Steamboat Ski Area offers to serve as consultant at Howelsen Hill; council questions pricetag | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat Ski Area offers to serve as consultant at Howelsen Hill; council questions pricetag

Howelsen Hill shines under the lights beside downtown Steamboat Springs.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Ski Area is offering to lend its marketing muscle and its resort management expertise to the city of Steamboat Springs to help the government improve the financial performance of its historic, money-losing ski hill.

But the city's elected officials have expressed doubts the city can afford the $250,000 price tag of the one year consulting arrangement being offered by the resort.

And some council members appear generally underwhelmed by the ski area's offer.

After months of meetings and negotiations, the ski resort is specifically offering to install a general manager and assistant general manager at Howelsen to serve as consultants and oversee operations this winter and summer.

Existing city employees would continue to work on the city payroll at Howelsen under the arrangement.

The resort was the lone group to respond to the city's nationwide call for a new operator of Howelsen Hill.

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But the ski resort's proposal falls short of allowing the city to hand over the management of the ski hill to someone else entirely.

However, the resort has suggested it might be interested in taking on a bigger role at Howelsen after a one-year test drive in the consulting role.

The new managers from the ski area would work to find operational efficiencies at Howelsen and generate a report at the end of the contract with their findings.

"I think there are some additional efficiencies to be found, and there is some additional revenue to be gained" at Howelsen, Steamboat Ski Area President and Chief Operating Officer Rob Perlman told the council earlier this month. "This would be a hands-on approach, as well as bringing the expertise of our entire general management team."

Perlman said it would be his hope that the ski area could help the city reduce the $600,000 annual subsidy for the historic ski hill.

The full draft of the ski area’s proposal to the city has not yet been made public.

Some council members initially balked at the proposal and focused on the $250,000 cost to the city.

"It's something this city can't afford to put into that hill at this time," Council President Walter Magill said noting the contract would increase the subsidy at the ski hill significantly.

Councilman Jason Lacy noted the other financial challenges the city is facing.

"We don't know if we can hire the (police) officers we need next year," Lacy said. "We're behind on road maintenance … When we see a $250,000 number with no guarantees of anything, it’s hard for us to justify that."

Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Executive Director Jim Boyne urged the council to take the ski area up on its offer.

He called it a pivotal moment for the future of Howelsen.

"We've spent 20 plus years finding our way into this problem as a community, in terms of deferred maintenance not spent, in terms of no strategic view of what Howelsen can be and how it should be maintained and operated," Boyne said. "This is your chance to get it right, and we have the best experts in the ski industry … putting their services forward."

Councilwoman Kathi Meyer appeared skeptical of the ski area's offer.

She said when the city sent out a request for proposals, she thought the city and the council were seeking a new operator for Howelsen, not a consultant.

"I don't think there's going to be anything magic that they're going to bring," Meyer said of the ski area.

By the end of the conversation, there were multiple council members who appeared willing to consider a scaled-down proposal from the ski area that didn't have as big of a price tag.

And councilman Scott Ford said he was appreciative the ski area came to the table when the city sought proposals for how to better run its own ski hill.

City Manager Gary Suiter said Thursday the city and ski area officials will meet again next week to talk about possible changes to the proposal.

The council will consider the offer again when it sits down at an all-day budget retreat Oct. 3.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10.

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