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Colorado: Judge rejects Vail Resorts’ claim that avalanches are an inherent risk of inbounds, lift-served resort skiing

Vail will have to produce avalanche safety documents for trial

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A jury trial may determine whether Vail Resorts has any liability for the Jan. 22 avalanche death of 13-year-old Taft Conlin on Prima Cornice.

By Bob Berwyn

* some discusssion of this story on the Telemark Tips forum.

FRISCO — Vail Resorts failed last week to convince a judge that avalanches are an inherent risk of skiing on the company’s flagship mountain. Broomfield District Court Judge Patrick Murphy declined to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the family of Taft Conlin, who was killed by a snowslide on Prima Cornice in January 2012.

The company’s argument that avalanches are an inherent risk of skiing inbounds at ski areas may surprise a great many skiers, most of whom probably assume that they won’t be exposed to avalanche danger when they’re riding resort lifts and skiing on marked trails. Read Vail’s motion to dismiss here.

Advocating on behalf of Conlin’s family and for all skiers, attorney Jim Heckbert urged the court to reject Vail Resorts’ claims.

“If one is to accept the Defendant’s arguments, a ski area operator is permitted to negligently or knowingly expose skiers to the danger of death by avalanches with impunity. Because the risk of avalanche on January 22. 2012, could have been eliminated through the use of reasonable safety measures, the risk was not an inherent danger of skiing,” Heckbert wrote in the response to the the Vail Resorts motion to dismiss. Read the entire response here. Continue reading

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Vail Resorts dials back earnings expectations

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Will the early season snow drought affect Vail’s bottom line? Only time will tell. Bob Berwyn photo.

Colorado’s second consecutive early season snow drought may be affecting pass sales and advance bookings

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Vail Resorts stock swooned a bit, but then started to recover, after   CEO and chairman Rob Katz, said this week that it may be a challenge for his company to achieve its previously stated earnings goals.

MTN dropped as much as 12 percent and ended the day down 8 percent, at about $52 per share, after Katz said that early season booking trends are not as strong as they could be. The stock price started to recover Wednesday, climbing back up about 2.5 percent, perhaps with investors, just like skiers, taking a wait and see attitude.

That was Katz’s line, too, as he told investors that the holiday season will likely tell the tale.

“We will know more about the season after the holidays and intend to address our fiscal 2013 guidance when we release our ski season metrics in mid-January,” Katz said in the earning statements released to investors early Tuesday morning.

For the first quarter of fiscal year 2013, the company reported a net loss of $60.6 million compared to a net loss of $55.7 million in the same period in the prior year, a decline of 8.7 percent.

Season passes helped drive revenue in the quarter, with sales to-date (including 4-Packs) up about 5 percent in units and approximately 8 percent in revenue compared to the same period in the prior year, and adjusted as if Kirkwood were owned in both periods.

But lack of early season snowfall in Colorado may be affecting overall sales. Katz said current weather conditions are a concern for skiers who have delayed their pass-purchasing decisions.

“The total growth of the (pass) program is slightly below our expectations, as we believe that the amount of sales that we pulled forward to earlier selling periods was somewhat larger than expected,” he said. “Sales in Tahoe and international markets continued to show the most strength. We expect the final results of the program will be generally consistent with these percentage increases as final sales conclude in the coming weeks,” he added.

Overall,  lodging reservations are slightly down from last year, but a kids-ski-free with lodging program at Keystone has helped drive strong early bookings at that Summit County resort. Based on historical averages, less than half the winter season reservations are on the books this time of year.

With the ski season just ramping up, Katz said the earnings figures from the first fiscal quarter generally reflect late summer activity at the company’s properties, and that there were “positive trends” in summer mountain and lodging operations, with improved visitation driving increased revenue from summer activities and dining.

The company sold four luxury condos at the Ritz-Carlton Residences in Vail and reported a positive net real estate cash flow of $5.5 million for the quarter.

Colorado: U.S. Forest Service rejects appeal of Peak 6 expansion at Breckenridge Ski Area

Opponents of controversial expansion considering legal action

The Peak 6 expansion at Breckenridge Ski area would add about 550 acres of new terrain.

*Read all Summit Voice Peak 6 stories

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Barring legal action, Breckenridge Ski Area could start implementing the controversial Peak 6 expansion as soon as early December after regional Forest Service officials rejected an appeal filed by a coalition of conservation groups, skiers and local residents. Read the appeal here.

Scott Armentrout, Supervisor of the Gunnison, Uncompahgre and Grand Mesa National Forests, the appeal reviewing officer, wrote Nov. 14 that he found that the approval for the project did not violate any federal laws, regulations or policies and recommended upholding White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams’ decision to approve the 550-acre expansion.

The formal decision was made by appeals deciding officer Brian Ferebee, a deputy regional forester for resources. Read the full appeal decision here, and a summary of the appeal decision here.

“I agree with the ARO’s analysis as presented in the enclosed letter. All appeal issues raised have been considered and the record is adequate to support the Forest Supervisor’s decision,” Ferebee wrote in his Nov. 19 decision letter. “I affirm the Forest Supervisor’s decision to approve the Breckenridge Ski Area Peak 6 Project. I deny requested relief to set aside the decision or complete additional analysis.” Continue reading

U.S. Ski Team naming ceremony set for Nov. 15 at Vail

Lindsey Vonn racing in a 2006 slalom in Aspen. Photo courtesy Arthur Mouratidis, via Wikipedia and the Creative Commons.

Start to Vail’s 50th anniversary season marked with homage to resort’s ski racing tradition

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Vail will start its 50th anniversary season in style, as Olympic champions Lindsey Vonn, Bode Miller, Julie Mancuso and other U.S. Ski Team members gather Nov. 15 for the annual Nature Valley First Tracks event, which includes the ceremonial naming of the team and a fan appreciation and autograph session.

The event also kicks off opening weekend at Vail, where the lifts will roll on Nov. 16.

“It’s always fun for me to meet people who are as passionate about skiing as I am. The U.S. Ski Team naming in Vail is a blast and the community really comes out to support us,” said Lindsey Vonn, only the second woman to win four overall World Cup titles, and the first American woman to win an Olympic downhill gold medal. Continue reading

Skiing: Colorado areas dominate SKI mag poll again

Breckenridge remains the top-ranked Summit County resort

Breckenridge Ski Area ranked 13th in this year’s SKI magazine reader poll.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Colorado ski areas once again dominated the annual SKI magazine reader polls, but only two Summit County resorts cracked the top 20 — not surprising, given that most of the local areas — with the exception of A-Basin — emphasize quantity over quality.

After a five-year run in the number one spot, Deer Valley yielded to Whistler-Blackcomb, which won on the overall strength of its many attributes, including terrain variety, snow quantity and, of course, its vibrant nightlife. But readers of the magazine, who rate resorts annually in detailed surveys, recognized that the somewhat unpredictable weather in the Pacific Northwest can sometimes be a damper.

The poll is a fall publishing ritual that spurs plenty of water-cooler discussions and helps set the mood for the impending ski season. Continue reading

Colorado: Keystone aims to boost lodging occupancy, destination biz with a kids-ski-free deal for overnight visitors

Keystone offering free skiing for kids under 12 this season, but not for day-trippers.

Youngsters under 12 ski free with a two-night stay at the resort; other family offerings beefed up for the coming season

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Keystone Resort is stepping up its already strong appeal to families with season-long free skiing for kids under 12 for guests staying at least two nights at a resort property.

The program is aimed at boosting occupancy and also helps Vail Resorts segment its Summit County business, potentially shifting a bit of business from hyper-crowded Breckenridge to its sister resort on the other side of Summit County.

Numerous other resorts also offer special deals to entice kids, but Keystone is differentiating its program by emphasizing the no-strings, no-blackout aspects.

“With the introduction of a Kids Ski Free offer that’s really restriction-free, we’re letting families travel as their schedule allows,” said Keystone VP and general manager John Buhler.

Keystone says it has also enhanced it s Kidtopia program with daily animation and entertainment all winter long, including the third installment of what the resort bills as the world’s largest snowfort, street performers in the base area commercial zone, kids’ apres gatherings, a weekly Kidtopia parade, on-ice dance parties at the resort’s two ice skating rinks, and the new Snowed-In Festival. Continue reading

Vail Resorts 2012 earnings, revenue and skier visits down

Company reports increases in season pass sales and advance bookings

Breckenridge ski resort peaks seen from Dillon, Colorado.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — After one of the toughest seasons in memory, Vail Resorts wrapped up its fiscal year 2012 with earnings down about 7.5 percent from 2011, according to the company’s earnings statement released today (Sept. 25).

Total net revenue was $1,024.4 million in 2012 compared to $1,167.0 million in the prior year, a 12.2 percent decrease.

For 2012, VR reported a net income of $16.5 million, down from $34.5 million in 2011, as skier visits dropped steeply at the company’s California and Colorado ski areas. In Colorado (Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone and Breckenridge) visits dropped 8.9 percent, from 5.2 million in 2011 to 4.8 million in 2012.

Overall VR skier visits dropped by 12.1 percent, from 7 million in 2011 to 6.1 million in 2012. Continue reading

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