Brent Boyer: A fresh look for the front page | SteamboatToday.com

Brent Boyer: A fresh look for the front page

Steamboat Springs — Familiarity often is a good thing. As creatures of habit, we appreciate consistency, and that includes from our daily newspaper. Readers become accustomed to seeing the same features in the same places. When we mess with that consistency, we typically hear about it — and quickly. When we don't hear anything after a significant change, it can be interpreted in two ways: readers either didn't care, or they like it. Because we think we have good reasons for any changes we make, I'm generally satisfied with either interpretation. Case in point: We haven't heard a peep in the month since we made one of the most noticeable changes to the Steam­­boat Today in the eight years I've been here. On Dec. 16, the Steamboat Today featured two stories on its front page, and we've published two stories on the front page since. Gone is the vertical column of story teases, or refers, that had appeared on the left-hand side of the cover since the last significant redesign of the Steamboat Today in January 2001. It was time for a fresh look for the cover of the newspaper. Adding a second story allows for variety and flexibility. Two hard news stories worthy of the cover now both can have a place. A great feature or human-interest story doesn't have to be knocked off the front by a timely news event. And, quite frankly, I think our story teases had outlived their usefulness. I hope you like the change. I love it. A couple of other notes: ■ Saturday is the last day to vote in our Best of the Boat survey. As of Thursday evening, 2,940 readers had voted in Part 1 of the survey, and 2,230 readers had voted in Part 2. We're thrilled with the response from the community, and we'd love to see the vote total surpass 3,000. By comparison, the last time we conducted a Best of the Boat survey, in 2002, we had 300 votes. If you haven't voted in both parts of the survey, visit http://www.bestoftheboat.com. Winners will be announced in March. ■ On Tuesday night, we made the switch so that the official URL for our website is http://www.steamboattoday.com. There's no reason to change your bookmarks, as http://www.steamboatpilot.com automatically redirects your browser to http://www.steamboattoday.com. The reason for the switch is simple: We publish 313 editions of the Steamboat Today every year, compared with 52 editions of the Steamboat Pilot & Today. We think Steamboat Today speaks directly to who we are as an organization: the daily source of news and information for Steamboat Springs and Routt County. We are Steamboat, and we are with you every single day of the year. Brent Boyer is the editor of the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at 970-871-4221 or bboyer@steamboatpilot.com.

Era of the Super Pass: Vail’s ‘transformative’ purchase of Park City issues a challenge for destination ski resorts like Steamboat

Steamboat Springs — Story update: Vail Resorts announced Dec. 8 that pending regulatory approvals it intends to spend $50 million on improvements at recently acquired Park City Mountain Resort in time for ski season 2015-16. A standout among the other projects is construction of the eight-passenger Interconnect Gondola, which would connect PCMR with The Canyons, that Vail said would create the largest single ski area in the country at 7,300 acres of skiable terrain. The two resorts would be operated as one, with Canyons becoming The Canyons at Park City. Other capital projects include upgrading two lifts at PCMR, including King Con from a four-person to a six-person detachable lift. The Motherlode chair would be upgraded from a triple to a four-person high-speed detachable quad. Also new next year would be the 500-seat Snow Hut restaurant next to the Park City terminal of the Interconnect Gondola. Further details may be found in a press release from Vail Resorts. Even before powder hounds and shareholders were confronted with the news last month that leadership of Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.'s parent company had been transferred from a longtime ski industry guy to an investment banker, the ski resort industry learned that Vail Resorts had succeeded in arranging the marriage of Park City, Utah, to The Canyons. Competition among destination ski resorts in North America never may be the same, now that Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz successfully has executed a plan to acquire Park City Mountain Resort. Katz has announced plans to build a new ski lift that would link that resort to The Canyons and fold that giant ski area into the Epic Pass that is transforming the industry. "This is truly a transformative acquisition for Vail Resorts," Katz was quoted as saying in a printed statement about his company's fourth-quarter financial results released in September. How Steamboat will fit into the "Era of the Super Pass" may be viewed as an open question with the abrupt news Nov. 21 that Intrawest CEO (and coincidentally former Vail president) Bill Jensen had stepped down for personal reasons. The news release announcing Jensen's retirement also announced that he would be succeeded by a former Bear Stearns executive, Thomas Marano. Whatever corporate path Marano is tasked with pursuing, it's likely to involve a strategy that responds to the rising dominance of Vail's unprecedented customer loyalty program. In a prepared statement announcing his appointment, Marano said he sees opportunities to increase value for shareholders in the near and far term. He'll have to do this while contending with Vail, which now owns or manages 22 resorts compared to Intrawest's half-dozen. Katz projected Park City Mountain Resort would add $35 million in earnings to his company's balance sheet. He added that the 7,000 acres of skiable terrain of the combined Park City resort and Canyons would represent the single largest mountain resort in the U.S. But the greatest impact of adding Park City to the Vail Resorts portfolio may be that purchasers of its Epic Pass now have convenient airline access to the best resort village in Utah and a ton of terrain. If you doubt that the expansion of Vail's Epic Pass is a game-changer for the ski resort industry, consider what longtime industry executive Tim Cohee, director of the Ski Business and Resort Management program at Sierra Nevada College, has to say on the matter. "As far as passes go, they are creating a product that no one can compete with," Cohee said. "That pass is ridiculous. It's insane. You have the best resorts in the best market in the United States and where it goes from here, nobody knows." As Ski Utah President Nathan Rafferty told the Salt Lake City Tribune in November, Vail Resorts has sold 400,000 Epic Passes worldwide. A few days before his ski area opened for the 2014-15 season Nov. 26, Ski Corp. Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing Rob Perlman said he wasn't preoccupied with Vail's Epic Pass. By the numbers ▲ Total skier visits for the 2013-14 ski season reached 56.49 million. ▲ The total number of snow sports participants decreased across the board for Alpine skiing, snowboarding and cross country skiing from 2011-12 to 2012-13. ▲ All U.S. regions saw an increase in the number of skier visits from the 2011-12 to 2012-13 seasons. ▲ The 25-to-34 age demographic made up the largest percentage of participants in Alpine skiing, snowboarding and cross country skiing in 2012-13. ▲ Men outnumbered women by a 3:2 ratio in Alpine and cross country skiing in 2012-13. Among snowboarders, that ratio was 2:1. "They are formidable competitors," Perlman said. "But it's less about worrying about our competitors and more about making sure we provide products and services that resonate with our guests." Steamboat, through its parent company Intrawest, has its own loyalty passes in place, including the Rocky Mountain Super Pass, which teams up with its sibling, Winter Park, as well as the unrelated resorts of Copper Mountain, Eldora and Crested Butte. Intrawest also has the new Passport program that offers discounted skiing across its diverse ski resorts. Some would say the Epic Pass is an issue for true destination ski areas like Steamboat, Aspen and Telluride. "It's a huge problem for Steamboat," Associate Professor of Ski and Snowboard Business at Colorado Mountain College’s Alpine Campus Mike Martin said. "If I'm a family of four living in Minnesota and I ski Afton (Alps, which Vail purchased in 2012), why would I not ski Vail (with my Epic Pass)?” Martin said programs like Vail's Epic Pass and the Rocky Mountain Super Pass are a means to claiming more market share absent true growth in the resort industry. Growing market share isn't easy in an industry that has endured essentially flat skier visits for decades. The National Ski Areas Association reported that total skier visits for the 2013-14 ski season reached 56.49 million. It has been as low as 50.9 million in 2011-12 and as high as 60.5 million. But national skier visits reached 50 million way back in 1978-79 and, with a couple of exceptions, remained above that plateau throughout the 1980s and ’90s. With resort real estate development still in recovery mode, programs like the Epic Pass and the Rocky Mountain Super Pass are an effort to make a positive impact on earnings reports and to please shareholders at publicly held ski companies, Martin said. Steamboat's live concert stage in Gondola Square has proven successful in building the loyalty of skiers and snowboarders who never would let a little snowstorm stop them from drinking a cold beer while they take in a show.Tom Ross Targeting the 1 percent Cohee said it’s plain to him that Katz and Vail Resorts have set out to capture the high-end luxury market. "It's clear Rob Katz and his gang have just really figured out there's a very good market, with a lot of space at the top end. Strategically, they are clearly carving out the absolute top end of the business," Cohee said. "There are 5 to 6 million (skier) visits in that top echelon of wealthy skiers." The Epic Pass is a customer loyalty program like none other, allowing skiers and snowboarders to gain access to 22 mountains with the purchase of a single $769 pass ($399 children ages 5 to 12). The question that resorts outside the Vail banner must confront is, "Once they sign up, will traveling skiers ever leave the fold?" Cohee is in a position to know what he is talking about. He is a former executive at two major resorts in the Lake Tahoe region. He was a vice president at Heavenly Valley and president of Kirkwood. He said he has known recently resigned Intrawest CEO Jensen since the 1980s, knows Steamboat Chief Operating Officer and CEO Chris Diamond well and counts Les Otten, who formerly ran Steamboat as chief executive of American Skiing Co., as one of his closest friends. Cohee sees a way for a relative handful of destination resorts outside the sphere of Vail to prosper in the era of the Epic Pass because of their singular identities. "You better have a damn good ski area," Cohee said. "If you're not going to one of the Vail resorts, you're going to Jackson (Wyoming), Steamboat, Aspen or Deer Valley because they're cool and they have very good mountains. But even Deer Valley is Park City. The ace in the hole at Steamboat is that they have done an absolutely fabulous job of protecting that brand for decades. It's a great mountain and a great town." In addition to its traditional season pass products, Steamboat and Intrawest have been pursuing two loyalty programs of their own. The Rocky Mountain Super Pass, at $569, provides adults unlimited skiing at Copper Mountain, Winter Park (managed by Intrawest) and Eldora, plus six days at Steamboat, three at Crested Butte and even five days at a resort in New Zealand. Perlman said the Super Pass is a response to a perceived desire on the part of Colorado skiers to experience more variety than one resort can offer, and he acknowledged the other resorts have strengths that complement Steamboat — Copper has a bigger park, Mary Jane at Winter Park has more steep mogul runs and Crested Butte, with this year's expansion into Teocalli Bowl, has significantly more extreme terrain. "We're geographically diverse within the state of Colorado," Perlman said about the Super Pass. Martin said a significant share, 20 to 30 percent, of his ski business students at Colorado Mountain College’s Alpine Campus in Steamboat purchase Epic Passes in order to gain access to the large parks at Breckenridge and Keystone. "My students love Keystone and Breckenridge because they have amazing parks," Martin said. "They start (the season) early and end late. They like that scene, that vibe. Every kid I know would be glad to ride Keystone tomorrow." Steamboat also offered the Passport this winter, allowing families, or even groups of people who are unrelated, to package their ski travel at a discounted rate. The dream of 1 Utah Not only does Vail Resorts dominate the Interstate 70 corridor in the central Colorado Rockies, but it has paired Heavenly Valley with Kirkwood to rule the Lake Tahoe region, as well. Now, Martin said, with the acquisition of Park City Mountain Resort, Vail has a seat at the table should another transformative dream, One Utah, become reality. One Utah, a plan that long has been in gestation, would create a network of ski lifts that would link Park City to the legendary steep powder chutes of Alta and Snowbird resorts in Little Cottonwood to approximate the European model of linked networks of ski stations in the Alps. Martin said it's clear that Vail did not want to be left out of One Utah if it becomes a reality and offers a skiing experience that could not be replicated anywhere else in the United States. Cohee, who owns China Peak ski area near Lake Tahoe, said that as far as he's concerned, Utah and the Tahoe resorts never will be able to match the ski resorts of Colorado with their 3,000 feet of vertical and never-ending broad intermediate runs. Utah may have dramatic terrain at Snowbird, but that isn't necessarily what attracts affluent vacationers "All of us have wondered for years why Utah doesn't do more business," Cohee said. "The terrain in Colorado is just spectacular. The fact of the matter is, Copper Mountain, Breckenridge, Vail, Beaver Creek, Steamboat and Winter Park are just better ski areas. They're just better mountains. There's nothing in Utah that can compete with one of those mountains. "Snowbird is a great ski area. Alta is one of the best 2,000-vertical-foot mountains anywhere. Park City is OK. The Canyons is not OK. Deer Valley is good. But they are not Colorado,” Cohee explained. “Steamboat has 3,000 vertical feet of intermediate runs that are 200 feet wide with the best snow there is.” Vacationing skiers and snowboarders around North America, and even the world, may be the ultimate deciders on who prevails in the era of the Super Pass. To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

Year of Routt County skiing is no easy task for local

Mike Martin cuts down a Routt County slope last month. That October run marked the 12th consecutive month he'd skied in Routt County, fulfilling a personal goal. Scarce snow lingers above Gilpin Lake. There wasn't much, but there was enough for Mike Martin to tick August off his list. Steamboat Springs — November was easy. Steamboat Ski Area always opens for Thanksgiving weekend, and anyone in town easily can log a day of November skiing in Routt County with nothing more than a ride up a lift. The story is always the same in December, January, February, March and April. But those months weren't going to be the problem, and as the snow continued to pile up all through April, Steamboat Springs skiing savant Mike Martin knew it was the six months to come that he'd have to worry about. It takes a special kind of skier to try and a very special kind of season to make it possible. Martin knew all that when he set out to ski in Routt County at least once every month for an entire year. May There was no expectation that May would prove difficult. While spring usually begins to light up Steamboat Springs and the valley, lingering snow in the high country offers targets for adventurers. May 2011 was a bit different. Winter was slow to let loose of the Yampa Valley, and that meant more than just good news for Martin's goal. It convinced him, after years of waiting for the right conditions, that it was possible. May was so cold and snowy, the month almost proved too much of a good thing, storms wiping potential skiing days off the calendar. Still, he collected a few trips to Rabbit Ears and Buffalo Pass and marked May off. "For me, that was still about looking for good powder," he said. June Winter and spring proved so long in Steamboat that Yampa River fly-fishermen were held at bay, and the summer rite of tubing the river was pushed back a month. It brought a few twists to skiing in June, too. On one hand, there still was plenty of snow. On the other, it still blocked all the usual early summer access points. "There was so much snow, it was blocking your normal routes in," Martin said. "When things did open up, there were a lot of changes that happened because of the runoff. Roads caved in." Martin waited for the right chance and finally got it June 20 while skiing an unnamed peak near Sand Mountain. July July wasn't made for skiing. Even in incredibly snow-blessed years, the most determined ski areas bow out early in the month, focus turning to barbecues and long summer nights. This year, though, it provided one of Martin's favorite trips, a July 18 outing to North Routt's Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area. "I skied from the summit of Little Agnes down this perfect little strip from the top all the way to the bottom," he said. "The wildflowers were growing up right on the edge of the snow. It was definitely full-on summer." August Things get tricky in August. Martin had attempted this before. He and a buddy set out to ski every month through summer 2007, and by August they were driving to the far corners of the state, chasing rumors of snow like a Depression-era family looking for work. "We wanted to do something that made sense, that was actually skiing," Martin recalled. That ruled out a two-turn hop into a receding snowdrift and eventually led the pair to Saint Mary's Glacier, the perennial snowfield above Idaho Springs, a desperate measure Martin still considers halfway cheating. The search taught him a lot of lessons, though. ■ Always look for shaded north-facing slopes. ■ A rainstorm can kill snow as fast as a microwave. ■ The earlier in the day, the better the chance for acceptable snow conditions. That knowledge was gold as summer 2011 pressed on and the last bits of snow became harder to find. He satisfied August's requirement with a dash down a ribbon of snow above Gilpin Lake. "I hiked in on the Slavonia Trail, and summer tourism was in full swing," he said. "I was the lone goofball out there with skis on my back. Every 20 yards, someone would stop me to take a picture. A guy from Texas took a video." September September is when things are supposed to start getting easier again. An early storm frequently will build vanishing snow deposits back up. Waiting for that snow is a gamble, though, and it wasn't one Martin was willing to take. A planned trip to Big Agnes was called off as the remaining two snow patches had shrunk too small, but the Zirkels again yielded just enough snow to make a pass. There was no snow in sight when he left his truck, but he hoofed it to an area he'd remembered from a hiking trip a few summers prior and made his month. "I swung around to an almost exactly true north aspect just past Little Agnes' summit and found a really small sliver of a snow patch that had some good vertical," Martin said. "I just had to make jump turns down it to stay with it. It was such a narrow patch, just about three times the length of my skis wide." That early season snowstorm never came, but September was in the bag. October Skiing in October is no big deal for Martin, but unaware he'd be chasing an only-in-Routt goal, the turns he took in October 2010 came outside the county. The snow finally had come, however, and he skied from the summit of North Sand Mountain. It wasn't perfect, he said. The powder was fresh but thin with rocks and debris poking through all along the route wreaking havoc on his equipment. But it was enough. "It was three or four good turns, then a drift and three or four more until I got down into the trees where there was some nice pockets," Martin said. "I got a lot of strange looks from hunters going by on four-wheelers." It was a season of strange looks from hikers and hunters and at times even friends and family, but there were no regrets. "For me, it was sort of a rite of passage," said Martin, a 17-year Steamboat Springs skiing veteran. "People always talk about how they'll travel the world to ski and realize they have great skiing in their backyard, and that was true for me. I've been here but only am just starting to poke into the Zirkels. "It was eye opening. I definitely encourage people to check it out and see what Routt County has to offer. There's more than meets the eye." To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat briefs: Steamboat Nordic Camp’s early bird rates end Monday

The 12th annual Steamboat Nordic Camp is Dec. 13 and 14, and registration is now open. The camp is hosted by Ski Haus, Lake Catamount Touring Center and Steamboat Ski Touring Center. It is for all ability levels and will have top-level coaching staff, as well as video analysis and new equipment available to demo. Whether your goal is to learn to ski or improve race results in a competitive race, you might be interested in this camp. Early bird rates go until Monday, and you can register at http://www.thenordiclink.com. Library presents 'Ramona' silent film Tuesday night Bud Werner Memorial Library presents a grand finale for the 2014 One Book Steamboat community read of Helen Hunt Jackson's 1884 novel, "Ramona," with a silent film night featuring the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra playing an original score for the 1928 "Ramona" film, starring Dolores Del Rio and Warner Baxter. Considered a lost film until about a year ago, a single copy of "Ramona" (one of four versions having been made of the novel and long considered the best) was found in a Czech film archive and has been restored. The film with live orchestra screens at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in Library Hall. Join Mont Alto pianist and silent film historian Rodney Sauer at noon Tuesday in the library conference room for a brown bag lunch to hear about the many and varied film versions of "Ramona." Sauer will share the film's behind-the-scenes stories and the process of compiling a live score, and his extensive research includes finding some surviving materials from the original presentation in Los Angeles that show that a few scenes were cut from the film before its general release. Bring your own lunch, and beverages will be provided. Both events are free. For more information, visit http://www.steamboatlibrary.org/events. Clerk's office open Tuesday only for election business The Routt County Clerk's Office will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day (Tuesday) for election business only. Motor vehicle and recording will be closed. All ballots must be received in the clerk's office by 7 p.m. on Election Day. Coffee and a Newspaper scheduled for Wednesday This month's Coffee and a Newspaper will be held from 7:30 to 9 a.m. Wednesday at the newspaper office, 1901 Curve Plaza. Kate Nowak, executive director, and several board members of Routt County United Way will be in attendance to talk about the organization and explain how it benefits the area. Members of the Steamboat Pilot & Today's management team — including Publisher Suzanne Schlicht, Editor Lisa Schlichtman and Local Sales Manager Laura Tamucci — also will be on hand to answer questions. Free coffee and pastries will be served, and all community members are invited to attend. Pre-schedule donations for Colorado Gives Day For Colorado Gives Day, set for Dec. 9, donors can pre-schedule their online donations at http://www.yampavalleygives.org. Yampa Valley Gives was created to promote online giving support for nonprofit organizations in the Northwest Colorado region, according to a news release. The program will work in conjunction with Colorado Gives Day, an effort started by the Community First Foundation that successfully has raised more than $81 million for nonprofits across the state through its http://www.coloradogives.org site. This year, Routt and Moffat County nonprofits will benefit from the Yampa Valley Gives' Regional Champion $20,000 Incentive Fund, provided by the Boettcher and El Pomar foundations. The goal of the http://www.yampavalleygives.org website is to encourage local citizens to "Give Where You Live" this holiday season and year round. Sign up for library's reading programs for girls and guys Sign-up is open for the next two sessions of Bud Werner Memorial Library's Book Clubs for kids in fourth through sixth grades and an adult partner. It's a Girl Thing and Guys Read are free book discussion groups that meet once per month from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through May in the Teen Project Room. Led by a member of the library's youth services staff, the hour of fun includes hands-on activities, lively book discussion and related media.  On Dec. 9, the Guys Read group will discuss "Wings of Fire: Book One" by Tui T. Sutherland, and on Dec. 16, It's a Girl Thing will talk about "Wonder" by R.J. Palacio. Register online or at the kids' desk or call 970-879-0240, ext. 313. Space is limited to 10 kid/adult pairs per meeting. For more information about book titles and dates and to register, visit http://www.steamboatlibrary.org/services/kids/books-more/bookclubs. Take steps to protect area against emerald ash borer With the highly destructive emerald ash borer now confirmed in Colorado, many homeowners on the Western Slope have questions about their ash trees and the risks presented by the invasive tree insect. In response, the Colorado State Forest Service is releasing a new Quick Guide about EAB in Colorado. Although EAB has not been detected in western Colorado, and the Rocky Mountains form a barrier to the natural spread of the insect from the Boulder area, ash trees in the region remain at risk due to the potential spread through human actions — such as the movement of firewood. Primary recommendations relevant to the Western Slope include: ■ Determine now if you have any ash trees. The first step to dealing with the possible future arrival of EAB is identifying susceptible host trees on the landscape, which include virtually any species and varieties of ash (genus Fraxinus). Ash trees have diamond-shaped bark ridges and compound leaves with five to 11 leaflets, and their leaflets, buds and branches grow directly opposite from one another. ■ Avoid planting ash trees anywhere in Colorado. Ash trees have been widely planted here, but due to the risk of EAB, future plantings are not recommended. ■ Recognize signs of EAB infestation, which include: thinning of upper branches and twigs, loss of leaves, D-shaped 1/8-inch holes on the bark, vertical bark splitting or increased woodpecker activity. Any suspect trees should be reported to the Colorado Department of Agriculture at 888-248-5535 or caps.program@state.co.us. ■ Be aware of EAB imposters. Other insects such as lilac/ash borer, ash bark beetle and flat-headed appletree borer may look like EAB or cause similar tree symptoms. For more information, see the new EAB guide at http://www.csfs.colostate.edu. ■ Prevent further spread of EAB. Don't ever transport ash firewood, or any other untreated ash wood products, to other locations. For more information about EAB infestation and ash tree identification, view the guide online at http://www.csfs.colostate.edu or pick up a free copy at the nearest CSFS district. For current information about the status of EAB in Colorado, visit http://www.eabcolorado.com.