Steamboat Ski Area unveils new ski season flights from Austin, Kansas City

Tom Ross - Steamboat Today

Steamboat's ski season airline program is poised to tap into two new markets known as desirable destinations for lovers of barbecue and music.

The Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. announced July 26 that inaugural flights from Austin, Texas, and Kansas City, Missouri, to Yampa Valley Regional Airport will begin Dec. 13 and continue through April.

The flights will be on 50-passenger jets flown by ViaAir and are set to run Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Both cities are attractive destinations.

Austin has the South by Southwest festival and pit master Aaron Franklin at Franklin’s Barbecue. And K.C., has Joe's K.C. BBQ in a gas station, coupled with a tradition of blues influenced jazz in the vein of Count Basie.

But Steamboat has the powder.

It's also apparent the new flights from Austin are being counted on to deliver more fans of Texas Americana music here for the Steamboat Music Fest, with additional flights Jan. 2,4 and 9.

Dickson Productions, which has produced the longstanding Steamboat Music Fest, is based in Austin, and Rod Hanna, a member of the Local Marketing District that oversees the airline program for Steamboat Springs, said he bumped into Dickson at a golf event in Steamboat this month, and the festival producer was thrilled with the new flights.

Maitland, Florida-based ViaAir will fly 50-passenger Embraer ERJ-145s on the Steamboat routes, and Embark Aviation will manage the "commercial elements," of the new flight program, according to a news release. Visit steamboat.com for information about introductory fares.

ViaAir flies to 13 U.S. destination, and Steamboat will be the airline's first nonstop ski destination.

Hanna said a significant motivation for taking on the new flights, which require minimum revenue guarantees, is to offset what would have been a loss of about 3,000 seats from Dallas this winter after American Airlines offered aircraft configured with fewer seats.

"Austin is a great market for us," Hanna said, "and the great part about this is that we're not increasing our (total) revenue guarantees, or if we are, hardly at all," as a result of adding Austin and Kansas City.

"We're excited about it," Hanna added, "For this winter, it's 15 cities with nonstops to Steamboat. That's huge."

Hanna said that, in the past, Kansas City has been a drive-to market to Steamboat.

The ski area news release also described ViaAir, founded in 1997, as the first airline "to be certified in the FAA's Part 5 Safety Management System, ensuring the highest level of safety in the aviation industry."

Steamboat Today has learned that ViaAir has been flying to the classic country music/golf and theme park destination of Branson, Missouri, this summer from Denver, Houston, Austin, Dallas and Chicago.

The Branson Tri-Lakes News reported July 25 that the flights began May 25 and were initially scheduled through the Labor Day weekend, but have since been extended through Dec. 11. The newspaper in Branson also reported that the community's airport manager said customers of the flights were appreciative of the low ticket prices.

The web page of ViaAir's parent company, Via Airlines, indicates that charter flights are a big part of its business, both shuttling business executives in smaller aircraft and flying the public on sports and casino charters. The company owns 30 airplanes, including the Citation Excel executive jet with a capacity of eight and the Embraer EMB 120 Brasilia turboprop.

ViaAir's Facebook page reflects that it took delivery of the first two of nine ERJ-145's in July and August 2015, to enhance its focus on flying collegiate sports teams.

David Perry leaving Aspen Skiing Co. for new affiliated ski conglomerate

Scott Condon - The Aspen Times

David Perry, who played a key role in Aspen Skiing Co.'s marketing and mountain operations for the past 15 years, left the company Monday as its chief operating officer to help launch a new affiliated conglomerate of ski resorts.

Perry will be a full-time consultant to the joint venture created by Aspen Skiing Co. and KSL Capital Partners, Skico announced Tuesday. The joint venture reached agreements in April to purchase Intrawest Resort Holdings LLC and Mammoth Resorts.

Once the purchases are completed, he will be named to a role with the consolidated management company. That role wasn't named Tuesday, though Perry was willing to give up a lucrative position in Aspen.

He joined Skico in 2002 and has steadily gained responsibilities ranging from mountain operations to marketing to summer events. He was promoted from senior vice president, mountain division to COO in November 2014.

"They are going to be big shoes to fill, for sure," Skico CEO Mike Kaplan said.

He said he would determine by early November how to replace Perry. The responsibilities might be divided among existing executives rather than by appointing a replacement, he said.

"The way I'm looking at it is there's a lot of talent internally," Kaplan said.

The new joint venture will have diverse holdings, including Steamboat and Mammoth ski areas and Squaw Valley, which is already owned by KSL.

The proposed purchases cleared the sniff test with federal antitrust regulators earlier this month and are expected to be completed during the third quarter.

"It could be early August," Perry said.

He said he had to quit Skico for legal and antitrust reasons before he could start working as a consultant with the new joint venture. There will be a lot of work to do during a compressed time between the closing of the purchases and the start of ski season. They have to name the new company and work on integration issues.

"The new company hasn't been fully formed yet," he said.

Perry said leaving his position wasn't easy because he enjoys working with Aspen Skiing Co. and loves living in the Roaring Fork Valley, which he called "close to perfect." He and his wife will keep their house in Woody Creek. The timing is right for a career move, he said, because their two daughters are out of high school and attending college.

Perry said he was interested in pursuing the new position because of the involvement of the Crown family, who are also 100 percent owners of Aspen Skiing Co. He said he also has a high regard for KSL.

Perry downplayed individual efforts at Skico.

"It's all been done as a team, really," he said.

He's proud of the company's accomplishments in environmental sustainability, events and marketing. He credited various executives for heading those efforts.

"I think the Aspen-Snowmass brand is as strong as it's ever been right now," Perry said.

Kaplan said Perry made "invaluable contributions to the company and community over 15 years.

"His leadership, industry knowledge and passion for the sport and lifestyle have been key to our success," Kaplan said in a statement. "Although he will be missed, we look forward to working with David and the newly consolidated company on potential future projects and we know he will be a great asset to the new venture."

Perry said it was reassuring to learn this spring and summer that the purchase of Intrawest and Mammoth by affiliates of Skico and KSL was well-received within the ski industry. It's a good reflection on Skico, he said.

"You never really know how you're perceived outside of our little valley," Perry said.

The new company and Skico will be owned separately but they will work together "where it makes sense," Perry said.

Perry and Kaplan said there is no chance of combined season ski passes at the affiliated resorts in winter 2017-18.

Aspen Skiing Co. applauds Vail’s climate initiative, vows to work with foe

Scott Condon - The Aspen Times

Although the resorts aligned with Aspen and Vail are preparing for epic competition for skiers' pocketbooks, the rivalry stops when it comes to environmentalism.

Auden Schendler, Aspen Skiing Co. vice president of sustainability, applauded Vail Resorts' announcement this week that it is aiming to eliminate the company's entire emissions and waste by 2030.

"This is great," Schendler said when reached on vacation Wednesday. "This is a major commitment to clean energy by Vail."

He looks at Vail's initiative as an opportunity for the companies to work together for environmental gains rather than another front where they compete.

“We’re going to be a voice for climate.”

— Aspen Skiing Co.’s Auden Schendler on Aspen and Vail working together

The environmental gurus of the companies already work together on some environmental issues, Schendler said, but now the effort will be ramped up. He believes representatives of the two companies will soon be brainstorming with Holy Cross Energy on ways to increase the amount of renewable energy in the power provider's portfolio.

"How you skin that cat is difficult," Schendler said. "It's hard to do this and it's hard to do it in a legitimate way."

Schendler has been critical for years of renewable-energy efforts that look good on paper but don't actually result in getting more wind or solar farms constructed or hydroelectric plants built.

"You want to be responsible for new, clean power on the grid," he said.

Vail's move — formally called the Epic Promise for a Zero Footprint — is monumental for a couple of reasons, according to Schendler. First, the company is large enough with multiple ski resorts in Colorado, California and British Columbia to make utility companies as well as suppliers and vendors pay attention to its efforts to reduce emissions.

Second, Vail Resorts has vowed for the first time to engage in lobbying for government policy. Schendler and Skico have long advocated that it isn't enough for a company to reduce it emissions; it must also engage in lobbying for policy change.

Vail Resorts is the first company in the tourism industry to join RE100, a global, collaborative initiative by influential companies committed to using 100 percent renewable energy, according to a company announcement Tuesday. That effort has attracted giant corporations such as Coca-Cola, Apple, Facebook and Google.

By taking that step, Vail is doing something Aspen hasn't done.

Schendler said the perfect scenario would be Aspen, Vail and lots of entities committing to Holy Cross Electric to buy a substantial amount of power at a fixed rate over the next 20 years. That would remove uncertainty of power rates for the resort operators and potentially give the utility company the confidence needed to move ahead with additional renewable energy.

Aspen Skiing Co.'s use of renewable energy is directly tied to the Holy Cross portfolio. Holy Cross said in its 2016 carbon emissions report that about 34 percent of its power came from renewable sources.

Schendler is equally optimistic about joint lobbying efforts with Vail Resorts. Skico's position is that reducing carbon emissions internally is a worthwhile endeavor, but it uses the Aspen name as leverage to try to coax policy change.

Vail Resorts' announcement about its environmental initiative doesn't specifically mention it will engage in lobbying policymakers, though it says it will advise guests of its efforts and work with governments on various levels to "bring more renewable energy to the grids where the Company operates its resorts."

Schendler views that as helping shape policy.

"We're going to be a voice for climate," he said of the resort companies. "That's the big news — that they're going to pressure our governments."

Some of Vail's plan consists of practices that Aspen has followed for years, such as an annual report on carbon emissions and campaigns to reduce them. But Aspen Skiing Co. isn't taking credit for Vail's direction, at least not directly.

"This is what we hoped to see throughout the ski industry," he said.

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