Resort Makeovers

791 view(s)

March 2006


These days, resorts are making a big effort to offer up lifestyle, as well as winter sports. Here's how seven areas are appealing to customers.
When Intrawest redeveloped the vintage resort at Quebec's Mont Tremblant, the company created a formula that became a standard. At Tremblant, Intrawest cloned the town of Whistler's pedestrian village concept, with underground parking, the retention of view corridors toward the mountains, and the incorporation of an open plaza for socializing. Before long, Intrawest and others created similar layouts across North America, cloaked with regional architectural themes.

Not all these other developments achieved high levels of success in terms of functionality, customer acceptance and real estate sales. As a result, resorts are stepping back from the one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, they are tailoring their plans to their market, their topography and their relationship with the local community.

Seven Springs: Bringing Development In-House
Lodging and non-ski activities are nothing new to Seven Springs, Pennsylvania's largest ski area. Started in the 1930s as a small cabin community, it really took off in the '60s and '70s. It added an indoor swimming pool and 37 guest rooms in '65, 73 more guest rooms in '67, an 18-hole golf course in '69, convention facility in '72, and 313-room, 10-story hotel in '74. By the end of the decade, it boasted expanded conference and exhibit space, a fine-dining restaurant, and courts for the then-burgeoning tennis market. Since that time, it has added spa and massage services, bowling, a workout room, another indoor swimming pool, roller skating, and mini-golf. On-site lodging now accommodates 5,000 guests. For decades, the area has been a total recreation and meeting destination for a host of mid-size metro areas: 55 miles from Pittsburgh, a three-hour drive from Washington and Cleveland, four hours from Columbus.

Until recently, outside developers built and marketed most of the lodging. "Prior to 2005, we concentrated on managing the resort," says Scott Bender, president and CEO. "Now, we are doing real estate on our own with in-house development and sales. There's more risk, but the rewards are better." The resort has two current projects underway. Southwind at Lake Tahoe-at the resort's mountaintop snowmaking pond and no relation to the eponymous Californian-Nevada lake-comprises 219 units on 23 acres. Phases I and II sold out before construction began, with the first units scheduled for delivery in late February 2007. Pheasant Run, 200 acres with state forest land on one side and a championship golf course on another, is an exclusive, gated and covenanted residential community designed by the Jack Johnson Company, whose ski-resort credentials include Deer Valley. Large homesites (3.75 to 12.10 acres) sell for $215,000 to $416,000.

What's next? "Even with a solid spring-summer-fall season, we can't approach the general occupancy of winter," Bender says. "We're pursuing a water park."

Red Resort: Harmonizing Resort and Town
British Columbia's Red Resort, formerly Red Mountain, and the town of Rossland are little more than a mile apart. The original ski area earned its rep as the steep and rugged mountain where perennial Canadian ski idol Nancy Greene learned her turns. The CDN $750 million resort is now in year two of a projected 15-year build-out on 650 acres of private land, with lifts and ski terrain on up to 3,800 acres of Crown lands on a 60-year lease. The addition of much-needed beginner terrain and a dedicated lift are planned for the 2007-08 season.

Above all, the resort is integrating into the existing community. "We don't want to replace Rossland. We want to augment it," says Don Thompson, Red Resort's vice president of planning and development. "The municipality has initiated a planning exercise," Thompson says, to determine local wants and needs on such issues as housing, commercial development, how local seniors will be affected and other topics. Red's development will reflect these determinations.

One part of the plan will be a 3 1/2-acre lake, open to the public and linked to town by public trails for such recreational activities as walking, biking, hiking, and cross-country skiing. No homes will be built at or around the lake. "It is a public amenity," says Thompson, adding that it also is part of the resort's storm-water management, fire protection resource, and perhaps also snowmaking system.

Roadwork and lighting installation will begin this summer to prepare for a mostly residential village with 1,400 units. The plan places multi-family units at the core and "less density as it filters out from the core," says Thompson. The first two buildings, one with 67 condos and one with 18, have been approved. Plans call for about 150 single-family homes and two boutique hotels.

Thompson describes the village design as "Craftsman meets Rossland"-modern renditions inspired by some of the former mining town's most interesting industrial buildings. He expects the nucleus to be done in two to three years, and for the village to "really project vitality" in three to five years.

Snowmass: Persistence in Planning
No resort has struggled more with expansion than Snowmass. Years of planning and proposals went into a development initially called Burnt Mountain/ East Village. The Forest Service granted a permit for terrain expansion onto Burnt Mountain in the late '60s or early '70s, but all was stymied by issues ranging from elk habitat to the sheer difficulty of getting a major project underway in Pitkin County. In the end, East Village morphed into a day lodge, parking, and one high-speed chair, to provide large single-family homes scattered on the hillside above with ski-in, ski-out access.

Meanwhile, the challenge of "what to do with the Snowmass Village Mall" went unanswered. The tiered, slopeside commercial and lodging development that was so progressive in the late '60s and early '70s had become tired and no longer functional. Visitors loved to ski at Snowmass, but they preferred to dine, shop, and party in Aspen. Even the conference center-one of the first in the Rockies-no longer held its appeal.

Now, after nearly four years of planning and study, Snowmass Base Village is underway. With voter approval and partnership with Intrawest, what was a parking lot will become a resort center that will eventually feature lodging (including two luxury condo-hotels), an events center, kids' facility, parking for 1,000 cars, and a dozen or so restaurants. All this will complement the original village, which connects with Base Village via the of the Mall Connector (or Sky Cab) gondola, installed last summer. The village itself will follow in the next few years.

Dave Corbin, Aspen Skiing Co. vice president of planning and development, believes Base Village will meet the needs and demands of the 21st-century guest. "Snowmass needed a tune-up," he says, "The Base Village location [below Snowmass Village Mall and at the bottom of the center of the trail system] is a natural, because it's where land could be assembled and the development effort could be undertaken with minimal demolition. It helps concentrate critical mass in a village core."

While Base Village incorporates several successful components of the Intrawest formula, it will "have its own stamp" to differentiate it from other resorts, Corbin says. "On the architectural side, it will be more fitting to the Aspen guest," he notes, with finer design, more spacious units, and a higher finish level. He likes the one-lift linkage between the new and the existing resort centers and believes that Base Village has "raised the bar" for the older properties, which are investing millions of dollars in renovations and remodels, too. In short, Base Village has inspired a resortwide renaissance.

Stowe: Makeover of a Classic
When it comes to the C-word (construction) or the D-word (development), Stowe is New England's Aspen, a town populated by concerned citizens and community groups that react warily to anything that might affect their town. Because of the complexities of Vermont's Act 250 compliance, local restrictions, and the concerns of 20 to 30 different groups, it took Stowe Mountain Resort 10 years to begin building a $300 million village on the site of the vintage Spruce Peak day lodge, a parking lot and a state campground. The process required collaboration with the community, according to Rod Apple, planning manager for Spruce Peak. Economic and visual impacts at buildout were key considerations.

In order to build a 30-acre core village, the resort did a land exchange with the State of Vermont and deeded 2,000 acres into a permanent conservation easement. The mountain company moved the road to Big Spruce and relocated a state campground. To retain its traditional look, the campground will include reconstructed CCC lean-tos, the "historic" relocated two-seater outhouse, and a new stone fireplace built according to the campground's original plans. The approval process pared the development from 575 units scattered at the base and around the existing golf course to 400 units in a denser core near the lifts. Replacing the 1954 double chairlift with a new lift, cutting new trails, and adding snowmaking was the easy part.

Apple recognizes that "at Stowe, history is one of the most exciting aspects of the future. We respect the past. The style and standards [at Spruce Peak] had to have a feel that matched Vermont mountain vernacular.

"We are using a lot of earth tones, green and gray non-metallic roofs, natural wood, and rock," he says. New England clapboard was considered and rejected, because "that exists down the road" in the village of Stowe. In order not to compete too aggressively with town stores, retail space will be limited, scattered around the new village core, and hopefully attract local merchants. Mass transit linking town and mountain and a pulse transit gondola between Spruce and the Mt. Mansfield base will help limit vehicular traffic.

Mountain Creek: A Young Metro Market
Mountain Creek, New Jersey, was forged from Vernon Valley and Great Gorge, formerly two separate but adjacent ski areas. Intrawest has adapted its development model to suit this location, on the northwestern edge of the New York-New Jersey megalopolis. (New Jersey Transit even provides winter weekend and holiday bus service from Manhattan.) Mountain Creek markets itself as "a resort experience" that is "not a five-hour plane ride away."
Before building a village, though, Intrawest expanded activities to attract day and evening customers. "Our location is still our greatest asset," acknowledges Bill Benneyan, director of sales and marketing. "To sustain us through variable weather, we want to be known as the top parks and pipes area. We've staked out our turf-young, young at heart, and aspirational guests. Twenty-five percent of our mountains are superpipe or terrain parks, and 50 percent of our guests are under 24, who say, 'despite iffy weather, we gotta go anyway.' We think that energy is attractive." Similarly high-action, off-season activities include the resort's water park and the Diablo Mountain Bike Center.

With a solid foundation as a hot place to "eat, learn, play, and be social," Mountain Creek is beginning to add "stay" or "live." Taking a slower approach than the usual Intrawest development timetable, the village core should be completed by 2010, starting with the 150-room slopeside Appalachian Hotel & Conference Center opening this spring and supplementing existing townhouses across from the Vernon base. Mountain Creek is giving people reasons to come and recreate, and then providing them with places to stay.

Crested Butte: A Tale of Two Towns
Skiers think of Crested Butte as a single place, but four local entities-Crested Butte Mountain Resort (the mountain company) and the separately incorporated municipalities of historic Crested Butte and the resort community of Mt. Crested Butte, plus Gunnison County-are involved with redevelopment and expansion of resort facilities.

Ethan Mueller, director of operations, says, "The ski area is a big economic engine in the community, but we don't run the show. For things to work for the ski area and the community, the majority of people have to be happy." To that end, he says, "We believe in doing things openly. We plan together [with the community]. We listen, and you never know where a good idea will come from."

Ideas for and reactions to the proposed makeover and expansion of the existing base area and the construction of a second village across the valley involved both mayors, town councils, the Office for Resource Efficiency (on whose board Mueller sits) and others. Ideas were considered at several meetings. Suggestions ranged from the construction of a snowmaking pond with off-season recreation and the very green deconstruction of the old Gothic Building and the reuse of materials (which Mueller said the resort hadn't considered) to a suggestion for free carpooler parking at the resort.

The first part of the $200 million Mountaineer Square at the ski area base is under construction on a former parking lot and bus station, partly on Town of Mt. Crested Butte land and partly on ski company property. The project's 89 residential units sold in just six hours. The second part, a base lodge, will be started this summer, replacing an outdated commercial structure.

The New Urbanism theme of combining residential, commercial and community buildings will guide development of the planned North Village and Reserve projects at the base of Snodgrass Mountain, where CBMR will expand in a few years. There will be a new town hall, a hotel, condos, and a mix of second homes and year-round residences-including more affordable housing than legally required. "We want locals there to create vibrancy and
community. We don't want to push them out of Crested Butte." Mueller says.

Jackson Hole: Fulfilling an Old Dream
People who have skied Jackson Hole don't think of Teton Village at the base as a luxury resort. Yet a handful of luxury properties (a Four Seasons, Snake River Lodge, Teton Lodge, and Teton Mountain Club) sit cheek by jowl with simpler lodgings that have been there for decades. Interestingly, Jackson Hole founder Paul McCollister envisioned it that way decades ago. Neither he nor John Kemmerer III, the present owner, nor Jerry Blann, current president of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, has had any interest in developing real estate, preferring instead to sell parcels for others to build on. The mountain company is just that, a lift company.

And Teton Village will remain relatively small. A 1996 revision of the 1981 master plan downsized the maximum carrying capacity of the mountain and dictated new thinking for the village. "Paul [who sold the resort in 1992] had 8,000 units approved under the original PUD," Blann says. "It's now been scaled down to 5,900."

JHMR has focused on sprucing up the resort infrastructure and maintaining the franchise. Blann says the resort has caught up on deferred maintenance, added and upgraded lifts, addressed traffic and parking issues, and improved signage and lighting.

It's just as well, because Blann and co. have their hands full with on-mountain issues, notably replacing the resort's only summit lift, the iconic 40-year-old tram, when it is decommissioned following this summer's tourist season. A temporary (though at present undetermined) lift will serve for the 2006-07 winter while the resort finds a more permanent solution.
Click Here To Order

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

More information about formatting options

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.