Letters to the editor
December 7, 2003
Not long ago, as we drove up the Vail Valley, and my wife said, “It is really amazing. All the buildings, all the people, all this has grown in only 40 years and all of this only because of the ski resort.”
Yes, it is really fantastic, but this fast growth seems also to have somewhere lost the track. Things don’t fit together anymore and a lot of people don’t realize it.
Vail Mountain has become more and more a place for local skiers. And we should call also Denver skiers kind of “locals,” according to the price they pay and the way they use Vail only on weekends. Vail today reminds me of a big restaurant with a lot of employees and because there are not enough customers, the cook and his staff eat the food they have prepared.
The ski mountain has created all the people who live here. Now, they ski their own mountain and don’t seem to need additional customers anymore. Does that work?
Vail seems not to make enough money anymore. Some prices, like the ski school or a normal day ski pass, are enormous and compared to Europe more than double. And the rest of the skiers ski for low prices. It takes about six to seven Denver skiers to replace the money what a normal customer pays for skiing. Denver skiers and local employees also buy some beer, some sandwiches and perhaps some T-shirts. But as a result the local stores are not needed anymore and they close.
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On the other side, the real estate business has become a machinery. It is kind of a stock market for second or third homes. They create work like cleaning, house-keeping and all kind of repairs. There is constant work to do. Every new owner wants the home different. But they never seem to be there and when they get a good offer, they sell again.
Is Vail on the way to become a ghost town? Was this the vision of Pete Seibert?
Let’s put it another way: What is missing in Vail are not buildings but “full beds,” people who bring money into this valley for all the employees and the stores.
If you listen to some of the locals, they really think it is better they have the ski mountain for themselves. But doesn’t somebody have to pay for the costs? Everybody wants to have fun, but nobody seems to have the money to pay for it. Do you really think that may work?
The present discussion about Chair 5 is a very interesting part of the situation. One group wants to ski as much as possible. The other group points at Chair 17 in Sun Up Bowl and wants to keep at least Sun Down Bowl unchanged.
Back Bowl skiing used to be the unique advertisement for skiing Vail. Sun Down Bowl is now like a small and limited gourmet restaurant. When it’s full it’s full and you have to wait until you get your place there.
The other part wants to turn it into a fast-food place where you don’t have to wait anymore. Funny enough and pretty typical.
Everybody talks about their own wishes, but you don’t hear anybody talking about what the customers want.
More hotel rooms would help. But if anybody wants to build a hotel or enlarge it, the town of Vail seems to be pretty picky. Have you ever seen the huge hotels all over the French Alps? We don’t want them here, but it might be an eye-opener, and Lionshead seems to be a good place to create affordable vacation rooms.
Now, we get the heated Bridge Street and an improved portal for the ski mountain in the village. Pete Seibert had planned to put stores along the road to the mountain where skiers go skiing. But what is at the end of Bridge Street? Put a gondola there and the skiers will go there. Tear the lifts down and the skiers will not go there. What is the point of all this planning?
High-speed quads are now the standard everywhere. If there would be a gondola all the way up to the top of the mountain and might be the Vista Bahn up to the top of Lodgepole, where the World Cup races start, then it might be a real attraction for customers to come to Vail Village and to Bridge Street.
So why invest in Back Bowl capacity? Where are the priorities? Just take a day with a little more visitors and the Front Side of Vail Mountain shows the weak parts. There is the almost constant lift line at North Woods. There is the bottleneck at Chair 2 and the traffic jam at Chair 4. And if something breaks down, then you better go home.
When will the old Chair 10 be replaced to reach Blue Sky easier? Starting at Lionshead, going to Blue Sky causes full catwalks and constant lift lines. If skiers would start from the new Vail Front Door, it would be better for the stores on Bridge Street and better for the bottlenecks on the mountain.
How many destination skiers would Vail really need to work efficiently? How many beds according to the capacity of the slopes? And how many restaurants on the mountain and how much parking space, and so on?
Will there be a clear way forward for Vail to keep its position, or will it become the stock market of second homes and a struggling ski resort for local skiers who cannot make enough money to pay the bill?