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Colorado: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledges lynx mistakes in Breckenridge Ski Area’s Peak 6 expansion plan

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A transplanted Canada lynx watches a Colorado Division of Wildlife biologist. Photo courtesy Tanya Shenk/ Colorado Division of Wildlife.

Federal approval missed a key step in addressing requirements of Endangered Species Act

Click here to read all Summit Voice Peak 6 stories

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Federal biologists have acknowledged that they left out a key step in their approval of the proposed Peak 6 ski area expansion at Breckenridge, a project that would degrade a patch of lynx habitat in the Tenmile Range.

“We reviewed the … biological opinion, and we agree that our incidental take statement lacks a meaningful mechanism to reinitiate consultation if the project exceeds the anticipated incidental take,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Western Colorado Supervisor Patricia Gelatt wrote in a March 6 letter responding to a formal legal notice from Rocky Mountain Wild and the Blue River Group of the Sierra Club.

Gelatt said her agency plans to meet with the Forest Service and modify its biological opinion to address the deficiencies before the Notice of Intent expires on April 19, but she didn’t explain how agency biologists missed including the required regulatory mechanisms after discussing the expansion with the Forest Service for several years. Continue reading

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Vail Ski Area revamps management of Prima Cornice terrain after last winter’s deadly inbounds avalanche

Resort says it will use more ropes and signage when needed to discourage uphill traffic and warn of potential hazards

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A diagram prepared by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center shows the approximate locations of various gates used to access Prima Cornice at Vail Ski Area.

*Read more Summit Voice coverage of the inbounds avalanche deaths at Vail and Winter Park here.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — With the discovery phase of a trial over last year’s inbounds avalanche death of a teenage skier under way, Vail Resorts this week announced that it has changed the way ski patrollers manage the Vail Ski Area terrain where the deadly incident occurred.

Based on its own review of the avalanche on Prima Cornice, Vail officials said there may be times when patrollers use more ropes and signage to indicate closures and potential danger. The changes were instituted at the start of this season, according to a statement from Vail Resorts.

“Vail Resorts takes safety as its highest priority, and we continually re-evaluate and adapt based on new information or changing skier behavior. The Company remains a defendant in a lawsuit concerning this incident and will not be making additional comments. We remain incredibly saddened by the events of that day, and our deepest sympathy continues to go out to the family of Taft Conlin,” the company said in it statement. Continue reading

Colorado: Vail Resorts says mid-winter business rebounded

Major capital investments announced for upcoming seasons

Vail Resorts is talking up the Peak 6 expansion at Breckenridge as part of its capital investment plan for the coming season.

Vail Resorts is talking up the Peak 6 expansion at Breckenridge as part of its capital investment plan for the coming season.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Vail Resorts said business bounced back after a slow start to the season, with some of the company’s resorts posting record business during the Christmas holiday period. VR’s net income climbed 30.5 percent, to $60.5 million in the second fiscal quarter compared to last season, with skier visits up 2.9 percent and mountain net revenue up by 9.5 percent.

“We are very pleased with our performance in the second quarter of fiscal 2013, which was notable for two distinct dynamics we experienced in the quarter,” VR CEO Rob Katz said this week during a call announcing the company’s second quarter earnings. “The first was our results through the middle of December, which were marked by unusually warm and dry weather in Colorado that limited the terrain we could open, leading to lower than expected results for our four Colorado resorts.  Continue reading

Colorado skier visits take another big hit

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An early season snow drought dampened skier visits in Colorado. Bob Berwyn photo.

Ski resort trade group reports early season double-digit drop for the second year in a row

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — For the second year in a row, Colorado ski areas were hit hard by a lack of early season snow, as skier visits dipped 11.5 percent for the period spanning opening day to Dec. 31. Last winter, the state’s ski resort association reported that visits dropped 10 percent from the year before that.

Variable snow conditions and some late openings were factors in the decline, according to Colorado Ski Country USA president and CEO Melanie Mills.

“First period is largely fueled by in-state visitors, and an unseasonably warm October and November kept many Coloradans from tallying lots of ski days,” Mills said. “Snow did not arrive in earnest until mid-December, but when it came, it was in time for in-state and out-of-state guests to enjoy wonderful wintery holidays at resorts.” Continue reading

Colorado courts grappling with inbounds avalanche deaths

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Looking toward the area on Prima Cornice where the avalanche started. Photo courtesy Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Click on the photo to read the full CAIC report on the slide.

One case dismissed as another heads toward jury trial: outcome could hinge on interpretation of Colorado Ski Safety Act’s ‘inherent risks of skiing’ definition

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Two Colorado judges have reached dramatically different conclusions about a pair of inbounds avalanche deaths that occurred on the same day at Winter Park and Vail ski areas last season.

Both Colorado skiers died Jan. 22, 2012, after one of last season’s first big snowstorms dumped fresh powder atop a rotten base layer, leading to dangerous avalanche conditions across the state.

In early December, Broomfield District Court Judge Patrick Murphy rejected arguments by Vail Resorts attorneys that the avalanche that killed teenager Taft Conlin on the Prima Cornice trail at Vail Ski Area was an inherent risk of skiing, as defined by the Colorado Ski Safety Act.

In late December, Grand County District Court Judge Mary Hoak dismissed a similar lawsuit against Intrawest Winter Park Operations Corporation in the death of Christopher Norris, who was also killed by an avalanche while skiing an inbounds area at Winter Park.

Hoak ruled concluded “that the inbounds avalanche falls squarely within the definition of inherent dangers and risks of skiing.” Read the court order here. Continue reading

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

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.

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