The Good News: Timberline had great snow on the open trails in spite of record warm temperatures just the week before.
The Bad News: Only 14 of ~35 trails were open and there were NO Blue trails open from the top of the mountain. "Upper Dew Drop" - my personal favorite - was closed due to snowmaking and "Upper ALmost Heaven" was in very poor shape with dirt showing thru the snow and no visible snowmaking in process.
The temperatures were frigid. I expected the snow-guns to be blasting on all of the closed slopes but that did not appear to be the case.
It appears that Timberline lacks snowmaking capacity?? Is my observation correct? It appears that Snowshoe and other resorts recovered their base much more rapidly than Timberline after the warm spell. What's the issue?
Timberline has a great mountain, good snow and many good trails. However, they will never reach potential if they cannot expand snowmaking capacity. THoughts?
Timberline's management is well... lets just say not top notch. There have been issues with snowmaking at this resort for *years*.
No, they lack moneymaking capacity!
The Dr. there thinks 75 cents is change for your dollar! Ha-ha...anyone remember a few years ago when the EPA shut them down for blowing bacteria-infested snow. Seems they told the Dr. to fix something in the lake that Summer...and he figured he'd save a buck by not! I remember them scavenging parts off the plows to get one operating. Basically, you really need to spend a buck to make a buck ten...and he wants to spend 50 cents! T-line is the LAST place I'd buy "slope side" property which in any given season may depreciate to just a cabin in the woods!!!
Has anyone seen a business sit on the brink of bankruptcy for so long??? It's only a matter of time.
1000 feet of vertical, in the snow belt (150" annually), relatively convenient access to DC (and getting better). A slope-side T-Line condo wouldn't remain a cabin in the woods for long if T-Line did go under.
You may need to buy a book or two by Warren Buffet on investing. And no, I am not a current T-Line property owner.
There is not a lot of development around Timberline because so much of the land in the Canaan Valley is owned by the National Forest, the National Wildlife Refuge, and the state parks. Public land is the main barrier to development in the CV. That's good if you own because it's a curb on development and will help preserve the natural beauty of CV for the future. That's one major reason I purchased a condo at Timberline.
That being said, there are still lots for sale on the mountain (some for as much as $350,000) and plenty of houses both on Timberline and Old Timberline that are selling for well over $500,000. The people who buy these properties are the key to Timberline's survival. As my wife put it, the place is too big too fail--property owners have too much invested in the mountain at this point. I'm a bit more skeptical. In the worst case scenario (bankrupcy), property owners probably could band together, buy the mountain, and run it as a coop similar to Mad River Glenn. However, I think it is more likely that a Crotched Mountain scenario will occur. A private company will snatch it from the throws of bankrupcy (buy it for pennies on the dollar), invest a lot of money into snowmaking and high-speed lifts, and try to steal destination business from from Wisp, 7 Springs, and Snowshoe--Timberline's main competitors--and also try to attract more commuters with the new road. Even with the current problems with Corridor H, it will still cut a lot of time off the drive for Northern VA skiers--a potential commuter group.
PS If you study property values at Timberline, you'll note that they have been going up. Future expectations, in other words, are still pretty high. The place, in short, still has the potential of being the Deer Valley of the Mid-Atlantic.
[This message has been edited by johnfmh (edited 01-13-2004).]
I would suspect the same thing for many mid-Atlantic resorts. Given the variability in weather, skier visits, etc. it's pretty hard to sell a resort business plan (like T-line must have some time ago) to an investor by concluding "and I'm gonna get all your money back on lift tickets and rentals!"
Timberline is probably a profitable enterprise based on real estate. It certainly seems that they have concentrated far more on real estate than ski area development since I started going there in the late 80s. And if they are run as a business there's some sense in the matter.
T-line's owners may be treating the ski area as a loss leader and not much more. They realize the ski area will help housing and rental values as it expands recreational opportunities, but they aren't going to go an inch further than they have to in order to maximize property values-- eg "why buy a better snowmaking system when skier visits are inelastic after this much output" or something like that.
I don't necessarily condone such an approach to running a ski resort, and this is just a hypothesis. Still, if their business plan is close to this one it is a shame, because the terrain at Timberline really is some of the best we have. A little extra attention could yield some good dividends for them... consider: if you had some friends who had never skied before, and they wanted to know whether to go to Timberline/CV or Snowshoe/Silver Creek for a weekend, where would you send them? Everyone of us who says or thinks "Snowshoe" just took a long weekend of lodging, tickets, apres ski etc. from T-line; or, more to the point, they did it to themselves.
Near term, T-Line ownership/mgmt can afford to stress real estate over ski ops. However, built into $300K to $500K real estate values are the expectation of ammenities/services to be provided in the future. These services include high-speed lifts, snow making, grooming, better base lodge, etc. Without the under-lying ski area value, the real estate values are based on, in essence, a pyramid scheme. I think the bigger real estate investors in T-Line will be the ones who eventually force a service upgrade. (May not occur with existing ownership.)
As a constrast, the underlying value of Alta et al is built into the terrain, abundant snowfall and proximity to SLC. People will ski Alta despite slow lifts and little snow making because of the terrain and snow. Do people fly cross-country for T-Line's natural snow and terrain?
I really don't see the MRG co-op idea succeeding at T-Line. MRG has a much wider base of skiers than T-Line to support a co-op and the main purpose of the MRG co-op was to pretty much keep things exactly as they were. In that respect, the MRG owners are an extremely conservative group!
The main complaint people are having with T-Line is wrt service; that will require more investment, hence, deeper pockets.
You are absolutely correct that real estate is the way most resorts make money. The story is well-documented in Hal Clifford's book, _Downhill Slide_. Clifford was the former real estate editor for Ski Magazine.
The challenge for a place like Timberline is what happens when the well runs dry. There's not much real estate left on the mountain. In the 2.5 years, I've owned at Timberline, 18 houses have been built on North Face alone.
As I see it, there are only two viable models for Timberline's future once the real estate runs dry and the current owner is forced to sell.
MODEL 1: Mad River Glen
Home owners buy the mountain out of bankrupcy for pennies on the dollar, make minimal improvements, and try to run the mountain as a coop. If the mountain were run as a coop, most money made would be put back into the mountain, so gradually we might see some improvement over time. Shareholders would be compensated with season passes and capital appreciation on their shares, but no dividends would be paid out.
MODEL 2: Crotched Mt.
When Peak Resorts bought Crotched, they bought it with the intention of running a ski operation only. They have no intention of developing real estate (at least that's what they claim). Their focus is on high-volume, small mountains near major metropolitan markets. Admittedly, Timberline is not yet a commuter mountain but with the right lifts, lodges, and other ammenities (terrain park, skating rink, food services, luxury hotel, etc) it could do 300,000-450,000 visits a year (the same numbers as 7 Springs and Snowshoe). Currently, Timberline and Canaan Valley combined only do approximately 130,000 visits a year. This is pathetic given the incredible terrain at both areas, but especially Timberline. Timberline is a much better mountain than Crotched. It also does not have Waterville and Loon as neighbors. If run properly, the mountain would smoke the competition, and it would not cost that much money--8-12 million properly invested would do it (that's about the value of those 18 houses on North Face).
In the meantime, people like myself and Ryan C watch and wait. We also enjoy the empty weekends we've been having at the mountain because of poor marketing and lackluster snowmaking. Heck, having White Lightning and Thunderdraft to myself on a Saturday is a better deal, hands down, than Western Territory on a normal weekend. I can't tell you how many times I got to the lip of White Lightning last weekend, looked down the first headwall and did not see a single skier. What an incredible feeling it is to know that I can ski that trail any way I want with no interference from other skiers. This is an experience one almost never has on a groomed trail on a SATURDAY in January on the East Coast!
PS I lean towards the Crotched model b/c because the property owners at Timberline can't agree on anything, let alone how to run a ski resort. The arguments we are having about trash removal and compactors is a case in point. Also, I think a corporate entity will snatch the mountain out of bankrupcy faster than a cooperative group.
[This message has been edited by johnfmh (edited 01-13-2004).]
Certainly some level of capital improvement is needed to keep Timberline ski area open. I think the question is how much. I am basing my opinion largely off the posts here, but it seems T-line is doing the bare-minimum to keep the mountain functioning. Or, to be more charitable, they are not investing the amount it would take to move T-line to being a top-tier mid-Atlantic resort.
I think it's possible for Timberline to keep limping along, but I hope they don't. The population in the DC metro region is growing rapidly, disposable income is growing more rapidly thanks to the near bullet-proof government based economy around here, and Corridor H is being built. A lot of people are buying second homes in places like Lost River because it is accessible and gives people the "away from it all" feeling. Every five-ten miles of Corridor H that gets built is another several minutes off a roundtrip to Canaan. More people will look to buy in or near Canaan because of convenience, good weather, and affordable property... recreational opportunities-- however underdeveloped-- will only enhance the consideration but may not necessarily be a primary driver for all future CV residents. Hence real estate and rental values can continue to rise regardless of what Timberline does with it's skiing (short of shutting it down).
I only throw that out there to say that it's a possibilty, not necessarily likely. Johnfmh I like your two scenarios, but I would add two more. The first is what I accused Timberline of doing earlier-- using recreational facilities as a loss leader to enhance real estate values. You can still have good skiing with this scenario (I think Wisp may have a similar approach), it just won't be top-notch.
The second scenario is what I think JohnL had in mind or hopes for: use real estate as a vehicle to develop top quality recreational facilities. I think that's in part what national resort leaders do, places like Snowbird or Vail. Basically you still build real estate but you funnel the profits back into the skiing, golfing, etc. to make these facilities the best they can be, recognizing that people are buying the real estate to do these things.
This strategy requires a lot of deep pockets, because no investor (bank, lendor, stock market) is going to like knowing that you are using their money to finance "non-profit" activities. Consequently any debt you take out must be closely tied to a profitable venture (eg- new townhouses or a four star hotel), and equity over and above debt repayment gets sent to capital upgrades of resort facilities, whether that be new lodges, enhanced snowmaking, additional trails, or summer activities. Ideally you make enough fee-based income to run the facilities through a season. You could even go so far as to buy a leaseback agency, so that when private homeowners go to lease their property through you, you can take your 25-45% slice of the rental rate. That way you have a long-term income stream even if you stop building real estate.
Given the demographics I mentioned earlier, I think either the Crotched Mtn Ski Only or the second scenario I mentioned could work well for Timberline, real estate owners in the Valley and us poorer ski bums. It is a true condemnation of ski area mgmt that only 130,000 people ski CV a year.
I think that your loss leader model is what is happening at the resort. As long as there are housing lots to sell on the mountain, the current owner can get by and occasionally even make a profit on the mountain. However, the land won't last forever. Change will occur when the well runs dry, and I think the Crotchet Mountain idea is the one that has the most chance of occuring. But I fully expect the mountain to go into bankrupcy and perhaps close for 1-2 seasons similar to Laurel before a company will be able to buy the mountain for pennies on the dollar--the price that that buyer will need to get to justify improvements. Owners who can't weather a season or two with no rental income should think twice about buying at Timberline. I hope my predictions are wrong because we've got people with $750,000 properties on North Face and Winterset and those properties could drop in value by 50 percent or more if the resort ever closed. The values, of course, would spring right back up as soon as a new owner re-opened the resort, and if that new owner were serious about improvements, there could be some serious capital appreciation. I hope my predictions are incorrect but most evidence I've seen points in this direction.
In short, the value of real estate at Timberline depends on your outlook: long term vs. short term and your ability to weather a short term closure.
[This message has been edited by johnfmh (edited 01-14-2004).]
The relatively undisturbed nature of the place, the absence of modern conveniences/annoyances such as MacDonalds and Starbucks, the many four-season recreational opportunities (we have a heated pool at Black Bear) such as hiking, fishing, canoeing, horseback riding, etc., and the breathtaking natural beauty of the place make it irresistable. A fully functioning, well run Timberline would add greatly to the allure of the Valley. Assuming the completion of Corridor H does not change the fundamental character of the place, there will be a future for CV even if Timberline goes away.
That is not to say that the Timberline owners did not pay a premium for their property because of the skiing. Those owners are reliant on the ability to rent or sell their properties based on the perceived value of Timberline skiing. So they should be concerned about the financial health of the operation. But the valley itself will survive, albeit in a diminished form, even if Timberline were to go belly up.
By the way, the rental value of my house is higher in July and August then it is in January and February. Many people see CV as much as a very appealing summer escape from the city as see it as a winter recreational destination. Timberline could add value by enhancing its summer recreation offerings--swimming pool, fishing, minigolf, etc.--at very little investment. We never rented in Timberline because of how little they offered.
[This message has been edited by dmh (edited 01-14-2004).]
I agree that the impact of a closure on value depends on where you live in the valley. For Black Bears like yourself, the impact could be minimal. For slopeside owners like myself, the impact would be greater (both on the downside and the upside). Our development of Northwoods does hardly any summer business, so it is nice to hear that some properties in the valley do a good business then. I enjoy summer more than winter because of the unlimited hiking and mountain biking (sports that do not depend on infrastructure or snowmaking).
Also, people like my wife like Timberline just the way it is. Having no crowds and decent snow trumps fast lifts and slow snowmaking in her opinion. She'd rather ski one empty slope with good snow than go to a crowded resort that has 100 percent of terrain open. I can't say I don't agree with her sometimes.
I also think that the natural curbs on development (i.e. public land) in the valley are our best ally in the long run. This valley is not going to change much in the long run, and having access to unspoiled public land will always be a draw. Whether you are a hiker, hunter, fisherman, mountain biker, cross country skier, or alpine skier, CV will always be a great oasis from the hussle and bussle of DC. It will always have good snow in the winter and will always be 10 degrees cooler in the summer. What more can you ask for?
BTW, the Wildlife Refuge recently received an appropriation of $600,000 to buy new land this year. In short, expect to see more protected land in the future, and not less. The great thing about the the Wildlife Refuge is that it allows hunting (which keeps the locals happy and curbs the deer population) but it does not allow destructive clear cutting or surface mining. As for mountain biking, the refuge is trying to come up with a decent compromise. MTB definitely damages trails, so it has to be controlled, but I think allowing MTB types to use un-surfaced roads like A-Frame is a great compromise.
[This message has been edited by johnfmh (edited 01-14-2004).]
I think owning to make money off rentals takes several years to become profitable. The number I've heard is 10 years to maximize your rental value, and you have to put A LOT of money down to spur the break even point up a few years. The best thing to do if you wanted to pursue this option would be to wait for T-line to go bankrupt and buy in the down market.
Johnfmh the more I thought about your idea last night the more I realized we were basically saying the same thing. I think the Crotched Mtn idea-- particularly with limited development opportunities-- is probably the best one for T-line. But does anyone have any idea what T-line is doing with the money it is making in real estate?
Before the boom in 2nd home real estate, real estate sales at T-line were used to keep the place afloat--survival money. Now, the owner is using some money to pay off law suits and perhaps pocketing some profits as well. In defense of the owner, given all the time and effort he has expended on the mountain, it's his right to take profits as he sees fit. This is AMERICA after all. He's not a bad guy. He just has limited funds and not a lot of long-term vision for the mountain. Other managers at Timberline have the vision but not the money. We need ownership with both vision and money.
Speaking of wildlife, I enjoy bird watching and have had the priviledge of seeing about 20 species of rare birds right outside my condo at Timberline. The President of the WV Highlands Conservancy told me that the Dolly Sods/Spruce Knob/Seneca Rocks would be a National Park if Gore had been elected in 2000. WVHC was that close to to achieving this goal. I think if NPS would just grant some hunting concessions to the area (a key issue with locals), the National Park idea could still fly. A National Park could really spur the summer rental market and would be an excellent deal for WV tourism, and Governor Wise's idea of turning the state away from natural resources towards a tourism driven economy similar to Vermont
[This message has been edited by johnfmh (edited 01-14-2004).]
I'm a little skeptical of the national park project, but that's probably left for another message board if any discussion arises about it. Focusing WV economy's more on tourism is good for certain areas of the state, but there are areas of the state that still need a lot of economic development that a tourism industry won't help. WV is a big enough place to do both, though.
Finally, all this talk of profits reminds me of an old joke I once heard: Q: How do you make a million dollars running a ski area? A: Start with two million.
Seriously, how much do think the resort is worth on the market?
Guesstimates accepted... since I have no idea, I won't even guess.
Ok, I'll start it -- $1... do I hear $2?
Now I recognize that things are much different at Timberline but perhaps it is more in scale then in kind. I do not know how many Timberline homeowners there are, the current financing for the common services/areas, etc. but it does seem that under homeowner association ownership/management you could do no worse then current managment--I am assuming that current management is not losing money on the skiing operation--and probably do much better while still not losing money. And homeowners would realize real gains in property appreciation should Timberline reach its full potential.
[This message has been edited by johnfmh (edited 01-14-2004).]
It looks like it would take somewhere between $29 to $49 per skier visit to break even. If you only get 60,000 skier visits the costs actually can be as high as $60 per visit in order to break even. Or, in other words, it probably takes somewhere between 2.3 million to 3.6 million dollars per year to run a ski area for 100 days. There's a certain amount of inelasticity to that price, but as skier visits increase significantly, those costs are going to rise. For 200,000 to 300,000 skier visits per season, the costs could easily be double what they are now. What's funny though is that if costs *only* double, the amount of revenue per skier at 200-300K visits per year it takes to break even drops substantially, going from a range of 29-49 bucks per skier to a range of 15-36 bucks per skier. Even tripling costs at that many skier visits only brings the range back to where it is now, about 23-50 dollars of revenue per skier.
Considering the expanded amenities, terrain, lifts, etc., I'd feel a lot more comfortable with a 50 dollar per skier visit target with a souped-up T-line than I would trying to make that target right now.
None of this, of course, includes the costs of capital improvement or seasonal maintenance. This is just day-to-day activity costing. Kind of an EBITDA for ski areas.
As a side note, at the ski area (and it was a day trip ski area, not a resort) I worked at in New England, we netted about 300-400K skier visits per year and, assuming average conditions, had a break even date set for late Jan, which meant that every dollar after about Feb 1 was "EBITDA for ski areas" profit.
The homeowner associations at Timberline have a cordial and occasionally chilly relationship. When it comes to joint projects such as trash compactors, road improvment, etc, disagreements are more the norm than the exception. We only seem to get along when we absolutely have to for mutually advantageous reasons.
I think a better idea is for a private company or perhaps even the current owner to approach all homeowners in the valley for $. For example, anyone investing $2,000 would be given a lifetime season pass. Killington had a program like that in the early 1970s.
[This message has been edited by johnfmh (edited 01-14-2004).]
Sounds like a tough business, so I see that perhaps the business model is to build the ski area to attract real-estate buyers. And the money can be made perhaps on the real-estate side. That makes sense to me now...
IF somehow the resort was closer in to DC and we had more annual snow fall and it was colder here, perhaps a day only resort could be a money maker.
In addition, perhaps boarding parks and improvements in snowmaking equipement will allow (some) resorts to open partially much earlier in the season and make some money that way with minimal crew...
I suppose if it came down to it, we could start a "DCSKI Development Corp.", sell shares for say $500 each, hold the $$ in escrow, and make some attempt at raising the money to either buy T-line, or build our own to our own desires, so we can lose $1M per year too! ;-)
I'm talking about SnowTubing? It's something that can be added at a very minimal cost and can attract a whole new base of users who like snow and speed but not skis or boards.
Hi John's Wife!
Oh Andy we were southern New England, not northern New England. Yeah they made money but the winters were only about a month longer than around here.
My numbers were wrong. Timberline did approximately 82,000 skier visits last year and CV did about 68,000. Sorry for the confusion.
And once it Corridor H adds additional miles--next year with Wardensville to Baker stretch takes another big chunk of switchbacks out of the trip--it will start dawning on people in DC/N. Va that the unpleasant drive that used to take 4 to 4.5 is a much more relaxing 2.5-3 hour trip. I have always thought that the combination of shorter, but as importantly, less harrowing trip will open up a significant new market for CV. It is now up to Timberline to find a way to make this better drive more worthwhile.
I am certainly not a snob and in fact love CV and its people. But one impediment is the business culture there--or lack of one. I have had repeated experiences in which I wanted to pay someone for something they were selling--in the last instance, real estate. It was difficult to get them to even talk to me, much less try and sell me the property they were advertising. Now bear in mind I come from N. VA, where if you give a realtor your first name she/he will track you down to the ends of the earth, so this was quite a revelation. I don't pretend to know if this is the culture at Timberline but I would not be suprised to learn that there is a certain lack of entrepreneurial drive that may be holding it back.
As recently as 2001, Timberline had 87000. But apparently the numbers have really dipped.
Now LAST Year there were a total of: 850,000 skier visits (record).
The West Virginia Ski Association reported that last season there were a record number of skier visits, about 850,000, with a skier visit defined as one skier purchasing one lift ticket for one day of skiing. So using Snowshoe's numbers (~472k), that leaves the rest for canaan, timberline, wp.
Does the 82,000 skier visits include season pass holders?
Anyone know if Joe Gibbs likes to ski?
I think the main thing these numbers illustrate is what a stratified industry skiing is in the Mid-Atlantic. We have two, superb, destination resorts (Snowshoe & 7 Springs) that can make snow better than mother nature, are blessed to be West of the Allegheny Front, have good marketing, and have excellent lifts and skier services. Not surprisingly, most skiers are taking their money to them. As my boss put last week, "Why would I go and ski a handful of trails at Timberline when I can get an awsome ski and stay package at Snowshoe. I'd rather pay a few bucks more for 100 percent terrain."
Beneath these two 800 pound guerillas, we've got the 2d Tier: the resorts of Snowtime and Wisp. The 2d Tier works hard to deliver a good product by offering great snowmaking, good lifts, and reliable skier services,
but suffers from a warm climate (Snowtime resorts) or smallish vertical (Wisp).
The third tier is everyone else, but especially resorts like Timberline, CV, Blue Knob, and Laurel. I hope I am wrong but it seems clear from the numbers that the 3d tier, despite its awsome terrain, is going to continue losing numbers to the the 2d and 1st tiers unless they invest major money in their resorts or try to run them in a different way. In some respects, it might make sense for a Peak Resorts type of company to buy BK and transform it into a killer commuter mountain. Timberline, on the other hand, might be a candidate for a Yellowstone Club type of venture (homeowners run the mountain for themselves and their renters). Hard to say, but change is definitely needed because the 1st and 2d tier have certainly raised the bar for skiing in this region, and Bill Bright, if he succeeds with his new resort, will raise it even higher.
[This message has been edited by johnfmh (edited 01-15-2004).]
CV got about 90,000 visits I see in that article. That would put the valley closer to 160-170K last season. It's better than 130K anyway.
It's a shame that T-line is a Tier III ski hill. With their terrain, they shouldn't be.
SO -- you just grouped Snowshoe & 7Springs together... and I have actually been to one of them, 7 springs, last year for the first time for a weekend. I thought it -- well let's just say I thought it was ok for 1 weekend. It is resort like, it does have more natural snow, and they do leave it ungroomed a bit in places. BUT the runs are short, the lifts are doggedly SLOW, and did I mentioned the short runs already?
So Snowshoe is the same about?
That makes me think -- why bother. If you drive 6 hrs you can surely fly for 5 and be right at world class skiing on an inexpensive non-stop flight to SLC. Perhaps it would be vastly more expensive to do this but I don't think so really. My experience is the opposite... although I have not been to SLC yet & actually payed up.
Ok Andy, what is it, 800 feet or 1000 feet? Daggumit, make up your mind.
Hey, I'm no ski snob myself. I usually ski at whitetail and I ski REGARDLESS of conditions from SLURPEEVILLE to nice hard pack with little soft fresh stuff on top... OK by me... long lines, 10$ sodas, cool!
The DA on the other hand, he's got some problems, thinks money grows on trees, and can't get off the high life...
Ok here's a joke the DA told me -- "Question: Hey, DA, where should I ski around here? The DA: BWI, Dulles or National..."
HA HA HA
Ok, well, try it out loud, it might be funnier out loud.
As to going to SLC for the weekend, it's certainly do-able, but the fixed costs are pretty high. Granted, Solitude, Snowbasin, Powerder Mtn and Brighton are probably the best value in skiing in the U.S., but even then, you've got to spend $400 to $500 for air fare, parking and a rental car. Great once or twice a year, but hard to do more than that (not to mention trip time of ~8 hrs each way). I love UT, but its hard to beat running out to WV/PA/Garrett Cty for a quick "fix."
you don't have to use a rental car. The SLC Transit System goes to Little and Big Cottonwood canyons daily.
Everytime i have been to utah I have just taken UTA - extremely cheap and drops you off right @ the resort.
There should be a rule against posting on Friday nights...
I am just curious, you have written at length (here and in other threads) about various futures for t-line. As you said, if they can't even break even in a great winter how will they do in a mediocre winter? What in your opinion, is the plan that the T-line ownership is following?
Are just they hoping that the completion of Coridor H brings aflux of new clientel before they run out of money for operations?
At that point, property owners will either band together, buy the resort for pennies on the dollar out of bankrupcy, and try to run it OR hope some investor group does the same thing.
In any event, we will continue losing numbers every year unless we get REAL infrastructure improvements--in snowmaking, but mainly in lifts. The current uphill transportation system is unacceptable. You can't expect people to put up with 20 minute waits in line followed by twenty minute lift rides. Slow lifts are one thing, but constant stoppages and endless lines are a real turn-off. Smart resorts solved these problems in the 1990s by installing higher-speed, higher capacity lifts. Timberline failed to do so and chickens are now coming home to roost.
Andy, I'm not just whining. I could feel, hear, and smell the exasperation of customers in the lines at Timberline last Saturday and I am simply vocalizing their pain on this forum. I have a season pass so I didn't get too bent out of shape when I only got 6 runs in on that day, but I feel the pain of those who paid for full-priced tickets, an expensive condo, meals out, and rental equipment for a family of four.
[This message has been edited by johnfmh (edited 01-22-2004).]
Do you think bankruptcy would be that beneficial to the homeowners? I work for a bankrupt firm and creditors get first dibs. If there are any outstanding lending groups they will get a crack at the Chapter 7/11 assets and be able to do what they want with them. One hopes they'd try to keep the ski resort in operation but I think ultimately the buyer would not be getting pennies on the dollar-- a discount to the market rate perhaps but probably not that cheap.
Unfortunately I'm not one of those rich posters otherwise it'd be tempted to buy the place.
As an aside with only minor relevance to T-line, I read in Intrawest's annual report the other day that they spend 30 million a year just on maintaining equipment, plus (during the recession at least) another 30 million a year in capital improvements. It'd be interesting to try to scale those numbers to T-line's size of operations but any guess would be pretty rough.
[This message has been edited by Roger Z (edited 01-22-2004).]
Average ticket revenue per skier is probably about 27. That puts their break even at about $2.7M or their operation about $486K in the hole last year (before food, real estate, etc...)
So, if they borrowed $2.2M to put in a new, fixed grip quad and upgrade snowmaking....
At 9.5% with quarterly payments on a 10yr note, they would have to increase revenue by 343,219 to stay where they are from a cash flow perspective. This would require about 12,712 additional skier days. This is a large percentage increase, but seems very reasonable given the overall # of ski days in the Alleghany corridor (HV south to Shoe). In an average winter with 12 meaningful weeks, that's about 1000 more tickets per week. If they borrowed 800K more and put in a high speed, it would really get interesting because they would need to get 1400 more per week, but clearly they would suck back a lot of people from Snowshoe. Plus, the value of their real estate holdings would increase, bringing more people, etc....
Seems like the local pols should try to get some of the TEA money being spent on Corridor H to be used on this local "enhancement" project. Then the equation gets really good, really quickly. And the $3M from CH is like, one exit ramp or something ;-)
It takes money to make money....
[This message has been edited by tommo (edited 01-22-2004).]
[This message has been edited by tommo (edited 01-22-2004).]
Regardless, they are losing cash. The question is who's going to lend them two to three million dollars just to keep losing money?
Let's assume John is right and the current owners are waiting to finish the real estate buildout and then jettisoning the resort. I think the new owner would do well to start with simple upgrades that are less costly. First, keep both lifts running on weekends. I know beginners slow the lift wheels down no matter what but it seems they've been having mechanical problems and problems getting lift attendants to the mountain to work both lifts. Both of these problems can be solved fairly cheaply. Second, more marketing. Canaan Valley as a whole is probably undermarketed and rectifying that could help skier visits. If they can boost skier visits by 10% just from getting their name out more, it will pay for the additional cost of running the two lifts on weekends and then some!
If management can demonstrate a commitment to grow their skier base they'd be more likely to get the capital they need (assuming they're not going to spend the profit off their real estate sales) to make some upgrades. That's when the plans for a new lift and snowmaking can get brought up, and likely get a nod from investors.
If the investments resonate with skiers, you can improve the resort without making it significantly more expensive to operate on a per skier basis. Let's say 30 dollars to break even right now on 100K skier visits-- if 150-200K skiers start showing up per year b/c of new lifts & better snowmaking, you may not need more than 30 per skier then to break even as well! In reality it'd probably go up a little but we're not talking suddenly having to make 60 or 70 dollars per skier visit.
One reason the Timberline ownership probably will not upgrade any lifts while they run the mountain is lack of credit. Since Timberline has been in chapter 11 several times under the current ownership, no bank or other major institution will lend them the $4-7 million it would take to install a high-speed detachable quad or 6-pack.
What they could do is approach some private investor or even the housing associations for a loan, and then give this party an ownership stake in the mountain until the loan is paid off.
I agree with Roger that better marketing would help, but as the saying goes, "You only have one chance to make a first impression." Let's say the resort convinced an additional 10,000 skiers to visit and they experienced the crappy services we have now--they will never come back. We need the upgrades, and then fresh marketing, and that's how this resort will finally turn the corner.
However, I do not think any of these dreams will occur until the land runs out. That will be straw that finally breaks the camel's back.
Yes, based on what little I know and what I have heard from the more knowledgable on this board, T-Line's current ownership has amply proven that they are unwilling or incapable of doing what is necessary to keep the resort viable in the medium and long term. It was this assessment that persuaded me two years ago to buy elsewhere in the valley rather than pay the T-Line premium built into the property located there.
It seems, aside from skiers and homeowners, there is another powerful stakeholder who should be enlisted in seeing that T-Line remains viable--local, county and state government. If skiing is one of the economic pillars of Tucker County, which it most certainly is, then there must be a way to enlist them, through economic development funds, to see that the T-Line is adequately funded. T-Line were to go away the entire county and region would suffer economically so the partnership is a natural. Now of course this presumes T-Line is ready to put up its own share of the money and to demonstrate that it can competently manage its business but it seems that this is a resourse worth exploring. If
Dmh there's some merit to your idea. However there is also Canaan Valley Ski Area as an argument against it. The state has mismanaged that facility for years, as expansion plans have been tied up and killed in the legislature for reasons that have nothing to do with Tucker County and everything to do with personal grievances between different politicians. If CV was a head-and-shoulder better ski hill than T-that'd be one thing, but between the two I'd be hard pressed to call CV a better run ski hill. And more than likely, I'd bet T-line is already receiving favorable tax treatment from the state.
These would be expensive improvements but not as expensive as a new lift. They would also enable Timberline to keep up with other resorts on the snowmaking front.
In the meantime, I have one suggestion to presently throw to DCSki masses. What about some upgrades to the existing lifts to improve their reliability? Electronics, gears, other sensors, whatever.
As I've stated before, at 10-12 minute lift ride to climb 1000 vertical feet is excessive. And I've ridden some of the slowest vintage lifts in North America. However, for good terrain and good snow I'll put up with that type of lift slowness as long as the lift is not stopping or the lift lines are not long.
With its general lack of crowds, seems like two slow-running but reliable lifts at T-Line should do the trick.
With a decent lift Timberline would be a very good resort. Sorry but with the state of thier lifts they suck just a little bit (sort of like being a little bit pregnant).
What a way to waste a great mountain.
1.) Adequate snowmaking for all trails. John mentioned this that although it's expensive to run the electrical lines and water pipes, it's still a heck of a lot cheaper than a new Quad lift. Imagine if Salamander, Winterset, Dew Drop, The Drop, Off the Wall all had tower snowguns going 24/7 as long as temps provided? The quality of the run with that much snow would just plain out attract customers.
2.) Make it more of a resort experience. Everytime I goto Wisp I get the feeling that I'm attending this 5 star resort who is making every effort to put their best foot forward and see that the needs of the skiier are met. I.e. lodging, dining, skiing with adequate snow etc. Timberline as I have stated before has no hotel, has no "resort feel" to it. It's like you show up at a hang out area and do your thing. Capital improvements in the dining area alone would be a huge improvement. I don't know property wise if it would be viable but I would consider a new owner to possibly put some sort of hotel in to make it more family friendly to travelers who can't afford condo's.
3.) Terrain Expansion. Mainly a snowtubing park. Ok this may be a little bit sissy for boarders and skiiers, but snowtubing seems to be the latest craze with *all* of the resorts putting one in. That there would attract the younger family demographic or the demographic of people who due to injury or fear don't like skiing, but love snow. Not only expansion as in snowtubing but a few more trails possibly. The reinstatement of the Cherry Bowl Glades area or expansion of it down between Salamander and OTW would attract the experts even more. Now depending on what land is like, what about another trail somewhere near the Winterset area or right around that turn? Have maybe a single black or blue run that comes down and dumps into lower Winterset? Also just a thought, what about a trail or two that intersects with OTW and the Drop to go back and forth between the two?
4.) Lift upgrades. Ok this may not be a viable option without that significant investment or loan, but it's undeniable that this must happen. The lower lift is definately the backbone for the resort and should be upgraded to a Quad in my opinion. Or even do what Wisp did by having 1 tower, but 2 sets of lifts attached to it. That would allow Timberlines capacity not to be defined by the lifts, but by the terrain. With that make silver queen a double lift since we all know calling that a triple is just a joke. Now if there was a trail added above Winterset it would not be out of the question to install a lift going upto that trail(s).
5.) Freestyle terrian upgrades. It has amazed me with the quality of mountain that Timberline is built on that they don't have snowtubing, they don't have a pipe, no rails, no custom designed jumps. Absolutely nothing. Personally I would tear out the entire Low Dew Drop area and would first work on getting a pipe put in there. That is an excellent location resort wise for one with possible rails at the bottom part of the terrain park. Although I'm almost tempted to say that a rail park would work great by removing the Cat Tail trail and putting in a dedicated set of rails right there with a jump or two.
Maybe it's me, but being an intermediate boarder I look at the resort from a customer perspective and business perspective and there iss imply not enough being done to exploit the potential of Timberline. Am I crazy to think that by going as far as putting a hotel in and making all the nessecary changes to the terrain that Timberline could rival Wisp and maybe start knocking at SnowShoes backdoor in the "resort experience" quality? Just a thought.
Their snowmaking isn't all that bad. We just got off on the wrong foot this season. Usually they're pumping out snow come Thanksgiving, but this year it was unseasonably warm until the first week or two of December. Dew Drop has always opened at the beginning of Christmas week. White Lightning and Sally are what they open first, especially Salamander (this year there wasn't enough time to make enough snow on it for opening, but it was open within a week). Salamander drains the resort of snowmaking. I wish they would install tower snowmakers on it, and not OTW or anywhere else. Then crank it out and use the rest of the guns elsewhere.
I do agree however, that they don't use their snowmaking to 100% capacity. I blew my lid last weekend when I saw them not making snow on The Drop, and they had snowmakers stacked along Salamander and Dew Drop. In fact, I was so upset I visited the business office and let them know what I felt and how they should remedy the problem. I just hope they're making snow on it right now.
Back to the freestyle terrain. I've sent Timberline multiple emails about putting in a rail park where the half-ditch used to be. I'm on the verge of sending them a link to companies that make rails (one of which sells to Snowshoe). Is a 20' flat rail, 30' rainbow, 20' flat down, 2 10' flat rails, and a 15' A-Frame too much to ask for? I even offered to round up a volunteer work crew and install them pre-season. You know, build the kickers and the landings and the small tables they'd be up on with some dirt (not a lot). Then if they'd blow a small mound of snow at the top we could put snow on the take-offs and landings and by New Year's (seeing how much snow they have on avg. by them) they would have a good rail park going. Then they could work on the park.
In terms of booters and huge tables, I don't expect a whole lot. Just blow us some mounds of snow and leave us with some shovels. We'll remedy the problem of getting the job done right. I'm thinking big step-down, big table, step-up, and some rollers would be awesome in Lower Dew Drop. On the halfpipe issue, they don't need one. And there's no way I trust them to do a halfway decent job after I saw them try to make one with the half-ditch.
Turning Upper Dew Drop into a terrain park would be the best solution. The top part could have a big-step down. Then on the corner, build a quarterpipe (on the oustside of it). Below that have a big table or something, then a step-up before Winterset. Then you could put in a halfpipe on Lower Dew Drop, and a rail park under the triple on "Bear Claw". They would hands-down, have the best park in the Mid-Atlantic, and have it open early enough (minus the pipe) to compete with Snowshoe. Then just some natural snow and a little more snowmaking and voila, you've got Timberline the way I like it.
[This message has been edited by bawalker (edited 01-25-2004).]
I don't think Timberline can put towers on the upper part of Salamander because that is Forest Service land. They've got some towers on the lower parts of the trail and one up at the summit. I should ask the resort next time I am there. I know that there was a Cheat Mountain Salamander study done on that slope some years ago and the results of that study might preclude any more development on the sections of that slope owned by the Forest Service.
I could not agree with you more on the terrain park issue. I'd even like to see them put a small poma in just to service the park rats. A super pipe groomer is a big ticket item but it's worth it given the numbers of new boarders and terrain park skiers we could attract to the mountain with a better park. I disagree, however, with putting it on Upper Dew Drop. That slope is often the only blue trail down from the summit, so intermediates need it for access purposes.
Regarding the chair issue, several people I know, including a former manager, advised the resort not to upgrade Silver Queen. They argued that adding new chairs to an old lift would not really solve any problems. True to their advice, the new Silver Queen does not represent improvement at all--especially because it runs slower than it did as a double and is incredibly hard to load due to the small size of the chairs and the slick seats.
A better solution would have been to install a higher speed, higher capacity fixed grip quad similar to the Expert's Choice quad at Whitetail. Timberline might have been able to buy such a quad second hand. Anyway, it's water under the bridge now.
I like the idea of the state or county issuing some bonds to pay for ski area improvement, whether they are at Snowshoe, CV, Winterplace, or Timberline. However, I don't think even the state would loan money to Timberline's current owners. Also, WV is probably up to its eyebrows in bond debt due to all the road building. As for the county, I think there may be other priorities such as schools--hard to say.
[This message has been edited by johnfmh (edited 01-25-2004).]
Then crank it out on Dew Drop.
I am glad to hear they 'might' put up some rails in the park. I did notice that L Dew Drop is closed right now, and imagine that's because they're building features. But if they're anything like the rails they had a few seasons back, you know, the red gate-looking one, it won't be any fun to hit. They need some good rails. Flatbars and rainbows. Not just flat flatbars either... a flat-down would be REALLY nice.
Crazy rails would get old at Timberline. I suggest they save some money and get some basic ones. 20' flat rails and flat-down rails are very fun, due to the variety of tricks you can pull on them. Rainbows are a challenge, but can be slid so many ways. It would actually be cool if they'd build a big box over the summer, maybe a C-Box or something, its not that labor intensive.
Also, as far as snowmaking go I don't believe there are any problems with water availability anywhere in the valley NOW. Yes, there were problems several years ago when DNR found leaks in the dam of their impoundment lake, but that has been fixed. During that time the resort had to pull water from the Blackwater in a winter right after a drought. So, they had a limited permit and could not crank the guns out. Now, I think the only problem might be compressor or hydraulically related - in that they may not be able to move as much water as what everyone would like.
Next, as far as developing the mountain or any resort features go. I believe there are current plans to develop runs on the new development side above Winterset and I have even heard credible rumors to developing a new base area on that side of the mountain after that. Also, I believe they did have some flat rails last year - so give them time and maybe it will improve this year. Finally, as far as any Resort themed development go the land that the US gov owns in the Valley is a real impairment to any substantial development by the slopes. However, there are currently several discussions about developing several thousand acres at a couple of sites near Davis and Thomas that both would include Championship golfing. This being said the Cities of Davis and Thomas have also expressed an interest in stepping up to the plate to support area development (plus they can offer the utilities). There are even discussions as to building a 10 mile or so paved bike path into the valley to support other recreational activities. For all of you trying to picture such a development think to Frisco and Dillon, CO near Breckenridge, Keystone and A-Basin on a smaller scale. Throw in MPC, TLine, CV and Whitegrass and we have a Summitt County, WV - oh wait TUCKER CO, WV!!!
And for those of you discussing the difficulty of the runs, opening Cherry Bowl Glades, etc. find me sometime on the mountain and I might be able to show you more mountain than you can handle! So, lets stop bashing one of the best resort in the mid-atlantic and lets start praising them for the strides they are making and where the whole area could go! (Oh, the new glades and OTW snowmaking are awesome)
Challenge accepted! I'll be there Feb 7-8. I'll bring my dueling gloves.
Shall I bring the ticket-clippers? I'll be there that weekend. And I've got more than a few secrets stuffed up my sleeve. Too bad the perfect natural rainbow broke.
Maybe we will converse over sandwiches... and by sandwiches I mean my sandwich and red bull on the lift.
If you email me at email@example.com, I'll send you my T-Line local phone number and my cell #. It's probably the best way to arrange a meeting. My group most likely won't get to Timberline until 10-11 Friday night.
I'll be there Saturday and Sunday. My friends may want to ski Canaan one of the two days, but I'm pretty flexible.
This goes for anyone else who wants to meet up. I may have to update the email address later this week since I'll be on travel and my not be able to check the email after Tuesday AM.