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New Gondola for 2012 Vail Village

Happy New Year!

After going through the worst December and Holiday season in terms of snow conditions since we have been in Vail, ski conditions have significantly improved in the last week as we now appear to back into a normal winter weather pattern. The Holiday season in the Vail Valley was nearly a complete disaster as Vail was experiencing the second-worst ski conditions in the history of Vail in terms of base and snowfall. The only good news was that ski conditions were horrible just about everywhere and Vail and Beaver Creek’s extensive snow-making capabilities were able to enhance natural snow enough to make skiing tolerable. The other saving grace for the holiday season was our huge client-base from Mexico. Mexicans were committed to coming to Vail and seem to have a more tolerant approach to life and would not let things that they could not control negatively affect their holiday.
Clearly, we were entrenched in a strange weather pattern with unusually high temperatures for January as temps were reaching in the 40’s and even the low 50’s a few times. Besides the mild temperatures, there simply was no moisture. Weatherman blamed this situation on the lack of Arctic freezes occurring that typically push frigid air and the jet stream from Canada into the continental United States. When we finally did get a big Arctic air mass, it missed the Rockies and resulted in lower temps in northern Florida than in Avon. Conditions were so bad that there was literally no snow on the lower third of Sun Up and Sun Down bowls – nothing! However, that has all changed and we are getting blasts of cold air, and more importantly, snow!
With a few large storms in recent days, the Sun Up Bowl, China Bowl, and Blue Sky Basin are now open! We are about a foot of snow away from significantly improving skiing in Sun Up and getting Sun Down Bowls open, thus changing the whole complexion of the ski season. Although we have lost of big chunk of time in December and January, things are starting to look up for February and March, however, those months are expected to be big and anything less will be a big disappointment. April is the month that has the potential to recoup lost opportunities in early ski season. Let’s hope for lots more snow and a long spring ski season!

Can you believe that the Vista Bahn is already 26 years old and is now considered outdated? Well, it does not matter what you or I think, Vail Resorts thinks it is time for an upgrade and has announced plans for a new, state-of-the-art Gondola to replace the Vista Bahn just in time for Vail’s 50th birthday celebration next ski season! The new lift will have 10-passenger gondola cabins and with a speed of 1,200 feet per minute (about 13.6 miles per hour), it will be the fastest single cable gondola in the world. Uphill skier capacity will increase by 40%. The gondola will feature heated, cushioned seats and complimentary Wi-Fi. (COMMENT: Sign of the times - in the old days, the Vista Bahn with a “bubble” cover was labeled the “Rasta-Bahn”. Today, people will be playing with their smartphones instead of their “hooch” pipes).
The existing Vista Bahn is labeled as lift #16, however, the new gondola will carry the moniker lift number “1” to commemorate Vail’s original gondola that was in the same location. Certainly, Vail 50th anniversary; the age of the gondola; the necessity to increase base uphill capacity and the 2015 World Alpine Championship were all likely factors in the decision to replace the Vista Bahn, but certainly a major consideration also had to be the ability to access Mid-Vail’s new on-mountain fine-dining restaurant, 10th, in summer. (See story below).

With Vail’s plan to replace the Vista Bahn with a gondola and significantly increase uphill capacity out of Vail Village, the next questions that begs answering is, how does Vail plan to relieve congestion out of Mid-Vail? Well, Vail has been thinking along the same lines and is now considering several lift upgrades and improvements. It is public knowledge that the highest priority after the new gondola is a new lift from Mid-Vail. We have heard that we will see a “6-pack” high-speed lift to replace Chair 4 within the next two years and potentially as early as this summer, but more likely the summer of 2013. We also understand that Vail is considering 6-passenger chairlifts for Avanti #2 and Northwoods #11 as they require replacement. We also hear that a high-speed lift to replace #17 in Sun Up Bowl/Yonder area is in the works. Hopefully, Vail will also consider moving one of the older lifts to Outer Mongolia Bowl to facilitate real skiing of that extensive acreage, although there are concerns about providing too easy access to high risk out-of-bounds skiing to the East Vail chutes which have been the cause of several avalanche fatalities in recent years. However, if history gives us any indication about what to expect from Vail Resorts, just about anything can happen and we might be pleasantly surprised by an announcement at any time.
Situated at Mid-Vail, The 10th is Vail’s newest on-mountain facility featuring a ski-in, ski-out fine dining restaurant, overlooking the majestic Gore Range. The 10th Restaurant is a 'nod' to the soldiers of The 10th Mountain Division, many of whom were the founders of the American skiing industry. Enjoy an upscale meal with table service, or a quick bite from Express lunch options offered at the bar in a more relaxed atmosphere. The 10th is located at the base of Look Ma run at Mid-Vail. Menu items range from small plates, soups and salads to sandwiches and entrées. A children's menu is also available. The 10th is open to the public for lunchtime dining, 7 days a week, throughout the ski season. Advance reservations are recommended.
For those of us who recall from years past, there used to be a sit down restaurant in Mid-Vail with table service known as the Cook Shack, which was very popular. However, the powers-that-were at Vail Resorts at the time decided that they were not generating enough revenue from that space and closed the Cook Shack and converted it to cafeteria. In recognition of the original Cook Shack, there are several references to that restaurant in the new menu.
The 10th also features an outdoor deck, that is not yet in use, facing Look Ma, that has promise to be a great place to congregate for spring skiing activity. Rumor has it that Vail is thinking about moving some of the mogul competitions currently being held at Cook Shack run in between Avanti and Pickeroon on Chair #2 back into the forefront of the public eye by moving them back to Look Ma, which in years past was a real crowd-pleaser at Mid-Vail.

Poor ski conditions certainly did not embarrass Vail Resorts as Vail posted the highest daily ski pass rate ever in America over the Christmas holiday at a whopping $116 per day. While most holiday skiers plan well in advance and did not pay anything near that price, many people visiting family in Colorado for holidays who were interested in skiing a few days were in complete shock, especially given the conditions. We have had constructive debates on lift ticket pricing with Vail Resorts over the years (most times they are right), but we think this was a mistake. Although few actually pay the “window” price, lift tickets are usually the first thing that prospective guests look at when choosing a resort for their ski vacation. We tend to think that while $15 or $20 a day does not really change things in the overall picture, it creates a certain perspective that scares many people away from Vail. A recent poll by Trip Advisor confirms our concern as Vail was voted the Most Expensive Ski area in North America. While we know Vail can be as expensive as one wants, it also can be a great value with a large inventory of moderate lodging; an efficient, free bus system; many reasonable dining options; and convenient supermarkets to make dining in as inexpensive as at home. We certainly do not propose that Vail be portrayed as the Wal-Mart of skiing, but we do not want to scare people away as we need to reload our pipeline of guests.

One of the world’s largest orthopedic companies, Arthrex, was within days of finishing a surgical training center in Vail Gateway condominiums (next to Four Seasons, 9 Vail Road, The Sebastian and home of Kelley Liken restaurant), but when residential condominium owners found out that surgeons would be learning on human body parts, the “harvest party” was over before it even got started. Vail Gateway sought and received a court injunction blocking the opening of the facility for the time being. Anthrex uses joints harvested from cadavers to be used in reconstructive joint surgeries (mine failed). Somehow, we tend to agree that having residences, restaurants and cadaver laboratories are not a good mix in a small resort condominium.

While the snow gods seem to have forgotten us this ski season, St. Joseph is apparently paying us more attention. (St. Joseph is the unofficial patron saint of real estate). Real estate activity in the Vail Valley is noticeably picking up. Sales are occurring and many more buyers are looking, but they are looking for perceived bargains. For the past several years, sellers have held firm to prices, but many are becoming more realistic. Combining seller realism with the fact that some buyers are just getting anxious is having positive results. We have always maintained that in order for price to begin rising that they must first drop in order to generate some sales and create some inertia for the market. We see that starting to happen. While activity for resort properties in Vail and Beaver Creek are picking up, areas that most appeal to local housing continue to struggle creating some real bargains for buyers in those markets.

Lack of Snow Boosts Sales for Village Shops, Restaurants & Bars Over the Holidays
Plum TV Files for Bankruptcy – To be absorbed by TV8
Inaugural Winter Teva Games Comes to Vail
Beaver Creek Lands Stage Finish for Pro Cycling Challenge this Summer

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