Pow /pou/ — noun: The best type of snow; An interjection expressing impact or amazement. Source: UrbanDictionary.com
“Why did you want to buy Powderhorn?” I asked new 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.”
What Daly discovered is that although Powderhorn is considered a small ski resort by Colorado standards, the mountain skis big. “Powderhorn has 1,600 vertical feet,” Daly explained. “And it all skis.” He also discovered strong local support and loyalty to the resort in neighboring communities, especially in Grand Junction.
Grand Junction, Colorado is town of nearly 59,000 residents, in a county of about 150,000 people. Over 70% of Mesa County is public land, ranging from desert lands along the Utah/Colorado border at the county’s western edge to the 11,000 foot summit of the Grand Mesa in the county’s east end.
Powderhorn Mountain Resort is situated on the northern slope of the Grand Mesa, nestled 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 most of Colorado’s population. But it’s only 45 minutes from Grand Junction and local skiers can’t imagine life without Powderhorn.
Up For Auction
Yet, on the morning of August 4th, 2011 Powderhorn’s fate was unclear. The previous owner, businessman Steve Bailey, had owned the Resort since the 1998 and was ready to retire. Looking to wrap things up quickly, he put 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) 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, someone with a passion for snowsports would take over and realize the mountain’s potential. There was also concern that in the weak Colorado economy the resort might not sell at all, or would be shuttered, and the assets sold off.
Buyers With Experience
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 told me that the price was actually reflective of the large amount of deferred maintenance needed at the resort. 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 this season include a new season-long ski rental program for children, improved snowmaking, new Prinoth snowcats, and a rebuilt gear box on the resort’s quad chair. A tubing hill and 13′ halfpipe will also be constructed this season. Possible improvements for next season include expanding the resort’s famed 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 better position Powderhorn as year-round mountain resort.
What About the Lifts?
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. Daly recognizes this, and knows 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’ll 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, the local mother of two young 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.
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