Life after the resort town gilded age |

Life after the resort town gilded age

by Allen Best
special to the daily

TELLURIDE – Across the ski towns, commentators are trying to make sense of the craters that used to be the vibrant real estate economy. The lesson, at least in Telluride, says Seth Cagin, publisher of The Telluride Watch, is that the community for various reasons became over-invested in real estate.

Cagin for years had argued that Telluride was getting it wrong. Almost militantly anti-growth policies stymied the growth of a tourism economy, he had said. This was OK as long as people were willing to bid up prices ever more for real estate. Now that, too, has ended.

“Despite our best intentions to build a sustainable community, we built instead a community for the gilded age, with gargantuan private homes and far too few tourist accommodations to support a vibrant economy with a middle class,” he writes.

“This might have worked indefinitely if the bubble had lasted indefinitely. But the gilded age has come to a crashing close, as we all knew it had to, and the question for Telluride and Mountain Village now and for the next decade is where do we go from here.”

For Cagin the bottom line message is the same one he has preached for several years. “We may not get obscenely rich being the tourist town we were always meant to be, and certainly not as rich as we did when the houses we bought one year were worth twice as much just a few years later. But we can have a sustainable community.”

KETCHUM, Idaho – Sun Valley Resort has lowered its prices for ski passes. “This is the first time the price of a season pass has come down in the 30-or-so years I’ve worked here,” said Jack Sibbach, a spokesman for the Sun Valley Resort.

The new Sun Plus Pass can be had for $1,500 if purchased in July. Last year, the same pass cost $2,050. A packet for 20 days also has been reduced in price, to $750.

None of this compares with the deals being offered in Colorado by Vail Resorts and Intrawest. Vail, for example, has the Epic Pass, introduced last year, which offers unlimited access to Vail and four other Colorado ski resorts plus California’s Heavenly, all for $600. Intrawest’s $500 pass offers a pass both to Copper Mountain and Winter Park.

“If we were located next to Vail, we might have to take a different strategy,” Sun Valley’s Sibbach said. “But we’re not in that market, competing with the Front Range resorts.”

ASPEN – Aspen has started to talk again about its open-pit hearth. Located on a downtown street near the ski slopes, the hearth was created in a response to the economic slowdown early in the century.

But then, in 2005, the town went very public with its vows, encapsulated in the Canary Initiative, to knock back carbon emissions. But how can a community that has vowed to take greenhouse gas emissions seriously condone burning of natural gas in the great outdoors, just so people can gather to see the flickering of flames?

The Aspen Times explains that town officials tried to figure out a compromise, keeping the hearth but burning something other than a fossil fuel. Some suggested burning candles or, because Aspen has so many, dog poop.

Kim Peterson, who directs the Canary Initiative, sees the hearth as a non-issue. “I honestly don’t think the fire heater is our problem in Aspen. It’s a tiny part of our carbon output here.”

The hearth, during winter, undeniably adds a cheery ambiance to the downtown mall. Alas, reports the times, some of those who congregate in the fading light of winter afternoons are not the cherubic faces of children toasting marshmallows. Instead, says the newspaper, a “decidedly seedier elements often congregates there,” flinging profanity, drinking in public and several times allegedly engaging in unlawful sexual contact.

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