Lively ski and snowboard show offers deals, steals and snow-oriented entertainment
Less than a year ago, we visited Molokai, home to roughly 7,500 people, and stayed at a lovely inn on Molokai Ranch, which sprawls across 60,000 acres (roughly one-third of the island). You can read my overview here. We saw plans by Molokai Properties Ltd., a subsidiary of Guoco Group, to set aside 50,000 acres in a conservation easement and develop 500 beachfront acres at La’au Point into a luxurious subdivision for up to 200 mansions — hardly in keeping with Moloka’i’s quiet, spiritual side but offering the promise of jobs to the island with Hawaii’s highest unemployment rate.
Locals, with a personal interest in their island, of course also saw the plans, and even after some 150 public hearings, many didn’t like what they saw as the ruination of their quiet, non-materialistic way of life. Others would have welcomed the expansive second homes as providing employment (many islanders currently commute to nearby Maui to work in tourism there).
Thinking about the McMansions, Prairie Palaces and gated communities in Colorado and elsewhere on the mainland, I felt sad that a developer was now eyeing lovely Moloka’i for an over-the-top subdivision. According to an Associated Press report, “Molokai Ranch submitted an environmental impact statement to the state Land Use Commission for approval in October. But commissioners said the study inadequately addressed water treatment, potential environmental hazards to Hawaiian monk seals and other issues. The ranch withdrew the study but had said it planned to prepare another one.”
It appears that the company has changed its collective mind. The ranch owners recently announced the closing of the Molokai Lodge (room shown at right), Kaupoa Beach Village, the Kaluakoi Golf Course, the Maunaloa gas station, the Maunaloa Tri-Plex theater, the colony of casual, economical Tentalows near the beach and oddly, a cattle-rearing business — and public access to private ranch property will now be denied. According to reports, the owning company, Guoco Leisure’s Peter Nichols issued a statement saying that “unacceptable delays caused by continued opposition…means we are unable to fund continued normal company operations.”
It seems as if this international, cross-border corporation is putting the screws on Moloka’i by shutting down the biggest enterprise on the island and directly cutting off some of the few employment opportunities that exist, and then via the ripple effect, hurting small business as well. I feel terribly sorry for the locals like the ebuillient Rudy Dela Cruz , who shepherded us around Moloka’i. Many people indeed have staked their dreams on the infusion of money that they foresaw for their island. Still, I don’t get the warm fuzzies about GuocoLeisure, which was established in Hong Kong, is based in Singapore, was once called BIL International, is listed on the Hong Kong stock exhange but incorporated in Bermuda. “In pursuit of prime value” appears to be the company slogan.
“The Group’s principal activities are operating the ‘Thistle’ chain of hotels in the United Kingdom and developing land and properties on Fijian and Hawaiian islands for residential and tourism purposes. These properties include the Molokai Properties and the Denarau Properties. The Group operates in Australasia, Asia, the United States of America, and United Kingdom,” according to an online profile. In the six months that ended on December 31, 2007, the company reported HK$1,021,000,000 in earnings, up 36 percent from the previous year. That doesn’t give much credibility to Nichols’s contention that they can’t afford to keep Molokai Ranch going unless they are allowed to create an exclusive, expensive subdivision.
“Molokai, Hawaii’s sleepiest major island, is getting sleepier,” wrote Jane Engle in the Los Angeles Times. That, depending on which position one agrees with, is either good news or bad news. But in either case, it was big news on this small island.
This epic winter just keeps rolling along, with resorts extending their seasons
Skiers and snowboarders will remember the winter of 2007-08 as slow to start but then just would not quit — and as a skier myself, it’s news that I’m thrilled to share after several consecutive posts about airline/airport misery. Spring powder is a rare treat.
In Colorado, weekend storms bestowed 19 inches on Aspen Highlands and Beaver Creek, 18 inches on Snowmass and Steamboat, 16 on Aspen Mountain, 15 inches on Vail and Crested Butte, a foot or so on Loveland, Winter Park and Buttermilk, but “only” about six inches on Copper Mountain, Eldora, Arapahoe Basin, Keystone, Telluride and Echo Mountain.
Silverton reports 120 inches of settled snow at mid-mountain and Wolf Creek boasts 129 inches. Such significant snow totals this season have prompted some resorts to extend winter operations. Aspen Highlands is the latest resort to extend their closing date, joining Monarch, Purgatory (Durango) and Wolf Creek, which have already pushed back their closing dates. Arapahoe Basin will operate as late as it likes while there’s still cover. (The two pictures on this post were taken on March 31, the top one at Vail and the bottom one at Aspen — or perhaps Snowmass. Hard to tell with all that pow’.)
Utah has been similarly snow-blessed. Alta and Brighton have both surpassed the 600-inch season snowfall totals. Resorts that have tallied 12 or more inches in the last 48 hours include Alta, Brighton, The Canyons, Snowbird and Park City.
Up north, Sun Valley is keeping the lifts running on Bald Mountain until April 20 and is also offering a great Last Tracks package, with one night lodging and one day of skiing from $86 per person, plus kids 15 and under can ski free with each paid adult. Also in Idaho, Brundage Mountain near McCall surpassed the 400-inch mark on March 29 and is extended its season as well, operating seven days a week through mid-April and for the two weekends after that.
If you ever skied Jackson Hole, you know the old aerial tram, installed when the resort opened in the winter of 1965-66, to be one of the icons of American skiing. For most of its four-decade existence, until it was taken out of service at the end of the 2005-06 ski season, it provided the only access to the top of one of the country’s most formidable ski mountains.
Every 12 minutes, only 45 skiers would disembark on the summit of Rendezvous Peak, the country’s largest single ski mountain, disperse in small clusters and begin skiing down 4,019 vertical feet of unsurpassed challenge, often through deep powder snow. For locals, it was routine. For first-time visitors, that first run down Rendezvous was often a defining experience.
In summer, the tram ferried camera-toting tourists who oohed and aahed and shutter-clicked in response to the jaw-dropping Teton views from the top and then rode back down. Ironically, those summer tram operations were bigger revenue generators for the Jackson Hole Ski Corp. than skiers who did laps, hoping to arrive at the tram dock when there wasn’t much of a wait.
When the resort decided to replace the venerable old “red box” tram, they considered various options, finally settling on a sleek state-of-the-art tram that is larger (100 passengers), faster (nine minutes) and features larger windows than the old one. Of course, it had to be red.
The new tram is due to be operational in December 2008, and Jackson Hole has launched a dedicated website to allow people to follow the resort’s “tramformation.” The process is bittersweet, as such replacements of treasured old things with better new ones always are. The website depicts the project in videos, still images and words. Some particularly poignant shots show the faithful old tram ferrying construction materials to the summit for the new upper terminal — rather like a doomed prisoner carrying rope to his own hanging.
Visit the site, wallow in nostalgia for the old tram and look ahead to the new, which will begin service this coming ski season. Perhaps, four decades from now, snowsports-lovers will be nostalgic for the “vintage” 2008 tram too.
If you go to Vail to ski next winter and hope to sleep on a budget, don’t expect to stay at the long-running Vail Village Inn or at the super-economical (for Vail) Roost Lodge. The VVI, just about as old as the resort itself, has been demolished to make way for the upscale Vail Plaza Club & Hotel, which offers both pricy fractional ownership units and hotel rooms. The Roost, a 72-room motel treasured by budget-watchers, is closed, to be replaced by a 102-unit Marriott Residence Inn plus 31 condos. Neither property met current standards of what guests expect, especially in a ritzy resort such as Vail, but at both properties, the prices were right.
What more can be done? There are four suggestions on my wish list. I wish that hotels would cut down on their night-time illumination — miles of hallways lit 24/7, often still with incandescent lights — and too many of them. (Many European hotels have on-demand hall lighting, either through sensors or switches near the elevators, stairs and room doors.) I wish that the housekeepers who do the nightly turndown service didn’t turn on practically every lamp in my room — and often the TV or radio as well. I wish I were confident that when I hang up my towel or put the little sign on my bed volunteering to reuse my linens, housekeepers honor that request and don’t automatically send everything to laundry. I wish that in warm-weather resorts, the rooms were not air conditioned to the point of refrigeration. Everything I’m hearing about equals a good start, but there are certainly more steps — large and small — that ski resorts could take toward environmental responsibility.
I always take magazines’ “best” lists with a grain of salt. Sometimes the lists are compiled from readers’ ballots, favoring big hotels or resorts in popular destinations that more people will have visited over smaller places or those in less glamorous destinations. Sometimes the lists suspiciously favor long-time advertisers. But I read them anyway — and I’ve never quibbled with what’s been included, rather by what I feel also merited such recognition. The new issue of Conde Nast Traveler’s Gold List of 700 of the world’s top hotels includes 10 in Colorado. Acknowledging that the magazine’s readers and/or editors only seem familiar with Aspen, the Vail Valley and Colorado Springs, I give you their 2007 selections plus my descriptions:
- The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs: This sprawling, resort keeps getting better. Every year brings news of new or renovated restaurants, a rebuilt golf course, a spa expansion, totally renovated guest rooms. The Broadmoor features 700 rooms, some of the best dining in the state, world-class golf, excellent tennis and drop-dead views of Pikes Peak in one direction and treetops by day twinkling city lights by night in the other direction.
- Hotel Jerome, Aspen: This historic (1889) jewel of a hotel is the grande dame of Aspen hotels, restored and expanded lovingly into a Victorian-style showplace. But hold your hat, because the owners of The Broadmoor have purchased the Jerome, plan to close it sometime after the ski season and make it over completely. Observing Knowing what they have done at The Broadmoor, it’s bound to be a dazzling but historically respectful renovation.
- Little Nell Hotel, Aspen: This gorgeous, tasteful hotel right at the base of the Aspen Mountain gondola set the bar high for luxurious, contemporary hotel development in one of America’s leading ski towns. Its rooms are tasteful, its staff caring and competent and its location at the edge of downtown Aspen exceptional. The concept will eventually be taken down the road when the planned Little Nell at Snowmass is built.
- Lodge & Spa at Cordillera, Edwards: Magnificently located on a mesa with commanding mountain views, this boutique lodge offers a combination of seclusion and easy access to all of the Vail Valley’s abundant appeals and is the centerpiece of a development of super-luxe private homes. The resort features four golf courses and a wonderful on-site spa.
- JW Marriott Denver, Denver: When I think about it, I am amazed that until this classy, 196-room hotel opened in June 2004, the vibrant Cherry Creek North area offered no lodging. Shops? Yes. Restaurants? Plenty. But this was the first hotel. When I’m in the area, even if I have no particular reason to walk through the door, I usually wander in just to gawk at the beautiful art glass in the lobby and other public areas.
- Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort & Spa, Beaver Creek: When this luxuriously rustic hotel opened, it was the first real luxury property at still-developing Beaver Creek Village. Stylish and self-contained, it never lost its edge. The Hyatt was among the first to bring beautiful understated decor, well-trained staff, exceptional on-site facilities and top services to the mountains. Its standards have since become the norm for high-end ski hotels in the United States.
- Pines Lodge, Beaver Creek: Good things come in (relatively) little packages. Set on a hill above Beaver Creek Village, is an attractive, understated ski-in, ski-out lodge with only 60 rooms, yet it combines abundant mountain charm with upscale services, amenities and decor and even European-style flair.
- Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch, Beaver Creek: Taking its inspiration from grand National Park lodges, this spectacular ski-in, ski-out resort hotel offers 237 exquisitely appointed rooms, plus abundant atmosphere, enviable tranquility for those who wish it, a beyond-gorgeous spa and the exceptional hotel services for which Ritz-Carlton is known worldwide. There’s a chairlift right outside the door, and all the other attractions of Beaver Creek and the entire Vail Valley nearby.
- Sonnenalp Resort, Vail: This is a perfect rendition of a classic Alpine ski resort brought to the Rockies. Run by the Faessler family that has operated the original Sonnenalp in the Bavarian Alps since 1919, this extraordinary 115-suite, 12room resort hotel occupies several buildings in the heart of Vail Village. Rooms and public spaces are all appointed in impeccable and authentic Alpine style. The lifts are a short walk away, and the Sonnenalp also operates its own nearby golf course.
- St. Regis Resort, Aspen: With 179 spacious and graciously appointed guest rooms, a dazzling spa and all the top services expected at a St. Regis property, this is a shining jewel in the diadem of Aspen lodging. Self-contained and located at the base of Aspen Mountain, very near the lifts, it is also just a short walk from all of downtown Aspen’s attractions.
Some commonalities can be assumed for all of these properties: twice-daily housekeeping, excellent on-site dining, at least one congenial bar/lounge and often entertainment; concierge, doorman and valet services; fitness center and/or spa and/or swimming pool(s); child-care arrangements, and other services and facilities. After all, they would not have made the top-10 list without such features. You will find that these hotels have won numerous stars from Mobil and Diamonds from AAA, often every single year.