by Kristen Lummis, braveskimom.com
“Why did you want to buy Powderhorn?” I asked owner Andy Daly. A veteran of the Colorado ski industry, with an impressive resume that includes President of Vail Resorts and ownership of Eldora Mountain Resort, near Boulder, Colorado, Daly laughed. “I didn’t. But I knew some skiers in the Grand Junction area who kept telling me to look at it. I’d never been up here and when I came last summer to visit, I was blown away. It’s absolutely beautiful. Then I made some calls and did some research to find out what makes Powderhorn unique.”
Daly discovered that although Powderhorn is thought of as a small ski resort in Colorado, the mountain skis big. “Powderhorn has 1,600 vertical feet,” Daly explained. “And it all skis.” He also found amazing loyalty and strong support of the resort in neighboring communities, especially in Grand Junction.
Grand Junction, Colorado is town of almost 59,000 residents, in a county of about 148,000 people. More than 70% of Mesa County is public land, ranging from desert lands along the Utah/Colorado border in the west to the 11,000-foot summit of the Grand Mesa in the east.
Powderhorn Mountain Resort is located on the northern slope of the Grand Mesa, tucked in among healthy pine and fir forest, and some of the most spectacular aspen stands in the state. With views that stretch down the Mesa’s slopes and out over the Roan and Book Cliff Plateaus to the north and Battlement Mesa to the east, the resort is remote from Colorado’s population centers. But it’s only 45 minutes from Grand Junction and local skiers can’t imagine life without the resort.
On the Auction Block
On the morning of August 4th, 2011 Powderhorn’s fate was uncertain. The previous owner, businessman Steve Bailey, had owned the resort since the late 1990s and wanted to retire. In June, he announced that the 45 year-old ski area and its facilities, surrounding real estates holdings, and an overnight lodge and restaurant (which went to a different bidder) would go up for auction.
The auction was viewed with nervous anticipation. Bailey was not an avid skier and many local skiers and riders were hopeful that this time around, the mountain would get an owner would could realize its potential. The Colorado economy is weak and there was also concern that the resort might not sell at all, or would be shuttered, and the assets sold off.
Ski Industry Veterans
When the gavel finally fell, the relief was palpable. The resort had sold to Daly and Denver businessmen, Ken, Tom and John Gart. By any measure, it looked as if Daly and the Garts got a great deal. Their bid, for the resort and 600 acres of developable land, was $1.4 million. When I asked Daly about this low purchase price, he explained that the price was reflective of the large amount of maintenance that had been deferred. Since the ownership change in late September, $800,000 has been invested in the resort. Some of this has gone to paint, carpet and needed renovations. “The lodge looks beautiful,” adaptive skier and instructor Uschi Hall told me after skiing on opening day. “Everyone is so friendly and happy to be there. It was great.”
Other improvements for the 2011-2012 season include new rental equipment, improved snowmaking, new Prinoth snowcats, and a rebuilt gearbox on the resort’s quad chair. A tubing hill and 13’ halfpipe will also be built soon. Possible improvements for next season include expanding the resort’s gladed terrain, adding a cross-country track at the top of the mountain, building lift-served mountain biking trails and adding other summer activities to make Powderhorn a year-round mountain resort.
Lifts Need An Upgrade
Community expectations for the new owners and the resort are running high. At the top of the community’s wish list are improved chairlifts. Two of the resort’s three lifts are long and slow. The new owners are well aware that improving the lifts is essential to recapturing local skiers who currently drive by Powderhorn in favor of nearby Aspen, Telluride and Crested Butte. Although Daly and the Garts are not yet sure what direction they will take with the lifts, they are in the process of exploring their options with Grand Junction-based chairlift manufacturer, Leitner-Poma.
“We Love Powderhorn”
Still, no one in Western Colorado is complaining. Powderhorn is open and optimism is running high. “We love Powderhorn, because it’s Powderhorn,” explained Angie Allen, a mother of two brand-new skiers. “It’s local. It’s a family area and we love being there, but to keep loving Powderhorn, it has to stay open. I can’t imagine a better scenario than what we’ve got. The new owners are legendary Colorado ski people. They know skiing; they know how to operate ski areas. It’s the greatest, healthiest future Powderhorn could hope for.”
And as for the skiing during last week’s opening? Pictures will have to tell the story. As you can see, the Pow! is back at Powderhorn.