Making it easier, cheaper, more consistent
Some major changes could be coming to the local winter air program starting next season. While nothing is definite, Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) is currently in talks with the Telluride Ski and Golf Company (Telski) to combine forces and strengthen a regional air program based in Montrose. This would likely mean the end of the ski-season flights coming into the Gunnison-Crested Butte airport from Dallas and Houston.
Montrose lies roughly halfway between Crested Butte and Telluride. The drive from the airport to Crested Butte is about an hour and 40 minutes.
“We are looking at all options,” explained CBMR vice president and general manager Ethan Mueller. “We are exploring new and different ideas for increasing volume to the Gunnison Valley. Nothing is final at this point but our main focus is on making it easier, more affordable and more consistent for people to visit us.”
Telski owner Chuck Horning told the Telluride Daily Planet last week that the company is engaged in efforts it hopes will bring economic balance to the region in the long term. Horning said he had a “historic” meeting with CBMR’s president Tim Mueller this past week.
“Instead of competing with them, the idea is full cooperation to make this a reachable destination. The driving, underlying purpose is to get better air service to here from a couple of major hubs,” Horning said.
Trying to keep good air service here, he said, is like trying to force a beach ball under water. “It’s constant work,” Horning said.
Horning also said the resort would like to do more focused marketing in places like Houston and Dallas, learn from best practices at top resorts and bring more conferences and groups here as operators of the Telluride Conference Center, which Telski has been updating in recent weeks.
“We have been talking to Telluride and other potential partners and will continue to do so,” Mueller said. “We are looking for new, meaningful collaborations that will ultimately benefit everyone in the valley. If we can increase the numbers of guests into the broad destination, it will result in more guests arriving and staying in the Gunnison-Crested Butte region. Ultimately, it may even serve to increase frequency of visitation to the valley.”
In some respects, Telluride is facing similar economic challenges to Crested Butte. According to the Telluride newspaper article, “With occupancy flat and economic growth sluggish for a number of years in Telluride, major shifts are necessary to enact meaningful change in the region,” Horning said.
“We’ve got to be willing to do some pretty innovative and sometimes radical changes from what we’ve been doing in the past,” Horning said. “Change for the people who have to do that change isn’t always welcome. It’s a process, but it’s worth it.”
Horning said that since 2003, Telski has spent in excess of $20 million to bring people here and create economic sustainability, “and the needle hasn’t moved.”
Horning bought the resort in 2003. “It’s time to get serious by studying best practices of leading resorts and committing to measures that are proven to work,” he said.
Mueller seems to feel the same way. “We are looking at ways to get more people here and that will probably involve changing some of the things we have been doing in the past,” he said. “We are exploring every option.”
Direct flights into Montrose are much more extensive than at the Gunnison Airport. Among the cities that fly direct to Montrose are Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago, Newark, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Oakland and Los Angeles.