Ski resorts lure visitors with luxury and convenience

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(Host) Holiday ski conditions should be excellent thanks to recent storms. But snow is only part of what’s needed to attract today’s skiers. As VPR’s Nina Keck reports, ski resorts across Vermont have pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into new developments that offer luxury, convenience and just plain more.

(Keck) The ‘more’ we’re talking about is probably most evident at Stratton Mountain, which recently opened a new nine million dollar slope side ski club. The club offers members indoor parking, a full time concierge, a kids lounge, four fireplaces, two restaurants, complimentary breakfast and a spacious locker room that comes complete with fresh flowers, slippers and custom cherry lockers. Michael Cobb is Head of Marketing at Stratton.

(Cobb) “These lockers all have little electronic digital keys. So you punch in your number and open up your door and inside your locker you’ll find four really cool boot drying systems. So you can hang up your boots and during the night we’ll turn on a fan heating unit that’ll dry out your boots and then there’s places to hang additional coats or hats or a change of clothes or anything else you want.”

(Keck) There’s also a ski valet who’ll make sure your skis are waxed and ready outside. All this for $49,000 in initiation fees, which are refunded when you leave the club – plus $2,000 a year in dues. While some of you may be rolling your eyes, membership at the club was full before it opened and there’s already a long waiting list for new members.

Convenience is like a mantra at ski resorts these days and few things show this trend as profoundly as the increased demand for luxury ski-in, ski-out accommodations. At Top Ridge, a mountainside development at Killington, construction workers put the finishing touches on a $500,000 duplex. Steve Malone, the development’s managing partner, says that while a small number of ski-in, ski-out units will be perched on ridgelines, most of the development going on at Vermont ski resorts will be built at the base of the mountains, close to lifts.

(Malone) “Skiing has evolved over the past 20 years from going to the basic lodge to now having a family buy a second home with a lot of convenience and a certain component is the ability to ski home, have lunch, be very comfortable. And the convenience of the ski in ski out process is very big.”

(Keck) How big? Malone says ten years ago, Killington had maybe 20 ski-in, ski-out properties. Ten years from now, when all the planned units are built and the central village is expanded, he says there’ll be nearly 500 such properties. At Stowe, resort officials are moving forward with plans to build over 400 new ski-in, ski-out units at the base of Spruce Peak just across from Mount Mansfield.

Okemo Resort’s Pam Cruickshank says slope-side accommodations and luxury perks like a new golf course and spa are part of the $100 million Jackson-Gore expansion now underway at Okemo.

(Cruickshank) “As a matter of fact, we’re going to be putting in a 6 to 8 person gondola – right from the actual structure of the hotel so people literally won’t even walk outside.”

(Keck) Too much development, however, can be risky. Many Vermont ski resorts lost millions when the real estate market crashed in the early 1990s. But Killington President Allen Wilson says they’ve learned from past mistakes. Still, some critics contend that ski resorts should concentrate on filling the beds they already have before they build new ones. For example, Killington’s winter occupancy rate is only 69 percent. But Wilson says that while new construction may hurt some of the existing properties in the short term, the best way to attract more visitors is to offer something new.

(Wilson) “And that is true at Tremblanc, that’s true at Vail, at Beaver Creek, Stratton – that’s true at every village we’ve studied. People want to go to a place that is new and exciting. Dormancy gets old after a while.”

(Keck) With skier visits flat for the past 15 years and operating expenses climbing, resort officials say providing what customers want is simply a matter of survival.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Nina Keck.

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