Our View: Will plans become reality?
December 3, 2011
Last weekend, a small group of local resort leaders stood on the new stage in Gondola Square and toasted the assembled crowd on the completion of the base area promenade and related projects.
The ceremony was worthwhile. The construction of the promenade and the permanent stage facility, which includes badly needed public restrooms, are the most significant achievements to date of the public-private partnership borne out of the Urban Renewal Authority. The base of Steamboat Ski Area never has been more attractive and inviting, but the improvements also serve as a reminder of how much investment still needs to be made in our ski resort. Specifically, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., through its parent company, must invest significant capital in on-mountain amenities and services simply to catch up to what the best resorts in the Colorado Rockies already offer.
It's not as though Ski Corp. isn't aware of the ski area's shortcomings. A recently released update to the ski area's master plan provides a 10-year road map of needed improvements. From expanded terrain to new on-mountain dining facilities and upgraded chairlifts, the master plan update provides some of the specific infrastructure projects that truly could modernize our resort.
But plans are not reality. Reality is that the ski area has lagged behind the top Rocky Mountain resorts for years in terms of base area and on-mountain amenities. For a time, that was partly the result of Ski Corp.'s financial success being used to underwrite then-parent company American Skiing Co.'s ambitious expansion plans across its various resorts, as opposed to the bulk of those dollars being reinvested in the local product. More recently, Ski Corp.'s capital budget presumably has been handcuffed by the financial struggles of parent company Intrawest, which is a subsidiary of Fortress Investment Group.
Ski Corp. President and Chief Operating Officer Chris Diamond should be applauded for ensuring his organization could move forward with construction of the permanent Gondola Square stage as well as installing a snowmelt system under new pavers in the square.
However, Diamond's real test will come in the form of implementing many of the more substantial improvements called for in the master plan. Expanding the Four Points Hut and other on-mountain dining facilities are at the top of the list. Close behind should be a renovation of Ski Corp.'s Gondola Square buildings, including the gondola building and office space, to conform with modern base design standards. The completion of One Steamboat Place and its plaza have spotlighted just how dated Gondola Square buildings really are. Further down the list, but still important, is expanded terrain and chairlift upgrades.
We'd be naive to think all of the projects included in the 10-year master plan will be completed in the next decade. And while it's good to see an updated master plan that acknowledges many of the ski area's shortcomings, it will mean very little if the Steamboat Ski Area doesn't look substantially different in 2020.