Adam Aron holds town meeting in Summit County, following similar session in Vail | VailDaily.com

Adam Aron holds town meeting in Summit County, following similar session in Vail

Christine McManus/Summit County Correspondent

BRECKENRIDGE – Vail Resorts’ $20 million investments in Keystone and Breckenridge ski resorts this year and last year will attract spenders to local Summit County businesses, said CEO Adam Aron, provided Americans’ concerns about war and terrorism continue to decline.

Aron and Roger McCarthy, the chief operating officer of Vail’s Keystone and Breckenridge ski resorts, hosted a town meeting Tuesday night at Mountain Thunder Lodge in Breckenridge.

About 70 business owners, residents and ski industry employees listened to – and questioned – Aron and McCarthy. The executive leaders of Keystone and Breckenridge talked about recent financial reports and Vail Resorts’ recent efforts to continue to grow and improve resorts.

War wounds

Losses experienced in early “03 are not expected in “03-’04 season, the executives said.

Vail Resorts posted its first losses in a decade for the fiscal year 2003, which ended in July. Pre-tax losses were $14 million. After tax losses were $8.5 million.

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The war in Iraq was the main cause of losses, Aron said.

The prime 2003 ski season, January through March, was marked by the buildup and beginning of the war in Iraq. International and out-of-state bookings and visitors dropped, Aron said.

Threats of terrorism, the lingering drought, United Airlines’ financial troubles and a national recession didn’t help either. The picture for the 2003-2004 ski season looks much better, Aron said.

Vail Resorts spent $10 million on Breckenridge ski resort upgrades last year. More than $10 million has been spent this year on Keystone Ski Resort upgrading snowmaking capacity, rearranging and improving resort food and retail establishments and relocating and improving the terrain park.

Those improvements will attract skiers and snowboarders to Summit County, Aron said.

If not the monorail…

Denver-area resident Anne Callison asked Aron why he has not helped campaign for a monorail along Interstate 70 between Denver and the ski resorts. The drive back to Denver on weekends often takes several hours longer than it used to.

“To be quite honest, I agree with the opponents of the monorail,” Aron said. “It would cost somewhere between $2 billion and $8 billion, and there’s no proof the technology would work on the steep mountain inclines.

“Also, I am wary that Americans can be weaned from their automobiles. So you spend all this taxpayer money to build it and the monorail sits empty.”

Aron did not necessarily agree with the Colorado Department of Transportation’s proposal to widen the highway from four and six lanes to six and eight lanes. He said skier traffic returning to Denver jams, not at Eisenhower Tunnel, but at the tunnel closer to Idaho Springs.

The small twin tunnels should be the first project the agency works on, Aron said.

Weekday skiers

Vail Resorts’ Colorado Ski Pass has attracted more Front Range skiers and snowboarders to Summit County, Aron said. For $299-$339, the pass allows users to access several mountains owned by Vail Resorts.

Pass buyers from the Denver metro area spend more money in Summit County than they did before the multi-mountain pass was available, Aron said.

A majority of the Vail Resorts $45 million marketing budget is being spent to regain out-of-state visitors. Partnering with airlines and lodging, Vail advertises packages where out-of-state kids ski, lodge and fly free when they travel with the rest of the family.

The benefits of out-of-state visitors is that they are on the mountain during the week, not just on weekends.

Need a lift?

Aron responded to complaints of crowds early this ski season. He said that improving chairlift capacities is the way Vail Resorts will handling the popularity of its mountains.

In fact, Vail Resorts is asking the U.S. Forest Service if it can build a new chairlift to Peak 8 in Breckenridge Ski Resort. It took years to get approval for the chair lift that opened Dec. 2002 to Peak 7, McCarthy said.

“These things take as long as they take. We have no idea how long the process will last,” McCarthy said.

The proposal for a gondola, or more likely a cabriolet, between parking areas and Breckenridge chairlifts is still in preliminary stages. Cabriolets are much cheaper because they are not enclosed and don’t require as much maintenance, McCarthy said.

Proposing and building a cabriolet would not happen this ski season, but maybe in a couple years, if approved by the town of Breckenridge.

“You guys in the community are the best advertising we have,” Aron said. “When you talk to your family and friends, tell them the snow is great this year and we have a lot of new improvements on our mountains.”