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Optimism abounds at BRC breakfast

DUFFY HAYESsummit daily news

BRECKENRIDGE – Given the flurry of activity in and around Breckenridge these days – and the recent reporting of some of the strongest numbers in Vail Resorts’ history – Tuesday morning’s confab between VR executives and Breckenridge business owners was a pretty optimistic affair.Nearly 100 members of the host Breckenridge Resort Chamber had their first chance to hear directly from new Vail Resorts CEO Robert Katz, who was keen to tout the resort operator’s record ski season this past year. Katz called it “potentially the best ski season in history” at the company, and he called Breckenridge “our best performer” of the five resorts that Vail operates.This past week, Vail Resorts reported record growth and raised expectations for next year. Skier visits were up 6 percent across all five of the resorts that Vail operates – Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, and Heavenly in Lake Tahoe – but it was Breckenridge that showed the biggest jump in skier numbers. Well over 1.6 million skier days were logged at Breck this past season, a jump of more than 10 percent over the previous year.Katz, who reminded folks that he was part of a group that brought Breckenridge under the Vail Resorts umbrella in the early 90s, recalled that “it was crystal clear from day one that the town was a terrific asset for the resort.” He lauded town officials for their foresight and vision over the years, and said that he attributed a lot of the on-mountain success at Breckenridge to the relationship that the resort has with the town.”The fruits of that are really paying off,” Katz said.This past season, Breckenridge added North America’s highest chair lift – The Imperial Express Super Chair, and finished the Skyway Skiway project, a ski-back from the resort’s base areas down to the parking lots near Main Street Breckenridge.The biggest news at the resort, however, is the new gondola taking shape. That project was announced late last year, and is the central cog to the ambitious development plans laid out by other Vail Resorts’ execs following Katz at the breakfast.Co-president of the mountain division for Vail Resorts and chief operating officer of Breckenridge and Keystone Roger McCarthy particularly touted the new Imperial Express, saying the new lift “really put Breckenridge on the map.” He was equally impassioned about the new gondola, saying that the opportunities for a new in-town base area are promising for the entire business community. More than that, the new gondola guarantees at least some alleviation of the Ski Hill Road gridlock that Breck suffers from during peak season. McCarthy estimated that the 19 buses currently serving the more than 1 million-plus riders every season can only handle about 1,600 people every hour. The new gondola will be able to handle at least 3,000 people every hour.Longer-term development was the focus of the presentation from Alex Iskenderian, vice president of development for Vail Resorts Development Company. The ambitious “Peaks at Breckenridge” project – or the building up of the resort’s Peak 7 and Peak 8 base areas – was laid out for the BRC crowd.Work has already begun on moving the road near the Peak 7 area, and Iskenderian showed off some renderings of the buildings set to spring up there. The first stage of the development is a 46-unit condo building set for market sale this Christmas; construction is expected to begin next May.Also part of the Peak 7 project is a partnership with local developers Grand Timber Development Company, who are designing their own 100-plus unit fractional ownership facility for the Peak 7 area. Iskenderian characterized fractional ownership as an important part of the overall vision of the project, and said that turning over the timeshare side of the business to the Grand Timber folks was the best strategy that the company could hope to take.Looking further out, Iskenderian predicted that the “Peaks” development would take on a likely “one building a year” timetable. With a planned seven buildings from VRDC and one by Grand Timber, project completion was pegged for either 2012 or 2013.Q-and-AsThe Breck business crowd did have their chance to pose specific questions to the Vail execs, and raised many of the obvious issues associated with all the new projects. Questions about the gondola were numerous. Would there be a charge to ride?McCarthy said that there would definitely be a ticket operation at the gondola-base area, and that there would likely be a “minimal” charge to simply take a ride up the mountain. He said the company is still looking at pricing and other options.When is the gondola going to run?McCarthy took that one on as well, generally saying that they expected the gondola to run about 10 weeks in the summer, in addition to all ski season long.Day to day, he said that right now Vail planned to run the gondola for one hour before and one hour after the on-mountain lifts are open. However, the resort is looking at ways to bring more and more activities to the Peak 8 base area specifically including possibly lighting up the terrain park for night access which could impact the hours that they plan to run the gondola.The fact that there is little commercial development planned for Peaks 7 and 8 leads to the question of exactly how visitors would get from those areas down to the Main Street corridor during times when the mountain is closed. McCarthy said that would be a consideration, and that there is a good possibility the gondola could run at night, during peak season especially. During other times of the year, the resort will likely run shuttle buses to and from the “Peaks” development down to the center of town.What’s the status of paid parking?McCarthy said that paid parking in the lots in and around the new gondola is pretty much fait accompli, “but we haven’t finalized how much it’s going to cost,” he said. He added that pay parking was a “key component” in the decision making about the new gondola, and that the money made from parking was included as a way to offset the costs of the project.I guess you have to pay to play, right?Duffy Hayes can be reached at (970) 668-4621, or at dhayes@summitdaily.com


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