Since 2014, voters and politicians in Boston, Budapest, Calgary, Hamburg, Oslo and Krakow have shot down bids for the games. It's a global revolt powered by images of abandoned bobsled tracks, empty stadiums and blown budgets in the tens of billions of dollars.
In Denver, citizen organizers have launched a campaign that would limit the region's play for the 2030 Winter Games. The Olympics already have become a symbol for challengers of Mayor Michael Hancock's administration in the upcoming election. Gov.-elect Jared Polis has said the games "would make things worse, not better," something fun "for millionaires" that he would support only "if somebody else pays for it."
And yet, oddly enough, some of Colorado's most prominent people smell an opportunity in unpopularity: Could Denver and the state negotiate their way to a new kind of games without spending a public dollar?
"Eventually, they will run out of cities that want to host (the games). They're running out of them now," said Rob Cohen, the financial CEO who's leading the Olympic exploratory committee launched a year ago by Hancock and Gov. John Hickenlooper.
"Our proposal is to change the model. If they're interested in doing that, we're interested in talking to them."
A final decision on the site of the 2030 Games is still years away, but the unconventional plan for a Colorado-hosted games is approaching a crucial vote: U.S. Olympic Committee leaders recently visited Denver and Salt Lake City, and they soon will decide which of the two cities to support in the international selection process.
And with few global competitors emerging, the U.S. candidate may have an open lane to the games.
Early season snow in Colorado and strong pass sales led the news from a mostly upbeat Vail Resorts quarterly earnings call on Friday.
The conference call — which included a Q&A session with analysts — was held to discuss the company's performance in the first quarter of its fiscal year, which runs from Aug. 1 to July 31.
Company CEO Rob Katz said company officials are "pleased" with first-quarter results, particularly in terms of pass sales.
Following the previous two years, both of which set records for pass sales, sales for the 2018-19 season were up 21 percent in units sold and 13 percent in revenue.
While the dollar gains lagged the unit gains, Katz said much of that can be attributed to sales of heavily discounted passes for military members, their families and veterans.
Katz said the military passes are a way to make the company's resorts more accessible. The passes, he said, are a "meaningful business opportunity," as well as a way to build a customer base and loyalty.
Part of building customer loyalty also includes improvements to guest experience, Katz said. To that end, Katz announced a number of coming improvements to the company's resorts, although Vail Resorts' full capital improvement plans won't be announced until March of 2019, but Katz gave a quick rundown of what's coming to the firm's resorts, including:
• New dining options at Park City and The Canyons in Utah.
• A new lift and snowmaking in Perisher, Australia.
• Improvements to the Peak 8 base area at Breckenridge Ski Resort.
New snowmaking at several resorts is also part of the plan. Katz said new snowmaking systems will give the company "earlier, more predictable early season" conditions. At Vail, that could mean opening as much as a week earlier than usual, thanks to high-elevation snowmaking near Mid-Vail.
At Keystone Resort, new snowmaking could allow the resort to open as soon as three weeks earlier than normal.
COMPETITION IS GOOD
During the Q&A portion of the call, Felicia Hendrix, of Barclays, asked Katz about competition from Alterra Mountain Group's Ikon Pass.
Katz said that Vail Resorts pays more attention to its own business than what competitors are doing. But, he added, the Ikon Pass has been good for the industry as a whole. That pass reinforces the notion that "if you ski, you should consider a season pass," he said.
With that in mind, Katz told Hendrix he feels "very confident" in Vail Resorts' ability to broaden its current pass programs.
Part of broadening the reach of the Epic passes is the addition of another resort in Japan to the program. Starting in the 2019-20 season, Epic Pass holders can ski for five days at the Rusutsu resort. That's in addition to partnerships with other resorts.
Pass holders will be able to ski 10 days at 11 resorts in Japan.
Responding to a question from analyst Ryan Sundby, Katz said the partnerships with the Japanese resorts create a "strong combination" to pass holders in Australia and North America.
But, Katz added, "We have to continue to innovate."
While Colorado's early season has been its best since the 2010-11 season, Katz said there have been challenges elsewhere. Whistler is short on early snow, he said, as are the resorts in Utah and the Lake Tahoe area of California. Snow in the eastern U.S. is also strong.
At end of the trading day Friday, Vail Resorts stock followed a general downward trend at the New York Stock Exchange. The stock closed at $223.25 per share, a loss of $48.52.
Home prices during October increased year-over-year in October by 5.4 percent, according to new data from CoreLogic. This represents the fourth consecutive month that annualized price growth was below the 6 percent level. On a month-over-month basis, prices were up by 0.5 percent.
Three states recorded double-digit annualized home price increases in October—Nevada (up 12.1 percent) Idaho (up 12 percent) and West Virginia (up 10.1 percent)—while North Dakota was the only state to show a decline with its -1.2 percent growth. CoreLogic also determined that 35 percent of the 100 largest metropolitan areas had an overvalued housing market in October, while 24 percent undervalued and 41 percent were at value.
Looking ahead, CoreLogic forecasted home prices will increase by 4.8 percent on a year-over-year basis from October 2018 to October 2019 but will drop by 0.7 percent from October to November 2018.
"Rising prices and interest rates have reduced home buyer activity and led to a gradual slowing in appreciation," said Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic. "October's mortgage rates were the highest in seven and a half years, eroding buyer affordability. Despite higher interest rates, many renters view a home purchase as a way to build wealth through home-equity growth, especially in areas where rents are rising quickly. These include the Phoenix, Las Vegas and Orlando metro areas, where the CoreLogic Single-Family Rent Index rose 6 percent or more during the last 12 months."
Not many days remain between now and Christmas so a trio of holiday tree lightings is planned for this weekend. Following the previous lightings at Copper, Keystone and Frisco, almost all of Summit County will now bask in the festive glow of the season. There are plenty of activities for kids and adults in Silverthorne, Dillon and Breckenridge on Friday and Saturday.
As part of the town's monthly First Friday events, Silverthorne will have their first-ever tree lighting in front of the Silverthorne Performing Arts Center on Friday, Dec. 7 at 5:30 p.m. Closing out the evening is an inaugural Angry Santa party at Angry James Brewery. The best "Bad" Santa costume wins tickets to Cypress Hill and Hobo Village will play tunes at 7 p.m. A full schedule follows:
4:30–5:30 p.m.: Enjoy holiday carolers, family-friendly activities, hot chocolate and treats provided by Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory
5:30 p.m.: Tree-lighting ceremony begins
5:30–7:30 p.m.: Photos with Santa inside the Silverthorne Pavilion
6–7 p.m.: "Story Time on the Go" at Red Buffalo Coffee and Tea with holiday treats and crafts
8–10 p.m.: Angry Santa Party at Angry James Brewery
Also on Friday, Dillon will flip the switch on their holiday tree at the Marina Park Pavillion. From 4:30–7:30 p.m. there will be refreshments, goodies and a choreographed light show.
The tree will be on display from Dec. 7 to Jan. 6, with the show running every half hour from 4:30–9:30 p.m.
Finally Breckenridge gets in on the holiday action with a whole night of races, parades, singing and other activities on Saturday. New this year is a Reindeer Run for children 12 and younger at 4:20 p.m. before the 4:30 running of the Santas. Registration and more information on the races and parade can be found at GoBreck.com. Proceeds benefit Breckenridge Boy Scout Troop 187. The complete schedule for Breckenridge's holiday events is:
3–6 p.m.: Make free Christmas ornaments at BreckCreate's Quandary Antiques Cabin, 131 S. Ridge St.
3:45 p.m.: Over 150 dogs in the holiday dog parade will head down Main Street from Main Street Station to the Blue River Plaza.
4:20 p.m.: Kids 12 and under wearing complementary antlers run down Main Street.
4:30 p.m.: More than 500 Santas will sprint along Main Street. Top finishers will win an Ullr helmet and other prizes.
5 p.m.: Santa turns on 140,000 LEDs in Blue River Plaza followed by cookies courtesy of the Breckenridge Tourism Office.
5:30–7:00 p.m.: Meet Santa at the Barney Ford Museum, 111 E. Washington Ave.
7:00–9:00 p.m.: Go caroling karaoke-style at BreckCreate's Old Masonic Hall, 136 S. Main St.
Prolific early season snowfall means the ski season at Breckenridge is gearing up to be one of the best. The resort announced this week that it will be opening Peak 6 earlier than ever, inviting skiers and boarders up the slope on Friday, Dec. 7.
The early opening of Peak 6 is far from the only historic moment Breckenridge Ski Resort has experienced this year due to ideal conditions. This year the resort had its earliest opening in more than a decade, the most early season snowfall (mid-October through November) on record in history, and enjoyed early openings for the Imperial Express SuperChair, the T-Bar and the 6-Chair lifts.
Skiers and riders will now have access to more than 2,100 acres of terrain across Peaks 6, 7, 8 and 9. Breckenridge also anticipates opening Peak 10 next week, and will soon offer skiing and riding across all five peaks at the resort.
Over the last five seasons since opening, Peak 6 has opened on Dec. 25, Dec. 16, Dec. 19, Dec. 23, and Jan. 12.
Lesser-used roadways may take a little longer for the state to plow this winter as the Colorado Department of Transportation scrambles to address a shortage of snowplow drivers.
According to CDOT, a national shortage of candidates with commercial driver's licenses is the main culprit behind the lack of snowplow drivers this season, which has forced CDOT to provide new incentive programs.
"Nationwide, there's a shortage of drivers that have a commercial driver's license, and it's impacting how many people we have out maintaining our roadways," said Susan Rafferty, CDOT's human resources director. "As we continue to push to hire more drivers, we're doing what we can to better attract additional personnel."
The department typically staffs about 850 plow drivers in any given year, though that number has dropped to about 750 this season, said CDOT's statewide communications manager Bob Wilson. Wilson also noted that while CDOT typically has a few maintenance positions to be filled, shortages of this size are very rare.
"It's a new problem for the most part," Wilson said. "It's not something that happens on a regular basis. In Colorado we have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country right now, and not as many people are looking for jobs. I guess we'd call it a dark lining around a silver cloud. Finding drivers with a commercial driver's license has always been challenging, and we always have openings here and there. But this year it's a little bit more acute."
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Colorado's unemployment rate has been dropping steadily since the end of 2010 and is currently sitting at around 3.2 percent, or 13th lowest in the nation. So while a lack of individuals actively seeking new employment may be playing a roll in the shortage, the bigger issue is likely competition.
Wilson noted that, despite a relatively stable and adequate maintenance budget, CDOT often can't compete with other industries offering better pay and more enticing packages to employees.
"It's competition," Wilson said. "Lots of school districts can pay drivers very well, and the private sector can pay even better. There is a shortage, but it's definitely an employee market right now instead of an employers market. They can pick and choose, or go to the highest bidder."
Regardless of shortages, Wilson said that the department isn't overly concerned about maintaining roadways this winter, though it will likely mean delays in plowing lesser-used roads around the state. He noted that heavily trafficked thoroughfares such as the Interstate 70 corridor remain the top priority for the department. When storms are expected, drivers will be pulled from less busy areas to help maintain roadway conditions. Unfortunately, that also means less attention to more minor roads.
"It's not so much the way the roads will be taken care of," said Wilson. "It may just take us a little longer to get to those roads than under other circumstances. We're always going to move our resources to the areas that need us the most like Highways 9 and 285."
With slower responses expected to more lightly trafficked areas, Wilson advised that drivers traveling on those roads be prepared by knowing the conditions, checking weather cameras, looking for CDOT updates and taking appropriate safety measures before venturing out.
Given the department's dedication to roads such as Highway 9, Highway 285 and I-70, those of us residing on the Western Slope actually may not feel the effects of the shortage or the constant driver shuffling as much as the rest of the state. Also of note is that while areas on the Eastern Slope only go onto "snow shift" when a storm is imminent, crews in mountainous regions along the I-70 corridor are on snow shift around the clock for the entire season.
But CDOT is still looking to remedy the issue through any means it can, including offering new incentives to potential drivers and expanding the search area. This season the department is increasing wages for temporary highway maintenance employees from $19 an hour to $22 an hour. Additionally, CDOT is allowing retired maintenance employees to return to work for $25 an hour or their previous hourly wage if it was higher.
Wilson said that the department is also giving managers more flexibility to hire full-time temporary employees, on-call temporary employees or permanent workers depending on their desire. In certain cases, CDOT will also provide housing stipends to entice drivers.
Perhaps most notable is the scope of CDOT's employee search. Typically the department restricts where it's employees come from, requiring workers to live within 30 miles of Colorado's borders. This year the Colorado Department of Personnel and Administration is providing CDOT with a six-month residency waiver, allowing maintenance employees to be hired out of state. In other words, if someone in Kansas or Utah is looking to drive a CDOT snowplow this season, they now have that option.
"I want people to be assured we're doing everything possible to make sure the roads are open and safe for travel," said Wilson. "It's just a matter of us moving drivers around to make sure we have adequate coverage where it's needed."