| VailDaily.com

Success through clear leadership

Vail-Summit Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery CEO John Polikandriotis is scheduled to speak at a national online conference for the American College of Healthcare Executives alongside major figures in the health care space, including Dr. Anthony S. Fauci.

The healthcare industry has one of the highest burnout rates in the nation, but CEO John Polikandriotis has bucked that trend at Vail-Summit Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery (VSON) through clear, authentic leadership. Now, he’s teaching others how to lead with “deliberate clarity.”

In March, he speaks at a virtual national conference for the American College of Healthcare Executives about how to achieve success when old methods don’t work anymore. He will be speaking alongside major figures in the health care space, including Dr. Anthony S. Fauci.

Polikandriotis understands the classic grind: “overwork, attain, intermission and repeat,” which ultimately leads to exhaustion and burnout.

Rather than chasing never-ending goals imposed by others, he advocates taking time to define what truly brings you joy. He also points out that anything worth pursuing requires sacrifices: Most people see the “shiny ball” of wealth, fame or other success leaders possess without knowing about the relationships, time, energy or money they put in to achieve their status, he said.

“Leading can be all-consuming and highly stressful, especially when you do it for a company and employees that you care so much about,” he said. “Great leaders have to sacrifice personal agenda for the good of others and their organization.”

Although leadership has a cost, it’s also quite rewarding. 

“It teaches you priority management, relationship management and communication skills,” he said. “And at the end of the day, nothing is more rewarding to me than to see dedicated employees overcoming challenges, growing, learning and doing amazing fulfilling work.”

In his four years at VSON, Polikandriotis has focused on four core values: compassionate care, innovation, teamwork and community.

“John has trust in his staff, trust in the process,” said Megan Buhler, director of operations. “John has strength in leadership and brought a new presence to the CEO office when he joined the organization.”

His strength started with a clear vision of where VSON needed to go, and how to get there. He ensured all employees understood what the company stands for, where it’s going and why.

“John has brought a business perspective to VSON that incorporates intimate knowledge of the local healthcare environment with a national perspective into the business of healthcare,” said Dr. Erik Dorf, a shoulder, hand, elbow, wrist, knee and orthopaedic trauma surgeon. “Through his guidance, VSON has been able to maintain our market share and develop a growth strategy focused on aligning world-class orthopaedic surgeons throughout Colorado. John is a visionary in his field. We are blessed to have him on our team.”

Vail-Summit Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery CEO John Polikandriotis.

Polikandriotis understands that success isn’t linear: Solving one problem just leads to other questions and problems.

“Success is an action, not a destination,” he said. “Today’s solutions will always lay the foundation for tomorrow’s problems.”

The choice: Either stop solving problems or realize that a meaningful life involves solving problems. Afterall, careers in healthcare — and plenty of other areas — revolve around solving challenges.

“Don’t hope for a life without problems,” he said. “Hope for a life full of problems you are passionate about solving.”

And, as a leader, realize that trying to fix every problem will probably lead to burnout. Polikandriotis takes two approaches: delegating and knowing what he can and cannot control.

“John trusts you to do your job,” Buhler said. “He doesn’t feel he has to be involved every step of the way. That’s why we’ve gotten so much done in the last four years. He trusts that I can do my job and he’ll do his job and things will just get done.”

When things like, say, a global pandemic come his way, he focuses on things he can control.

“I think it is an easy tendency to become paralyzed focusing on things that you can’t control or change,” he said. “Great leadership is about training yourself to separate what you cannot control from what you can control, and then focusing exclusively on the latter. Mindful leaders control how much they learn, how much they listen, how hard they work, and which inspiring people to surround themselves with. This choice to focus on things we can control can increase our endurance to be able to withstand and adapt to anything this constantly everchanging world throws at us.”

Such leadership skills require not only cognitive intelligence, but also emotional intelligence — the ability to be an authentic human being, connect with others, manage stress, show humility and empathy and be honest.

“High IQ makes sense, but we’re starting to live in a world where emotional intelligence trumps IQ,” he said. “If you want to win over hearts and minds, you have to lead with your authentic heart and mind. Leaders don’t tell people what to do; they have open conversations about what their team wants.”

In other words, they provide directions and intent — not orders. They provide an overall vision and goals with clear expectations.

“I’ve only been at VSON for a year, but I already feel like a stronger marketer thanks to John’s leadership,” said Rachel Follender, director of marketing and communications. “When I present a new opportunity to him, he doesn’t tell me ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ He always asks ‘what do you think?’ and encourages me to make a decision based on my expertise in marketing, as well as knowledge of our industry and organizational needs. When you work for John, he doesn’t just give you a list of things you have to do. He pushes you to develop that list yourself, and own the intention behind it. John doesn’t strive to be a boss — he strives to be a mentor and business partner.”

Most of all, great leaders care for, and support, their team members.

“Empower and educate others to work at their highest level,” Polikandriotis said. “The upper limit of what’s possible will increase only with each collaborator you empower.”

“Let’s be honest: orthopaedic surgeons are independent minded physicians,” Dorf said. “John has been able to align the varying perspectives of the VSON partners toward common goals and a long-term vision. Without his guidance, we would not be where we are now.”

As each empowered person passes on his or her enthusiasm and expertise to other colleagues, it creates a domino effect of vitality and success that ultimately serves the organization’s clients — in this case, VSON’s patients.

Living an active Colorado lifestyle? Vail Physical Therapy should be in your wellness plan

Stacey Matzke Office Manager Nichole Swanson PT, DPT, Vail PT Jennifer Martin PT, DPT, OCS, FAAOMPT, Tina Zoller PT, DPT.
About Vail Physical Therapy

Vail Physical Therapy is an independently owned and operated physical therapy clinic that has served local patients since 1989. Owner Jennifer Martin, DPT, OCS, FAAOMPT, took over in 2020 from David Honda.

We strive to help every patient who walks through our doors rehabilitate from injury, heal from medical procedures, alleviate pain and empower them to lead a healthy, productive life.

Physical therapy isn’t just for people experiencing injuries or recent surgeries—it can be an essential part of a comprehensive health and wellness routine. Vail Physical Therapy has been

Vail Physical Therapy has been serving Vail and Eagle County patients for more than 30 years, treating everything from neck pain and headaches to back pain, post-surgery, injuries of knee/ankle/hip/shoulder, balance and vertigo and more.

In the Vail Valley where residents are regularly pushing their bodies with activity, physical therapists can help focus endeavors in sport, minimize injury and most importantly, feel better faster.

“If you have a moderate ache or pain, or something that’s been nagging, we can help manage it so you can heal and improve,” said Jennifer Martin, physical therapist and the owner of Vail Physical Therapy. “You don’t need a ‘significant injury’ to benefit from physical therapy.”

Keeping patients moving

Every person—no matter the level of activity—can experience some deficit in mobility, strength or flexibility. Vail Physical Therapy works with patients to identify these challenges in order to reduce pain and inflammation, restore and strengthen muscles to support active lifestyles and also minimize risk of re-injury.

“We take a unique approach by looking at muscle imbalances, joint and/or soft tissue restrictions, body mechanics and muscle sequencing to find inefficiencies,” Martin said. “We then combine education for you on the injury or pathology, define exercises that fit your lifestyle, and help re-education of muscle and movement patterns to return you to your desired sport or level of activity.”

Vail Physical Therapy can get patients in for an appointment quickly and offer injury education and pain relief.

“We are able to give some immediate relief and offer injury education, including guidance about what you should or shouldn’t do to help the injury calm down.”

This physical therapy diagnosis can identify deficits and problems and also direct patients to the most appropriate advanced medical care when necessary.

Expediting your return to activity

Martin describes physical therapy as a way to expedite a safe return to activity. If you’re worried about missing out on your favorite activity or workouts, physical therapy could be the answer. And as remote work scenarios have become more common, PTs are seeing many patients for postural assessments and other desk job ailments and guidance. We are safely consulting with many people via Telehealth in their homes, all over the world.

“We’re telling you HOW you can do things safely, so you don’t set
yourself back further, not telling you you CAN’T do something,”Martin said. “We help you get back faster and safely so you don’t have to miss out on your activities. We are your biggest advocate to get you back to your active lifestyle.”

Personalized, boutique care

Jennifer Martin PT, DPT, OCS, FAAOMPT, owner of Vail Physical Therapy Clinic

Martin took over Vail Physical Therapy from David Honda in 2020. She had worked as a physical therapist at the clinic in the late 1990s and again in the years leading up to the change in ownership. “David Honda and Merlon Pusey really established this clinic as a premier independent physical therapy clinic in the Vail Valley, focusing on excellent personalized one-on-one PT care,” Martin said. It was thanks to Honda’s guidance that Martin went on to pursue a residency and fellowship to become a board-certified Orthopaedic Specialist.

“Those two years really changed the direction of my career as I recognized my definitive ability to improve patients’ lives through competent and comprehensive therapy” she said. “We don’t take the place of what a
medical doctor will do, but we perform an adjunct role and serve as the experts in musculoskeletal rehabilitative care.” Martin also went on to get a doctorate in physical therapy so she could teach and provide health care at the highest level as a therapist.

Jennifer has had the opportunity to treat and train numbers of professional athletes and performers, but is most fulfilled keeping individuals in her community active and healthy. She also has certifications in Trigger Point Dry Needling and Pilates. Jennifer is excited to provide the same high-level expertise and personal experience to the valley that patients have expected from Vail Physical Therapy since it opened in 1989.

“We have the honor of having many clients who have been with Vail PT for years. They are family to us and we appreciate that they continue to trust us with their care.”

Two other skilled veteran physical therapists have joined the team:

Nichole Boy Swanson PT, DPT: 20 years PT experience and 10
years in Vail/Avon/Eagle who also began her career at Vail PT. Nichole’s PT focus is manual therapy techniques for sports and orthopedic injuries and especially enjoys working with the elderly and those with vestibular disorders, vertigo and chronic pain.

Tina Zoller PT, DPT: 15 years PT experience and 12 years in Vail/Edwards specializes in manual therapy with skilled soft tissue and sport and rehab exercise guidance.

Stacey Matzke is Vail PT’s extraordinary Office Manager who is able to assist with any scheduling and insurance questions.

Why Vail Physical Therapy is different:
  • More than 30 years of experience helping patients in the Vail Valley.
  • PT-owned & operated: Independent and catering to individualized patient care
  • Highly respected staff with 100+ local doctors and specialists referring patients
  • Dedicated specialists: One-on-one treatment sessions with experienced PTs who will evaluate and define a treatment program and plan of care specifically for you.

The clinic is located at 1295 Westhaven Drive – inside the Aria/Cascade Club near the Grand Hyatt in West Vail. Free parking available. 

With years of expertise, we specialize in these conditions and more:

  •   Hip/ Knee/ Shoulder/ Elbow/ Ankle Pain and Injuries
  •   Neck or Back Injuries/Pain
  •   Pre-and Post-Surgical Treatment, including Total Joint Replacement
  •   Osteoarthritis and “Wear and Tear” Symptoms
  •   Balance/Dizziness/Concussion Symptoms
  •   Chronic Pain
  •   Headaches, including Cervicogenic (whiplash)
  •   Pregnancy Associated Back and Pelvic Pain
  •   Sacroiliac Pain/Dysfunction
  •   Sports Injuries and Overuse Injuries
  •   TMJ Disorders
  •   Trigger Point Dry Needling
  •   Vertigo

 For more information or to schedule an appointment at Vail Physical Therapy, call 970-476-7510 or visit vailphysicaltherapy.com.

Globally-conscious adventure brand expands with four new Haus Partners

Thanks to its new Haus Partner program, Gravity Haus Members now have access to the Gravity Haus experiential lifestyle at seven locations across Colorado, California and Nosara, Costa Rica
Gravity Haus Now Offers Benefits in Seven Locations

Gravity Haus is a collection of sustainable experiences curated for an adventure-loving community. These include uniquely-designed guest rooms, functional co-working spaces, world class guided adventures, thoughtfully-crafted food and cocktails, holistic training and recovery, access to state-of-the-art gear and equipment, and so much more. 

Gravity Haus owned locations include Breckenridge, Vail and Winter Park (opening in 2021), and now thanks to Haus Partners, members can enjoy the same globally conscious lifestyle amenities and adventures in Telluride, Silverton, North Lake Tahoe and Nosara, Costa Rica. Membership starts at just $40 a month. Join during the month of February and get 15 months of membership for the price of 12.

Living an active, intrepid lifestyle is a culture that unites like-minded adventure-seekers, and thanks to the vision of one Colorado entrepreneur, that unified lust for life also has multiple physical locations to call home. 

Gravity Haus — with owned hotel locations in Vail, Breckenridge and Winter Park (opening summer 2021), and recently-announced Haus Partner locations in Telluride, North Lake Tahoe, Silverton and Nosara, Costa Rica — is a membership-based hospitality community featuring dozens of amenities, discounts and benefits. As Gravity Haus continues to expand, CEO Jim Deters says the brand remains wholeheartedly committed to its mission, which is to create a globally conscious community for the modern adventurer.

“We’re building more modern amenities for mountain towns, developed with a community mindset and as community-based assets,” he says. “The idea is to distill it all into conscious capitalism and consumptions. We believe in asking three questions: Is it good for you? Is it good for the planet? Is it an amazing experience?”

Sustainability at its core

The Gravity Haus lifestyle incorporates sustainable practices into every aspect of its business, from coffee beans to in-room soaps to hotel mattresses to sustainably-sourced food. 

Gravity Haus Members enjoy a collection of events and Haus Perks: discounts on gear and outdoor experiences such as heliskiing, climbing and backcountry events, nutritional classes, wine tastings +more.

“We’re not buying meat from confined cattle operations—we buy from ranchers who are raising cattle appropriately,” Deters says. “Our members care about how they consume. If we’re going to inhabit this planet, we want to spend our time and dollars as close to harmony as we can with other environmental stewards.”

Haus Quiver, one of Gravity Haus’ most coveted membership benefits, is based on the belief that exceptional experiences are enhanced by knowing where to play and having the right gear. A lot of outdoor gear is prohibitively expensive, and schlepping it around in planes and vehicles adds another layer of hassle. 

“We want our members to consume consciously while they’re at these destinations,” Deters says. “This is not a rental business, it’s a member perk. You don’t have to own all of this gear to enjoy these experiences.”


Gravity Haus provides more urban amenities for members and guests such as co-working spaces, which it offers at each Gravity Haus

An essential component of Gravity Haus’ mission is to implement these practices in an unpretentious way. Through an affordable pricing model, Gravity Haus aims to make these lifestyle choices more accessible to outdoor-adventure community members, and especially the locals who call these towns home.

What Deters found as he was developing the business model was that nothing hit the sweet spot — mountain town amenities were “either 40-years-old janky, or super high-end expensive.” 

Membership opportunities were geared toward the ultra-wealthy, but Deters’ vision was for a more sustainable interpretation of “luxury” that included access to the right toys, a love of the planet and a desire for personal growth. 

“It’s about accessibility vs. exclusivity,” says Matt Windt, executive vice president of marketing and communications. “We appreciate the luxuries of life, but luxury in terms of the quality of the experience, not the price tag associated with it.”

Gravity Haus’ rapid and continuous growth since launching in 2019 proves there was a thirst for this type of experiential community in Colorado and beyond. 

“The locals frequent our locations, which keep them buzzing and thriving,” Deters says. “We believe Gravity Haus is in the community-building business.” 

Four New Haus Partners — a significant value add for members

Gravity Haus knows time in the gym makes its members more resilient out on the mountain, which is why its owned-and-operated hotels include state-of-the-art gyms, branded as Dryland Fitness.

Gravity Haus also strongly focuses on building value for its members, and its latest Haus Partner announcement proves it’s continuing to do just that. Windt says with seven Gravity Haus travel options, members are enabled to explore these locations in the Gravity Haus way. 

“The hotel partner is the jumping off point,” he says, “to live this lifestyle, armed with the gear to play and explore.”

Deters says he really wanted to extend the value to the most likely places that Gravity Haus community members would want to access. Of course, Gravity Haus plans to build, own and operate in even more destinations, but partnerships allow them to expand membership benefits more immediately. 

“Our active outdoor travelers prioritize active destinations vs. leisure destinations,” he says.

Connect with orthopaedic experts during these free monthly webinars

Join VSON physicians for their next free webinar, “Common Knee Injuries During Skiing and Snowboarding Season,” and get your orthopaedic questions answered live by the experts.
Join VSON for its next webinar

Topic: Common Knee Injuries During Skiing and Snowboarding Season

Who: Dr. Richard Cunningham, who specializes in knee, shoulder and orthopaedic trauma; and Joshua Jones, an orthopaedic physical therapist with Avalanche Physical Therapy.

When: Thursday, Feb. 4 at 5:30 p.m. 

How to attend: To register for VSON’s free webinars, visit vsortho.com/webinars. To keep up with the latest VSON news, visit vsortho.com, or follow “vailsummitorthopaedics” on Instagram or Facebook.

Have you ever had a question about an orthopaedic injury or condition, but you’re unsure if it warrants a visit to the doctor? Vail-Summit Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery’s free monthly webinars could provide the answers you’re looking for. 

VSON’s webinars are helping Summit County’s residents and visitors learn important information to keep their bodies active and healthy. The best part about the virtual format is the Q&A portion — attendees can ask the surgeons specific questions relating to the topic and hear their answers in real time.

“Each webinar is designed to cater to many individuals who might be experiencing issues related to the topic being presented,”said VSON Marketing & Communications Director Rachel Follender “These are not ‘lectures’ in the traditional sense — they are sessions that aim to provide useful information to those attending in order to improve their day-to-day lives.”

Diverse webinar topics

VSON strives to differentiate the webinar subjects, Follender said, in order to create relevant discussions for multiple demographics and areas of concern. Since April of 2020 when VSON hosted its first webinar with Neurosurgeon Dr. Ernest Braxton — who presented about advancements in treating chronic pain and COVID-19 — the program has grown to include up to five sessions per month. 

From niche to broad, VSON chooses topics that run the gamut of orthopaedic, neurosurgery and sports medicine concerns including chronic pain management, sports injuries, preventable measures, treatment options, and groundbreaking procedures at VSON such as wide-awake hand surgery.

Webinar topics that address more general injuries or chronic pain tend to attract a broader audience, such as Dr. Terrell Joseph’s discussion about arthritis and tendonitis. In that webinar, he talked about causes, symptoms and treatment options, and fielded questions from men and women across all age groups and athletic abilities. 

“Each of our board-certified surgeons has their own specialties and areas of expertise, giving us the ability to present on a wide-range of topics,” said Rachael Protas, Physician Marketing Manager at VSON. “These webinars remove barriers between the physician and the patient, helping people access world-renowned orthopaedic care from the comfort of their own home.”

Not a lecture

Ski Patrol Member Guiding a Stretcher Down a Hill

A significant portion of each virtual event is dedicated to audience participation via a Q&A, typically toward the end of the discussion, which creates an interactive dialogue that’s highly engaging for the audience. Dr. William Sterett recently hosted a session about Preventing Knee Injuries in Female Athletes, drawing an engaged audience of active women, athletic trainers and coaches.  

“From teaching patients to medical students to residents to Fellows, my career has been centered around education,” Dr. Sterett said. “These webinars provide a forum for teaching our friends and patients information on some of their most sought-after questions.”

VSON has been strategic in designing these presentations so the event never feels like a lecture, while also showcasing the physicians’ expertise in a way that’s useful for the community. 

“The physicians from VSON make a point to take questions throughout the webinar to gear the talk toward the audience and their interests,” Protas said.“This format allows the audience to lead the discussion through questions and stories, helping to make these webinars interactive as well as informative.”  

Participate in the discussion

At VSON’s next virtual event on Feb. 4, Dr. Richard Cunningham will discuss ACL and MCL tears, meniscus tears, tibial spine fractures and tibial plateau fractures, while Avalanche Physical Therapy’s Joshua Jones will present about physical therapy’s benefits for prevention and return to activity. 

“This is a great event for all skiers and snowboarders across every skill level who enjoy different types of terrain – from groomers to the backcountry,” said Follender. “This is also a great session for individuals who are recovering from injury and want to learn some rehabilitation techniques or explore new treatment options, so they can get back to doing the activities they love.” 

Because sports medicine is a field that treats individualized injuries and concerns, the Q&A format of these webinars really captures the spirit of VSON’s personalized care. 

“We are always striving to improve our webinars and cover more topics people want to learn about,” Follender said. “We encourage individuals to reach out to us with suggestions — if there are any topics you’d find interesting or beneficial to you, please let us know!”

Holy Cross Energy’s journey toward 100% renewable energy

HCE former CEO Ed Grange. To learn more about Ed’s story, visit HolyCross.com/the-co-op-that-climbed-mountains/
Holy Cross Energy’s Journey to 100%

Learn more about our Journey to 100% at www.holycross.com/100×30.

At Holy Cross Energy (HCE), our legacy remains rooted in the original ranchers and farmers who called our valleys home in the late 1930s. It is because of their commitment to bring electricity to the Eagle and Roaring Fork River Valleys that we are able to provide safe, reliable, affordable, and sustainable energy and services for our members and their communities today. As HCE embarks on its ambitious goal to bring 100% renewable energy to our members and communities by 2030, we honor our remarkable past.

Thank you for being part of our Journey to 100%.

Below, former HCE CEO Ed Grange discusses how bringing electricity to a new ski area called Vail in the 1950s almost didn’t happen:

This article originally appeared in Rural Electric Magazine in November 2020. Written by Frank Gallant.

Ed Grange grew up on an unelectrified ranch high in the Rocky Mountains of western Colorado. He watched his mother pump water by hand and cook on a wood stove. Late in life, he could still hear the “god-awful” noise made by the gasoline-powered washing machine on the front porch.

“In the winter, we had to bring it into the kitchen and run the exhaust pipe outside. The noise filled the house,” he recalled in a March 2019 newspaper interview.

Grange didn’t want that kind of a life for himself, so with his Italian immigrant parents’ blessing, he went to college and then graduate school, expecting to get a job teaching mathematics.

Then the direction of his life changed. Home for the summer in 1950, he took a part-time $1.15-an-hour job with Holy Cross Electric Association that grew into a 60-year career.

Vail, the early years

Holy Cross Electric emerged in 1939 after the federal Rural Electrification Administration (REA) recommended that two groups of farmers and ranchers who wanted to organize a co-op—one from the Eagle River Valley in Vail and the other from the Roaring Fork Valley in Aspen—band together if they hoped to get a loan. A county extension agent suggested the incorporators name the co-op after the Mount of the Holy Cross, a local landmark.

REA approved a loan for $119,000, and Holy Cross Electric started building lines in the two valleys. The first line was energized in September 1941, bringing the comforts of central station power to 175 rural families.

By the time Grange came along, Holy Cross Electric was expanding up side valleys and along the main streets of mountain villages in both directions. The acquisition of two small utilities, Eagle River Electric Company and Mountain Utilities, further enlarged the co-op’s service territory.

Then around 1962, the ski industry—and the co-op—took off like a downhill racer. Aspen, Vail, Snowmass, Buttermilk, and other ski resorts were developed. Holy Cross Electric nearly quadrupled in size between 1962 and 1971, growing from 2,300 consumers to 8,700.

Grange saw the boom coming in the late 1950s when many resorts still used noisy diesel engines to power ski lifts. He noticed that a number of large sheep ranches near what would become Vail had changed hands, from the original local owners to a Denver-based buyer named Transmontane Rod and Gun Club. This didn’t make sense because back then, no one bought land in Gore Valley for hunting and fishing preserves.

He investigated and discovered that Transmontane Rod and Gun Club was a front for an investment group headed by Pete Seibert, a former U.S. Ski Team member, and Earl Eaton, a local mountaineer, who wanted to build a world-class ski resort.

Vail Gondola, 1962

“Seibert and Eaton knew that if they said they were planning to build a ski area, land prices would soar,” Grange told the Post Independent in Glenwood Springs, where the co-op has its headquarters. “So over the next few years, they acquired practically all of the land from the bottom of Vail Pass down to where Vail exists now. Some parcels were hard to get because some ranchers didn’t want to sell, but Seibert and Eaton eventually got everything.”

Busy running a growing utility, Grange and his boss, cigar-chomping George Thurston, Holy Cross Electric’s first general manager, didn’t pay much attention until they started seeing publicity about the new ski area. One day in April or May 1962, Seibert drove down to Glenwood Springs to talk to them.

He said Public Service of Colorado officials had laughed him out of their offices. They said his plan was a pipe dream; Gore Valley was too far from Denver to attract enough skiers to keep him in business.

“So Pete tells us, ‘I don’t have any more money. I spent most of what I had on the gondola. … Could you give me some help? Could you take it to your board and see if maybe they would be willing to build me a line up there so I could get open? Our targeted opening day is December 15th.”

All seven board members were ranchers. They didn’t know much about skiing, let alone big ski resorts. But they trusted their general manager’s judgment when he said the co-op shouldn’t pass up this opportunity to build membership in Gore Valley. Grange said it was clear to him Thurston would be out looking for work if the project flopped.

Both Thurston and Grange gulped when Siebert said, a few days later, “You’ve got to put everything underground that serves the lodges and the housing.”

Snowmaking in Vail

Holy Cross Electric had only scant experience with underground construction—one subdivision in Aspen. The co-op hired an outside engineer to lay out the distribution system and an outside contractor to build the overhead lines to the lifts.

Fortunately, 1962 was a dry year and not as cold as usual, allowing the work to proceed without delays.

“We just barely made the December 15th opening day deadline,” Grange said.

There was little snow at first and few skiers, but a few weeks later, the mountain got into its January rhythm of adding a few inches almost every day, and Vail was on its way.

“Never in the history of U.S. skiing has a bare mountain leaped in such a short time into the four-star category of ski resorts,” Sports Illustrated said of Siebert and Eaton’s dream in 1964, when Vail was becoming one of the most popular snow-sports destinations in the United States, welcoming thousands of visitors to its slopes every winter.

When Ed Grange went to work for Holy Cross Electric in 1950, seven employees served 700 consumers. Today, 158 employees serve more than 55,000, from major ski areas to farms, ranches, and rural communities.Grange retired in 2011. Colorado Country Life, the statewide co-op magazine, reported he was still skiing in 2019 at age 84, though he no longer made the rounds to the ski areas to read the meters on the lifts, a task he happily completed into the mid-1990s.

In the Vail Valley, patients aim to look as good as they feel

Dr. Devinder Mangat, left, with partner Dr. Steven E. Copit. Dr. Mangat specializes in facial plastic and reconstructive surgery, while Dr. Copit specializes in breast and body plastic and reconstructive surgery.
Nationally recognized surgeons

The team at Mangat Plastic Surgery Institute and Skin Care have garnered a reputation as the premier plastic surgery center in the Vail Valley and mountain region. Dr. Devinder Mangat has been practicing plastic surgery in the Vail Valley for more than 26 years. He has also served as president of both the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, and the American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. He has served as a fellowship director for the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery since 1987, mentoring 35 fellows in prestigious facial plastic surgery training.  

Dr. Mangat is passionate about giving back. He has performed pro-bono surgeries in Belize for the last 16 years, treating and correcting a range of facial deformities affecting both children and adults. He formed a nonprofit foundation to fund the trips and it also pays to keep about 1,000 local children in school. 

Dr. Steven E. Copit has more than 27 years of experience in advanced breast and body plastic surgery and is highly regarded in the field of cosmetic surgery and breast reconstruction. He practices both in Avon and in Philadelphia, where he serves as Chief of the Division of Plastic Surgery and as a Clinical Professor of Surgery at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

When it’s time for cosmetic or reconstructive plastic surgery, highly specialized care is essential for patients who demand exceptional results.

Mangat Plastic Surgery Institute and Skin Care in Avon has been serving the mountain communities for more than 26 years, with Board Certified surgeons Dr. Devinder Mangat and Dr. Steven Copit delivering nationally recognized care in their respective areas of expertise. Dr. Mangat’s practice is focused on the nose, face and neck, while Dr. Copit specializes in body procedures and breast reconstruction.

“We’re a highly specialized practice and that’s how it should be,” Dr. Mangat says. 

Surgical vs. nonsurgical

The Mangat Plastic Surgery medical team includes Physician Assistants trained in surgery, dermatology and aesthetic medicine, a licensed medical aesthetician, registered nurses, a surgical assistant, an anesthesiologist and two certified registered nurse anesthetists.

“We have a wonderful team providing non-surgical services such as Botox®, fillers, laser treatments and peels — it’s a real team effort,” Dr. Mangat says. “And in terms of surgical procedures, we do it all.”

Surgical procedures are done in a state-of-the-art surgery center in Avon and run the gamut of cosmetic, reconstructive and aesthetic procedures (see factbox). 

“We’re a very patient-oriented practice in that we tailor our procedures for each individual,” Dr. Mangat says. “Our primary focus is to produce results that look natural and don’t look operated.”

Feel good, look good

The team at Mangat Plastic Surgery Institute and Skin Care have garnered a reputation as the premier plastic surgery center in the Vail Valley and Colorado Rocky Mountain region. Pictured from left: Chloe Banning, MMS, PA-C; Devinder Mangat, MD; Steven Copit, MD; Olivia Hesse, LME.

People seek cosmetic or aesthetic procedures for various reasons, but Dr. Mangat says most patients have one thing in common. 

“They’re trying to match how they feel inside with how they look on the outside,” Dr. Mangat says. “Our valley is full of people who are passionate about fitness, so it kind of goes hand in hand that they want to look good, too.”

Patients typically seek treatments starting in their 30s or 40s, and the practice has seen an increase in recent years in the number of men seeking cosmetic procedures, most commonly eyelid surgery, rhinoplasty, facelifts and breast reduction. 

“We always try to be preemptive and do little things early so you don’t have to do anything major or drastic down the road,” Dr. Mangat says. 

Procedures available at Mangat Plastic Surgery in Avon include the following:



  • Facelift
  • Neck lift
  • Rhinoplasty
  • Brow lift
  • Eyelid surgery
  • Chin & cheek augmentation
  • Ear pinning
  • Fat transfer
  • Lip augmentation
  • Chemical peels/skin resurfacing


  • Augmentation
  • Augmentation with lift
  • Lift
  • Reduction
  • Implant revision
  • Reconstruction
  • Male breast reduction (gynecomastia)


  • Tummy tuck
  • Liposuction
  • Mommy makeover
  • Arm lift (brachioplasty)
  • Butt lift
  • Thigh lift
  • After weight loss
  • Body lift


  • Injectables (Botox, Dysport, Jeauveau, Xeomin, Dermal fillers, Kybella)
  • Body sculpting (Coolsculpting and Emsculpt)
  • Laser services, including CO2
  • Skin care/facials (including dermaplaning, microblading, microneedling, mole removal, permanent makeup, Hydrafacial MD, oxygen treatments and more)
  • Sclerotherapy 

Planned project of building lots to offer attainability, flexibility in upvalley housing

The proposed Minturn North project, north of downtown Minturn, meets the Town of Minturn’s needs while also creating density to support downtown businesses and much needed infrastructure improvements.
Minturn North

The proposed Minturn North project would be a new extension of the town providing a wide mix of lot types and flexibility for styles of homes. If you’re looking for a small single family home, this is the place to build it. If your dream home is a larger home, you can build it here as well.

The brainchild of Greg Sparhawk, an architect and Minturn resident, and partner Jim Comerford, who brings decades of experience and local involvement, the project presents a rare building opportunity in the upper valley.

Here are some of the highlights:

Phase One (located on the southern portion of the parcel) 

  • 29 total residential lots starting in the low $200s that fall into the following three categories:
    1. Cottage lot, 2,500 square feet – 4 Lots
    2. Single-family home plus ADU lot, 4,000 square feet – 15 lots
    3. Standard/duplex lot, 5,000 square feet – 10 lots
  • Three multi-family lots, eight units each 

Phase Two (located on the northern portion of the parcel)

  • The same three categories of residential lots from Phase One will be available
  • Eight luxury lots on the north end of the project, ranging from 7,300 square feet to over 10,000 square feet, featuring exceptional views

Minturn North also includes:

  • Park areas, including a community garden
  • Parking for Game Creek, with a trail and open space along Game Creek
  • A trail and ski way through the site, which would help skiers from the Minturn Mile get closer to downtown without having to travel along town roads 

For more information or to place a non-binding reservation, visit www.minturnnorth.com, or call Jim Comerford at 970-390-4338. All plans are currently in the PUD review process and are subject to change prior to final approval from the Town of Minturn.

Attainable property in the upper valley is a unicorn these days, but plans are underway to change that in the town of Minturn where a development featuring a variety of residential building lots could hit the market in 2021. The vision of Minturn North has been to design a project that meets the Town of Minturn’s needs as well as creates density to support downtown businesses and much needed infrastructure improvements.

If approved, the Minturn North project’s first phase will offer 29 residential lots, starting in the low $200s. This first Phase includes cottage lots, larger single-family lots that can accomodate accessory dwelling units (ADUs); and standard-sized lots that allow duplex construction. The remaining three lots would be multifamily, eight-unit lots. The second phase would feature more cottage parcels, single-family with ADU and duplex lots, plus an additional eight luxury lots which are larger with exceptional views. 

Minturn resident Greg Sparhawk, of GPS Designs, is the design partner, working alongside developer Jim Comerford, to bring Minturn North to life. 

“When we started our community outreach we quickly learned that our vision for smart  growth maintaining the Town fabric was very much in line with the Minturn community as a whole,” Sparhawk said. “We’ve been through several conceptual-level public meetings with the planning commission and the town council, we did a community outreach at the Minturn Saloon, and went door to door to speak with the immediate neighbors to gather feedback.”

This public feedback has led to seven iterations of the project’s plans and now Sparhawk and Comerford are optimistic they could get the planned unit development (PUD) approval by the spring of 2021. The town recently started working on a critical water systems overhaul that will cause existing residents’ water bills to almost double unless the town grows. This project allows for smart growth that will offset those impacts and share the burden of a necessary new water system.


The site of the Minturn North project, just north of downtown Minturn.

Minturn North offers buyers the ability to build homes of their own design. There will be design regulations in place to ensure quality development.

“We’re really trying to create something where anyone could buy a lot and build their dream home, whether that be a large home or perhaps a small home. Excluding cottage lots and multi-family parcels, each property allows for an in-law unit or rental that can help offset the final cost.

Potential residents

Minturn North wants locals to have the first opportunity to purchase lots, something that Comerford and Sparhawk believe is important to the vibrancy of the community as a whole. 

“We want to strengthen the community with this development to support the local economy and tax base of Minturn,” Comerford said. “To encourage opportunities for locals reservations will initially open to Minturn residents for two weeks, then to Eagle County residents for two weeks before offering them to the open market.”

The developers are also working out details of a regulated locals’ component in conjunction with the housing authority.

Meticulously studied, planned project

Phase One of the Minturn North development takes up the southern portion of the site, featuring 29 residential lots starting in the low $200s, plus three multi-family lots.

Sparhawk moved to Minturn 20 years ago, but, like many people, left because he could not afford to stay. After moving all around the country, he made his way back.

“This town was the bellwether that we used to compare every other place we lived. Nothing compared to Minturn,” Sparhawk said. “This community feels strongly about its identity. People don’t want to follow the same path of resort development.”

It was his fear about what could potentially happen on this site, if not properly developed, that got him moving on this plan. 

The requirements for seeking a PUD approval are arduous and take an enormous amount of time and money, Comerford said. The partners are deeply invested and have completed numerous studies, reviews and plans for civil engineering, planning, traffic, environmental impacts, wetlands, environmental hazards, utility analysis’, reports and designs and more. 

“We continue to do everything that’s required to be approved for this PUD with the intent to do the right thing for the community as a whole,” Comerford said.

Comprehensive concussion treatment is world class in Summit County

The crux of the TBI program at the hospital is the Brain Injury Support Group, pictured here during a Nordic skiing excursion, which Volkert hosts as part of a partnership between Avalanche Physical Therapy, SummitMedical Center and the Brain Injury Alliance of Colorado.
Avalanche Physical Therapy

Vail-Summit Orthopaedics acquired Avalanche Physical Therapy in 2018 to expand its continuum of care to include personalized physical therapy and sports rehabilitation, while lowering overall costs and improving efficiencies.  

Avalanche Physical Therapy operates clinics in Frisco, Silverthorne and Breckenridge. Services include physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. Avalanche PT is also skilled in functional dry needling, instrumented manual tooling, therapeutic cupping, aquatic therapy, post-concussion rehabilitation and blood flow restriction therapy, as well as in a variety of orthopaedic injuries and neurological rehabilitation. 

For more information, call 970-668-0888 or visit www.avalanchetherapy.com.

Without proper diagnosis and treatment, the life-disrupting symptoms from a concussion, or traumatic brain injury (TBI), can linger on for weeks, months or even years. In Summit County, world-class concussion care helps patients overcome these challenging obstacles and get their lives back. 

Occupational Therapist Melissa Volkert, who works with both concussion inpatients and outpatients at Avalanche Physical Therapy, has helped revolutionize concussion care in Summit County since arriving here in 2011. 

Volkert earned her Doctorate in Occupational Therapy from Washington University in St. Louis  in 2007. Afterwards, she worked in intensive inpatient rehabilitation at Penrose Hospital in Colorado Springs. There, she worked on a multidisciplinary team with doctors, nurses and therapists, treating severe brain injuries, strokes and spinal cord injuries. She helped develop their inpatient vision clinic where a neuro-optometrist assessed patients in the hospital and therapists could implement treatments immediately.

“That experience gave me the expertise to develop a comprehensive brain injury rehabilitation program at Avalanche Physical Therapy,” she said.

“A concussion is considered an invisible injury, not like a broken bone where you can see the injury, have surgery and heal. People [with concussions] might appear uninjured and walk normally, but they’re really suffering inside,” she said. “Because I work with inpatients and outpatients, I get that unique perspective of people who have been newly injured and what happens after they’ve been discharged from the hospital.”

Concussions look different in every person, and that’s why they are complex to diagnose and treat. Thanks to research and collaboration between Avalanche PT and local healthcare providers, people who have sustained a concussion in Summit County have access to specialized care. 

Reducing missed diagnoses

Quicker recovery from concussion involves early assessment and education in the hospital, primary care, orthopaedic or therapy office and community settings. Volkert spearheaded a research project at Summit Medical Center, which contracted Avalanche Physical Therapy  during its candidacy for the Joint Commission Orthopaedic Trauma certification. Physical and Occupational therapists at Avalanche PT helped identify orthopaedic-trauma inpatients who had delayed or undiagnosed traumatic brain injuries. From 2016-2019, the rate of delayed or undiagnosed TBIs in those patients at Summit Medical Center dropped from 13% to 2%. 

On behalf of Avalanche, Volkert has also educated the community about concussion awareness and prevention, such as to the Frisco summer camp staff and campers on a weekly basis in 2019. 

“Avalanche Physical Therapy’s education and outreach in both the healthcare and local community have provided a solid foundation for concussion care and awareness,” she said.

Collaboration as central to successful brain injury recovery

As an occupational therapist, Volkert assesses the potential causes of the patient’s symptoms. By improving the awareness of the person’s symptoms, treating the deficits, and strategizing how the task is executed, she can help the patient better manage those symptoms.

Most concussions will resolve on their own within 1-2 weeks. However, when a person’s symptoms and difficulties persist, the person is recommended to get a thorough assessment and appropriate treatment. 

“Concussion care is not a silo type of care — many different specialties may need to contribute expertise,” Volkert said.

Vail-Summit Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery (VSON) and Avalanche PT employ Athletic Trainers to serve as the front-line service in the initial sideline identification and screening for youth and student-athletes who sustained concussions. 

VSON’s Community Outreach Coordinator, Rachel Freeman, also serves as the Athletic Trainer for Team Summit, Team Breck, Loveland Ski Club and Summit Youth Hockey. Rob Courtney heads up Summit High School, and Cory Hester provides the athletic training at Vail Christian High School. Freeman, Courtney, and Hester help manage the athlete’s return to sport under the supervision of sports medicine trained, orthopaedic surgeons at VSON.

If an athlete is having a prolonged recovery or complicated presentation, the Athletic Trainers will refer the athlete to Volkert for concussion rehabilitation.

Beyond therapy: Brain injury Support Group

Volkert also facilitates the Summit County Brain Injury Support Group, which is backed by Avalanche Physical Therapy, Summit Medical Center, and the Brain Injury Alliance of Colorado. 

This free, monthly group provides brain injury survivors and their families or loved ones medical education and support through restorative and social activities such as yoga, meditation, sound healing, therapeutic art and music, group hikes, Nordic lessons and gardening. 

“Survivors talking to other survivors and normalizing their experiences is so powerful,” Volkert said. “It’s also a unique opportunity for me to learn, and it helps inform my practice.”

Occupational therapy’s crucial role for concussion recovery

When a patient presents to Volkert for concussion rehabilitation, symptoms range from physical to cognitive to emotional difficulties, such as headache, dizziness, nausea, balance issues, light sensitivity, sleep disturbances, difficulty with memory, feeling short-fused and more. The patient will also report difficulty doing everyday activities, such as basic self-care, managing a daily routine, cooking, reading, going to the grocery store, parenting or working. The role of an occupational therapist comes into play with two interconnected approaches.

First, Volkert assesses the potential causes of the patient’s symptoms. The symptoms of headache, dizziness or decreased concentration may be caused by specific areas of the brain not working properly after the injury, such as eye muscle weakness, decreased vestibular functioning or impaired executive functioning (the cognitive skills to plan, adapt, regulate emotions and to be self-aware that are controlled in the frontal lobe of the brain). Treatment is focused on remediating or strengthening those areas.

An occupational therapist has specialized training in understanding how a single activity or a day’s routine can be made easier or more difficult. Next, Volkert assesses if the sequence or strategy for which the patient completes the activity is contributing to the symptoms and difficulty. Volkert problem-solves with the patient on how the difficult activities can be more efficient, less time consuming or less effortful. 

By improving the patient’s awareness of his or her symptoms, treating the deficits and strategizing how the activity or routine is executed, Volkert can help the patient better manage those symptoms.

“I also discuss with the patient about coping skills, adaptability and resilience, and then build upon those strengths. Symptoms can be temporary if we make the smart decisions,” Volkert says. “The strategy is about getting patients back into their normal life in a progressive, thoughtful and intentional way, finding the just-right challenge. Occupational therapy has this unique role of integrating the big picture and details about the person. For me, the passion is helping people restore their life, lifestyle and livelihood.” 

Pros and cons of buying an electric vehicle in 2020 vs. 2021

Tesla’s electric vehicles (such as this Model 3) have long set the pace in the EV market, and they enjoy their own network of charging stations.
Credit: Benjamin Westby

With electric vehicles gaining market share and popularity, Colorado consumers are increasingly faced with tradeoffs. One such tradeoff presents itself this month as a key state tax credit is set to decrease significantly after Dec. 31.

The dilemma boils down to this: Buy an electric vehicle (EV) before the end of the year to save an extra $1,500? Or hold off until 2021, when a host of new models – including some electric trucks and SUVs – are expected to hit the market?

That’s because Colorado’s “Innovative Motor Vehicle” income tax credit, currently pegged at $4,000 on the purchase of a new plug-in hybrid or all-electric vehicle, will drop to $2,500 in 2021. Likewise, the credit for leasing an EV will decrease to $1,500 from the current $2,000.

There’s some consternation among EV advocates about the imminent reduction of the state’s tax incentive, but Stefan Johnson, transportation program manager at Clean Energy Economy for the Region (CLEER), sees both sides. 

“It’s not ideal having the tax credit step down just as we’re starting to see more models come onto the market in Colorado,” he says. “If I could wave a magic wand, I’d give folks another year to take advantage of the $4,000. But on the other hand, we all need a deadline to get us to act.”

The importance of tax credits

In addition to the state tax credit, new EV buyers can also claim a federal tax credit of up to $7,500. However, Johnson notes, results may vary: Tesla and GM vehicles are no longer eligible for the federal tax credit, and in the case of other vehicles the size of the credit will depend on the individual’s tax liability. The state tax credit applies to all models, and everyone gets the full $4,000 regardless of their tax situation.

“I definitely think the tax credits go a long way to moving the EVs,” says Tim Jackson, president and CEO of the Colorado Auto Dealers Association. 

Electric vehicles are expected to reach “price parity” with gas cars in the next five years or so, but for now, Jackson says, they need subsidies to make up the difference. He points to what happened when the state of Georgia suddenly ended its $5,000 EV tax credit in 2016 – EV sales plummeted by 80%.

Other incentives to buy EVs

But tax credits aren’t the only incentive to buy an EV. Some manufacturers are offering pretty hefty discounts on certain models, and local dealerships are offering extra deals of their own to make room for next year’s models. 

Added up, the breaks can make a big difference, says Michael Payne Sr., owner of Mountain Chevy in Glenwood Springs. For example, he explains that the Colorado tax credit plus GM’s manufacturer discount takes $15,000 off the price of a Chevy Bolt, putting it in the same range as a comparable gas car.

Barriers to putting more electric cars on the road

The state of Colorado has set an ambitious goal of getting 940,000 electric cars on the road by 2030 – a seemingly impossible task given that the current number is fewer than 30,000. Christian Williss, Senior Director for Transportation Fuel and Technology at the Colorado Energy Office, sees four barriers to achieving it:

  1. High upfront costs
  2. Lack of public awareness about EVs
  3. Lagging charging infrastructure
  4. Limited model availability

The state tax credit was designed to tackle barrier number one, but Williss says that policy can only do so much given barriers number two, three and four.

According to Williss, surveys have found that the majority of Coloradans have little knowledge of electric vehicles – and fewer still know about the state tax credit. He says the state plans to launch a multi-year education campaign next year to increase awareness about EVs.

As for charging infrastructure – that is, charging stations – state grant programs have been fueling a steady expansion of the network in the past couple of years, thanks in part to funding from a national legal settlement over Volkswagen’s diesel emissions scandal. (CLEER manages one of those grant programs in 14 counties across northwestern Colorado.) Xcel Energy has plans to add to the spree with a big spend of its own starting in 2021.

And the final barrier – limited model availability – is in the process of falling, thanks to Colorado’s 2019 adoption of California’s Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) mandate. With that move, Colorado has in effect joined a common EV market with California and nine other states, with the result that the range of EV models sold in Colorado is expected to grow rapidly in 2021 and beyond.

The dilemma faced by prospective EV buyers right now

If a subcompact EV like a Chevy Bolt or Nissan Leaf fits your lifestyle, there’s every reason to buy now and score a great deal, says Williss. Just know that your choices will be limited to cars that are already on the lot, because any car that you order at this point probably won’t be delivered by Dec. 31. 

Meanwhile, Western Slope drivers who have been holding out for something beefier should set their sights on 2021, when a number of all-electric SUVs, crossovers and trucks are expected to make their debut.

CLEER’s Johnson thinks the new crop of EVs are positioned to make bigger inroads in the Colorado market. 

“Many Coloradans are environmentally conscious and want to do the right thing, but AWD and high clearance aren’t just optional features for them,” he says. “Having new models that are compatible with the outdoor Colorado lifestyle will be a game-changer for EV sales in the state.”

At the compact/crossover end of the SUV class, Ford is supposed to start delivering its much-anticipated Mustang Mach-E any day now. The new all-electric Mustang can drive 230 miles between charges and has a base price of about $44,000, before factoring in any state or federal-tax credits. 

Another crossover that’s eagerly anticipated is VW’s ID.4. Basically an electric updating of the Tiguan – and a likely competitor to the Tesla Model Y – the ID.4 has a 250-mile range and starts at $41,000. The rear-wheel-drive version will come out first in mid-2021, followed by an AWD later in the year.

Other crossover EVs worth looking out for in the coming year include Hyundai’s Kona Electric, Nissan’s Ariya and Cadillac’s high-end Lyriq. As for Colorado favorite Subaru, its plug-in hybrid Crosstrek should start selling in our state in 2021, but an all-electric Subaru remains unavailable anywhere.

Electric pickup trucks

Perhaps the most buzz-worthy development of 2021 promises to be the introduction of EV pickup trucks, such as the Rivian R1T.
Credit: Jeff Johnson

Perhaps the most buzz-worthy development of 2021 promises to be the introduction of EV pickup trucks from Rivian, Ford and Tesla. The Rivian R1T is expected by the middle of the year, sporting a 300-plus-mile range and a max payload of 1,750 pounds – and a $67,500 price tag. Tesla says its Cybertruck will carry a 3,500-pound payload and come with features like cold-rolled steel and armor glass, all for an incredible base price of just under $40,000. 

Less is known at this stage about Ford’s electric F-150, but given the brand’s icon status it promises to become a major player. To round out the electric truck field, look for additional entrants from startups Lordstown and Bollinger.

Are electric vehicles becoming mainstream?

“I have a very, very positive outlook for 2021,” says Jon Fruend, general manager of Audi Volkswagen Glenwood Springs. He sees EVs finally becoming mainstream, as Volkswagen and Audi, like many other manufacturers, will finally be offering electric models in every major class.

“I think what all the conventional manufacturers have to do is find a sweet spot of range versus price. I think they’ve got the models right. It’s finding that sweet spot. Is it 250 miles per charge? We’ll see.”

Decline of long-lead bookings makes season ahead harder to predict

The volume of short-lead (gray) and long-lead (orange) bookings at Western mountain resorts.

The Insights Collective is a pandemic economy think tank, established to provide insights and actionable recommendations to public and private sector decision makers in leisure travel destinations. For more information, visit www.theinsightscollective.com.

As mountain destinations anticipate or begin ski operations for the 2020-21 winter season, all eyes — from state and local government to the liftie — are focused on what the season will look like not only operationally on the mountain, but downstream through the balance of the community. 

As tourism-dependent economies, most towns are anxious about how, when, or even if guests will travel this season, how long they’ll stay and what they’ll spend while here. But seeing that far ahead is proving to be a real problem at most mountain towns as booking lead times contract dramatically, making the “view” ahead murky at best. And it’s not likely to change much in the months to come.

Consumers adopted a “wait and see” attitude back in May, with most reservations booked at that time not scheduled to arrive until more than 180 days in the future; uncertainty created a very “long lead” booking window. But with reopening and the socialization of COVID-19 management policies in late May and June, pent-up demand was released, and lead times compressed from 180 days to about 30 – whiplash indeed, and visualized by the grey line on the accompanying chart. 

Long-lead bookings fall off

The release of winter operating plans by the major ski operators in August and early September brought lead times back up as bookings for January through April increased dramatically (see the orange line on the chart), while the short-lead bookings remained constant. However, with that second wave of pent up demand that focused on winter bookings spent and increasing incidence of COVID-19, consumers have returned to a cautious stance, with long-lead bookings falling off dramatically over the past 45 days. Though there is still modest volume, they now make up a fraction of the total transactions and the majority of reservations taking place over the past 45 days has been for November and December arrivals, with little activity beyond Martin Luther King day in mid-January. 

Erik Austin, vice president of Reservations at Vail Resorts, which has lodging inventory across North American resorts, echoes this broader industry data, though perhaps not as dramatically, stating that “lead time for reservations continues to drop as we get closer to season start, down 11 days now, with growth to Christmas, and January through March all down (versus last year).” 

Predictions becoming increasingly difficult

New COVID cases across Western mountain resort destinations.

We expect that, as incidence of disease continues in both source and destination markets, those booking lead times will remain compressed for the foreseeable future. 

On the upside, lodging properties, activity providers and other suppliers are able to accurately anticipate the immediate future and plan staffing and supply chains accordingly, assuming there are no short-term disruptions. But booking activity is so focused on the short-term that even two months into the future is hard to anticipate, which creates angst and may make some suppliers reluctant to guarantee staffing beyond the immediate 45 days or force them into over- or under-ordering supplies such as food and liquor.

On the downside, the crystal ball for the balance of the season is murky. While the period through Dec. 31 is important both in terms of setting the tone of the season and realizing those first critical revenue collections, the majority of revenue and occupancy for the industry occur in January through March, and those dates rely heavily on early bookings that are yet to substantially materialize. This makes long-term planning — from staffing and supplies to engineering, town operations, budgeting, and tax revenue collections — hard to anticipate. 

Complicating the issue, the resistance to booking long-lead reservations isn’t mirrored in the prior year data set, meaning that while consumers wait, booking pace — the measurement of reservations made this year versus last year for a corresponding set of arrival dates — is creating occupancy and revenue deficits for January through March that will be harder to overcome. 

Some bright spots in short-lead data

But despite the difficulty seeing long-term, there are bright spots in short-lead data that we can use, even if only to mitigate angst and build positive anticipation, both in the current lodging data and in the greater marketplace. 

First off, both October and November are reporting strong revenue gains at mountain resorts, with October revenue up 22 percent versus October 2019, and November (on the books as of Oct. 31) up 22.9 percent. In a bit of a mixed message, while these gains are being driven by extremely strong room rates, they’re not being driven by strong occupancy, which was all but flat for both months. This is information about the type of guest that’s currently booking that lodgers can use to create the best possible revenue-generating scenario going forward. 

Secondarily, the strong room rate for October and November is also showing up in longer lead reservations. Importantly, this means that lodging properties are not being forced to decline room rate at a time when occupancy is weak, a combination that the industry had to adopt coming out of 2008-09 and from which it took almost 72 months to recover. 

But it also means that price doesn’t appear to be a significant barrier to occupancy, leading us to assume that health and wellness are, and making recent announcements of highly effective vaccine candidates from both Pfizer and Moderna that much more strategically important to the industry in the long-run, hopefully instilling renewed confidence in the consumer to return to longer lead bookings, and restoring the view of the runway ahead as the industry spools up for takeoff and recovery.