September 2023

News and Views :: September 2023

Workforce housing solutions, snowmaking statistics, and people moves.

Written by The Editors | 0 comment



By April Darrow

Proposed legislation under review in Congress would, if passed, provide mountain communities and other entities the opportunity to lease Forest Service land for housing—offering a host of possibilities to assuage one of the resort industry’s biggest issues.

The Forest Service Flexible Partnerships Act is an update to a provision in the 2018 Farm Bill, which, for the first time, authorized the USFS to lease “underutilized” administrative sites (read: land home to maintenance buildings, not hiking trails) for housing and other community needs, but which took three years in the heart of Covid to finalize. The 2018 provision is set to expire in September but would be reauthorized until 2028 should a new version (in a new Farm Bill) pass.

A Hot Topic

Workforce housing was, understandably, a hot topic at a USFS session at the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) National Convention in May, and the mention of the possible leasing program was met with enthusiasm—and a litany of questions—from resort operators. NSAA has been concentrating on several avenues to boost housing opportunities on federal land and is continuing to promote the leasing program and its reauthorization through the 2023 Farm Bill, said public policy director Geraldine Link. 

“Passage of this legislation will provide resorts and resort communities with another window of opportunity to get workforce housing projects on federal land approved and completed,” said Link.

The association has been working with the Forest Service and Congressional sponsors—Sen. Bennet (D-CO), Sen. Daines (R-MT), and Rep. Neguse (D-CO)—in support of shaping and passing the updated provision, and Link feels confident. Though the new Farm Bill, itself not uncomplicated, will likely take a back burner to a “major spending battle on funding the government” in the fall, the lease provision “will likely be extended as part of a larger funding agreement, and a new Farm Bill (with updated provision) is expected to pass either in fall or winter,” said Link. “It will pass.”

First Out of the Gate

One proposed project near Dillon, Colo., that’s seeking to take advantage of the 2018 provision before it expires could serve as a model for future lease agreements.

The project, a partnership between the Forest Service, the Town of Dillon, and Summit County (home to Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Keystone, and Arapahoe Basin) would construct 162 deed-restricted housing units on 11 acres of USFS administrative land in the White River National Forest. The one-, two-, and three-bedroom “condo style” rentals would house a mix of partners’ employees and residents who qualify based on income.

Adam Bianchi, district ranger for the Dillon Ranger District on the White River National Forest, said at press time a draft lease is ready to go after many iterations since 2018, pending an appraisal of the land. “We’re hopeful a lease will be signed within the next few weeks,” he added.

The appraisal, a new process for the Forest Service, is a necessary step to analyze the value of what’s being given to the Forest Service in return for a 50-year lease. In this case, it’s seeking payment through in-kind benefits in the form of employee housing (10-15 units for permanent and seasonal staff) and new administrative buildings that would house a warehouse, fire engine bay, and work site. “Ideally, we will take no money (from partners) even though the Forest Service allows us to,” said Bianchi.

With the lease agreement, housing development firm Servitas, working with Summit County, will put together the financing needed to foot the bill for the housing and the administrative facilities. Capital is being raised through various means, including tax-exempt bond financing, grants through the Department of Local Affairs, Colorado Housing Finance Authority subordinate debt, and the County’s housing funds that utilize voter-approved sales tax dollars for various housing projects, said Summit County housing director Jason Dietz. 

The housing and a resident clubhouse will be owned by a non-profit conduit owner, of which the county will be a trustee, and the conduit owner will contract with a property manager to collect rents that will go towards paying back the debt. The Forest Service will own its admin buildings. As written, all are currently tied to the 50-year lease, though Bianchi remained “hopeful that legislation will bump authority to 100 years.”

Though the project has felt a bit like “building a bike while riding it,” said Bianchi, “we think this could be a blueprint for other national forests that have ski areas and resort communities.”

There’s land in these communities that’s not being used as a national forest—sites that don’t fit national forest characteristics (i.e., trails, wetland areas)—sites that are usually workshops or storage areas, he said. “This helps us utilize that public land in a way that could really benefit the whole community.”

Identity Crisis

Some of these communities have been ignoring the elephant that’s been in the room since way before 2020. “We have to be honest that many communities turned a blind eye towards workforce housing issues for a long time,” said Tom Foley, president of Insight Collective, a thinktank of mountain destination thought leaders, and Inntopia’s senior VP of business intelligence. “The pandemic made things that were broken, more broken.”

Not only has workforce housing become a much greater issue in the last two years, but the make-up of communities and their constituents have changed dramatically, creating a sort of identity crisis. “On one extreme, we’ve got destination tourism towns; on the other side is a resident-centered community,” Foley said. “The question that’s come up is: ‘Which are you?’ It’s become clear many destinations aren’t exactly sure what they are or where they want to go.” 

In the quest for answers, Insight Collective has teamed up with the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments and the Colorado Association of Ski Towns on a study to investigate new tools and metrics that communities can use to respond to changing economic conditions and new economic forces. The work seeks to clarify and measure the extent to which the post-Covid economy and related forces have shifted the mindset of some resort communities towards a greater emphasis on tourism management and mitigation and less on tourism promotion. 

“We’re thinking about an index that sort of puts a value on resident interests vs. tourist interests,” said Foley. “I.e., How long is your wait at the grocery store? How long do you want it to be? And how important is that? Are you able to maintain sidewalks? Is there enough parking on Main Street?”

The study, which will be released next year, will people-rank these things, boring down to the primary resident and second homeowner, not just local officials. The answers, said Foley, will hopefully set forth new and different plans, goals, and priorities that are identifiable and measurable by responsive civic leaders. 


“Preliminary data from the study,” said Foley, “indicates a move towards more responsibility of the government to take care of their constituents.”

Projects like the one in Dillon are a good start. Local leaders noted a problem, and they acted. Other resort communities are hoping to have the opportunity to do the same—one in the Pacific Northwest is looking at putting tiny homes on USFS land should the new provision pass; another in the East has commissioned a feasibility study to get the ball rolling.

Changes to USFS land restrictions over the past decade have been good for ski resorts, especially in terms of summer business. A Forest Service land leasing program could be one more step in the right direction—albeit on a different course.

“If someone can open the door, somebody else gets to walk through,” said Foley. “I think that’s good corporate citizenship—plus being able to accommodate the workforce means you can generate revenue.”



The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) released findings earlier this year from its new Climate Smart Snowmaking Study, which aimed to assess the climate impacts of current snowmaking operations and opportunities to reduce those impacts, as well as snowmaking’s potential climate vulnerabilities. 

Methodology. Historic industry data, operational data provided by ski areas, and national data informed the study, which tapped numerous stakeholders for input, including operators, snowmaking suppliers and manufacturers, government agencies, and sustainability planning firm the Brendle Group. 

“The Snowmaking Study has been a particularly arduous undertaking,” said NSAA director of marketing and communications Adrienne Saia Isaac, “and we’ve been deliberate in our analysis of the metrics and findings, mostly to ensure that the science of the study is well-understood and accurately presented.”

Benchmarks. The study provided some intial benchmarks for energy usage and snowmaking’s percentage of total resort emissions based on data from 10 Boyne Resorts. The report found that snowmaking accounts for an average of 18 percent of total energy use across all resort operations and an average of 14 percent of total annual GHG emissions. However, there was a fair bit of variability from resort to resort, with percentage of total energy usage ranging from less than 1 percent to 37 percent and contribution to annual emissions ranging from less than 1 percent to 33 percent across Boyne’s resorts. 

These benchmarks are expected to evolve over time as NSAA collects more comprehensive, industry-wide data, a need identified in the report, which “recommends that the ski industry commit to standardizing on two metrics for measuring snowmaking performance moving forward—an energy/water use ratio and a water/snowmaking acres ratio.”

More data. Energy/water use and water/snowmaking acres metrics were collected in NSAA’s annual Kottke survery for the first time this year. “These metrics are meant to help individual ski areas benchmark and track their own snowmaking efficiency over time,” said Isaac. “You want to be able to show that your investment in technology and more efficient equipment is making a difference. As more areas report these metrics, ski areas will be able to see how they compare to those of a similar size or in your region.”

Still, she cautioned, “While we’ve worked with industry experts and other stakeholders to identify the water and energy metrics, I think it’s important to evaluate those metrics over time to make sure they’re still capturing the ‘right’ data.”

Solutions. In addition to the benchmarks, the study also identified four climate vulnerabilities—water availability, snowfall and temperature, energy reliability, and snowmaking equipment and infrastructure—and six Climate Smart Snowmaking concepts to reduce those vulnerabilities to help operators assess and address their climate risks. Those Climate Smart solutions put optimizing business and improving operational climate resiliency hand-in-hand with reducing snowmaking’s contributions to climate change. 

The study yielded other resources as well—a fact sheet and primer with FAQs, aimed at helping ski areas communicate regarding snowmaking’s impact on climate change, which got a bad rap during the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing after photos of dry hills with strips of machine-made snow made international headlines.

Find the complete study and collateral materials at



SNOW Partners named Malcolm Seamans project and marketing manager, and Brett Bagley COO of SnowCloud.



In the West, John “JD” DeVivo was named general manager of Antelope Butte Mountain Recreation Area, Wyo. … Jay Rydd was promoted to resort operations manager of Diamond Peak Resort, Calif. ... Mike Jankowski is now executive director of sport at Sugar Bowl Resort, Calif. … Sun Peaks Resort, B.C., appointed Darcy Alexander CEO and Amy Blakeney COO. ... Sara Brownlee was made HR chief of staff at Vail Resorts.

sep23 nv Shannon BuhlerIn the East, Shannon Buhler was named vice president and general manager of Stowe Mountain Resort, Vt. …  Rob Hodgkins was appointed director of revenue, reporting, and product integration for Jay Peak, Vt. 

Cannon Mountain, N.H., named Greg Keeler interim GM, Jennifer Karnan director of sales and marketing, Charlie Roy snowsports school director, and Jeff Collins patrol director and trail crew chief. 

Simon Pagé was named VP of customer experience of Les Sommets, Quebec. ... Tim Stone was promoted to resort operations ranger at Mountain Creek, N.J. 

sep23 nv Alajos Fiel HeadshotIn the Midwest, Alajos Fiel was named GM of Mad River Mountain, Ohio. ... Arah Johnson was promoted to SVP of sales and marketing for Crystal Mountain, Mich.

In Australia, Tina Burford was made GM of Mount Hotham Skiing Company. 

Anthony Armstrong was named executive director of the United States Ski Mountaineering Association. … Ski New Mexico’s executive director George Brooks retired. 



John Feely, Purgatory Resort’s chef de cuisine, received Colorado Ski Country USA’s Food and Beverage Professional of the Year award. 

Tait Lineham of Killington Resort, Vt., was voted the winner of the third annual SAM Rise Up Challenge, sponsored by Leitner-Poma of America.

The Colorado Snowsports Hall of Fame inducted five new members: Sandy Hildner, Cheryl Jensen, Hilaree Nelson, John Norton, and Seth Masia.



sep23 nv Jim CrownJames Crown, owner and managing partner of Aspen Skiing Company, died on June 21, at 70. The Crown family purchased half of Aspen Skiing Company in 1985 and bought out the remaining owners in 1993. Crown also served as the lead director of General Dynamics Corp., director of JPMorgan Chase, and a trustee of The Aspen Institute.

Influential magazine editor and ski instructor Doug Pfeiffer died July 23. He was 96. Pfeiffer served as national editor then editor-in-chief of Skiing magazine, where he launched the ski testing program and championed freestyle skiing. As president of the Far West Ski Instructors Association, he played a key role in founding the Professional Ski Instructors of America and was a creator of the original “American Ski Technique” developed in PSIA’s infancy. Pfeiffer was elected to the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame in 1987 and the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame in 2017. 

Mark Knutson, general manager at Detroit Mountain, Minn., died on July 9, at 53. Knutson was the longtime manager of the Fargo Marathon and organized several other fitness events. He was named GM at Detroit Mountain in 2022.