Grand County implements fire ban

The latest update for the fire ban is that due to the continued extreme fire danger and extended weahter forecast, Rocky Mountain National Park officials have announced a ban on all fires within the park. Campfires including charcoal briquette fires are not permitted anywhere within the park.

At 1pm on Tuesday, June 12th, the Grand County Sheriff’s office and county commissioners implemented a fire ban.
The fire ban is a ban on outdoor fires that include the sale and use of personal fireworks (although at this time commerical professional fireworks displays are allowed). Use of charcoal or gas grills on private property such as home decks is allowed, but the use of charcoal grills on public property is prohibited. Other use that is prohibited are: use of fire pits of any kind on private property (chimineas, wrought iron fire pits and backyard fire pits), burning of fence rows, irrigation ditches, fields, wildlands, trash and debris. It also strongly discourages smoking outside except within enclosed motor vehicles, building or developed picnic grounds or campgrounds.
The restrictions do not restrict the use of fire rings and pits at supervised, developed and established campground in Grand County including Rocky Mountain National Park. The public will be informed if there will be changes to a total ban in campground areas.
Penalties for violations of the fire ban in Grand County start at $100 per violation with court fines up to $1,000.

Top 12 Restaurant of the Month – The Peck House, Empire

Now, I’m cheating, just a little bit, by featuring a restaurant which is not in Winter Park, but rather in Empire on US Highway 40, just after exiting I-70 at Exit 232. In any event, this is my blog, and unless you’re coming from the other direction, you would drive past this restaurant anyway to get to/from Winter Park.

The Peck House dates back to the 1860s and is actually the oldest hotel in Colorado still in operation. As this post is about the restaurant however, I’ll let the history buffs find out more about the hotel’s history by going to their website, http://www.thepeckhouse.com

Gary St. Clair is the owner-chef of the restaurant, and he has won the coveted Governor’s award for his Colorado cuisine. The extensive menu includes a selection of beef, chicken, seafood, game and historic dishes, 17 choices in all, plus specials every night. The dining room itself feels more like someone’s private living room from older times, and boasts a wonderful view of the Empire Valley and Union Pass.

We’d eaten there twice before, both special occasions, as was this one on Monday April 19th, the day after the Winter Park Resort closed for the season. It was difficult to choose something other than our “favorites”, mainly because they were so enjoyable last time around, so we pretty much ended up having what we’d had before: Mrs. Peck’s Steak & Oyster Pie – an historic secret recipe from the past using choice tidbits of beef, mushrooms, oysters, a secret sauce, and deep-dish baked under a puff pastry; Napolean Chardonnay Chicken – chicken sautéed in a chardonnay cream sauce with mushrooms  in a puff pastry; and Raspberry Duck – a boneless breast of roast duck with a raspberry Grand Marnier sauce. My 3-¾ year-old daughter had steak from the kids menu! This was preceded by a seafood combo appetizer of smoked salmon, trout and shrimp, and escargot with mushrooms.

Needless to say, the food was once again fantastic and of course we were guilty of eating way too much. Check out the wine list also for not only a unique presentation but a variety of wines that you may not even have come across before, and all at very reasonable prices.

What we enjoy about the Peck House is the uniqueness of the dining experience, the history of the hotel and all the antiques everywhere, and a great menu that you won’t find replicated anywhere else. It’s definitely worth the drive over Berthoud Pass and back if you’re already in Winter Park, or as a stop for dinner on either the inward or outward journey if Winter Park is your vacation destination.

Top 10 Economic Development Issues facing Small Businesses in Winter Park

On Monday of last week, along with eleven other invitees of the Winter Park & Fraser Valley Chamber of Commerce, and with an ominous mantle of one the “Small Business Leaders” in the community, I attended a round-table discussion with Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper on Economic Development Issues for Small Businesses in Colorado. 

Now, I’m not a huge fan of meetings of this nature as it is, let alone with a political bent seeing as the Mayor is a Colorado Gubernatorial Candidate, but I thought it would be interesting to attend and see what he had to say. 

Prior to that, however, I thought I better be a good boy and do my homework, just in case there was a chance I got to speak and I needed to sound semi-intelligent. Having done quite a bit of research and applied a good deal of thought on the subject, I was pleased to be able to ask a question which was two-part. The first part was actually offered up by one of our Homeowners (thanks Bob) who I approached due to the fact that the subject matter was right up his street. The question was, “Can you draw any parallels between the challenges you faced operating a business in the 80’s with the economic climate experienced over the last 1 ½ years, and” (I added) “what strategies did you employ to overcome these challenges?” 

Rather disappointingly, he didn’t really answer the question, other than to say he did see some parallels (although didn’t identify them), plus he bought up a lot of real estate! However, rather than waste the material I collated in the days before the meeting, I thought I would share with you my own Top 10 Economic Development Issues for Small Businesses in Winter Park. 

1. Employment Instability: There is no doubt that a shortage of affordable housing, combined with the high cost of living, is inextricably linked with the difficulty employers face in hiring and retaining good quality employees. I’ve often commented on how difficult it is for people to relocate here, not just with the associated costs of moving oneself and maybe family, but also adjusting to the altitude, the long and often harsh winters and concentration of jobs in the tourism industry. At 53%, Grand County is third behind only Summit County (57%) and Gilpin (81%) in the highest percent of jobs in the tourism sector, out of all counties in Colorado.

 2. Seasonality: While we make bold efforts at developing our summer business in the form of golf, hiking, biking, rafting and other activities, the ski industry is still our bread and butter, and for Staywinterpark contributes more than 80% of our annual lodging revenue. The downturn of the last two seasons has put even greater pressure on businesses to survive during these times, when cash flow is more like a trickle, and the peaks and troughs of occupancies and consumer spending patterns make it tough to budget effectively. 

3. Multiplier effect of spending: Restaurants and retail rely greatly on locals spending in their establishments, especially in the off-season. When vacationers spend less in the shops and restaurants in the valley, and at a time when the American public in general are looking to reduce debt and increase savings (provided they still have a job), the incidence of spending in the community is less because business owners and locals have less to spend due to the fact their businesses have made less money and hours may have been cut. 

4. Bank lending decisions: Being an ex-banker (when it was viewed as an honorable profession), I could talk about this one for hours, but the plain fact of the matter is that due to poor decision-making on loans and questionable trading in complex financial instruments that evolved spectacularly fast (because there was money to be made and greed fuelled it’s evolution), the banking industry arrived at an abyss where it was “scared” to lend money any more.  

Even sound businesses have been shunned and the focus has been on building up capital reserve ratios rather than lending money to small businesses. Last year, bank lending fell 7.4%, the biggest decline in almost 60 years and there is no sign of a turnaround. Banks face further losses on mortgages and commercial loans so lack the reserves to increase lending. This is a problem because small businesses with fewer than 100 employees accounted for almost half of net job growth during the last two recoveries. 

5. Event Sponsorship: In times of recession, charities usually see decreased inflows of contributions from the public who either cannot give, or reduce the amount they are able to give due to their own changing financial situation. In our community, the Chamber of Commerce relies on small businesses as benefactors to put up the cash or donate whatever they can in trade to sponsor the big events of the summer, organized as they are to attract visitors. Cash-strapped local businesses are facing increasing difficulty in committing funds or resources to support and sponsor these community events, and two tough seasons in a row poses a real problem for our Chamber in securing the financing necessary to put these events on. 

6. Construction Industry: The current housing glut, with unsold new homes and foreclosed homes on the market, has precipitated a downward pressure on prices, created negative equity for many and brought a near halt to new builds. All of this has had a knock-on effect within the various construction trades and businesses and stores supplying fixtures and fittings for homes. 

7. Lodging booking trend: This season, we have actually seen more stays (more cleans and higher housekeeping costs) and more overall nights, although the actual average length of stay has declined and all at significantly reduced rates with people shopping more, booking much later in order to get the better deal, evidencing less brand loyalty and ending up spending less while they’re here. None of this is good news. Winter Park’s average daily rate is, I think with only one exception, the lowest of all the major ski resorts reporting to the Mountain Travel Research Program, and with a new psychology ingrained in the consumer that encourages them to shop and wait, it will be years before we can start to push those rates up again. 

8. Tax Cuts: The March editorial by Pat Weisner in Colorado Biz Magazine made the argument that government can only create jobs by making life easier for businesses. It can give tax credits, it can subsidize a market like it has for new home buyers, or it can incentivize businesses by easing the tax load. These things give more profit to businesses so they can invest in themselves. The bottom line, he contests, is that government should ease the tax burden, particularly on small business so it can prosper and provide more people with jobs. 

9. Consumer Confidence and Spending: Ultimately, my feeling is that only when things on a macro-economic level improve will things get better for small businesses. Consumer spending, which accounts for 70% of gross domestic product, has a direct correlation with the consumer confidence index. That will only start to go up appreciably with an improvement in labor market conditions, an upturn in the housing industry, and full restoration of credit availability without punitive terms. Until then small businesses are grinding it out, for the most part, on their own. 

10. The purpose of business is to win respect: I read an excellent article recently by Michael Skapinker in the Financial Times which was sparked by readers’ e-mails indicating a deep unease with the way companies (the prime example being the banks) have been run and the role they play in communities. The relationship between business and society prompts a broader question: what is business actually for? 

To some, he argues, the answer is easy: to make a profit. “Profits are certainly essential. Without them, businesses cannot survive. Making money is also the pleasure of business. Money matters to individuals too. You can buy houses, holidays and financial security. But money can’t buy you love, or (arguably) happiness”.

So, if making money is not the purpose of business, what is? Peter Drucker, the great management writer, said it was to serve customers. Without satisfied customers, companies cannot survive either. 

Skapinker draws on the American psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to supply the answer, the second highest need – to achieve esteem and respect – which he suggests people most crave from work: “Respect not just from colleagues but from the world. No one wants to cringe when they tell people where they work.” 

So maybe business is all about making profits and serving customers by doing something we can be proud of.

Opening Day is coming and the Ski Area is sowing its seeds!

With opening day just 5 days away (November 18th), all eyes are on the heavens – or rather the forecasts – to determine what sort of opening day it will be. While it’s snowing as I write, and with snowfall set to continue through the weekend, the longer-range forecast calls for sunny skies through the following weekend: 10 days ahead is as far as it goes.

Consequently, don’t expect multiple trails and excellent conditions from day 1, even though things can turn very quickly if a bunch of storms come in one after the other over a period of a few days.

Something that the ski area is hoping will help precipitate (coincidental use of the word – my apologies) greater snowfall, is active “cloud seeding”, whereby the resort in partnership with Denver Water, will be seeding moisture-laden clouds with  silver iodide particles released into the sky to increase snowfall.  Vail Resorts has done this for some years, and this is not the first time Winter Park has participated, having conducted seeding during the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons. The one benefit of cloud seeding over snowmaking is the creation of additional snow throughout the area, rather than on specific trails.

It’s all planned to occur in the first 3 months of the season at a cost of $110K, shared between Denver Water and Winter Park Resort, and apparently produces a 10-15% precipitation increase. How one measures this, I wouldn’t know, but anything to prompt greater snowfall during the season is good for me.

May our harvest be truly bountiful!

Denver International Airport

I returned from a conference on Wednesday of this week (October 28th, 2009) – the day that Denver was making the headlines for a massive winter storm warning, one of the coldest days on record for October, treacherous driving conditions, etc, etc. The day before my return, and during the day of travel, I kept checking “flight delays” and my flight was scheduled to depart, and arrive, on time.

Other than a little turbulence coming in to land, and not being able to see the runway until a couple hundred feet from touchdown, it was not much different from any other landing, and we were actually 10 minutes early which I found remarkable in itself. We were delayed, however, docking at our gate because the departing plane was being de-iced prior to its departure.

My point is that ever since the airport was built, for me the airport is one of the best I’ve flown in and out of, and a true asset for Colorado, especially our destination travel business. Sure, there are some detractors out there, business travelers especially it seems who want to come out of the hotel following a conference in downtown Denver, cross the street and enter into the airport check-in area the other side. I look at DIA when it comes to helping our business (as well as my own travel), and in this light it’s an often overlooked benefit.

The airport itself is wonderfully spacious, light and airy, and very easy to get around. I’ve experienced hardly any delays at baggage claim and never had to use outlying parking, with always a choice of open-air or covered parking at the terminal. Once you’re on the road, it’s interstate (I-70) all the way to exit 232, then 26 miles on US Highway 40 to Winter Park – up and over Berthoud Pass which has impeccable maintenance and plowing. Everyone I talk to that lives here in the valley say they “breathe a sigh of relief” when they get on Hwy 40. The first stop-light you encounter after leaving the airport, is the first left-hand turn for the Winter Park Ski Area at the Vintage Hotel, 2 miles from downtown.

I went to TripAdvisor and amazingly saw only 4 reviews for the airport. However, if you go to Yelp.com, you can read 174 of them! Food quality is very important for many travelers, either before their flight or in transit. My tip – no matter which concourse I depart from (A, B or C) – I always go to Concourse A and eat at Jimmy’s restaurant. For me, this has the best food of all the choices at the airport – breakfast, lunch or dinner, plus some decent wines. They even suggest pairings! Once you’ve eaten, if you depart from B or C concourse, it’s a quick one or two-stop train ride, with escalators and conveyor belts to help speed you to your gate.

All-in-all, Denver International Airport is a pleasure to fly to and from, and if just one aspect of your vacation can have a little less stress, and the whole aspect of flying can be incredibly stressful at times, then make Colorado your destination and fly into DIA.