Vail Daily column: Job creation | VailDaily.com
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Vail Daily column: Job creation

Warren Miller
Valley Voices

About 50 miles south of the Bozeman, Montana, airport, a gondola will take you to the top of Big Sky, and it opens up over 5,000 vertical feet of uninterrupted skiing.

In the early 1950s this was part of the Huntley Ranch. Chet traded the then-potential ski resort for Chrysler Motor Co. stock. They in turn immediately installed a few chairlifts that only went up to where the mountain got steep, built a bunch of condominiums and named it Big Sky. It would be many years before the gondola to the summit was installed and the entire mountain could be enjoyed.

In 1997, adjacent to the south, Pioneer Peak and its surrounding 14,000 acres began to be developed as the world’s only private ski and golf resort when they installed the five quad chairlifts and started selling vacant lots to fund the development of the Yellowstone Club. Adjacent to Big Sky on the north side, Moonlight Basin became yet another ski resort with several chairlifts, a great lodge and condominiums and private homes. At the base of Big Sky to the east, another resort was created and called Spanish Peaks. From the Tom Weiskopf golf course and lodge at Spanish Peaks you can ride a chairlift that interconnects with Big Sky and there you can take another one that interconnects with Moonlight Basin. All of this development has been done with private capital on private land. With no government taxpayer money or Forest Service interference, it has grown safely and employs many hundreds of people.

At the Yellowstone Club, between 800 and a thousand trucks enter the club property every day to service the construction industry at this one resort. Assuming two carpenters, electricians, plumbers, concrete workers in each truck, that’s 1,800 jobs in construction alone that this one resort supports.

At the Yellowstone Club, there are 750 employees to manage the facility and serve the club members. Remember that for you to have your freedom of a day of skiing, you have haul you and all your stuff from the parking lot to the chairlift, or park your car, then employee No. 2 will sell you a lift ticket and employee No. 3 will load you on the chairlift with employee No. 4 will be standing by as a ski patrolman in case of an injury, employee No. 5 will be cooking your lunch, employee No. 6 will be serving you your lunch. It takes a lot of people working hard to give a skier freedom on the side of a hill. It takes a crew of about 60 to run the 15 chairlifts and 36 ski patrolmen to keep you safe on the 14,000 acres of ski runs no matter what the snow conditions are.

Big Sky has 22 chairlifts, accommodations for thousands of people in many condominiums and hotel rooms. Restaurants have a large payroll of many hundreds of employees. The number of men and women involved in construction are not as large as at the Yellowstone Club, but it is substantial and is estimated to be a huge economy booster where most of them live, down in the Bozeman, Montana, area.

Moonlight Basin has five chairlifts and accommodations for many more in condominiums and private homes.

One thing that Montana does not have are lots of people and congested highways. Barely 1 million people living in the state. The marketing and advertising budget for this whole ski complex is probably somewhat less than a single Colorado resort.

When I first discovered this part of the ski world, there was almost no one here. The Yellowstone Club was a startup ski resort and during the first five years I skied here, a crowded day would be less than a half a dozen people riding on five quad chairlifts. What’s not to like about that?

I’ve been asked thousands of times, “Where is the best place in the world to ski?” I have been fortunate enough to ski all around the world producing movies about obscure as well as famous ski resorts, and the only answer I can give is, “We are skiing at the best place in the world because we can be anywhere else.” However, after turning right and left for 73 years, I broke my back three or four years ago in a stupid fall and had to quit skiing altogether.

Now, I spend my time writing about how many permanent jobs can be created by simply building a road to a mountain in opening up for ski resort development. My question to the government is why don’t you loosen up on your Forest Service restrictions and allow more ski resorts to be built. As I understand it, the Yellowstone Club, which was launched in 1997, was the last major resort built in the United States and probably the last one you will see built in your lifetime unless you start writing politicians in Washington, D.C. to encourage more use of the million of acres locked up tight at this time. Considering some of these numbers that I have set down in this brief story, one final thing to remember is if all these people who are working in the Big Sky area were living in the same city you live in, then they would be in front of you on the freeway every morning on the way to work and every evening on the way home. I have not yet factored into this job creation story the number of people who have settled down in the Big Sky Meadow and the large number of retail stores that have been built. For example there is a K-12 school, a 350-seat performing arts center with full of state-of-the-art equipment, a motion picture theater, numerous restaurants and accommodations for 1,700 employees.

They are now building brand-new hospital with an emergency ward and all of the equipment that a large city hospital has with an emergency helicopter service to Bozeman, Montana, or anywhere else. There are now three markets and according to the Big Sky property owner’s association there are dozens of commercial structures in the Big Sky Meadow. It’s hard for me to remind myself that when I came here in ’97 for the first time and moved here in 1999 that all of this job creation that is going on today has occurred in that time frame. It is all based on the undeniable fact that the best freedom of all be found on the side of a hill covered with snow with a chairlift to get you back to the top.

Let’s hear it for job creation of a simple kind.

Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to over 50 publications. For more of Miller’s stories and stuff, log onto WarrenMiller.net. For information about his foundation, The Warren Miller Freedom Foundation, go to http://www.warrenmiller.org.


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