Tuesday, February 28, 2006

New CEO for Vail Resorts, Inc.

Vail Resorts, Inc. (NYSE: MTN) has named Robert Katz as Chief Executive Officer, effective today. He will succeed former Chairman and CEO Adam Aron, who announced plans on January 30, 2006, to resign from the Company and relinquished those positions and board seat today. The Company also announced that Joe R. Micheletto has been elected as Chairman of the Board.

Mr. Micheletto issued the following statement on behalf of the board regarding the appointment of Mr. Katz to CEO:

“Rob Katz is uniquely qualified to serve Vail Resorts as its next CEO by virtue of his talent, dedication and experience as a hands-on director whose guidance has been instrumental in supporting every major milestone achieved by the Company over the last 14 years. We are confident in Rob’s ability to provide resolute focus toward continuing the growth of our mountain resorts, realizing the full potential of our real estate holdings, maximizing the profitability and selected growth of our lodging operations, and pursuing future strategic acquisitions.”

Mr. Katz, 39, most recently served as the Company's Lead Director and has been intricately involved in guiding Vail Resorts' strategic direction and operations since 1992. Since 1990, he has been associated in various capacities including as a Senior Partner of Apollo Management, L.P., an affiliate of the former majority shareholder in Vail Resorts. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School in 1988, and has lived in Boulder, Colorado since 2002.

“I am honored by the opportunity to work with the industry’s best management team and employees in continuing Vail Resorts’ legacy as the nation’s premier mountain resorts company,” said Mr. Katz. “After many years with the Company as a shareholder and board member, I am looking forward to guiding the Company’s strategic initiatives, including the many exciting resort upgrades, development opportunities and marketing programs already underway. I intend to keep my focus on our core value of providing our guests unforgettable vacation experiences.”

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Silverthorne Couple in The Amazing Race

Silverthorne residents Fran and Barry Lazarus have climbed all 54 of Colorado's 14ers together, traveled to more than 45 countries with each other and have competed twice in the grueling Triple Bypass road bike race from Evergreen to Avon.

Now the couple, who've been married for 40 years, will see if they can add reality television show winners and millionaires to their list of life's accomplishments.

The Lazaruses are one of 11 teams of two who will vie for $1 million in the upcoming season of CBS' popular "The Amazing Race" reality TV show.

The adventure series pits the teams against each other as they travel to exotic locations across five continents to complete unknown tasks.

At Fran's age of 61 and Barry's at 63, they are the oldest competitors on the show, but in an interview posted on CBS' web site, Barry dismissed any concerns about the generation gap.

"We bring a new dimension to the older person that's been on the show in the past," he said. "We're competitors. We're not showing up to say, 'Oh, we had a good run, gee we're happy.' We really want to win."

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Peaks Trail Endangered?

The impending development of residential and commercial facilities at Peak 7 and the associated relocation of County Road 3 have spurred concerns about impacts to the popular Peaks Trail, connecting Breckenridge and Frisco along the flanks of the Tenmile Range.

The trail is already heavily used and could get even more use once the new development is completed, according to several members of the Breckenridge Open Space Advisory Council (BOSAC).

Also at issue is the limited amount of trailhead parking, which is being used by people accessing the ski area's lifts.

The trailhead near Peak 7 will be very close to the new base area complex. Project architects said that, based on preliminary plans, there will be a 30- to 40-foot buffer between the development and the trailhead.

BOSAC members discussed the Peaks Trail at a January meeting, with several members of the group advocating for a new trailhead further away from the base area.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Vail Resorts Partners with Grand Timber Lodge

The new base area at Peak 7 will be developed in a partnership between Vail Resorts Development Company (VRDC) and Grand Timber Lodge Development Company, according to documents filed with the town's planning department.

Grand Timber is under contract with Vail Resorts to purchase part of the private land at Peak 7, but some final contingencies of that contract are still pending, said Rob Millisor, who owns Grand Timber with his brother Mike and another partner, Mike Dudek.

Until that contract is finalized, there are limits on what the partners can publicly say.

The Millisors began their Breckenridge development career with the 49-unit Gold Point complex on Mount Baldy in 1985, and then began selling interval ownerships in the 159-unit Grand Timber Lodge in 1998.

Breckenridge Mayor Ernie Blake said he is pleased with the pending deal, and praised the Millisor's involvement in the community.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Winter Triathlon Nationals in Breckenridge

The Winter Triathlon National Championship race comes to the Gold Run Nordic Center in Breckenridge this Saturday, February 25.

The event serves as a qualifying race for elite athletes to compete in the World Winter Triathlon Championships in Sjusjoen, Norway, on March 25.

There will also be a category for recreational athletes who are interested in participating. Winter triathlon is a sport consisting of three disciplines: snow running (or snowshoeing), mountain biking on snow and cross country skiing.

At Gold Run there will be a "long course" and "short course." The long course will consist of a 7K-9K run, a 12K-14K bike and a 10K-12K ski. The short course will be half the distance of the long course.

Winter triathlon is a popular sport in Europe, and is finally making its way to the United States. Summer triathlon made its Olympic debut 10 years ago and there are some who believe winter triathlon could someday have a place at the Games.

Saturday's event will start at 10 a.m. The short course will go off first. The long course will follow at 10:15. Those interested in participating are encouraged to sign up at www.active.com. There is also information about the event at www.racingunderground.com or by e-mailing the event coordinator at danelle@colorado.net or calling (970) 389-4838.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Town Takes Over Frisco Historic Park

The town of Frisco will take over day-to-day operations of the Frisco Historic Park from the Frisco Historical Society at the end of this month.

The historic park property, on Main Street near Second Avenue, and seven of the 11 buildings located there, are owned by the town.

The historical society, an independent nonprofit organization, has operated the museum and maintained the park's collection of historic artifacts for more than two decades.

Financial support for the society from the town has increased steadily in recent years. For 2006, the town committed to contributing $51,000, or more than half the park's annual budget of nearly $90,000. The historical society was responsible for raising funds to cover the remainder of the operating expenses.

Under the new arrangement agreed on by the council Tuesday, the historic park will now be town-run. Museum staff will become Frisco employees and the town will pay for the park's utilities and building upkeep. Impetus for this change came from the society's board of directors. Executive director Rita Bartram resigned in January after six years.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Breckenridge Woman Competes in Olympics

Katie Uhlaender wants a re-do in her Olympic skeleton debut.

The 21-year-old from Breckenridge finished sixth Thursday behind gold medalist Maya Pedersen of Switzerland, Great Britain's Shelley Rudman, who took silver, and Canadian bronze medalist Mellisa Hollingsworth-Richards.

Uhlaender missed the podium by less than a second.

Pedersen, a two-time world champion and winner of four World Cups this season, won the race with a two-run combined time of 1 minute, 59.83 seconds. Rudman finished in 2:01.06 and Hollingsworth-Richards in 2:01.41. Uhlaender's time was 2:02.30.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Biomas Heating for Summit County?

Summit County is proposing an ambitious project to heat several buildings at the County Commons near Frisco with boilers burning wood waste and slash, foregoing traditional natural gas for steam energy created by burning biofuels.

"One thing that is important to recognize is that the use of biofuels is in it's infancy," said Steve Hill, the county's special projects manager researching the proposed project.

"As to use of biofuels within the nation and world, we've got some real experience we can count on and use."

Europe leads the world in biomass experience; countries from Scandinavia to central Europe are increasingly embracing natural sources of energy.

In Austria, whose alpine environment most resembles the Summit County landscape, nearly 70 percent of domestically-produced power came from renewable sources in 2003, the most recent data available. Biomass accounted for 11.2 percent of the country's total primary energy supply and 21 percent of heat production, according to the International Energy Agency. And at one of Austria's leading ski resorts, Lech, a biomass plant provides 90 percent of the town's heat.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Seedling Trees and Shrubs Available

Summit County CSU Cooperative Extension and the Colorado Forest Service are making available 60 species of seedling trees and shrubs to local residents.

Trees are available in bare root lots of 50 for $30.50, or small and large potted lots of 30 for $26.28 and $39.20.

To qualify for the program, you must have two acres of land. Seedlings must be used for conservation practices such as reforestation and creating windbreaks, and must not be used in ornamental or landscape planting.

Varieties include aspen, Colorado blue spruce, Engelmann spruce, Douglas fir, limber pine and bristlecone pine.

Order early for the best selection. Trees will be available for pick-up on May 3, 2006.

For an order form, call (970) 668-4140, or log on to the website at www.coopext.colostate.edu/summit.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Kinderhut at Beaver Run to Close

Kinderhut, the childrens center at Beaver Run will close at the end of this ski season.

Kinderhuts lease, along with several other businesses at Beaver Run, expires at the end of the ski season. All have been informed that Vail Resorts is the new tenant for the commercial spaces at the Beaver Run Resort and Conference Center, as the ski company continues to expand its retail reach in Summit County.

For Vail Resorts and the Canadian-based Beaver Run Development, it's a strategic move.

"We looked at what was the best for guests of Beaver Run in the long term," said Rod Corbett, Beaver Run Development's vice president. "Vail's just the better option for us." Corbett said.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Forest Service to Sell Public Land

The U.S. Forest Service plans to raise up to $800 million in much-needed cash by selling off 200,000 acres of land across the country, including three parcels in Summit County.

The proposed land sale would be authorized under a Congressional amendment to the 2,000 Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act. The law is intended to help rural communities that have seen National Forest logging-based revenue drop as timber cutting dwindled across the country.

The news of the land sale came as a surprise to White River National Forest officials in Glenwood Springs, who said they were still reviewing the proposed measure. The directive came from the agency's Washington, D.C., headquarters through the regional office in Denver, where lands specialists identified about 1,240 acres of White River forest land that could be sold to the highest bidder in a competitive sale process.

The list is based in part on land ownership adjustment analyses that designate lands suitable for disposal. Most of the lands to be sold are parcels completely surrounded by private land or difficult to manage because they are surrounded on three sides by private land, according to White River National Forest spokesperson Kristi Ponozzo.

Dillon District Ranger Rick Newton said that holds true for the three parcels in northern Summit County, in the vicinity of Green Mountain Reservoir. Newton said the three parcels are 40, 80 and 160 acres.

Newton said the Dillon District is reviewing the three chunks of land to make sure they meet the criteria for sale, but said they had been previously identified for disposal. Dillon District lands specialist Paul Semmer said the 40-acre parcel is completely surrounded by the Shadow Mountain Ranch. The 160-acre parcel is a "long, skinny sliver" bordered on three sides by the Lazy Shamrock Ranch, while the 80-acre piece is off Acorn Creek Road near a small lot subdivision. Specifics for the sale process and for determining the value of the land haven't been established yet, he said.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

New Plan for Lower Blue River Basin

A new guide for growth has been adopted for the Lower Blue River Basin, detailing how development in the area should progress in the next few years.

The Lower Blue Planning Commission unanimously approved an update to the Lower Blue Master Plan, culminating a six month undertaking.

The Lower Blue River basin spans from the Dillon Dam to the Grand County line past Heeney.

The biggest sticking point during a public hearing held before the commission voted on the update was how to treat the marina off County Road 30 in Heeney that provides boaters access to Green Mountain Reservoir.

After a meeting several months ago in the small community, the planning commission decided that the majority of residents in attendance agreed with creating a new land use designation for the small marina. Labeling the area a "marine facility" was expected to improve marina amenities and reservoir access.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Dark Sky?

In a town where it's common to see high-tech biodiesel-fueled buses stopped in front of 120-year-old Victorian houses, it's no surprise that elected officials and planners often grapple with fundamental questions of new versus old.

The most recent debate along these lines is shaping up over a sidewalk master plan in French Gulch, where some neighborhood residents want to cut light pollution by using fixtures that focus light downward.

On the other hand, Breckenridge strives to preserve the historic integrity and character of the town, which includes using Welsbach-style lighting fixtures that hark back to the Victorian-era mining heyday along Wellington Road. Those lamps blot out the night sky by casting light up and out. They are also expensive and not energy efficient, according to Wellington Neighborhood resident Dave Rossi, who wants to stimulate a dialogue on the lighting issue with the town council.

"We thought we'd get some traction with the town by suggesting that for the French Gulch sidewalk we go with lights that cast downward and cost less ... in order to not only save money but to cut down on the light pollution in the outskirts of town," Rossi said.

The Welsbach lights for French Gulch would cost about $28,000, while the smaller, more energy-efficient lights would only cost a quarter of that, Rossi said.

Town manager Tim Gagen said the council discussed the lighting question extensively about three years ago.

"For us, it was one of those classic discussions," Gagen said, describing how elements of the town's long-term vision sometimes clash.

In this case, the conflict is between the goals of preserving community character and environmental sensitivity, Gagen said. The council decided at that time to balance the character of the town by using Welsbach lights throughout, Gagen said, explaining that some existing lights were replaced to achieve consistency.

"The disappointing part is that, apparently, when a decision is made it's never right to revisit it even when better and more cost effective and energy efficient options exist," Rossi said.

Based on the increasing awareness of light pollution issues, it might be appropriate for the town to take another look, he added.

"I think what many people are concerned about is the loss of the night sky ... The lights up Ski Hill Road are a prime example of how the pollution from these lights exacerbates a growing problem in communities statewide."

Those impacts are not just of concern for casual stargazers. They are felt regionally. Summit County's contribution to light pollution is still relatively small but has grown noticeably in the past 10 to 15 years, according to University of Denver astronomer Dr. Robert Stencel, director of the observatory atop Mt. Evans. Dark skies advocates use the phrase "light trespass" to highlight what they say is an infringement of everyone's cosmic birthright - an unimpeded view of the Milky Way and the rest of the universe. They advocate for common sense regulations and use of the best available technologies to cut down on skyward glare.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Double Nesters?

Second-home owners? Why not double nesters?

Ski town newspapers are rife with stories about second-home owners.

Owners are spending as much time in one home as the other. A headline for a story in The New York Times about this blurring phenomenon suggests a different, more neutral phrase: double nesters. And another word: splitters.

Although never mentioning ski and gateway towns, the story told by The Times is a familiar one: "Enabled by cheap airfares, flexible work schedules and technology like cell phones, Blackberrys and the internet, a growing number of people are shuttling between two or more homes, blurring the age-old distinction between the primary and the vacation home.

"Unlike previous generations, these 'splitters' do not think of themselves as living and working in one place and relaxing in another," reported The Times.

"On the contrary, they come and go as they please, making friends and doing business in places hundreds, even thousands, of miles apart."

The Times notes that this new peripatetic lifestyle is largely open to people who have outgrown the obligations of young families.

"Many splitters are in their late 50s or early 60s, closer to retirement than to mandatory attendance at PTA meetings. But instead of the traditional snowbird migration, they are electing to travel between their homes throughout the year."

The Times also explains that this expanded occupancy of one-time vacation homes has resulted in such things as more elaborate kitchens and home offices, but also more maintenance costs and an "underground economy" that helps splitters make the transition from one place to the next.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Now That's a LOT of Snow

Too much snow can be a bad thing if ice skating is your winter sport of choice.

The town of Silverthorne has determined that it will not open its ice rink at the North Pond this year because of heavy snowfall, according to public works director Bill Linfield.

The staff has not been able to clear the ice and prepare the rink's surface this year because of early and frequent snowfall, Linfield said.

The ice historically needs to be closed in late February or early March due to temperatures and runoff that makes the surface unsafe, so trying to get the ice ready this late in the season doesn't make much sense, he said. The town, which focuses its maintenance efforts primarily on streets and sidewalks, hopes to offer the free ice rink next winter.

It's also unlikely that the Meadow Creek Pond in Frisco will open this season for similar reasons, according to Frisco's public works department. The town issued a press release in late December saying the ice rink would remain closed until a later date because the high volume of early season snow had created unsafe conditions for employees to bring snow removal equipment onto the ice.

Those conditions have not improved, said town spokesperson Julie Sutor.

There are alternatives in the county. Copper Mountain, Keystone and Breckenridge all have ice rinks at or near the ski resorts, and the Stephen C. West Indoor Ice Arena in Breckenridge is open daily and offers public skate times.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Vail Resorts Up for Sale?

With the announcement Monday of Adam Aron's departure, talk of an imminent sale of Vail Resorts once again surfaced.

The name of one potential buyer making the rounds was Mike Shannon, a former Vail Associates executive who recently sold his interest in KSL Resorts for a reported $1.6 billion.

Vail Resorts' market capitalization - or total stock value - is about $1.2 billion.

"We don't comment on things like that," Aron said Monday, after a pause. "We never have."

Will Marks, an investment analyst with JMP Securities who follows Vail Resorts, said he had not heard any of the rumors, either.

In the summer of 2004, the Vail Resorts board was rumored to have received competing offers from Texas Pacific Group and Henry Kravis, a principal in New York investment firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts.

Monday, Vail Resorts stock dropped almost 4 percent, to $31.22, with a sales volume of 681,400 - about 163 percent above average. The stock has dropped 19 percent since its peak trading price Dec. 2, 2005 of $38.45.