Friday, January 17, 2020

Search Results for: resort town life

Hire a midget!

While not the most politically correct thing to say to the general manager of the ski area, that is the advice I bellowed to Ethan Mueller as he left our “meeting” at a certain outdoor patio last spring. He couldn’t seem to leave fast enough.
I was referring to the publicity move made in the 1950s by the owner of a major league baseball team who had hired a “little person” to bat in a game, knowing that the opposing pitcher wouldn’t be able to hit the strike zone. It drew a crowd and by the way, it worked. The 3-foot, 7-inch dwarf walked in a game in 1951 and was pulled for a pinch runner in front of a sell-out crowd. The people loved it. The same owner, Bill Veek, was always looking for ways to fill his seats. He came up with gimmicks like “bat day,” fireworks at the games, exploding scoreboards and outrageous door prizes.
Hence my point to Ethan: Crested Butte Mountain Resort needs to think (and act) out of the box. It’s not enough anymore to claim to be a top-tier North American ski resort. Given terrain expansion at other areas, a decline in our air service, the (in my mind) quiet base area atmosphere, the ability to eat up too much terrain too fast with high speed quads, I was suggesting CBMR needed to look for ways to attract people to come back. They’ve always been able to get people here but it’s getting them back that was the struggle.
So let’s rehash the discussion about season pass prices. It has been suggested by interested community members that given the changing economics of ski area business, our pass philosophy is stuck in a 1980s template. The argument goes that since people can now affordably purchase “Epic Passes” and “Super Passes” that give customers access to multiple resorts across the west for a fraction of the cost of a CBMR season pass, we need to pull back our customers. Those who like skiing Crested Butte would in theory pay $500 for a season pass and use it to drive or fly here more often if they held such an affordable treasure.
The business theory is that once you have a customer willing to pay for a season pass, it ties them to your area. They spend ancillary money (on lodging, hamburgers, cocktails, ski lessons) at “their” resort. The ski company would get the contact info to Tweet, email, Facebook, blog and YouTube those clients. The idea is to go out and own your market. Make it affordable for the family in Montrose and GJ to come here and experience the mountain. Go get Salida and Alamosa and Santa Fe. Get that family from Houston to fly up here three times instead of two.
And most important, when your clients get here, make it interesting. Make it different from other ski areas. Hire the midget!
Off the hip ideas we’ve perhaps considered during brainstorming sessions and happy hours:
*I’ve suggested an outdoor entertainment focus beneath the great white tent. Create an outdoor lounge that is unique amongst winter resorts. There are ways to make it warm enough and cool enough to draw people to the base area. Such a draw can positively impact all the businesses up there. Make it something that tourists remember and talk about when they get home. Couches, music, lights, ski movies on the ceiling. Give people a story to share…about us.
*Make Wednesdays in January and February your non-profit day. Charge 10 bucks and give half the money to a nonprofit. Donate it to an organization people can relate to, whether it is cancer research, veteran’s services or children’s causes. Let people associated with the nonprofit ski for free.
*Come up with a way people can ski two hours for $40. Or ski just the Red Lady Lift all afternoon for, say, $35.
*Give stuff away that people want. So on Tuesdays at 3 o’clock announce that some lucky skier on one of your lifts will find a $100 gas card on one of the chairs that is running. My guess is people will find the time to be skiing at 3 o’clock on Tuesday and perhaps then go find time for an après ski cocktail at 4 o’clock. That’s revenue generation.
*Partner with Telluride and/or Irwin to offer high-end skiers a true Western Ski Experience package. Give people who can afford an expensive ski vacation something memorable. Expose those high-end clients to authentic western towns, great food at locally owned restaurants, unique guided skiing and fun characters. Make Vail and Breckenridge boring.
*Partner with Monarch on some weekends for the budget client. Maybe it’s a three-day weekend with two day passes here and one at Monarch for a really good price. Charter a bus from the Springs or Denver to bring in families on a budget who want to expose their kids to the sport. Those are future clients. Ski trips aren’t cheap but the sport is addictive.
*Become the official mountain resort of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. Fly out the summer bike athletes who race here in August and promote a week for people who might want to meet them up close and personal in a cool mountain resort. Let those who love bike racing meet and greet and hang out with their heroes. Raise some money for charity and cross-market your seasons. Let the biking heroes connect with Crested Butte year-round.
*Be real. Stop throwing out single-day lift ticket prices that put CBMR in the Aspen, Steamboat, Vail atmosphere. We really don’t have the terrain, services or attitude to compete with those monsters. Price yourself for what you are…an authentic, cool, small to medium sized ski area with interesting steep terrain. But we also have a really cool town and lots of friendly people who make people develop a connection to the place. Connect the people to the place to increase volume. That will help everyone’s bottom line.
Good grooming and a salad bar in an old Warming House isn’t enough to get people to return. It might get people talking about us, but not enough to get them back if there are easier, bigger places to go.
Make this place interesting again. Find ways to put a smile on people’s faces and get them to share a story…and bring back some of their friends. Don’t just think out of the box…create a new box. Hire a midget!
Ethan didn’t respond to my request at that first meeting last spring…but I do give him credit for picking up the tab before hurrying away. I also give him credit for the company’s wonderful expansion of summer bike trails on the mountain and adding some summer life to the Base Area. Now, it will be interesting to see if this crew can think of other ways to address winter life and fill the chairlifts. It is time for something bold.

Tattoos, cheesesteaks and compromise. Now that’s America…

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Standing in a line last week to get a cheesesteak in south Philly, the guy in front of me looks like something out of a RMBL dream. It’s 103 degrees on an industrial street corner and the guy has his shirt off. On his back is a creepily beautiful display of pinned entomology. He has more than a dozen colorful tattoos of insects spread over his back. There’s the Blue Mud Wasp, the Hawthorn Shield Bug, the Whip Scorpion. It’s a spectacle. Ben and I can’t stop staring at this guy’s back so I strike up a conversation.
“I love these things,” he tells me in a Jersey accent. “I sat in the chair more than 15 hours for the outlines. It makes me happy.”
He lets me take a picture with my phone. I send it to Ian Billick at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory and suggest the RMBL kid’s camp incorporate a little ink session during their weekly gatherings.

Being in Philadelphia the week before the Fourth is pretty powerful. To see Independence Hall and walk the cobblestone streets of the Old Town where Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson debated the seeds of this country is pretty moving stuff.
Let us not forget that the debates over the Declaration and the Constitution that took place at Independence Hall and under the shade trees of that neighborhood were likely similar to debates taking place today. They weren’t always civil and men on both sides were strong in their beliefs.
The difference perhaps is that these men in the 1700s understood that ultimately, compromise wasn’t always a negative word. That without compromise, there would likely be no United States. To look back and absorb the eloquence and wisdom sewn together by these representatives is powerful. But the history shows that without compromise, we all might still be speaking with a British accent and paying homage to the Queen.
According to Walter Isaacson’s biography of Benjamin Franklin, not all the founders were enthralled with the documents that form the base of this great country. Some members of America’s early Congressional delegations were distressed because they felt the final result of the Constitution usurped too much state sovereignty, others were distressed because they thought it did not create a strong enough national government. Franklin summed up the Constitution with a speech that espoused ‘the magic of the American system and the spirit of compromise that created it…”
While Franklin was attacked by some for a lack of principles, he contended it was the compromise that was the essence of the democratic process.

Brass knuckle debate has always been part of the American political way of life but these days it seems to have a different tone. Using checks and balances to stop or redirect a political opponent’s plan is part of the deal in America. But when the two parties agree there is a problem and have tangible ways to address and potentially correct the problems, but choose rather to scuttle their opponent’s ideas rather than even try to find a solution, we are in danger of losing that very spirit that gave us the Declaration and Constitution.
Too many of our current political leaders appear to value power and money above the greater good. They listen not to the country as a whole but to their largest donors and most strident party screamers. They have lost their spirit.
When the politicians absolutely refuse to consider ideas from the other side or won’t consider any thought of compromise, we put ourselves on a dangerous path…a path that could lead us away from a united group of states and toward a constantly fractionalized banana republic. “Show your papers.”
As we celebrate our country’s birth this Fourth of July, let us not forget that the founding fathers all moved a little to the left or a little to the right for the greater good. These men did their best in Philadelphia. They strongly debated their beliefs and then came together to form that perfect union. They ultimately did what they felt was best for the general population, not just those that agreed with them or lived in their districts. For that we should indeed celebrate…and remember those lessons.

So I am in the cradle of our country where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were fleshed out and I find a guy with insect tattoos that make him happy. He’s never been west of Pennsylvania. It’s my first time in Philly.
He asks about the wildfires in Colorado and is generally concerned about our home. He can’t fathom a ski resort or mountain biking. I ask about Jersey and love that this guy with a fist full of lottery tickets felt compelled to ink pinned insects to his back. We will never see each other again.
We don’t talk about Obamacare or senseless wars or recessions and a do-nothing Congress.
We are from two very different worlds but on this summer day, we are two Americans sharing a line at a cheesesteak stand a few miles away from the Liberty Bell. It’s a 103 degree degrees but it’s pretty cool. Happy Birthday America.

Hot thoughts

Let’s start with Cash Lamar. The eight-year-old kid left his hometown last January in an ambulance and a flight-for-life plane. He gets back in town Thursday. There will be a parade in his honor Friday afternoon. He won’t be in an ambulance. He will be riding in a sweet convertible. That’s hot.

There is a town in Australia by the name of Coober Pedy. It is a major opal mining community in the desert outback. Many of its residents live underground because it is so dang hot there. Walking the dog along Gibson’s Ridge Tuesday afternoon, I wondered if that was the future of all humans. If it is this hot here at 8,880 feet above sea level in June, what’s our destiny? Crispy.

No one can emphasize enough the fire danger out there. The days are absolutely gorgeous but with no rain and too much wind, one little ash from a cigarette can change everything. So, be aware and be careful out there. We don’t want to find ourselves on 9News every night for being the latest wildfire hot spot in the state.

The recent idea of all the local governments pitching in to help subsidize the local air program is a bit of a heated issue. I understand the need for the planes flying in here. I appreciate the show of community cooperation to address a need. But it is a tricky situation when governments spend public monies on something that already has a public taxing entity to address the situation. I covered some of the old RTA meetings and frankly, it seemed to me that the previous executives at the ski resort pushed and pushed until the local politicians on the RTA at the time folded and didn’t just dip but drained the reserves to fund what appeared to be over-priced contracts negotiated by the ski resort.
And Monday I learned at a Town Council meeting that the ski resort was surprised that it wouldn’t have to pay the entire $1.3 million guarantee from last season. In fact, they got a “surprise” $736,000 back. That’s great news but should have shifted the discussion at the council meeting last Monday. That “surprise” is eight times the shortfall. Good news for the resort. Congrats. But, if I had been on the council Monday night, I’d be offering the win-win solution of taking $89,000 out of that three-quarter of a million dollar surprise and covering the “shortfall.” It’s still not a bad “surprise.”
The horse seems to have left the barn on this one but the biggest thing at this point is to make sure it is a one-time deal for the local governments.

Can’t wait to see the Chainless. Both of them?

Love the combo of warm nights and outdoor seating on Elk. Kudos to David Leinsdorf for pushing the idea.

The USA Pro Challenge bike race is coming back August and it was announced this week that this year the event is being covered by NBC Sports. This means more coverage to a broader audience for everyone in the valley. And that is pretty cool.

Elected reps willing to fund winter air program

“This is our lifeline. This is the real deal…”

Along with Mt. Crested Butte, Gunnison County and the city of Gunnison, the town of Crested Butte is indicating a willingness to utilize public funds to help support the community air service program. The Town Council members voiced some concerns with the idea but agreed to the concept in a spirit of cooperation with the ski resort and other government entities and made it clear they felt the airline program is an economic lifeline for the entire valley.
While no hard number was settled on by the town, the council bandied about a figure in the $20,000 range for next year. That will go toward an $89,000 shortfall in the Minimum Revenue Guarantee (MRG) for next winter’s United Airlines flight between Houston and Gunnison.

Read More »

Skier visits drop double digits at CBMR last season

Part of nationwide trend

Snow may be falling in the Rocky Mountains in May, but it’s little consolation for a ski industry that took a major hit during the 2011-2012 ski season. Resorts across the country are reporting major drops in annual skier visits, and Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) is no exception. Read More »

Pot and prom

This isn’t a piece about legalizing pot—something that makes logical sense and we can discuss more as the November election approaches—but rather a piece about choices and their intersection with pot and local kids in Crested Butte. This is a piece about how good alternatives are being encouraged and were actually chosen in a situation where bad choices are not uncommon.

I’ve received some concerned comments about the two photo pages we ran in last week’s newspaper. One showed scenes from the local high school prom. The other showed scenes from the April 20 Townie Takeover. Some felt the 4/20 townie takeover photos were a nod on our part to glorify smoking pot and sent mixed messages to our kids, who were celebrating prom the same week.
Those are legitimate concerns and we appreciate the feedback. The comments gave me a chance to further reflect on the decision to run the photos. And upon further consideration, I think we’d run both again. The two events are both reflective of the community and its values.

Let’s be honest about the discussion.
There is a lot of pot in this town. Some of it is “legal” through the state’s medical marijuana laws. All of it is still illegal under federal laws banning the herb. Both can be obtained pretty easily. For the kids growing up in a somewhat transient resort town with a college (I mean, university) down the road, it is there. Every local kid is exposed to marijuana at a relatively young age. Whether smelling it while riding the chairlift, seeing medical marijuana ads on the bus or watching older kids use it, pot is prevalent in Crested Butte. So it comes down to reality and choices.
The Community School teachers and administrators are aware. There have been substance abuse issues (alcohol and drugs) at previous proms. So this year they proactively took action. They brought in Brooke Harless of the Gunnison County Substance Abuse Prevention Project (GCSAPP) before prom and worked with the students on the impacts of substance abuse for people their age. They held open discussions and used real life examples. And by all accounts, it worked. This year’s prom was a rousing success. The kids all had a great time without drugs and alcohol. The local kids made good choices.

And honestly, that will be the way of their world as they grow older. Life is about choices. Pot isn’t going to go away, especially in resort communities like Crested Butte. Our kids will have a lot of exposure to the drug and alcohol culture. They will “experiment.” Parties are a part of the culture of this place. The main street of town certainly has more than its share of drinking establishments. PBR seems to be the official drink of Crested Butte. Some people here seem to dress up and party if the day begins with birds chirping. Townie takeovers spring up monthly.
To ignore our realities would not make them go away. But to accept the culture head-on and offer our children good, age appropriate alternatives—and then see them actually make the good choices—is another reason to be proud of the young adults this village is producing. Nice work, teachers. Nice work, kids.

Affordable housing direction proves the council is ninja

The Crested Butte Town Council is ninja. They can see into the future and anticipate the coming tsunami of Crested Butte growth and development. They have ultimate faith that they can envision what’s certainly coming and plan accordingly. And what they see is a town booming with high-priced development and enough forethought to house anyone who wants to work and live here. It is a bold move and sort of the proverbial “all-in” poker action that either brings back a pile of chips by preserving some good elements of this community or sees our stack shrink as the action helps hinder any return to a vibrant economy. Good luck to them.
Based on their future vision, now would be a good time to buy up property in Crested Butte. They see an inevitable return to the good times of high salaries, higher real estate values and booming business. Buy now and swim in equity soup.
During discussions since last November over mitigation fees for affordable housing, the council members have stated the certainty of a return to prosperity. There is no chance Crested Butte won’t thrive and they want to be ready for the unavoidable boom.
They have seen the current economic numbers for Crested Butte and admit that it doesn’t make any sense for a developer to start a commercial project right now. Strictly on a numbers analysis, commercial development would lose money. And the council admitted at its last meeting that by implementing affordable housing mitigation fees that will settle in at about $60 a square foot on all new commercial development, they are prolonging the current pain for a sweeter future. They are fully aware. Ninja. It is a bold political statement and strategy.
Responding to the mayor’s conclusion that the new ordinance setting the fees is a “slow-growth or even no-growth” policy for town, the rest of the council didn’t flinch. The intention is good; to ensure that people of all economic layers can live and work in Crested Butte. Few would object to that. But whether they like it or not, passing these fees does nothing to make them be perceived as a “pro-business” council, no matter how many food trucks they allow. They are honestly between a rock and hard place.
Council members are purposefully right-sizing the pace of development in town to reflect their values. Those values are topped by the idea of helping people to live in town without having to be millionaires. But that means a slower return to the trades, so carpenters, plumbers, electricians, roofers will all have to wait a bit longer to see some regular work. As councilperson David Owen has stated, he’d rather see no growth in town as opposed to growth that doesn’t pay its own way. That brings consequences. Some locals might have to leave now to find work while this decision protects some future locals not yet here.
One thought on the unintended consequences of this move is that it could reshape the middle class business community to where there would be little opportunity for real middle class business opportunities. Think about it: if the fees contribute to a construction cost so high that a middle class entrepreneur can’t afford to build, then some small businesses won’t have a place to exist. If a rich developer doesn’t care about cost and willingly pays the housing fees, the town could become populated with hobby business owners who don’t need to sell enough books or burritos to actually pay the rent. It becomes stereotypically Aspen-esque by default. Real middle class business people could be forced to go somewhere where the cost of building or renting a space makes sense from a business and lifestyle perspective. Now granted, even under the hobby business scenario, the barista will have a place to live, but the hopeful middle class business owner would be pushed somewhere else. That is my fear with these fees—that they push us toward being the place the council speaks ill of.
But I don’t have ninja powers to see the future so I could be wrong.
One Crested Butte resident at the meeting Monday asked how the council could justify squeezing developers and current business owners hoping to expand by charging large fees and spending those fees for community housing (“a bit socialist,” he said), while a few minutes later some of the same council members touted the benefits of a capitalistic free market for a new business niche with late-night food.
Actually, both are using the power of government to help shape the future. And based on its decisions, this council appears to be shaping a future of young, small-business people who want to live in subsidized housing in town and contribute to the community. That’s not an unreasonable vision given the economic realities of a resort community. But it is a different vision from independent young hippies ready to take the risk of opening a business in an end-of-the-road mountain town where they planned to work hard and play harder—an attraction of this place 20 or 30 or 40 years ago.

This council can see 10 or 20 years into the future. Ninja. They obviously don’t think the world will be ending December 21 with the end of the Mayan calendar. So they are, with boldness, and awareness, deciding to preserve the future with a cost to the present. That’s not a bad thing. Building an avenue for people of all economic strata to live in town is valuable and part of Crested Butte’s charm. The vision is good but it comes with some immediate sacrifice in slowing down potential growth and jobs in the trades. And if this place starts to grow quickly into a place where cost doesn’t matter, the council will have set up a plan. But will that be a place you want to live?
The council believes they are ninja. Given the short-term consequences, let’s hope they are right.

Making It Work: Part 4 Conclusions

Diversity proves profitable for the valley

This is the final installment of our series looking at the ways people are making it work in the Gunnison Valley. Some have been here for decades and others are hoping to be here that long. Many have a connection to Western State College. Most made it here from somewhere else. But, as far as we can tell, everyone, in some fashion, relies on a connection between the Gunnison Valley and the outside world, whether it’s a physical connection or a virtual one, especially now. Without them, can people of the Gunnison Valley compete in a 21st century economy? If we don’t compete, can we survive? Read More »

Making It Work: Part 3 Diversity proves profitable for community

Finding work in the Gunnison Valley isn’t always easy, but find someone with one job and you’re likely to find someone with two. As economist Paul Holden points out in a 2009 report on The Economy of Gunnison County, low wages and a high cost of living often make multiple sources of income necessary. This week we’ll look at a few people who have managed to make it here by dividing their time without losing sight of what’s important. Read More »