Steamboat Ski Area interested in taking over Howelsen Hill operations
March 8, 2017
Steamboat Springs — Steamboat Ski Area thinks it can step in to help the city of Steamboat Springs make its historic and beloved Howelsen Hill Ski Area less of a money pit and more of an attraction.
The ski resort is proposing to spend the coming months trying to reach an agreement with the city and the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club to have the resort take over Howelsen operations from the city starting next ski season.
The ski resort was the lone organization to respond to the city’s nationwide call for a new, more experienced operator.
“We want to try and grow it and make it more profitable and turn it into a more viable operation for the city and for us,” Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. President Rob Perlman said. “We are excited to explore the opportunity and to work with the city and the Winter Sports Club to see if we can make it a solution for everybody.”
Ski area officials on Tuesday submitted a three-page proposal that floated the idea of the city and the resort hammering out a five-year strategy for the 102-year-old ski area.
The proposal lacks many of the specifics the city was originally seeking in submitted proposals. But the resort notes that a “considerable” amount of due diligence still needs to be done before a more detailed proposal can be created and considered.
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 ski resort.
The future savings would be split according to an established sliding scale as costs are reduced and the resort is moved into a more profitable state, according to the proposal.
The goal would be to have the Howelsen Hill Ski Area become profitable over time so the city is not subsidizing it.
“We think we can lessen the subsidy from the city, but we don’t know yet for sure,” Perlman said.
Perlman said the city would need to continue to cover capital costs associated with maintaining the hill, including making repairs from landslides.
He said the resort would be willing to help come up with some creative funding solutions in the future.
The ski area could also bring Howelsen a much bigger marketing arm.
What might change operationally if the ski area takes over the lifts from the city?
Some initial ideas mentioned by ski area officials include a return of winter tubing operations, the development of more food and beverage opportunities and more weddings and events.
Resort officials noted they have an immediate interest in taking over concession operations at the city’s rodeo grounds, ballfields and Olympian Hall.
The resort also thinks it can use its decades of experience in the ski industry to improve all of the basic functions of the ski area, ranging from grooming to lift operations to human resource functions.
The ski area’s proposal received an enthusiastic response from Winter Sports Club Executive Director Jim Boyne.
“In our opinion, they are the obvious solution if an agreement can be struck,” Boyne said. “With all the expertise they have right here in town, to have them not respond would have been disappointing to all of us. We’re thrilled.”
Asked what might change in terms of public access at Howelsen, Perlman said that type of access is key to improving Howelsen’s profitability.
“If you’re going to be profitable, it needs to be accessible to the public,” Perlman said. “Sure, it can still be a training facility (for the Sports Club), but so is All Out (at Steamboat Ski Area), and so is the ski area we already operate. We definitely feel there needs to be additional public use of Howelsen to make it truly viable for the city, and for us.”
City officials have in recent months been seeking a new operator who can bring a "turn-key" solution to maximize revenues and minimize expenses.
The city had advertised the opportunity around the country.
The Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, a group of ski industry veterans from Leadville and Cedarhouse Partners and a real estate development firm that has an office in Steamboat, had initially showed some interest.
But after attending a tour and mandatory pre-bid meeting at the historic ski hill, the other parties did not end up submitting any proposals.
Asked why Steamboat Ski Area would be interested in assuming operations of Howelsen with the smaller hill’s financial challenges, Perlman pointed to Howelsen’s tall stature in the community.
“We recognize Howelsen’s importance to our community,” he said. “The ski area has been around for more than 100 years. It’s a part of who we are as a community, and our skiing heritage.”