Our View: Plans intrigue; be skeptical

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Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. has developed a master plan update that calls for the installation of new lifts, the redesign of the base area of Mount Werner and other important improvements in the next five to seven years.

The master plan update is required as part of Ski Corp.'s lease with the U.S. Forest Service. Ski Corp. has chosen to share the 136-page plan with the community through a series of public meetings before presenting the plan to the Forest Service. Ski Corp. deserves credit for taking public input on the plan when there was no requirement to do so.

Turnout for the public meetings has been modest. Such apathy is unfortunate, considering that the community and its businesses remain economically tied to the ski area and its performance.

Past master plan updates have resulted in milestones in the development of the mountain. The past two brought new high-speed quads and the Morningside and Pioneer Ridge expansions, among other improvements.

Projects in the update include replacing the Headwall, Southface and Christie lifts at the base with a high-speed, detachable six-pack lift, replacing the Burgess Creek lift and, eventually, replacing the Sunshine lift. The plan calls for more grooming and widening of trails in Pioneer Ridge, enhanced snowmaking and regrading the base area to improve the skiing experience for beginners and to create a better flow of traffic coming off the mountain.

The master plan update is not the only pressing need at the ski area. Gondola Square and Ski Time Square remain in desperate need of face-lifts. Ski Corp. has plans for Gondola Square, but accomplishing those plans won't be easy without funding and buy-in from the other property owners who own 40 percent of Gondola Square.

Completing the master plan update, estimated at between $18 million and $20 million, is far from guaranteed. Whether the work gets done will depend on the amount American Skiing Co. gives Ski Corp. for capital projects. That means the work will depend upon the financial performance of not only Ski Corp., but also of American Skiing Co. The same holds true for the work in Gondola Square.

Changes in health insurance, staff reductions and management restructuring have created a negative perception within the community about what's happening at the ski area and within ASC. The recent appellate court reversal of Judge Richard Doucette's decision to toss out Triple Peaks LLC's lawsuit over the aborted sale of the ski area hasn't helped matters.

Ski Corp. officials say restructuring has benefited the company's bottom line and that its financial performance is good coming off a strong December. They believe that their core business -- destination skiers -- is finally beginning to turn around after years of decline. The Triple Peaks lawsuit, they said, is a nuisance that shouldn't affect matters.

It's good to see Ski Corp.'s long-term plans for Gondola Square, the base area and Mount Werner. But the bottom line is that before any of those plans come to fruition, ASC must show it can overcome the financial obstacles that have plagued business recently. We would like to share company officials' optimism that will happen, but at this point, it's hard not to be skeptical.

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