Ski leaders to cooperate to attract visitors |

Ski leaders to cooperate to attract visitors

Greg Finch, vice president of Dundee Realty USA, owner of Arapahoe Basin, Roger McCarthy, chief operating officer of Keystone and Breckenridge Resorts, and David Barry, vice president of Intrawest Colorado, owner of Copper Mountain and operator of Winter Park, confer Tuesday at the Summit County Chamber of Commerce's annual Ski Area COO Luncheon. Each presented highlights for the coming season at their resorts.

SUMMIT COUNTY – More than 200 business leaders gathered Tuesday afternoon at the Copper Mountain Convention Center to hear a new message of cooperation between the four Summit County ski resorts at the industry’s annual herald of the winter ski season.

The chief operating officers of the resorts spoke for more than an hour to a sold-out crowd.

“As leaders of the business community, we need to find out why destination travel has gone down,” said Dave Barry, chief operating officer (COO) of Copper Mountain, which is owned by Intrawest.

Since the 1970s, people across the world associated skiing with Colorado. Now Colorado ski market research suggests people are turning to other places such as British Columbia or Utah for extended skiing vacations, Barry said.

“We’ve slipped off the dial as far as destination places. It will take a bipartisan effort (between Vail Resorts and Intrawest) to bring them here again,” Barry said. “That challenge is here, and with time and energy, we can make Summit County a destination again.”

Destination visitors once peaked at nearly 350,000 tourists per year in the region. Virtually none of the 200 business leaders at the conference Tuesday afternoon raised their hands when asked if they believed destination travel was increasing.

“We need to operate on a bigger level as a community,” said Roger McCarthy, COO of Keystone and Breckenridge ski resorts, which are owned by Vail Resorts.

The idea of cooperative, regional efforts among Summit County’s four ski resorts excited Jack Taylor, the executive director of the Summit County Chamber of Commerce. Such efforts could include collaborative marketing, policy direction, appeals to air and ground transportation leaders and other tactics.

“These guys are working in an incredibly competitive environment. For them to talk about regional cooperation is new,” Taylor said. “Economic sustainability is a regional challenge, not only a town challenge or a resort challenge.

“To pull together all the key stakeholders in on the discussion is a major first step. The question is, “How do we play off each other’s strengths to make the whole better than the sum of its parts?'”

Taylor said the chamber will step up to the plate as the facilitator, guiding the ski areas’ efforts to attract visitors to Summit County. Local small businesses and the Colorado Tourism Office will have a role in any future collaborative efforts to bring people to Summit County, Taylor said. Front Range businesses could also be included.

Part of the slowing destination-traveler problem might be related to airfares and Denver International Airport, McCarthy said. A skier recently e-mailed McCarthy to say it was cheaper to fly into Utah with a layover in Denver, than to fly directly to Denver.

“We might be giving United Airlines life support, while Frontier is doing what we need,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy said he and Breckenridge Mayor Sam Mamula sent a letter to Frontier in attempts to establish a “successful formula” to bring skiers and snowboarders at the right price to Summit County.

Contacting congressional leaders is another tactic, Barry said. Staff members for Rep. Mark Udall, D-Boulder, attended the luncheon.

“If you assume no one in Washington, D.C. cares about Summit County, you’re wrong,” Barry said. “Our businesses have an impact on the larger economic engine. We need to do a better job telling our congressional leaders what we think of different policies.”

The annual race among resorts to open first every winter is one way to generate publicity for Summit County, said Greg Finch, COO for Arapahoe Basin.

Another way to improve skier and snowboarder turnout is to design passes to be as user-friendly as possible from marketing to purchasing to the actual use on the mountain, the ski industry leaders agreed. Last year, 60 percent of A-Basin’s 320,000 skiers had Vail ski passes, Finch said.

All the resorts will tout their improved snowmaking technology installed for the upcoming ski season as well as new restaurants and bars at mountain bases that are replacing out-of-date, burger-and-fries joints. Making sure ski resort employees are happy, through affordable housing efforts for example, is another way to improve the overall mountain experience, leaders said.

One real estate agent at the meeting questioned marketing tactics geared toward 19-30-year-olds. COOs said that group is their main customer base now and for the future, and that parents increasingly consider where their children want to vacation.

Arts advocate Sandy Greenhut said an arts center would draw more people to Summit County. Barry said Copper Mountain has a site and utility connections ready to donate, but he has yet to find a group or developer to build an arts center.

First-time visitors attracted to Summit County often become long-term and lifelong Summit County patrons, COOs said. Barry said the leaders of the four ski areas should start meeting to collaborate. Taylor and the chamber agreed to be the fulcrum of cooperative efforts this fall.

Christine McManus can

be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or

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