Telluride Scores a Tourism Trifecta
by Seth Cagin
Dec 23, 2009 | 3074 views | 14 14 comments | 32 32 recommendations | email to a friend | print
LOCAL PERSPECTIVE

Still reeling from the Great Recession, with local businesses under tremendous pressure as they wait for the economy to improve, Telluride just completed a phenomenal week that offers real hope to anyone trying to make a living here.

The community just celebrated the completion of the major phase of runway improvements at the Telluride Regional Airport, brilliantly hosted its first World Cup, and saw the revival of its landmark destination hotel. All three of these major developments reflect that fact that at least some portion of the local population has been hard at work to build a sustainable visitor-based economy.

Reliable, affordable access. Full-service accommodations. And major events to bring visitors during shoulder seasons. Most serious observers would agree that these are three of the most significant bases of a tourist economy for Telluride. All three have been challenging over the last three decades. But as of last week, Telluride made huge gains in all three.

Even though it is almost 25-years-old, the Telluride Airport has not yet fulfilled its potential. The reason has been the notorious dip in the original runway, which kept the airport below the safety rating it could achieve from the Federal Aviation Administration without the dip. A higher safety rating would qualify the airport for more types of aircraft.

That improved safety rating is now, hopefully, just one year away. The dip is gone, following $24 million in work last summer, and just one summer’s construction remains for the airport to be able to accommodate 74-passenger Q400 planes. The bulk of that work is already approved and funded by the FAA for next year. Even assuming the airport achieves its new rating, there will remain challenges before the airport actually sees its first scheduled Q400 flights, not least getting airlines to come here. (This will be especially problematic if the Telluride and Montrose Regional Air Organization declines to participate, as, unfortunately, it has for the most part for the last decade.) But for the first time it will be possible. If we can actually get frequent, affordable flights between DIA and TEX, we may finally be at the point where we no longer have to battle the longstanding perception (and reality) that Telluride has been expensive and difficult to get to. That can only help us build visitation numbers to a sustainable level.

It has taken almost a quarter-century of persistence and patience from the Telluride Regional Airport Authority Board of Directors to get this far. Twenty-four year board chair John Micetic was honored at Thursday’s celebration of the new runway’s completion by having the airport renamed the Telluride Regional Airport at Micetic Field, a well-deserved recognition. Not only Micetic and the board, but current and 17-year airport director Rich Nuttall and former airport director Dick Arnold deserve credit, as do former Telski CEO Ron Allred and President Jim Wells, and many others.

Immediately after Thursday’s Grand Opening of the new airport runway – featuring the first man to set foot on the moon, Neil Armstrong, and garnering national media attention – there was a large event at The Peaks to celebrate Telluride’s first World Cup. There were a reported 700 people there, which begs a question: Can anyone remember the last time The Peaks hosted such a large gala?

Under the new ownership of a local group of investors, with a new management team in place and with the irrepressible Mike Hess running the sales and marketing operation, The Peaks has jumped back to life after years of decrepitude. OK, decrepit may be (a tad) too strong to describe how lackluster The Peaks has been for at least the last ten years and irrepressible may be too weak to describe Hess, who has always excelled at throwing a party, but there is no question that The Peaks finally shows promise of fulfilling its potential. As is true of the airport, there is more work to be done to get there, more parties, more marketing, more renovations. But there is every indication now that it will happen. And Telluride has not just one major hotel now, but two, with the Capella Telluride up and running. Yes, both are in Mountain Village, leaving the town of Telluride out in the bitter cold with its handful of very small boutique hotels and aging condos and no full-service hotel. But still, we can now, as a resort, actually match up to other major ski resort destinations in terms of accommodations. Like the improved airport, this development has been a very long time coming. Its apparent arrival is seriously overdue, and all the more welcome for that.

Finally, kudos to Telluride Ski and Golf Co. CEO Dave Riley, who has done more than anyone would have thought possible just a few years back, deploying extremely limited resources to improve the Telluride Ski Area. This includes not only opening up spectacular new terrain, but also luring the FIS and USSA to Telluride for a snowboarding World Cup this past week. Thanks to early-season snow, Telluride looked and skied great last week, as we hosted athletes and their entourages and the international media. World Cup events put ski resorts on the map, and this one was Telluride’s first. But it may not be the last, with early indications that Telluride pulled it off – thanks to untold hours of work by Telski employees, the Telluride Visitors Board under the leadership of Scott McQuade, and others on the Telluride World Cup Organizing Committee. The week before Christmas has never been a big week in Telluride, but it was big this year, and will be big, hopefully, for years to come. One more week of robust business in an economy that enjoys, at best, 15 or 16 good weeks a year, is a major achievement.

As is true of air service (actually getting the flights here) and hotel accommodations (especially in the moribund town of Telluride), there is more to be done in terms of both ski area improvements and adding weeks of viable commerce to our still-frail economy. More money is needed for marketing, for example, if the Telluride Tourism Board is to build on an encouraging start in successfully giving Telluride an effective position in a highly competitive market.

But there will be time to look to the challenges ahead. For now, this week before the holidays in this most challenging time, we can stop briefly and celebrate the glass that may now, finally, be more than half full.
Comments
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People are funny
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December 26, 2009
To Do the Math...Really you can get more service to TEX tomorrow with 4 Million Dollars when the airlines the air org are pursuing are saying they don't have the airplanes? You should go to the next air org board meeting then and tell them how? Would you be able to do it to a level where you could bring in as many people to the area as are presently coming here now on the flights? It takes alot of small planes of 37 seats or less (Great Lakes Flies 19 seaters) to make up for the big airplanes flying to Montrose. Both airports and the service to them is needed to support the local tourism economy.
Do the Math
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December 26, 2009
Well people are funny...

It is a math equation. Telluride pays for what 90% of of the airline taxes and puts 95% of the benifit into MTJ. That is *ss backwards. If you gave me 4 million dollars I gurantee I could get better service into to TEX tomorrow.

People are Funny
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December 26, 2009
Concerning the comment below "Bring back 10 flights a day into TEX for starters and stop making excuses," easy to say but the question is how? The air org said they have approached for years airlines with aircraft that can get into TEX and with money on the table but that these airlines had other committments and uses for their planes. You can rail on TMRAO for what you call "Excuses" but I dont hear any "How" from anyone here? Money can't always buy you everything. If planes are committed and not availabile they are committed and not available until something changes with the airline.

As for MTI and their not having public meetings this seemed like a reasonable thing for another blogger to bring up when comments are thrown out that TMRAO is not Transparent? How can bloggers below support the guy who formed MTI a non-public meeting organization and call out TMRAO for being non-transparent when their meetings are public. This lack of logic...better yet selective lack of logic is what makes some people pretty funny to me. You think people won't see this inconsistency? Throwing other issues on the fire to divert attention won't work to distract from the truth either. People are smarter than that.

Last, has anyone else noticed in this editorial that TMRAO gets called out for a lack of participation on TEX Flights? How can this be when TEX has had winter flights with USAirways for years that are guaranteed by the air organization! That kind of seems like participation to me! If it isn't participation I'd like to know what is!
Jack Spratt
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December 25, 2009
I agree that a nice comment from the ever present non-committal, middle of road, uncontroversial Watch on Christmas is timely, it would also be nice if we had a newspaper in Telluride that took an editorial position more than several "special holiday issues" during the year.

The Peaks deal is about time. Too bad that the Town of Mountain Village did not bother to show some leadership and move to make Blackstone sell the place three years ago. All they had to do was let Blackstone know that their antics would not be tolerated.

The ski resort is moving in the right direction. Riley has won me over. He is a hard-working and dedicated CEO.

The airport is another matter. Since the founding of the airport, it has been controversial. In the election to fund the construction, the Town of Telluride only approved the ballot issue by three votes. That is the Telluride story.

It is something like 49% verses 51% between the growth and no-growth bunch and since the Watch came to town it has been the no-growth crowd that has won over and over again.

If we had another vote on whether to keep open the airport or just close it--I wonder which side would win?

And, look where it has gotten us.

NO LEADERSHIP OTHER THAN NO, NO, NO.
Dan Huchinson
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December 24, 2009
so to the I read the Watch and Realist in Telluride posters, which member of TMRAO are you? You obviously have more information than the community has and sounds like even the rest of your board. Have some nads and state your name! How can the air org participate more than they have?

Bring back 10 flights a day into TEX for starters and stop making excuses. That is all we hear is excuses and Tom is working on it. Tom, Tom, Tom.. sounds like a dictatorship to me. You want to fight the community and risk it all? keep fighting. We could have 5 dash 8's day coming from Denver and 5 a day coming from the west into TEX right now. All it takes is CAN DO attitude and wanting to! TMRAO has 10 years worth of excuses not to support TEX and it obvious the community is tired of them. You are a day late and many dollars too much. How much money do you have aside for TEX, I read the Watch Poster? Probaly not more than you gave to Telski to do marketing last year.. Should we keep asking questions? I think we should.. You also attack MTI for not having public meetings but do you really want to go back to the days when everyone chooses the marketing plan and the creative? Should we go back to ballerena's 4wheeler ads? Oh wait that was the TMRAO curent members who voted Dirk off that were responsible. If my memory serves me correctly Rick was president and Tom was vp and Tricia treasurer of the old visitors bureu. The community blew it up because it was dysfunctional! Open or closed meetings are not the issue, it is governence.

Your suggestion of sending a reporter to TMRAO is laughable, for what? So you can go into executive session and remove another freedom fighter? NOT You are EXPOSED!!!
FaceOnMars (nli)
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December 24, 2009
Why is there often "love it or leave it" attitude being pushed via the same old PR routine ... which is often very tiring.

I have long accepted that some will have a different perspective than me & you can't please everyone all the time.
Great article!
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December 24, 2009
Why bloggers have to be sOOOOOOOOOOOO negative. this is a great unifying article. If you bloggers are really that misrable, why do live here? It is a choice and it seems many in this community choose to be misrable. Be thankfull for all that we have.
Realist in Telluride
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December 24, 2009
Exactly what do you mean when you say "This will be especially problematic if the Telluride and Montrose Regional Air Organization declines to participate, as, unfortunately, it has for the most part for the last decade?" Once again you ponticate on something you only know about via hearsay. Hmmm, it seems to me an editor and owner of a newspaper ought to do his homework. As for our economy, the air service started last weekend for the 2009/2010 season, and skier numbers are well over what they were last year. It took the airport 20 years to finally do it's improvements, and you choose to diss the air org which has been working diligently trying to secureflights into a disfunctional airport. Perhaps if you sent a reporter to the meetings, which are all open to the public (unlike MTI's board meetings), your paper would be better able to report on the realities of the situation.
FaceOnMars (nli)
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December 24, 2009
It's truly fascinating to me how realtors like to get involved with airports to various degrees in a myriad of different manners.

Is there something about the training of realtors which lends some sort of expertise to the aviation transportation market?

Should we all feel safer if there's a realtor on a flight if the pilot and co-pilot become ill?
George Harvey
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December 24, 2009
Nice article Seth. I am always amazed at how some in our community can turn a positive article into a negative. Maybe the airport is not the problem.
FaceOnMars (nli)
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December 24, 2009
I'll start with the good words and move forward from there:

Congratulations to those who've taken on the risk in a free market endeavor to apparently offer a much better "product" in the local lodging sector! I truly hope they succeed in offering an affordable and quality service.

While it's not my thing to engage in competition regarding snowboardng, I share the "love of the game" with the competitors of the World Cup series. I'll give Telski credit for trying to open up as much terrain as possible in early season conditions, but lets not loose sight on the fact that the competition did encroach upon a very limited amount of early season terrain. I don't want to speculate on the associated costs assumed by Telski to setup and promote the event, but it might very well be another significant expense which contribute to higher lift access fees. I suppose the ROI via greater exposure & future returns might balance things out in the long run, but it's a gamble nonetheless.

As to the praise offered to the TEX "improvements": it's almost akin to congratulating the pharohs for the construction of the pyramids. Minus any "Star Trek Technology" which might be brought online in the future, flying into Telluride will ALWAYS be more of a gamble vs. flying into Montrose. The $55 million pricetag is outrageous and a slap in the face to working people trying who are simply trying to get by in life. Please spare me the Reaganomics trickle down benefits which "regular people" will reap from such an "improvement". This is essentially a corporate welfare initiative base on false economics to increase capacity air transportation by throwing oodles of cash at something which will most likely only yeild a fraction of the funding.
Agreed on Telluride
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December 23, 2009
From what I've read it looks like the air org has agreed on Telluride Airport needing more service and in fact has been pursuing this service for years. I found and read the letter to the editor referred to by "I read the Watch". I can see from this letter that the Air Org is presently supporting service at the Telluride Airport and pursuing service with airlines that can get in here now and/or with more airlines that can get in when the airport project is done. Over the last few years they have continued growing service to Montrose when their efforts to grow service at Telluride were stymied. Do people think that people flying to Montrose Airport don't make it to Telluride to spend money here? I agree more service should be gotten to Telluride when they can but with what I've heard of the operational challenges at Telluride this service isn't easy to get. If I were a retailer I would think a dollar spent in Telluride by a person who flew into Montrose is as good as a dollar from someone flying into Telluride. Keep trying air org for service to Telluride but if you can't get this with your best efforts keep bringing airlines to Montrose. It all helps business!
Neal Elinoff
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December 23, 2009
I've read that 92% of our lodging and restaurant taxes collected by Telluride establishments are spent on flights to Montrose. It definitely benefits Wal-Mart and City Market, but it sure would be nice to have those flights terminate in Telluride. Maybe Clarks Market, Village Market and the local, Telluride economy could now start to benefit. Plus visitors wouldn't have the added burden of an hour and a half added onto their travel time. Hopefully this is what Seth was addressing. I'm certain that if visitors could ski the same day that they travel we'd have a real, weekend trade instead of only resort, destination trade.
I Read the Watch
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December 23, 2009
In regards to Seth's slam on the air organization its interesting in that it suggests he doesn't read his own paper. A letter to the editor from Tom Hess on December 2nd titled TMRAO Has ‘Multiple Strategies in Place’ for TEX...Tom Hess explains that the air org has guaranteed USAirways service to Telluride Airport in the Winter since 2004. He further states that funds have been in the air org budget for many years and that the organization has approached all possible airlines for service and offered guarantees to get the service. This makes one wonder what Seth means by the Air Org participating in gaining new service for Telluride Airport. A question back to you Seth...How can the air org participate more than they have? They gained service through guarantees and continue to guarantee this service. They have funds set in their budget for service and they talk to airlines that can fly to Telluride to try to convince them to fly here? Seth if you have some magic you ought to give it to TMRAO as they seem to be doing what they should to get air service to Telluride and are certainly "Participating" in this process.