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Chamber of Commerce winter forecast up in the air

Event draws a crowd, but offers few actual forecasts

By Katherine Nettles

The Crested Butte/Mt. Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce was surprised at the large turnout for its annual winter economic forecast on November 13, and quickly ascribed the increase in interest to Vail Resorts’ new ownership of Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR).

The Crested Butte Mountain Theatre’s Mallardi Cabaret filled with approximately 75 attendees, and as the event kicked off, various economic forces of the north valley were stationed around the room to provide updates.

Vail Resorts, Gunnison Valley Housing Authority, the Crested Butte Creative District, the Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism Association, and representatives from the Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte Town Councils as well as other local officials were on hand to answer questions.

After a short time, chamber executive director Ashley Upchurch stood up and announced that since the bulk of the crowd was congregating around the Vail Resorts information table, CBMR vice president and general manager Tim Baker had agreed to speak to the room for a few minutes in an impromptu effort to address people’s curiosity.

Baker introduced himself and talked about his intention to spend a lot of time listening and observing how CBMR and the towns surrounding it interact. He emphasized that not much would change, although he did point out that Paradise Lift is set to run on opening day for the first time in many years, and that RFID technology will be a new convenience for pass holders to get scanned in lift lines without removing their passes to show a lift attendant.

Baker spoke of having a great crew of lift mechanics on hand for the season “from all over the country,” and having confidence in the state of all lifts to be in strong working order. He tried to name all the runs the resort plans to have open, and gathered some empathetic chuckles from the crowd when he got a few mixed up and referred to the town as Beaver Creek instead of Crested Butte.

“I’ve been telling my wife that doing that has been my worst fear, and of course it happened in front of all of you,” he apologized. Baker worked at Beaver Creek before relocating to Crested Butte six weeks ago.

A few playful heckles came from the crowd, such as Mt. Crested Butte mayor Todd Barnes calling out, “So, do you really tele ski?”

Baker responded that he does, on occasion.

Aside from Baker’s brief introduction, no formal presentations were planned. And actual economic forecasts seemed to be lacking. The Vail Resorts table had plenty of stickers and posters, and explained new efforts to reduce landfill waste and invest in alternative energy sources to go green, but offered no numbers on lodging, ticket sales, or any other winter season tourism expectations.

“As we’re a publicly traded company, we can’t disclose those numbers,” explained Johnna Muscente, Vail Resorts director of communications.

The one exception was that in conversation with some local business owners, Gunnison Crested Butte Tourism Association executive director John Norton gave his own forecast. He expressed his expectation that both Gunnison and the town of Mt. Crested Butte would see growth and economic development in the coming years, due to Vail Resorts’ presence in the valley. He predicted that Crested Butte would stay relatively the same, having already grown as much as it could in the recent past.

Norton said that while flight bookings have yet to show any upticks, he now understands the Front Range to be the largest group of visitors to the valley in the winter. “But it’s a group that will follow the snowfall, so we have to wait and see how that develops,” said Norton.

Some attendees who were expecting formal presentations were frustrated at seeing only promotional materials and not hard numbers with which to plan their business preparations.

Upchurch reached out to attendees afterward and said that the chamber had been caught off-guard and would rework the event in the future. Upchurch said she received 13 formal survey responses, and mostly noted “People wanted a different format.”

Upchurch said the chamber has tried various ways to present the event over the years, and said much smaller numbers had led to the present version when the long, formal presentations irked people with only an hour to spare and specific questions in mind. “The feedback that I got [previously] was from presenters that said ‘We had to sit through other presenters,’ or from attendees who said they sat through presentations they weren’t interested in, in order to get to the ones they were interested in,” said Upchurch.

Last winter, the chamber pivoted to try the booths for display, and had 30 attendees. Upchurch said it went well in that format, and people benefited from the chance to speak directly with the groups.

As for this year, “I didn’t expect it to more than double in size, even with Vail,” said Upchurch, “and it doesn’t work with that many people.”

The plan for the future will be to include a short overview from each presenter, and then allow for follow-up questions at the individual booths to be respectful of everyone’s time.

Upchurch noted that while she has credited the crowd’s growth to Vail Resorts, the chamber advertising of events has picked up over the years and may have contributed to the event’s turnout as well. She has heard the frustration about lack of numbers.

“I don’t know why those hard numbers weren’t there this year… We did ask each presenter to provide that information. Possibly one reason is that it’s just so up in the air; we just don’t know how it’s going to change, we don’t know how Vail Resorts is going to affect these things,” said Upchurch. She said the Tourism Association is doing a good job of analyzing things, but the rest is in a holding pattern.

“I would like the community to know that I have definitely heard their feedback, and we are working to make it what people want in the future,” she said.

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