Looking back, looking ahead at Breckenridge and Keystone | SummitDaily.com

Looking back, looking ahead at Breckenridge and Keystone

The recent articles in the Summit Daily News by Aidan Leonard focusing on our company, the employees of Vail Resorts Inc. and our impact on our communities were very much welcomed.

Though the five-day series equated to about half a word per Vail Resorts employee in Summit County, the series was well researched and helped humanize our company, and I appreciate that.

Space was fairly given to supporters and detractors and shed light on the critical matter for all of us – the irrefutable fact that we’re in this together, that there’s a lot of work to be done, and, as I’ve said before, the future is what we make of it.

Looking back at this past winter season, which thankfully turned out to be the end of a record drought with much better snowfall than in previous years, did not come without other challenges. A weak economy, United Airlines in Chapter 11, threats of terrorism and war breaking out in the busiest month of the year all led to softness in the tourism and travel sector. But the draw of the mountains and the insatiable desire to slide down these fabulous slopes left us with a season that I would rate as better than most.

Heading into winter, we had made adjustments in the cost structure at all of our resorts, and despite high energy prices, international uncertainty and economic slowdown, people still showed up and vacationed.

A lot of industries around the country, particularly those that rely, as skiing does, on discretionary spending, would gladly have traded places with our company in the last two years, which is especially remarkable when one considers what we’ve been up against.

And while Vail Resorts was named among the top 20 public companies in Colorado by the Rocky Mountain News, reflecting a long-term assessment of our strong balance sheet and competitive advantages, our financial goals for the season went unmet, despite the hard work by our committed teams in both resorts.

In light of that, Breckenridge will still finish in its accustomed 1.4 million skier day range. The two new high-speed lifts (the Peak 8 SuperConnect and Peak 7 Independence) could scarcely have performed to better reviews, and the new Peak 7 terrain relieved congestion and added a new dimension to skiing and snowboarding badly needed here for so long. The $14 million investment wasn’t easy in the economy and market of the past two years, but our view has never been backward or short-term.

These changes are the first part of a commitment to upgrading the 40-year-old physical plant at the base of Peak 8. We are nearing Master Plan approval for the Peak 7 and 8 development with the town of Breckenridge. We continue to work together with a common vision, the results of which are already being demonstrated in the breakthrough success of our combined transportation systems with 20 percent and 30 percent increases in passenger counts.

That sort of company-community cooperation was also recently reflected in a very strong, successful Spring Massive event at Breckenridge this April. Now in its third year, the Massive has “grown legs,” and with the support of the lodging, retail and restaurants in town, has a great future to help drive business at the end of the season.

In Keystone, we are focusing on long-term goals consistent with Vail Resorts’ aim of providing quality, value and variety for guests by a ski resort that, in my first year of overseeing it, has surprised me with its muscle and expanse. On the management side, a flatter organizational structure at Keystone with fewer levels has already allowed for more ideas and energy to arise from those who know the place best. It’s too often overlooked that we’re talking about a place that has seen tens of millions of dollars invested BOTH on-mountain and off in just the last five years and that has routinely been the third-most-visited resort in the country. We don’t need “more” at Keystone, we need to DO more with the considerable assets we have there, and fortunately we have the right people for making that happen.

I am excited about our prospects for next year. Planning started in March and even earlier for some specific projects. The management teams of both resorts have a passion and commitment equal to the task. To all of our employees, many of whom are on a well-deserved break, I say, thank you for your tremendous hard work and dedication this winter in providing high-quality experiences for our guests.

It is through my own experiences on vacation that I realize vacations of any kind are special times – time for rest and recharging the batteries, but more importantly, the precious time that families and friends spend together, of developing new recreation skills, and of creating lifelong memories.

While it can be stressful and at times hectic in Summit County, the people of this county work hard to make this place a very special place to visit, to vacation and to live. As such, it is a very special thing we do as a company, but we don’t do it alone – we are part of a hard-working community, and I thank all of you connected to our guests’ time spent here, working hard to ensure that they all have a fabulous vacation.

The writer is chief operating officer of the Breckenridge and Keystone ski resorts.

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