Recent Newsletter

Dec. 16, 2014      Volume 36, No. 47
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The owner of Wolf Creek Ski Area, CO, was sentenced Tuesday (12-16) to probation, a fine and community service – but no jail time – for conducting avalanche and search-and-rescue training last winter in an unauthorized area of national forest, according to published reports.

Randall Davey Pitcher, 52, faced five charges involving conducting avalanche training for Wolf Creek ski patrollers from five to 15 miles outside ski area boundaries. The activity in February and March around Wolf Creek Pass led to the death of a ski patroller.

U.S. Federal District Court Magistrate David West imposed stiffer punishment on Pitcher than requested by Assistant U.S. Attorney James Candelaria, who recommended no probation.

The federal government was involved because Pitcher’s activities took place on land of the U.S. Forest Service. Pitcher told the court he accepts responsibility for conducting training activities without a permit. He said steps have been taken to assure a sound working relationship with authorities involved in search and rescue.

West imposed a $5,000 fine on Pitcher, put him on five years of supervised probation and ordered him to do 500 hours of community service involving search and rescue. The community service requires 100 hours a year under supervision of the Forest Service.

Vail Resorts last week said it plans to build a gondola linking Utah’s Park City Mountain Resort and Canyons Resort prior to the 2015-2016 ski season, publicly outlining details of the connection for the first time, according to published reports.

VR recently announced it will make more than $50 million worth of upgrades to its two Utah resorts for the 2015-16 ski season. The upgrades include combining PCMR and Canyons via a high-speed, two-way gondola between the two resorts to access the largest single ski area in the United States, with more than 7,300 acres of skiable terrain.

An eight-person gondola will travel between the base of the Silverlode lift at PCMR and the Flatiron lift at Canyons Resort. It will also offer an unloading point at Pine Cone Ridge. According to a press release, the unloading point at the top of Pine Cone Ridge will provide skier and snowboarder access into terrain at Thaynes Canyon through a gate and into Canyons Resort's Iron Mountain terrain. New trails are planned between Pine Cone Ridge and Iron Mountain.

Other plans include upgrading several lifts and building a new restaurant with 500 inside seats at the bottom of the Silverlode lift. It will be situated at the terminal of the gondola. The Red Pine Restaurant at Canyons Resort will be renovated and snowmaking will be expanded.

VR said the $50 million in upgrades and improvements will be "one of the most ambitious and impactful capital programs in U.S. ski industry history and will transform the guest experience at Park City Mountain Resort."

The combined resort will operate under the Park City Mountain Resort moniker, ending speculation about the resort's name. The base area at what is now Canyons Resort will be called Canyons at Park City, Vail Resorts said.

In related news, the stock market is bullish on VR stock. Vail Resorts posted fiscal Q1 earnings of a loss of $1.77 a share, better than the expected $2.03 a share loss. Revenues of $128.3 million marginally missed expectations.

Sales of its season passes for the 2014/2015 ski season were up 13%, solid prospects heading into a winter where gas prices have stuffed consumers' pockets with discretionary income. Its fiscal 2015 guidance remained steady. Shares are up 20% over the last six months.

The top executive at Deer Valley Resort, UT, was scheduled to talk with Park City leaders last week, continuing a series of high-profile City Hall appearances recently by figures in the ski industry, according to published reports.

Bob Wheaton, president and GM of Deer Valley, anticipated responding to questions from the elected officials rather than offering lengthy prepared remarks. Questions about Deer Valley's internal planning efforts in preparation for building a gondola linking the slopes with Main Street was expected to hold a critical role in the discussions. The gondola terminal on the Main Street end will be on property now under municipal ownership.

Wheaton said Deer Valley considered a range of options for a Main Street connection with two of them now being more closely studied. One option envisions replacing the Silver Lake Express lift, a high speed lift that seats four people. Another gondola would replace the Silver Lake Express lift itself.

The other option, a one-gondola alignment, calls for a direct route between the Old Town transit center and Silver Lake Village. Construction could start as early as the summer of 2016, Wheaton said. He said Deer Valley is in discussions with the Doppelmayr Group manufacturer about a gondola.

Wheaton, meanwhile, said he intends to describe plans for major development overlooking the Jordanelle Reservoir. The land is in Wasatch County and Deer Valley is one of four landowners in the vicinity. A project would involve an expansion of Deer Valley's skiing terrain. Work such as the expansion of the skiing and the installation of infrastructure could start as early as the summer, he said.

The city of Grand Prairie wants to build an indoor ski resort Texas-style. The $400 million project would be the largest in the United States, with seven slopes, a snowboard course with an Olympic half-pipe, and the first Hard Rock Hotel in Texas, according to published reports.

The ambitious venture is called The Grand Alps. If completed in four years, evergreen trees would dot a mountain-like resort on roughly 60 acres of prairie.   

The 350,000-square feet indoor ski resort is expected to generate about 2,000 local jobs. The Grand Alps developer says half of the price tag for the entire project has been secured - that’s about $200 million. Construction for the Hard Rock Hotel is scheduled to begin in late January.

The snow park, including the hotel, will cover about six football fields.

New York state's Regional Olympic Development Authority, which operates the state-owed Whiteface Mountain as well as the Gore Mountain and Bellyeare ski areas, is launching charter bus packages from New York City to upstate areas like Whiteface and its southerly cousins at Gore in North Creek and West Mountain in Queensbury, Catamount in Hillsdale, Greek Peak near Cortland, as well as Catskill resorts like Hunter, Windham and Plattekill, according to published reports.

It's part of an effort to develop more package bus tours year-round. The Whiteface effort is starting slowly, with just one package trip Jan. 30 to Feb. 1 ferrying skiers from downstate. But tourism operators say they see potential.

"The appetite is there,'' Andrew Lynch, vice president of Hampton Jitney, the Long Island charter firm that is running the I Love NY trips, said of the desire for bus trips to the mountains.

Looking at bus trips also makes sense demographically, given the aversion of millennials, or those born starting in the early 1980s, to driving or even owning cars, organizers said.

In what has become a happily familiar refrain, aggregated lodging occupancy and revenue figures for the 2014-15 ski and snowboard season continue their upward trajectory at 19 mountain resorts in six western states, according to the monthly Market Briefing released by DestiMetrics.

As of Nov. 30, “on-the-books” occupancy is up 9.7% for the six months from November through April compared to the same time last year. Revenue for the same period is up an aggregated 16% for the season with gains in all six months.

“When you see a nearly 10% increase in occupancy along with revenue gains, that is a very encouraging sign for resorts - especially when the economic news continues to be mostly positive," said Ralf Garrison, director of DestiMetrics. “This sets the stage for both a happy holiday and a great New Year from a business economics standpoint.”

The Briefing also provides an analysis of significant economic indicators. Positives were a high Dow Jones Industrial Average and good employment numbers. Less encouraging was a monthly drop in the Consumer Confidence Index, though the index continues to trend upward.

SnowSports Industries America announced last week that booth space has sold out for CRAFT @ SIA, a special exhibit area at the 2015 SIA Snow Show in Denver. Last year, the Snow Show debuted CRAFT @ SIA- a communal exhibit area dedicated to small, handcrafted ski and snowboard manufacturers.

Craft brands or independent, smaller ski and snowboard manufacturers represent about 5% of the hardgoods market. And, as a small/start-up brand incubator, CRAFT @ SIA proved to be successful in 2014. In fact, 30% of last year’s brands will return to CRAFT and several opted to upgrade to a traditional booth space on the show floor.

“CRAFT @ SIA was such a great support for the boutique ski and snowboarder makers last year. Not only did they provide a beautiful display, but a killer location. Really, we were treated with such respect, it definitely made an impact on us and we’ll keep returning,” said Bex Wilkinson, public relations and sales rep for Big Wood Ski.

The current list of CRAFT @ SIA exhibitors include 7 Mile Skis, Big Wood Ski, Cantakerous Snowboards, DOWP Snowboarding Group, Franco SnowShapes, Follett Snowboarding Co., GROM Co Snowboards, L2R Snowboards, Marhar Snowboards, RENOUN Ski Company, Rodin, Sego Skis and Vishnu Freeski.

The widow of Christopher Norris, a skier killed in a 2012 inbounds avalanche at Winter Park, CO, will get a final chance in court, according to published reports.

Last week, the Colorado Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal of a lower court decision that ruled inbounds avalanches are an inherent danger of skiing and affirmed that Colorado resorts are protected from avalanche-related litigation under the state Ski Safety Act.

The high court's decision to hear the case has implications for the often-replicated state law that limits resort liability for damages to $250,000 and requires skiers to assume some responsibility on the slopes.

Norris, 28, died Jan. 22, 2012, in an avalanche in a densely timbered area at Winter Park's Mary Jane ski area. His widow, Salyndra Fleury, sued Winter Park operator Intrawest, arguing the resort was negligent in allowing skier access to the north-facing area that day, when the Colorado Avalanche Information Center had warned of "widespread dangerous avalanche conditions" on similar aspects.

Grand County District Court Judge Mary Hoak disagreed, ruling the resort did not need to close the run, calling avalanches an inherent risk. The Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed her decision, arguing that avalanches "fall neatly into the examples of dangers in the (Ski Safety) Act."

Judge Jerry Jones, in his dissent, noted ambiguity in the Ski Safety Act and cited Montana's ski law, which says avalanches are an inherent risk of skiing "except on open, designated ski trails."

"In my view, avalanches are not 'intrinsic' to 'the sport of skiing' on open, designated ski trails within ski areas," Jones wrote in his dissent.

The Supreme Court decision to hear Fleury's appeal aligns with another avalanche lawsuit that argues Vail Mountain should not be protected by the Ski Safety Act in the inbounds avalanche death of 13-year-old Taft Conlin. Conlin was killed the same day Norris died at Winter Park.

A 51-year-old Michigan woman died after a skiing accident this past weekend at Pine Knob ski area, according to published reports. Janet Reed reportedly lost control while skiing, hit a tree and became tangled up in a fence. EMS was called because she was complaining of chest pains. She later died at McLaren Oakland Hospital. The cause of death was blunt force trauma to her chest and abdominal injuries suffered in the fall.

A skier apparently fell, hit a tree and died recently at Eldora Ski Resort, CO, according to published reports. Friends identified the skier as Rob Miles, a CU senior who was double-majoring in environmental engineering and music. Miles went missing on Dec. 9 at Eldora; he was found after resort employees searched the slopes and found his body slightly off one of the runs. It was Eldora's first skier fatality since 2011.

A man was killed in an avalanche in the Alaska Range on Dec. 6. Erik Petersen, 35, was skiing with a friend when the slide came down. Recovery of his body was delayed due to unstable conditions in the area.

Stratton Mountain, VT, Marketing Director Michael Cobb, 63, lost a courageous battle against brain cancer last week. He was the longest serving marketing director in history of Stratton Corp., a visionary in the ski industry, founder of the Stratton Foundation and the Stratton Club, and recipient of the 2014 Emo Henrich Award for his long and lasting impact on Stratton. A service will be held this Thursday at the Peru (VT) Congregational Church. Read a tribute to Cobb on our Facebook page. …Sugarloaf, ME, announced the appointment of Karl Strand as the resort’s president and general manager.  He will succeed the resort’s current leader, John Diller, who will retire in April 2015. Strand currently holds the position of VP of mountain operations at Sunday River, ME. …Mt. Hood Meadows, OR, has named Jake Bolland, 33,  as the company’s chief operating officer as part of a sweeping administrative reorganization. Bolland will also serve on the company’s board of directors. He joined the Meadows team in 2009 as director of finance, and ascended to vice president of administration in 2013. …the Omni Mount Washington Resort in Bretton Woods, NH, announced the appointment of Jacky Francois as executive chef. ...Anchored by Lindsey Vonn's 60th World Cup win, Stacey Cook and Julia Mancuso combined to record the first-ever American sweep in FIS Alpine World Cup history at Lake Louise. …Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports recently announced that Laura Schutz of Burlington and Frank Kelley of Chester are the 2014 recipients of the organization’s annual Jim Hutchinson Volunteer of the Year Award.

For subscription information, contact TSIL's business office at The Snow Industry Letter, 802-496-7757 or 802-770-9383 (mobile), or e-mail Produced by The Snow Industry Letter LLC. Any reproduction - by photocopy, fax, any other form or electronically - violates federal law and is prohibited without the consent of TSIL. Dec. 16, 2014.