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Spring sizzle giving way to winter chill next week, but when will Vail economy warm up again?
The air beneath our skis has been a bit warm in Vail lately, but winter makes a comeback next week (when it's actually officially spring).
Courtesy of Jack Affleck/Vail Resorts 

Spring sizzle giving way to winter chill next week, but when will Vail economy warm up again?

By David O. Williams

March 18, 2009 —  It never fails. After more than a month of looking to the skies and secretly entreating the snow gods to give us more than just the occasional taste of fresh snow, when I finally give up and decide to go camping, winter returns.

It looks like the first part of next week is our first real shot at colder temperatures and measurable snowfall in quite a while. We haven't seen new snow since a week ago Tuesday when we had that nice 10-incher, but man it's been nice out. Great cruising under cobalt skies in balmy 40- and 50-degree temps (if you're into that kind of thing ... and a lot of people are).

But I was going to take the kids and head to Utah's canyon country for some spring-break camping next week, so I'd actually love for it to stay toasty (if it's 50 in Vail, it's 70 in Moab). Still, a storm or two would be nice in terms of finishing the last month of ski season strong.

Over the past month and a half, a stellar snow season is in serious danger of becoming an average one. We're stuck on 332 inches of season-to-date snowfall -- 18 inches shy of our seasonal average of 350 but more than 120 behind last season's near-record tally.

We'll still be all right, with decent coverage above Mid-Vail through closing day on April 19 -- and great groomers for everyone heading out for the American Ski Classic, Taste of Vail, Vail Film Festival and Spring Back to Vail -- but I'm not totally ready to mothball the fat skis in favor of my mountain bike.

But legislatively speaking, thoughts have already turned away from the actual business of skiing at ski areas.

Sen. Mark Udall Monday revived a bill he first floated in the U.S. House last summer. Some critics say the bill could open up a recreational Pandora’s box at the nation’s ski areas.

The Senate bill would revise a 23-year-old law that governs how the U.S. Forest Service issues permits for ski areas, most of which operate on federally owned public land. That law currently limits ski area permits to alpine and Nordic skiing and doesn’t mention activities like snowboarding and alpine slides that already occur at many resorts.

Some environmentalists and resort homeowners last summer voiced concerns that roller-coasters and water parks would be the next logical step in the Disney-ification of the nation’s forests. But Udall argued the law needs to be clarified and that appropriate uses such as concerts and biking need to be included to boost the year-round economies of mountain towns struggling in the current economy.

Udall also acknowledged, in a press release, that the bill could help mitigate the financial impacts the ongoing mountain pine beetle epidemic may have on tourism-based economies in resort towns.

The greater economic impact, of course, is coming from the cratering of the luxury real estate market brought on by the evaporation of so much wealth on Wall Street.

When it comes to Colorado, the focus of Bernard Madoff’s $65 billion Ponzi-scheme fallout has dealt mostly with Aspen’s Jewish community, which is reeling from the real estate ripple effects.

But one of the most high-profile – and at one point controversial – development projects that might be impacted by Madoff’s epic 20-year pattern of investment fraud is in Vail, where Solaris, a massive $250 million development in the heart of our faux-Bavarian village, is currently under construction.

Former New York City real-estate developer and fiber-optics financier Peter Knobel fought long and hard to get approvals for the project, which will include condos, shops, restaurants, movie theaters and an ice-skating rink. But The Denver Post has reported Knobel lost a substantial amount of money investing with Madoff.

Knobel declined to comment to the Post but has told RealVail the project is fine, and construction has continued at a good clip (it’s slated to open next ski season).

In 2006, Solaris was the subject of special election forced by opponents who felt it was too big and didn’t conform to Vail’s alpine architecture. Two council members were voted out in the ensuing political wrangling, and one of them, current Mayor Dick Cleveland, admitted he misread public sentiment on the issue. Voters forgave him and brought him back a year later.

Solaris, the Four Seasons, the Ritz-Carlton Residences and other big Vail projects financed pre-bust look like they'll be finished and not languish Seasons-like (remember the Concrete Toad in Avon?) for a decade.

But proposed projects like the Lionshead Parking Structure redevelopment and Ever Vail may be stalled until things turn around dramatically. In fact, the Vail Town Council nearly killed an extension for the parking garage project Tuesday, but instead put the decision off another few weeks.

Let's hope by then the economy is starting to react to the recovery bill, confidence is making a comeback in the stock market, and we've had a couple of more powder storms.



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