Some Projects Never Die

Brief by Central Staff

Quail Mountain Ski Resort – September 1998 – Colorado Central Magazine

The official Colorado state motto is Nil Sine Numine (Nothing Without Providence), but we might change it to “The State of Eternal Life” — no proposal ever really dies here. They may lie dormant for a few years, but they always seem to spring back to life.

Such is the case with the Quail Mountain Ski Area, proposed on the south side of Twin Lakes by Dennis O’Neill of Leadville.

Quail Mountain was a hot topic 15 years ago when O’Neill, operating through Twin Lakes Associates, began planning the ski area. It was supposed to go through a joint review — Chaffee and Lake counties, the U.S. Forest Service, the Colorado Division of Wildlife — and a full Environmental Impact Statement.

But O’Neill wasn’t willing to pay for all that, and the project faded away.

It emerged again in July, when he persuaded the Buena Vista Board of Trustees to vote 4-2 to endorse the project.

Substantial hurdles remain. Some of the studies done in the 80s may still be valid, but O’Neill may have trouble getting water for development and snowmaking — in May, the Colorado Supreme Court denied his appeal on several water rights, ruling that they were abandoned, and in essence, the justices told O’Neill never to bother them again concerning these rights.

Some private land, identified by O’Neill as part of the project, was advertised in a sheriff’s sale in the July 23 edition of the Leadville Herald-Democrat.

The Quail Mountain area is designated for winter sports in the current 10-year Forest Service plan, but that plan expires soon — and one wonders why anyone would want to build a ski area these days anyway.

Alpine skiing is not a rapidly growing industry. In 1987, 10,199,000 Americans skied; it was 10,620,000 in 1994. Monarch’s skier-days dropped from 158,148 in 1993-94 to 148,160 in 1997-98.

Vail, the largest ski area in Colorado, has seen a level visitor count in recent years; the company’s annual report explains increased profits as the result of a marketing campaign to extract more money from each visiting skier, rather than try to attract more skiers.

The headline on July 29 Wall Street Journal may explain why someone would want to build a ski resort now: “For Ski Resorts, Gold in Them Thar Hills Is Real Estate.”

The story begins, “North America’s biggest ski resorts are blazing new trails: selling building lots, constructing housing developments, creating golf courses, and carving hiking and biking trails out of the wilderness.

“Unable to lure more skiers to the slopes in the winter, and hoping to turn seasonal businesses into year-round operations, the resorts are focusing on their acreage to boost revenue.”

Second-home sales may produce more income than resort operations for Intrawest, which owns Copper Mountain. As Baby Boomers age, they tend to forsake skiing for golf, which makes golf courses an important lure for real-estate marketing.

Vail, for instance, is spending $10 million to improve its ski lifts this year, and more than $30 million on golf courses.

Thus Vail Resorts, according to the Journal, “owns half of the brokerage company handling the real-estate sales. The units’ owners can put their properties into rental pools handled by Vail Resorts’ management arm, which will draw fees from each transaction.

“And of course, the more renters, the more money the company will make from visitors paying for lift tickets, greens fees, meals, souvenirs, and such.”

So if you can build a ski resort to give a place an identity, then you can make real money from real-estate development — even if there aren’t enough skiers to go around.