Denver barbarians at Vail’s gates |

Denver barbarians at Vail’s gates

Nickey Hernandez

News AnalysisTo hear the merchants of Vail tell it, Colorado Pass-packing Front Rangers are to blame for a recent decline in the local fur trade.It’s not the economy, stupid, these peddlers to the gilded class gripe.Rather, it’s the cheapskates from Denver, who flock to the mountain, clog the streets, then flee without depositing any bling-bling in the shopkeeper’s wallet.Suddenly, everyone east of Vail Pass is suspect now that cash registers have grown somewhat silent up and down Bridge Street.Sales taxes are down. Wealthy destination skiers have found other places to spend their tax cuts. Business owners are nervous and wonder why these golden geese have flown south in recent winters.And so a bony finger of indignation is thrust eastward, toward Denver, Aurora, and Colorado Springs. After all, the fur mongers contend, outsiders from the land of relentless sprawl overtake Vail by day, then scurry home without buying a diamond, a $2,500 ski outfit or an overpriced trinket as a keepsake.Yes, Front Rangers love the valley. They adore the mountain as much, if not more, than locals or any well-heeled Euro. What’s more, the lowlanders have multiplied like Viagra-fed rabbits.The Metro Area, as well as the Vail Valley, has grown immensely in the last decade. And by some estimates, more than 30 percent of the new settlers along the Front Range consider themselves skiers or snowboarders. Naturally, they want to visit the best ski spot in North America, especially since the glorious powder is just 100 miles away.When the masses come, they nab the best parking spaces and damn their cheap souls pack a lunch.Opinions vary on why Vail has hit the financial skids of late. Perhaps the town is undergoing a demographic shift, moving away from the uber-rich, to K-Mart shoppers. Maybe things are slow, because business is slow everywhere.Unemployment is at a 10-year high, the national economy stinks, and 911 fears still creep into the minds of air travelers.Then again, maybe Vail has simply lost its edge with the thin-hip crowd.The town’s &quotfamily friendly&quot atmosphere turned Ann Coulter cold. The right-winged author and full-time anorexic, fem-bot, Nazi told the New York Times that she no longer slides her skinny ass down Vail slopes.&quotVail was going more family-oriented,&quot she complained to the Times, recalling a time when she avoided Aspen because it was full of celebrities from Los Angeles. &quotI’m sitting enjoying my margarita in the hot tub, and these kids rolled this enormous snowball, like bigger than my entire body, heaved it in the hot tub. And I stormed up to our room and I told my skiing partner: ‘OK, that’s it. No more Vail. We’re going to Aspen.’ Who am I kidding? I love superficial L.A. people.&quotBut maybe those superficial types no longer like us.Yet, Front Rangers have become a convenient scapegoat in the current debate over slumping sales and endangered fat cats. Some local shopkeepers seem convinced that Mile High City skinflints may eventually sully Vail’s coveted brand and turn the faux Austrian hamlet into a proletariat behemoth on par with (gasp!) Winter Park.”My concern is that it’s keeping business out of town,&quot Kaye Ferry, former owner of the recently shuttered Daily Grind coffee shop on Bridge Street, told The Vail Trail last spring, referring to the Colorado Pass-carrying Front Rangers, who crowd the streets each weekend.&quotSaturday went from being the best day of the week (for Vail merchants) to being the worst day What could (Vail Resorts) possibly gain from having all this mass confusion and hatred build up each year?&quotFerry has suggested Vail Resorts alter the Colorado Pass format to keep penny-pinching flatlanders off Vail’s streets each weekend. The next logical step in that argument would call for separate drinking fountains for the sub-humans from the Eastern Front. Or better still, community leaders could levy a $50 tax on every non-millionaire who attempts to pass through the city gates.Can a two-mink minimum on all day-trippers be far behind?Such bold talk has left bitter feelings among the hordes of Front Range skiers, hikers, climbers, and fake Euro village fanciers, who visit Vail in droves each year. Apparently it is not enough that Vail Associates raised $35 million from discount passes thanks in large part to day-tripping city dwellers, who ski and split before I-70 mutates into gridlock.Now it seems Denver types must do more than enjoy the snow. They must be made to linger in the village, forced to browse, and compelled to spend like a Hilton sister.Brown bagging it with tuna sandwiches, fruit from King Soopers and mom’s homemade cookies won’t do any more. From now on all non-second homeowners must max out the credit card at Sweet Basil, Lancelot or La Tour.None of this finger pointing makes sense to Front Range skiers like Larse Johnson, a Denverite and Colorado Pass holder who figuratively fumed when asked to discuss his feelings about Vail merchants and their betters in Beaver Creek.Like so many Front Range skiers, Johnson comes to Vail for the snow. He’ll grab an occasional flagon of grog at a local pub, and maybe splurge on a latte at a coffee shop. Otherwise, he’s not about to drop major coin in the valley.&quotGod made the mountain, and they didn’t,&quot Johnson says of merchants. &quotThey are merely capitalizing on a piece of this great earth that was put there by forces greater than them. They are not special because they have created a business up at Vail. And they have no right, economic, moral or otherwise, to complain about the hordes of lowly Front Range skiers who come to Vail to enjoy this magnificent terrain, but refuse to pay extraordinary prices.&quotJohnson, 34, says shopkeepers who want to cater to high society types should relocate.&quotIf you want to have more patrons from Manhattan, then please move there soon,&quot he adds. &quotYou will not be missed, and Vail will be a better place without you and your overpriced products.&quotJohnson’s spewed even more bile upon Beaver Creek.&quotThat place is off-the-charts bourgeois-consumerism,&quot he says of Vail’s high-priced neighbor to the west. &quotThe over-the-top opulence disgusts me. I can’t stand the sight of women who wear pelts of tortured animals. They are all mere posers of the leisure class.&quotJohnson is hardly a lone wolf howling in the wind.&quotI’m supposed to feel bad for the Vail retailers because I’m detracting from the experience of the people they want to cater to by, um, my being there,&quot Rudy Bellinger, of Westminster, bellowed in a recent letter to the Denver Post.&quotThat’s a tough sell, but I suppose I should apologize for not being wealthy enough to be interested in $10,000 fur coats, $700 sweaters and the like.&quotBellinger points out that Vail’s ski mountain sits on Forest Service land, which, of course, belongs to all of us.&quotI wonder if anyone expects that I’m going to deprive myself of the largest, most diverse ski mountain in the United States when it’s two hours from my home simply so rich people who fly in from elsewhere do not have their experience ruined by seeing me,&quot he adds.Bellinger’s comments came with a solution. Though it’s unlikely anyone in Vail will follow his suggestion.&quotThe Vail retailers could pool their money, buy the land (forest land) from the government and the resort from Vail Associates and turn into a private club,&quot he wrote. &quotIf they are right, the money they make from selling fur and jewelry will more than compensate for the money lost in actual skier revenue.&quotIf they are wrong, they should shut up and try to sell things to the people who do show up.&quotJim Spring, president of Leisure Trends, a Boulder-based market research company that studies the way people spent their spare time, says it only makes sense for Vail Associates to target the Front Range with cheap ski passes.&quotThe Front Range has grown by more than a million people in the last 10 years,&quot he says. &quotAbout 30 percent of those people designate themselves as skiers or snowboarders. So, if I ran a resort, I sure as hell would want a share of that market.&quotIt’s clear, Spring says, that good marketing has changed the way business is done in Vail.&quotBefore the lower priced pass tickets, a lot of Front Rangers did not go to Vail, because they saw it as too expensive,&quot he says. &quotNow the low prices attract more people to Vail. The merchants must decide if that is good or bad.&quotSpring says destination travel to Colorado has diminished in the last few years. So in a way, Front Range skiers have beefed up the Vail economy.&quotYou could ask where Vail would be without the Front Range,&quot he says. &quotOr you could say that destination skiers don’t come because there are too many locals. But I don’t think that makes much sense. After all, the Front Range people don’t have an odor to them.&quotThe real problem is that destination types don’t come to Vail as often as they used to, he says.&quotYou could say that this is just a temporary problem,&quot Spring says. &quotWe have fewer airline seats than before and maybe the luster is off the bloom of Colorado skiing?&quotWhatever the cause, Spring says retailers should buck up and change with the times.&quotIf the market changes, one rule of business is you have to change with the market. You can’t stand with your head in the sand. Vail has done a good job getting Front Ranger skiers there. Maybe they have to do a better job with destination skiers?&quotJoan Christensen, communications director at Winter Park Resort, says Vail obviously went after the Front Range market following travel fears from 911.&quotThis is an interesting dilemma for Vail,&quot she says. &quotThey will probably adjust. If the people who buy fur coats don’t come back to Vail that is unfortunate for those who sell fur coats. That means the shops in Vail will change, and that’s the free market.&quotYou have to deliver what the customers want,&quot she adds. &quotYou may say I want a leather store, but it may not work. But if I had a snack shop, you could make a fortune. We all have to change to the shifting market.&quotN. Jerry Schultz of Lakewood has seen plenty of changes in Vail over the past 40 years. The retired surgeon has skied Vail since it’s birth.&quotWe Front Rangers are the life blood of Vail, always have been, always will be,&quot he says. &quotAs for the trailer trash merchants, who complain about us bringing brown bags, I ask why should we stop in their shop?&quotThe merchants should to be nice to whoever walks in the door, because some guy with holes in the overalls might be a millionaire from Chicago,&quot he says.&quotThey should also be nice to the older folks from the Front Range. Older folks are the ones who have the money. My hunch is that most of the old time Denver folks like me drop as much or more money there as anyone else.&quotMike Kirschbaum, a former Vail resident who now lives in Denver, says merchants raised similar poor boy claims during the last economic downturn in the early 1990s.&quotBack then we kept hearing how business was down even though skier numbers were up,&quot says Kirschbaum, a former staffer at the Vail Daily and general manager of the Summit Daily.Kirschbaum isn’t ready to blame day-trippers for the current sales slump.&quotAs a merchant, I’d look internally and see how we could make people buy stuff,&quot he says. &quotBe it lowering prices or putting a clown on the front step juggling things. Give out candy to kids. I’d think of ways to sell better.&quotTim Kranz, a Colorado Pass holder from Woodland Hills near Colorado Springs, rarely shops in Vail. Why should he when he can buy things much cheaper back home?&quotThe complaints by merchants seem hollow,&quot says Kranz, 29. &quotIf you are not looking for money from the Front Range, why target us (with passes)?&quot The argument is ridiculous.&quotMark Shankland, a Colorado Pass holder from Broomfield, has the same thought.&quotWe often pack a lunch in a cooler,&quot he says. &quotIf we buy anything it is an emergency item like extra gloves of Power Bars. But we try not to buy anything there because the prices are so high. I have seen Indian artifacts or antiques that go for $5,000. Not only is that way out of our price range, but it seems impractical for a ski area.&quotShankland, 28, calls the village’s high-end specialty shops &quotuseless.&quot&quotThey are just high-priced boutiques and we have plenty of them in Denver,&quot he adds. &quot The resort caters to us (Front Rangers) with a product we want. We are a large market; they should appeal to us.&quotShankland enjoys the village scene, the public art and the ambiance. Just don’t ask him to shop.&quotAs far as shopping goes, that’s for the people we make fun of,&quot he says.Tim Brown, another Denver skier armed with a Colorado Pass, loves the mountain, but feels put off by the expensive stores within the village.&quotThe town has a neat little feel, but it feels upscale and out of my league,&quot he says. &quotI don’t ever stay there for dinner. I don’t stay over night. I don’t know why. It seems nice, but it is not my speed. Mostly, it seems like the whole base area is geared toward destination skiers. I am just up there for the day. I want to get back to Denver and do things here.&quotAs for the slumping sales, Brown says that’s not his worry.&quotI don’t feel bad about what I do,&quot Brown says. &quotThey (local retailers) own a business in a resort area that is seasonal. They should know that business will fluctuate throughout the season. I can empathize with them, but that is just a hazard of owning a business in a resort town.&quotIn the end, the great forces of supply demand and the fickle nature of consumers will likely dictate Vail’s future.&quotVail has done an excellent job of getting people from the Front Range up there,&quot says Kristin Rust, communications director for Colorado Ski Country USA, an industry trade group based in Denver. &quotI think Vail is just changing and the retailers don’t know what they want. They may want the upper end (skiers), but they might as well market to all.&quot

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