WARREN’S WORLD: Why Merge Ski Resorts?

By Beacon Staff

I was busy producing a promotional film for Keystone, Colo., in 1978. I had done some work for them in the previous years when the hotel was still under construction. The windows were still covered with Visqueen and I had to wait until the wind stopped blowing so that the windows would stop flapping. They had some problems with available land so the hotel was built a long way from the ski hill. In those days the skiing at Keystone was, in my opinion, not very good. More than 30 years later it is very good. The bottom of the hill was so steep that they had to cut a trail around it because it was always full of big bumps and, as the ski report used to say, “hard-packed granular” – a snow condition that anyone knows is only available on a warm afternoon. Despite plastic-covered windows, the hotel itself was deluxe.

One day that was too cloudy for filming, Bob Craig took me for a side trip to nearby Arapahoe Basin. It is a resort that is very famous for late spring skiing as well as starting its lifts early.

I was expecting a bad ski experience based on conversations with Keystone management: “The lifts are worn out, the lodge is falling down and the sewage treatment plant puts the drinking water into question in the spring.”

During my first day of skiing there I found that the lifts were very old and had not been well maintained, but they did get me up the hill. The lodge needed a few million dollars in upgrades and the resort was for sale. We skied every run at the high altitude resort and when it was time to go back to Keystone, Bob Craig said, “Let’s go down the back of the mountain and we can ski right to the chairlift at Keystone.”

What a great concept! Interconnecting ski resorts as the French had been doing since the end of World War II, starting as early as the summer of 1946.

This would be a real bargain for a couple of my very financially successful friends who had me on the lookout for a ski resort for them to buy. By the time Bob Craig and I got back to the hotel in Keystone I was very excited about the potential of the area and connecting the terrain at the two resorts would be, without question, the biggest selling point of the merger.

I stopped by the Keystone president’s office to check in and give him an update on the film I was making for him. I sat down and told him that I knew that A-Basin was for sale and if he, Keystone, did not buy it by Friday I would buy it by Monday. His reply: “Miller, if around-the-world tickets were a dollar you couldn’t get to Denver.”

“I know that, but I have a couple of friends who want me to locate a ski resort that they can buy with some of the money they are making in their land development deals.”

Remember this is in 1978.

He then asked, “Why should Keystone buy it?”

As fate would have it, the chairman of the board of Ralston Purina, which owned Keystone at the time, was coming out to the resort on Wednesday for a board of directors meeting. I added a caveat to my resort merger idea. “If you pull this bargain sale off, how about an acre of land somewhere here at Keystone for me in the deal?”

Apparently, the interconnect idea made some sense because the meeting was held with then owner Joe Jankowski and the structure of a deal was agreed upon and Arapahoe unofficially became part of the Keystone complex within three days of my suggesting it.

Upgrading the lifts started that summer at Arapahoe. At the same time Keystone started developing better terrain within the boundaries of its forest service permit.

The movie I created for Keystone’s marketing department worked for what it was intended for, unfortunately I never did get my 1-acre of land.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.