Our view: Securing future of Howelsen Hill
March 18, 2017
Can Ski Corp. deliver fiscal stability to Howelsen Hill?
The Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.’s tentative interest in operating Howelsen Hill is immediately appealing, but business negotiations will determine the outcome.
We are cautiously intrigued by the possibilities suggested by Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. potentially bringing its expertise in ski area operations, food and beverage and marketing to historic Howelsen Hill.
The Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.'s tentative interest in operating Howelsen Hill is immediately appealing, but business negotiations will determine the outcome.
Undeniably, Ski Corp., throughout its different eras of ownership, has shown a steadfast interest in the legacy of Howelsen Hill as the oldest operating ski area west of the Mississippi River. The magic there has influenced many champion skiers, and it's a legacy that has benefitted the larger ski area a few miles closer to the Park Range from the beginning.
However, in any business proposition, all parties must engage with eyes wide open. While we are confident Ski Corp.'s intentions are sincere, it must be noted that it is a publicly held company with a fiduciary responsibility to its shareholders.
Translation: While the ski area clearly appreciates the contributions Howelsen Hill has made to its unique brand, as it should, its executives are, by definition, in it for profit. And that's potentially a very good thing. Howelsen Hill has long needed to run more like a business. But Howelsen is also a city park, where the opportunity exists for families of modest income to introduce their children to skiing at a modest price, and this must be preserved.
We hope the city of Steamboat Springs and its parks department will consider seeking outside counsel to negotiate this deal.
As Steamboat Today reported March 8, Ski Corp. was the lone entity to respond to the latest nationwide request for proposals from potential new ski area operators.
Instead of providing the business specifics sought by the city’s request for proposals, Ski Corp. suggested spending a period of months exploring the nature of a business arrangement that would be beneficial to both parties. We're fine with that. It might also be of benefit to begin with a short trial period, so neither party is locked into an unsatisfactory agreement.
One thing we do know is that the resort is proposing to split any initial savings that might be realized from the operational change with the city in a 75/25 percent split, with the larger portion of those savings going to the resort.
And let's not leave the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club out of this. We are reassured by the knowledge that, for many years, there has been a Ski Corp. executive serving on the board of directors of the club. If that isn't sufficient to confirm Ski Corp.'s sincerity, one only has to look at its willingness to help facilitate the creation of the Stevens Family Alpine Venue on the All Out trail at the base of the ski area. Both show Ski Corp. has been, and remains, dedicated to supporting SSWSC, perhaps the biggest single beneficiary of Howelsen Hill.
For a glimpse of what a partnership between the city of Steamboat and Ski Corp. might look like, we suggest the comparison to the existing collaboration at the city-owned Haymaker Golf Course. Ski Corp. operates the restaurant in the clubhouse, and in winter, grooms the Nordic skiing trails while overseeing the touring center. Ski Corp. also books horse-drawn sleigh rides in the evenings. This benefits both Ski Corp. and the city by providing and maintaining attractions that draw tourists to town and pump revenue into both coffers.
At Howelsen, management by the ski area might leverage the rustic appeal of Olympian Hall, with its catering kitchen, in combination with a revival of the tubing operation that flourished there as recently as 2016, to provide vacationing families with another winter experience.
We're hopeful the interest from the Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. might secure the future of Howelsen Hill for locals and visitors for decades to come.