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Ski season under way

Staff Reports

Warm temperatures may have delayed the start of the ski season, but not by much. Loveland once again won the race for opening day bragging rights, firing up Chair 1 on Oct. 28 and giving eager skiers and boarders access to mile-long ribbon of white.In its first full season of snowmaking operations, A-Basin was only a few days behind, with crews laying down a decent carpet of machine-made snow on High Noon, accessed by the Exhibition chair on the lower part of the mountain. A-Basin opened Oct. 30. Copper opens Nov. 1, with skiing on one trail served by the Excelerator chair.And crews at Beaver Creek and Vail have also fired up the snowguns. With cooler temperatures in the forecast, snowmaking operations at local areas should be in full swing during the coming weeks, while everyone looks toward the sky anticipating at least a little help from Mother Nature.Crested Butte sale announcedAfter months of negotiations, rumors and false starts, the sale of Crested Butte Mountain Resort has been finalized. The Denver Post reports that Vermont resort developer Tim Mueller has completed a deal to buy the struggling Gunnison County ski area.Mueller previously revived Okemo, a near-moribund ski hill that was floundering along with about 95,000 skier visits in the early 1980s. Investing millions in snowmaking, golf course and real estate development and lodges, Mueller turned Okemo into Vermont’s second busiest ski area, according to the Post. Along with his wife, Diane, he also owns Mount Sunapee in New Hampshire.The couple has been looking to get a piece of the Colorado ski industry for years. They made a bid to develop a new ski area near Steamboat (Catamount), and also sought to purchase Steamboat, a deal that fell through when American Skiing Co. decided instead to sell its Heavenly ski area in California to Vail Resorts. According to the Post, the Muellers also tried to partner with the City of Denver to lease Winter Park, a deal that ultimately went to Intrawest.Crested Butte has been struggling through a series of poor-to-average snowfall years and has seen skier visits decline dramatically from a high of 550,000 during the 1997-98 season to 342,000 last season a drop that has been attributed at least in part to the Front Range season pass price wars. A new proposal to develop Snodgrass Mountain and new base area real estate is likely to surface in the wake of the recent deal, the Post reports.USFS reverses chairlift ad policyReversing an earlier ruling, U.S. Forest Service officials will permit the Aspen Skiing Co. to continue a pilot program that involves combining display ads with trail maps, attached to chairlift safety bars.The test program was launched last season and criticized by some Forest Service officials who said it violated a long-standing agency ban on outdoor advertising. Colorado-based Forest Service officials at first denied the application, saying it was only the latest of many similar proposals that have routinely been denied for decades.But top agency recreation managers in Washington, D.C. overruled the local decision and approved a one-year test program. Last month, the Forest Service issued a temporary ruling that would have eliminated the display ads while allowing logos and sponsorship messages.But in an Oct. 17 letter to Aspen Ski Co. executives, White River National Forest Supervisor Martha Ketelle decided to extend the pilot program for another year, citing the need to be flexible. Ketelle said the extension should not be construed as permanent approval for the program. The agency will study the “broader issue of advertising vs. sponsorship vs. underwriting,” Ketelle concluded.Town planner fired for newspaper commentsThe Snowmass Sun reports that a senior Snowmass Village planner was fired because of statements she made to a reporter as an anonymous source. The planner, Carolyn Poissant, made allegations in the Oct. 7 edition of the Aspen Times that town officials were engaging in &quotback-room&quot negotiations with Intrawest, which is proposing a massive base area development at Snowmass.Poissant recast her statement the following day in the Snowmass Sun, denying that she meant to imply that there was anything illegal going on.The Aspen Times apologized for the editing error that resulted in Poissant’s identity being revealed. Publisher Jenna Weatherred was quoted as saying, “We are so sorry this has happened. I really respect what she did and think she stood up for something she believed in. I’m disappointed Snowmass has decided this is what they need to do.”Telluride makes offer on Valley FloorAccording to the Telluride Daily Planet, the Town of Telluride has offered to $19.5 million for 570 acres of land at the entrance to town known as the Valley Floor. The land is owned by San Miguel Valley Corp. and has been the focal point of controversy for years, since development plans surfaced.The $19.5 million offer is the appraised value of the land, but other appraisals range between $30 million and $48 million. According to the Daily Planet, the town’s next move will depend on the response from the San Miguel Valley Corp. The offer by the town could be a prelude to subsequent condemnation, a proceeding during which courts would determine the value of the land.Telluride residents voted last summer to authorize acquisition of the land in order to preserve it as open space. In November, voters agreed to allow the town additional borrowing capability for the purchase.Steamboat airport upgrades laudedSteamboat Ski and Resort Corp. officials said recent upgrades at the Yampa Valley Regional Airport and improvements to the gondola transit center should elevate the perception of the resort, according to the Steamboat Pilot & Today.According to the Pilot & Today, Routt County is providing a 10 percent match for a federal grant funding a $765,000 addition on the airport terminal that will provide more space for travelers going through security and checking luggage on their way home. At the same time, the ski company and the City of Steamboat Springs are cooperating on a renovation of the gondola transit center that will streamline access to ground transportation for skiers.Officials also said that airline bookings are up, and that an increased capacity in airline seats should help boost business. They also noted that congestion issues along the I-70 corridor are a serious concern for Steamboat, adding to an already lengthy travel time to and from the Front Range.Resorts support climate-change billThirty-six ski resorts from around the U.S. are urging the Senate to pass bi-partisan legislation to control the pollution responsible for global warming. The resorts say global warming is a long-term concern for their industry and one of America’s favorite recreational pastimes. A Senate vote on the bill, sponsored by Republican John McCain and Democrat Joe Lieberman, is expected by the end of October.Global warming presents challenges for the ski industry, threatening shorter seasons for skiers and snowboarders. The ski industry wants to be part of the solution. Backed by a market-based trading system that minimizes costs and rewards companies for technological innovation, the McCain/Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act (S. 139) marks the first time ever that congress has voted on domestic global warming pollution controls.In a letter to lawmakers, resort officials wrote: “As warming continues, we could experience decreased snowpack, warmer nights, wetter shoulder seasons, and reduced weather predictability. Fewer operating days would obviously affect our bottom line, warmer nights can impact our ability to make snow, and spring rain can wash away our base at a critical time of year for skiing and snowboarding. As diehard skiers and snowboarders, we think winter is already too short.”Crested Butte looks at avalanche hazardsTown of Mt. Crested Butte officials are trying to get the word out to potential property owners about avalanche hazards, the Crested Butte News reports. Even though the town recorded a notice of avalanche zones with the Gunnison County Clerk’s office in 1997, that information has not been appearing on title searches for prospective home or property buyers, according to the News. But town codes require Realtors and property managers to notify potential buyers and renters if a Mt. Crested Butte property is within a significant avalanche area.One town official suggested identifying all the properties known to be in avalanche hazard areas, but the News reports that a similar suggestion was met with criticism from Realtors and property owners who felt that such labels could be perceived as a “black cloud or scarlet letter” on those properties.Tahoe area drops ticket priceThe San Francisco Chronicle reports that Alpine Meadows has dropped its daily non-holiday ticket price to $39, down $17 from last season. Describing the move as “positive sticker shock,” a resort spokeswoman said the area is trying to make skiing and snowboarding more affordable especially for new participants.According to the Chronicle, competing resorts were surprised by the move, and speculated that the price reduction could trigger a price war. So far, though, most other ski areas in the popular ski region are holding the line on prices with the exception of Sugar Bowl, which also dropped its price to $39, for tickets purchased at Safeway.Early snow blankets Austrian AlpsAn early storm blanketed much of the Austrian Alps with up to a foot of snow in late October, with plenty of fresh powder for skiers and snowboarders enjoying first turns of the season on some of the lift-served glacier ski areas.According to Austrian news reports, snow levels dropped to the valley floors, and even some of the countrys major cities were affected. Some high mountain areas even posted avalanche warnings and several high passes were closed.– compiled by Bob Berwyn


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