By Tom Boyd
Some of my best friends are Front Rangers
April 9, 2008 —
It seems I got Kaye Ferry of the Vail Chamber and Business Association in some hot water with my story about the possible traffic, parking and skier-safety impacts of Vail Resorts’ new Epic Pass.
She denies it, but I accurately quoted her in the article referring to the “Front Range riff-raff” who might be attracted to the new, unrestricted and inexpensive ($579 for six resorts) season pass.
Kaye and I have known each other for years, and she tends to go on tirades while I tap into her extensive knowledge of town government and the local political scene. This time, I clearly told her we were on the record, but she was spouting off and apparently wanted me to edit out terms like riff-raff so she wouldn’t get blasted from all quarters.
The essence of what she had to say – that the Epic Pass will create more Front Range skier days and therefore more impacts to the town and ski mountain’s already strained infrastructure – was similar to what she told the Vail Daily in an article and wrote in her own column in that paper. The term “riff-raff” was the kicker.
It wasn’t my intention to get her in trouble - I was just trying to drive readership to a couple of websites and delve into an interesting topic – because I think she’s a straight-shooter who serves as a mostly sane watchdog for local elected officials and paid staff. Believe me, there are some insane “watchdogs” I’d love to see ousted. Kaye is not one of them.
I personally have done a 180 on discounted passes. Years ago in the Vail Trail I blasted the ski company for not offering a local version of the Summit-only Buddy Pass (running a cartoon of an Eagle County skier with a giant screw through his chest), but once the Colorado Pass came along, with its 10 days at Vail and Beaver Creek, things have gotten ugly.
A 5,200-acre mountain gets tracked out by 10:30 a.m. on a powder day, cars are forced to park way out on the frontage roads on mid-winter weekdays, I-70 traffic has become at times intolerable, and certain choke points on the mountain are like shooting galleries, with Jackass-generation jibbers seeing how close they can come to plowing into you.
I think the ski company could double the price of the Epic Pass and get just as much money with half the skiers. People would pay a premium for a little more relaxed experience, one where hordes or ski patrollers and yellow jackets aren’t required to police the mayhem. Don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are Front Range skiers – I’d just like to see a little less of them on weekends.
Meanwhile, the jury is out on the Epic Pass: brilliant marketing and revenue-generation move by the ski company in a down market, or the straw that broke the back of America’s top ski town? Only time will tell.
I do know that if skier days surge too much above current levels as a result of the pass, chaos and deep dissatisfaction with the ski experience will be the result. Vail Resorts officials seem to sense this as well, but they insist mostly out-of-state skiers will buy the new pass, and if they’re right, then it will have been a fantastic move in what could be a tough economic climate next season.
If they’re wrong, and parking, traffic, peak-day crowding and acute labor shortages get worse, then at the high end – all those folks Vail Resorts Development Company has been selling Arrabelle units to – they have created an instant market for the private Battle Mountain ski and golf resort the Ginn Company hopes to build off the backside of Vail Mountain.
Having actually skied the only other large-scale private ski club in the United States – the eerie Yellowstone Club off the back of Big Sky, Mont., I can tell you that I’m skeptical of the concept as an actual ski resort. If you’re into ski trails as a real estate amenity, then that’s another story.
But the Yellowstone Club freaked me out. It was like a neutron bomb went off at Beaver Creek and vaporized all the people but left the lift towers standing. I see skiing as more of a social sport (although not too social), and would spend those millions for a club membership on travelling the globe to ski – if I had millions.
Anyway, my biggest regret in the whole Battle Mountain saga is that when that land was available and there was talk of the Forest Service and the Eagle Valley Land Trust pursuing a conservation easement, nothing ever came of it. Think about it: $12 million for a 70-acre gravel pit in Edwards versus $32 million for more than 5,000 acres between Minturn and Red Cliff.
Water under the bridge, I guess. Minturn voted to annex Ginn’s property and seek to shape the 1,700-unit development in exchange for a slew of public benefits such as a water treatment facility, a rec center and more. Can’t blame Minturn. It’s finally their turn.
Now a successful petition drive has placed the issue on a May 20 ballot so the voters can decide. In Tuesday’s town election, Mayor Gordon “Hawkeye” Flaherty and incumbent councilmen George Brodin and Jerry Bumgarner won reelection, so the couple of hundred voters who turned out apparently were pleased with how the town has handled Battle Mountain so far. The only newcomer voted in was Matt Scherr, head of the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability.
My take on the juxtaposing of an overrun Vail and a largely underutilized Battle Mountain is that there has to be a happy median. And don’t tell me it’s Beaver Creek. Even that formerly gate enclave is rapidly approaching one million skier days.
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