reverse-camber snowboards, up 60 percent, with reverse-camber skis up 130 percent. Only the telemark gear category declined, 12 percent in dollar volume.

Two major lodges at Telluride to close soon

MOUNTAIN VILLAGE, Colo. -- Two of the Telluride area's new lodging properties—the Capella Telluride and the Inn at Lost Creek—will close on Jan. 31 unless somebody delivers a miraculous infusion of cash.

Both properties had entered the foreclosure process in October. A court-appointed receiver in November had assured the public that the properties would remain in operation through ski season. But, he now says, the revenues just don't justify continued operations. The lodges employ 120 people.

The Capella, a high-end condo-hotel, opened at virtually the worst time imaginable—February 2009.

John Volponi, general manager of both properties, told The Telluride Watch that the Capella financial model's dependence upon sale of the condominiums to prepay the construction debt was the fatal flaw.

"The program was to sell all the original hotel rooms, condominiums and retail space," he said. "None of that has been sold by the developer."

How important is this to Telluride? Initial reactions often are unreliable, but at least some in Telluride think this is the worst economic news for Telluride since the last big gold mine closed several decades ago.

Seth Cagin, publisher of The Watch, outlines scenarios that could result in reopening of the hotels, but finds them improbable. He sees no clear silver lining.

"It sure isn't easy to identify," he writes.

Instead, he sees real estate values being further dampened. Unlike other places, he believes, Telluride still hasn't hit bottom.


Bankers mixed on the future of foreclosures

OURAY, Colo. -- Foreclosures in resort communities of Colorado continued to rise last year, in many cases eclipsing records set during the real-estate bust of the mid-1980s.

The Denver Post notes that resort-dominated counties may well lead Colorado's 63 counties in foreclosures, the flip of what usually happens.

"We are certainly seeing our biggest dollar volume in county history as well as the largest number of foreclosures," Janice Stout, San Miguel County's public trustee, told the paper.

But while Eagle County broke the foreclosure record set in 1987, it also has about twice as many residents as it had then—and perhaps twice as much housing.

In southwest Colorado, bankers are mixed on whether the worst is over. Andrew Karow, regional president of Alpine Bank in the Telluride-Ouray-Montrose area, sees cause to believe the worst is over. But Tricia Maxon, regional president of Community Banks of Colorado, sees no sign of improvement. She told The Telluride Watch that many borrowers have exhausted their options and are throwing in the towel.

Do snow and cold debunk warming?

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. -- If this is global warming, ski areas should want more of it. Steamboat had surpassed 200 inches of snow as of Jan. 9, a mark it did not reach until March last year.

"It was light, dry and deep, deep, deep," said Rob Perlman, senior vice president for marketing at the ski area.

The company said snowfall was recorded on 44 of the first 71 days after Nov. 11.

As for Aspen, it had four record-setting nights of cold in early January, the lowest being 18 below zero.

Isn't this all evidence that greenhouse gases accumulating in the atmosphere are nothing to worry about? Not so, say climatologists. They say keep your eye on readings over broad regions and over decades—not the individual highs or lows. From that perspective, global warming remains very much a potentially game-changing risk.

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