Despite lack of snow, new Powderhorn Resort owners hoping to build on successful season
At the dawn of its 46th season, Powderhorn Mountain Resort is celebrating its second birthday.
A conundrum, perhaps, but the answer is easy:
First, there have been 45 previous opening days since Powderhorn turned its first bullwheel in 1966, 45 years of celebrating the resort’s stature as western Colorado’s local ski resort, the one to which we all turn when there’s snow on the ground and a chill in the air.
When the bullwheel spins Thursday to start the 46th year, it also marks the second year in which this family friendly resort on the north flank of Grand Mesa celebrates a new name, a new ownership and a new attitude.
“The first year, our objective was to come in with a humble attitude and truly understand what Powderhorn Mountain Resort means to the community,” Powderhorn General Manager Daren Cole said. “We wanted to process what our guests wanted and determine the level of customer service and experience they want us to provide.”
Cole, whose years in the ski industry include a stint at Crested Butte Mountain Resort, is the most visible of the leadership group introduced last fall by the resort’s owners, Andy Daly and Tom and Ken Gart.
To say the first year under the new name of Powderhorn Mountain Resort was a success is an understatement.
In an industry where even minor victories are unduly celebrated, Powderhorn last winter managed the unheard of.
While the nation as a whole saw skier visits drop to 51 million, the lowest total since 1991-92 (50.8 million), and Colorado resorts overall tallied an 11 percent decline, Powderhorn’s visits were up 5 percent over the previous season.
“And we saw a 15 percent increase in season pass sales,” noted Cole with obvious pleasure. “Across the board we were very happy. We had great snow, skier days were up and season pass sales were up.”
Excited about new owners, new snow and a new season, skiers and riders were spreading the love after shredding the slopes.
“Last year, you could feel the excitement and the energy people were bringing into the shop with them,” said Davis Findley, owner of the Board & Buckle Co. ski shop in Grand Junction. “Everyone was excited about the new owners and they were saying that finally the area was going in the right direction.
“It was very interesting.”
While last year was memorable, it’s a given that in the snow-as-entertainment business, you’re only as good as Mother Nature allows.
“In the end, it all comes down to snow and what happens from there,” Cole said.
So if last year was the first year, this year is the future.
And what about this year, with its blast of early snow to tantalize the crowds and then almost a month of nothing, nada, zip?
“Getting 18 inches of snow right at the Snowball was amazing,” Cole said, referring to the annual event. “That really helped our early season pass sales. “But for now, all we can do is wait.”
Findley said there’s already been a change.
“Last year at the ski swap we had this big dump and (Powderhorn) couldn’t do a thing with it,” he lamented. “This year, (mountain manager) Sam (Williams) and (slope maintenance manager) Dave (Smith) were out immediately.
“Everyone noticed that if it snowed Saturday night, Sunday morning they were at it. (The resort is) being managed differently and people notice those things.”
There’s this funny thing about new relationships: The good ones survive because they can weather the occasional rough patch or two.
“I think people this year area bit more reserved because it’s year two of the marriage and maybe the honeymoon is over a little bit,” Findley offered. “No one’s happy all the time but don’t get me wrong: People are still excited because they came off such a great season last year.”
“There’s still a buzz about all the changes and the promise of the new season.”
“There might have been more excitement last year because of the new owners,” noted Kent Foster, one of the area’s ski pioneers honored at this year’s Snowball. He’s been skiing Powderhorn since it opened and in those 45 years has seen a lot of skiers have their hearts broken by unfulfilled promises.
“But we haven’t had snow for a long time and that changes everything,” he said. “You’ll see: When Powderhorn opens, they will come.”
If you ask Cole, he might tell you everything at Powderhorn has it roots in the people, both those who work there and those who ski and ride its slopes.
“When I first got here, every story I heard said Powderhorn is the soul of skiing,” said Cole. “I found that such an intriguing statement.”
“Then, one sunny day last winter, I was standing on the deck, there was a band playing and the grill was going and there were kids playing, it was just a beautiful day,” Cole recalled. “And suddenly it clicked. At that moment I understood that this is what it’s all about.”
That vision, now reflected in the resort’s official motto, continues to drive the future, he said.
“We are trying to become the best local, family-oriented resort we possible can,” Cole said. “That’s our objective and that’s our focus.”
And at 46 going on two, Powderhorn enjoys the excitement of youth and the wisdom of age to sharpen its focus on the years ahead.