There’s snow on the mountains and temperatures are dropping, as Telluride eases into winter. For many, that means ski season, which officially begins this week.
On Opening Day (today, Nov. 28), Telski CEO Bill Jensen said the mountain experience will be similar to what people have seen in the past, with approximately 112 acres of terrain available — with the possibility of even more areas opening, depending on the weather — which, he said, “is meaningful.”
Telski will operate Chair 1, Chair 4 and the magic carpets. Village Bypass, Lower Boomerang, Upper Misty Maiden and The Meadows will be open.
“With a little luck, the weather forecast looks pretty good, some time over the holiday weekend, we’ll be able to open Upper Boomerang,” Jensen said. “Our snowmaking has been working for four weeks on Upper See Forever and on the connectors to Chair 5 and Chair 6, so that when we get some good, natural snow, that helps us accelerate the opening of more lifts and terrain.
“When you look around the state of Colorado, most of our competitors that are open right now are skiing on similar acreage or even less.”
Brandon Green, Telski director of snowmaking and capital, said that an October cold snap was critical to getting so much terrain open.
“When Arapahoe Basin opened in October, they opened with 10 acres. When Keystone opened a day later, they opened with 40 acres,” Green said. “Vail has had significant investment in snow-making — actually one of the largest single summer capital projects ever — and they opened with 90 acres.”
Jensen said there is a misperception about Thanksgiving snow amounts: People think that because last year was a banner snow season, there must have been tons of snow this time last year. In fact, Jensen explained, the
average snowfall in the month of November is about 37 inches, and last year only 14 inches of snow fell in November. Most of last season’s snow actually fell from the middle of December through the end of March.
“Most of our snow falls in mid-December to the end of February. Last year, March was a bit of an aberration with all the snow that we saw there, which really led to the record year. It was heavier than normal snowfall in March,” Jensen said. “So the opening we had last year is very similar to what we’ll have this year.”
He added that crews will most likely be making snow until Dec. 15.
Green says it’s Telski’s goal to open the entire mountain as quickly as possible.
“So that by the time the Christmas crowd gets here, we’re as open as we can be and access is provided to all of the far-reaching locations like the 10 area, the 9 area and Prospect Basin, somewhere between Dec. 18 and Dec. 25,” Green said.
Jensen explained that Telski’s connection with Vail Resorts and the Epic Pass is a multi-year relationship. When Telski joined the alliance with Vail Resorts last year, he anticipated about 80 percent of the Epic Pass usage at Telluride would come from out-of-state-visitors, while 20 percent would come from in-state visitors.
“But because it was a big snow year the first year, there was a lot of bucket list, pent-up demand in state. So the percentage we saw was about 70 percent from out-of-state and 30 percent from in state,” he said. “I think this year our total Epic Pass visitation will shift back to 80 percent from out-of-state and 20 percent from in state.”
As an alliance partner with the Epic Pass, last year Telski began offering Telluride season passholders 50 percent off at all Vail resorts, including Whistler, Vail, Breckenridge, Keystone, Park City and Heavenly. Telski employees and their families are allowed to ski at all Vail-owned properties for $50.
Sun Valley Resort also joined Epic this year, making it and Telluride the only two resorts that are alliance partners.
“Vail Resorts doesn’t offer season passes like Telluride does,” Jensen explained. “You just buy an Epic Pass. So only full Epic passholders — the people who drop $989 — can ski at Telluride for seven days.
“We have a multi-year relationship with Epic Pass, and when it ends, do I expect Icon to come and say, ‘What would it take for Telluride to be an Icon resort?’” Jensen said. “And I could have that conversation. I can have another conversation with Vail Resorts and say, ‘This is what I want,’ or I could say, ‘We’re not going to be with anybody.’”
Like last year, 10-day Telluride passholders are allowed to ski free from Opening Day until Dec. 18. This year, Telski is also allowing six-day passholders to ski free during the same time frame, enabling multi-day passholders to ski at Telluride for as many as 35 or 40 days.
“And we added the last week of the ski season to both the six- and 10-day passes,” Jensen added. “We did that because we have lots of capacity in December, and we wanted to create something of value in the regional market from Grand Junction down to Durango and Santa Fe for people to buy six or 10 days of skiing with no restrictions and get the benefit of some early and late-season skiing for free.”
THE ART OF SNOWMAKING
Heading into his fifth winter as Telski CEO, Jensen knows that snow is money in the ski resort industry, whether you’re making, accessing, skiing or riding it. And snowmaking is a substantial and ongoing Telski investment, to the tune of $1 to $2 million annually.
“In many ways snowmaking improves the quality of the snow surface for our guests,” Jensen said. “Candidly, it’s a bit of a hedge against the rate of climate change that the ski industry and our planet is experiencing.”
Major improvements to Tekski’s snowmaking started six years ago, just in time to capture the benefit of new technologies that are more efficient at reducing a carbon footprint by decreasing electrical usage. A decade ago, snowmaking involved heavy manual labor, but now Telski snowmakers use iPads and iPhones to control snow guns.
“Which allows us to be more productive and also to conserve more energy because we can monitor every single one of our guns electronically and decide when we start or when we stop making snow,” Jensen explained. “Versus the old way of doing it, which involved people walking up and down the hill, turning guns on and turning guns off, and we might be operating two more hours on every shift than we would using the new technology.”
When Green arrived in 2008, the snowmaking system was a 1,000-gallon-a-minute system with 12 inefficient guns.
“Now we can run about 5,500 gallons a minute, we’ve got about 40 automated guns, and a few hundred low energy tower guns and low energy ground gear,” Green said.
Some may wonder whether there’s enough water to support all the upgraded snowmaking systems.
“Yes and no,” Green said. “Our water rights are secure and our system — and any system, really — is built for the water rights. Previously, the water rights exceeded system capacity and now we’re getting more in-line with our water rights.”
He explained that Telski added a whole new electrical service in the Gorrono park area this summer.
“Previously, we had zero ability to run fan guns in the Gorrono park area,” Green said. “Now we have 28 locations where we can run fan guns. Historically, that’s one of the spots we struggled with because there’s a lot of terrain undulations and a service road there.”
In addition, Telski added 12 low-energy-use snow guns to the snowmaking fleet and launched a mapping project to streamline operations behind the scenes to keep an inventory of equipment and delegate tasks.
“Mapping all of our system infrastructure and mountain infrastructures — power lines, gas lines, fiber optic lines, water lines, high pressure water lines — as well as all of our individual snow-making locations, and inventorying all these guns, is important because when you’ve got 30 guys and 300 or 400 guns and a lot of different locations, things can get mixed up pretty quick,” Green said.
While there were no upgrades this summer to any of the lifts, Jensen said Telski’s priorities are chairs 9 and 10.
“The time frame for those lifts is clearly in the next three to five years,” he said. “Yes, we had this brilliant idea to take Chair 4 out and move it to 9 and put in a new chair at 4, and that’s still a possibility.”
He added that Telski purchased new winch cats to groom the steepest double black diamond terrain, along with new grooming vehicles.
“Skiing steep terrain with groomed corduroy is something that people are passionate about,” Jensen said. “We use a rotation and basically we buy three new grooming vehicles each year, which is a seven-figure investment. They’re very expensive.”
Jensen pointed out that the Life 9 forest health project that Telski undertook this fall removed around 6,000 primarily dead and diseased trees, and helicoptered them out to minimize the environmental impacts both on the terrain and the existing forest.
“We created 44 new acres of gladed skiing, primarily around the Bushwacker and Plunge terrain. And it will be quite noticeable with lots of new terrain and lines that people can ski or ride,” Jensen said.
Telski will wait a year, however, before officially naming any runs on the newly gladed terrain.
“Patrol will start to name them and so a year from now we’ll be able to say, ‘OK, here’s several new names of terrain in those gladed areas,’” he said.
Jensen also listed a number of improvements made over the summer to restaurants across the mountain, including new floors installed in the kitchens at Crazy Elk and Tomboy Tavern, and new point of sale systems installed at Alpino Vino and Bon Vivant. Giuseppe’s has a new ordering counter, and High Camp also has a new counter and carpeting.
“They’re small changes, but they all cost money,” Jensen noted.
Telski also launched a new mobile app last year, which they will offer again this year, that presents up-to-date snow conditions, weather, webcam images, lift status and grooming information. Users can tap into Telski’s Twitter feed and opt-in to receive notifications and important resort updates. Through the app, users may contact ski patrol and key outlets at the resort via its built-in directory. Guests can locate themselves, share their locations or see friends’ locations, and display tracks and replay runs on the Telluride trail map. New this year is a Roundshot Livecam from the top of Revelation Bowl.
“It’s for people who are passionate about Telluride to be able to use that app while they’re skiing the mountain,” Jensen said. “It’s really mountain operations focused.”
Telski hired a new general manager of The Peaks, Craig Schroeder, who has had a long career with Marriott and Hyatt hotels and started a couple of weeks ago. Telski is still in the process of identifying a new head of marketing for the company, a task that Jensen refers to as “a work in progress.”