Steamboat Springs — The 2007-08 ski season didn’t get off to the start Intrawest and Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. officials may have hoped for. A warm, dry autumn brought little natural snow and limited opportunities for artificial snowmaking. Opening day was delayed by more than a week, and then the new Christie Peak Express six-passenger lift encountered mechanical problems on Day 2. The gondola, which begins operating today, has been out of service so a new haul rope could be delivered and installed. There have been other hiccups as well.
Truth be told, these issues are little more than minor inconveniences. Of course, they also provide ammo for those locals who always find a way to complain about Ski Corp. and its parent company.
If anything, we think Intrawest’s first 10 months of ownership paint a rather rosy picture for the future of the ski area. For years, the biggest complaint about American Skiing Co. was that it didn’t have the capital to invest in the ski area. While other ski resorts made significant on-mountain improvements, Steamboat got by with Band-Aids.
Since purchasing the ski area from ASC for $265 million in March, Intrawest has spent approximately $16 million in capital improvements, and in the process checked off a number of the proposals included in a master plan update developed by Ski Corp. in 2004.
ASC tackled a few of the plan’s proposals, replacing the Sunshine lift with a used lift from The Canyons ski area in Utah and replacing the Burgess Creek lift with a three-passenger chair powered by wind energy credits.
Intrawest already has completed some of the plan’s most ambitious — and expensive — proposals. The installation of the six-passenger Christie Peak Express, the removal of the Headwall, Southface and Christie lifts, improved base area snowmaking, and the major re-grade of Headwall are accomplishments not to be overlooked. The skiing experience for visitors and beginning skiers is significantly better today than it was at the close of the 2006-07 ski season.
Replacing the gondola’s haul rope has been on the radar screen for years. Intrawest wasted little time in making sure the problem was addressed.
Intrawest’s purchase of the ski area and its early commitment to capital improvements is no doubt influencing other private development at the base area. On Tuesday night, the Steamboat Springs City Council was presented with early plans for a proposed 1 million-square-foot redevelopment of Ski Time Square and Thunderhead Lodge. While those plans likely will evolve before final approval, they represent the kind of investment developers are making in Steamboat’s base area — long considered the resort’s Achilles heel. An urban renewal authority already has funded needed public infrastructure improvements at the base area.
The Steamboat Ski Area is the most critical component of our resort economy. And as we’ve said before, its success has a direct impact on jobs, wages, retail and residential growth and tax revenues and an indirect impact on everyone who calls this community home.
While Intrawest’s Steamboat legacy is far from written, the first chapter gives us reason to be optimistic about the future of tourism and the ski area here in Routt County.