Vail near top of realty company’s climate-resilient resorts list of world’s ski areas

A recent report by Savills, an international realty firm, put Vail in the second spot of a list of the world's most climate-resilient resorts. Vail's strength comes from its elevation. Aspen was listed fourth on the list.
David Neff |

The top 11

Here are world’s top 11 “climate resilient” ski resorts, according to Savills:

• Zermatt, Switzerland

• Vail

• Saas-Fee, Switzerland

• Aspen

• Breuil-Cervinia, Italy

• Heavenly, California

• Obertauern, Austria

• St. Moritz, Switzerland

• Valle Nevado, Chile

• Zell am See, Austria

• Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia

Source: Savills

VAIL — As Earth’s climate warms, the future of skiing may be found at higher elevations. If so, then Vail seems poised to continue its success.

A recent report from Savills, an international realty firm based in London, included a list of ski resorts that stand to be “resilient” as Earth’s climate continues to change.

The resorts at the top of the list generally have high-elevation terrain, as well as snowmaking equipment.

The report put Vail and Aspen second and fourth, respectively, on a list of those resorts. Zermatt and Saas-Fee, both in Switzerland, were first and third on the list.

Interestingly, Vail Resorts owns three resorts among the top 11 on the Savills list: Vail, Heavenly (sixth) and Whistler Blackcomb (11th).

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A recent Vail Resorts investors’ report lists factors that come into play when the company considers new acquisitions. Elevation isn’t mentioned, but “location” is part of the strategy. That can include everything from proximity to cities — in the case of the company’s urban ski areas — to accessibility. Weather might play a role in considering a resort’s location.

Vail Resorts was singled out in the report for its efforts in managing its energy use, finding more efficient ways to groom slopes and installing solar technology.

Analysis, not science

The report was created for a realty company and is analysis, not science. That means there are some holes. Summit County resorts — also high-elevation ski areas — weren’t mentioned. Also, in a section on snowfall, Northern California was mentioned as receiving greater-than-average snowfall in the 2016-17 season. No mention was made of the multi-year drought at those resorts in the seasons just before that big winter.

In general, though, the idea is valid that higher-elevation resorts are better poised to keep people skiing and snowboarding.

Kim Langmaid is the founder of Walking Mountains Science Center. She keeps a keen eye on climate change and environmental issues.

Langmaid, currently a Vail Town Council member, said she believes Vail’s elevation, as well as its location on the more snow-prone Western Slope of the Colorado Rockies, gives the resort an advantage.

And, she added, temperatures are warming in the region.

Langmaid said a recent study of temperatures around Aspen show there’s been a loss since the 1980s of nearly a month’s worth of freezing temperatures.

While temperature is easy to track, Langmaid noted that precipitation may also be more unpredictable than in past years. This year’s dry start to the season isn’t particularly unusual, but the area is seeing more freeze-thaw cycles, putting ice on sidewalks, recreation paths and roads.

While elevation promises to keep mountain sports alive in Vail and similar spots, Langmaid said there’s been a conscious effort in Vail to be more adaptable to a changing world.

“Resilience also has to do with social elements, our business model and experiences the whole destination can provide,” she said. “Vail, as a town council and a community, needs to think harder about year-round activities.”

Already leading

Langmaid added that Vail Resorts has been a leader in expanding resort activities with its Epic Discovery summer programs.

But Vail’s accessibility also plays a role in attracting visitors, Langmaid said.

“We’re more likely to have Front Range (residents) coming just to be in the mountains,” she added.

While climate plays a prominent role in the Savills report, two long-time Vail Realtors said the topic doesn’t really come up when they’re talking with clients.

“People talk about (climate change) as a general conversation topic,” said Craig Denton, of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Colorado Properties. But, he added, most clients have already made up their minds about wanting a place in Vail by the time they talk to a broker.

Ron Byrne, founder of Ron Byrne and Associates Realty, agreed that the topic of climate change doesn’t really enter into conversations with clients.

In fact, Byrne added, even the weather isn’t mentioned much when discussing property in town.

On the other hand, Byrne added, if summers are becoming longer and hotter elsewhere, “Where would you rather be than in Vail?”

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, and @scottnmiller.

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