Category Archives: Resorts

Preview Colorado Ski Season at Ski Expo This Weekend

Lively ski and snowboard show offers deals, steals and snow-oriented entertainment

The 2008 Colorado Ski & Snowboard Expo kicks off at noon today, November 7, at the Colorado Convention Center and runs through Sunday, November 9. Exhibitors include Colorado mountain resorts selling discounted season passes and multi-day ticket packs, as well as overnight lift/lodging packages. Also, ski tour operators will be promoting their travel packages and destinations, and equipment and accessories manufacturers will be showing their hottest and best gear. Other then the Ginzu Knife people, hucksters of various products and services unrelated to skiing but present at every show will be sprinkled among the snow-related exhibitors — providing a bit of diversion.

Kids, who are admitted free, love to troll the show for stickers and posters, get autographs or ski stars, snarf up candy (as if they didn’t get enough on Halloween) and gawk the the entertainment. There’s high-flying action of Honda’s “Rocky Mountain Snowdown” that I saw on Channel 7 News early this morning. Youngsters can also try skiing or snowboarding at the the Kids Snow-Play area. For some people, the icing on the snow-oriented cake is Colorado Ski & Golf’s annual multi-million dollar ski and snowboard sale with bargains galore on equipment, clothing and accessories. For others, the sale is reason enough to go.

The Colorado Convention Center is at 700 Fourteenth Street, Denver. Show hours are Friday, November 7, 12:00 noon – 10:00 p.m.; Saturday, 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday: 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. Cash-only tickets are $12 at the door; $10 with a coupon that you can print out or from King Soopers and the Denver Post, and $9 if purchased online here. Children under 12 are free. It’s good that there are discounts to the show, because parking is $10 (you have to pay the eight-hour minimum), but if you go Sunday, there is more available street parking (but less stuff on sale from Colorado Ski & Golf). A free subscription to Ski, Skiing or TransWorld Snowboarding comes with paid admission to the show.

Molokai Ranch Closes — Including Molokai Lodge

Elegant lodge and other ranch properties on Hawaii’s most laid-back island to cease operations

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.”

Tourism Blackmail

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.

Spring Powder Graces in the Rockies

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.

Jackson Hole’s "Tram-Formation" Website

Jackson Hole documents the replacement of its old tram with a new one.

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’stramformation.” 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.

Two Longtime Vail Lodgings Bite the Dust

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.

The Gradual Greening of Ski Country

No, I’m not referring to low snow in some mountain regions (notably the Alps and New England) for much of this winter (though I could be), and I’m not referring to the greenbacks that skiers and snowboarders leave at ski resorts (though I could be as well). I’m talking about the “green” movement that has swept across snow country as more and more enterprises that rely on white winters are responding to the global warming crisis.

In Switzerland, the resort of Andermatt began covering its Gurschen Glacier two summers ago with plastic sheeting to slow down melting. In the the US, Jiminy Peak, MA, has replaced four energy-gobbling air compressors used for snowmaking with two newer efficient models and is heating buildings with “waste heat” from those compressors — and is planning to install its own wind turbine this summer. In Colorado, the Aspen Skiing Company has installed the ski industry’s largest photovoltaic array, reducing its annual carbon dioxide emissions by 2.3 million pounds.

According to the National Ski Areas Association, 19 US ski areas are now offsetting 100 percent of their energy use by purchasing renewable energy. These are Alpine Meadows and Sugar Bowl, CA; Heavenly, CA/NV; Grand Targhee, WY; Okemo and Middlebury College Snow Bowl, VT; Mt. Ashland, OR; Shawnee Peak, ME; Mt. Sunapee, NH, and Aspen Highlands, Aspen Mountain, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Buttermilk, Crested Butte, Keystone, Snowmass, Vail Mountain and Wolf Creek, all in Colorado. All told, as of last October, these 19 resorts are purchasing 258,574,498 kWh of green energy, reportedly eliminating 309,383,234 pounds of CO2 emissions — the equivalent of planting nearly 12 million trees or avoiding more than 120,000 round-trip flights between New York and San Francisco.
Now, Destinations Resorts & Hotels, a group of ski country properties, has rolled out out what is believed to be the ski lodging industry’s first Green Guest program to support renewable energy. Lodging guests who purchase 10 or more Mini-Green Tags at $2 each receive a 10 percent discount off their lodging at one of five participating properties in Aspen, Telluride and Vail, including the Vail Cascade Resort & Spa, above right. Each property will also match the total number of Mini-Green Tags that guests purchase between March 1 and April 7, 2007 (or when the ski season ends) — and presumably next season as well.
Each tag purchases 100 kilowatt-hours of new renewable, wind-generated electricity to offset the environmental effects of burning coal, gas and other fossil fuels. Destination Resorts figures that a typical spring vacation to Colorado usually entails four guests flying into Denver International Airport, renting a car and driving to the resort for a four-night stay, which translates between 23 Mini Green Tag equivalents for people arriving from nearby states to 123 Mini Green Tag equivalents for guests flying in from the East Coast. Each Mini Green Tag represents 100 kilowatt-hours of wind power entering the energy grid and creates a savings of 140 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. For details and reservations, call call 866-831-3222 or of go to the Destination Resorts’ website.

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.

Colorado’s Top 10 Hotels

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.