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Edward Callaway and Ralph Walton Hoping to Pull Crested Butte Mountain Resort Out of Four Year Funk
By Jason Blevins, The Denver Post
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News 

Aug. 13--CRESTED BUTTE, Colo.--Between forkfuls of Mexican food, Edward Callaway wraps both hands around his throat. 

Ralph Walton, co-owner of Crested Butte Mountain Resort, and Richard Connally look over property that's part of expansion plans. The resort hopes a three-way land swap with federal and state agencies will help lift it into prosperity. No, it's not the enchiladas. Callaway is describing his business life for the past nine years. 

The co-owner of the Crested Butte Mountain Resort hasn't had the best of times. 

"We've got the "Ready, aim, aim, aim' down," he says. 
 

After almost a decade of aiming at the promise of economic revival, Callaway and cohort Scout Walton are ready to fire. If the shot hits its target, Crested Butte Mountain Resort will soon pull itself out of a four-year funk that has left it pining for its glory days and wondering where the crowds went. 

Those days could soon be returning. With plans for a new village, funded by the sale of high-end homesites at the base of the ski hill, Crested Butte is positioning itself for a renaissance. 

The basket where Callaway and Walton have placed all their eggs is a rolling pasture of skunk cabbage under the shadows of Snodgrass Mountain and Teocalli Mountain. The gentle, south-facing slopes will soon be home to ski-in, ski-out trophy homes. 

Selling the dirt under those homes will help fuel the construction of a vibrant village, with eateries under residential units and conference facilities luring large groups with deep pockets. 

Nine years ago, Callaway and Walton, sons of the resort's 30-year owners, began negotiating a complex three-way land swap that involved the Forest Service, the State Land Board and the resort. 

Callaway and Walton acquired the 2,020-acre Ochs Ranch southwest of Crested Butte. The ranch was then given to the State Land Board, which turned over 5,500 acres of private land surrounded by federal lands across the state to the Forest Service. The Forest Service, in turn, gave Crested Butte Mountain Resort 558 acres abutting its base area, plainly dubbed the East Trade Parcel. 

The deal -- the second of its kind during the past 100 years in Colorado -- took seven long years. 

Then came the real work. 
 

Ralph O. Walton, Jr., Retires

MT. CRESTED BUTTE, CO (Feb. 15, 2001)-- Ralph O. Walton, Jr., 70, a ski industry leader, announced today that he is retiring as Chairman of the Board of Crested Butte Mountain Resort, Inc.
  
“I have had a great 30 years at Crested Butte, but now is the right time for Martha and me to spend a little more time together and let the younger generation take the ski area forward,” Ralph said.
  
Ralph Walton and his brother-in-law, Howard H. (Bo) Callaway, have been co-owners of Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) since they bought the ski area in 1970. For the past 30 years, Ralph has been the senior officer at the resort and the driving force behind shaping CBMR as one of Colorado’s premier, destination, mountain resorts.
  
Under Ralph’s leadership, the resort:
  * Invested over $100 million in improvements, including 13 lifts, two warming houses, and 700,000 square feet of construction at the base area,
  * Pioneered the first non stop, scheduled jet service to regional mountain airports,
  * Developed both the Crested Butte Marriott Hotel and the Crested Butte Sheraton Hotel.

“Ralph Walton has been the guiding force behind the ski area at Crested Butte for the past 30 years and the ski area owes him a great debt of gratitude for helping it get to its position today. Everyone in Crested Butte will sorely miss his active leadership but we understand his desire to retire at this time,” said the Resort’s co-owner, Bo Callaway.
  
The philosophy of management and stability in ownership at Crested Butte is unusual in the ski industry. The day-to-day operations of the resort have been passed on to their sons: Edward Callaway is CBMR’s President & CEO and Ralph “Scout” Walton serves as the resort’s Real Estate President.
  
“The last great Colorado ski town” is still anchored by the kind of roots and family values that can’t be built or bought. Thirty years ago, that’s what attracted the Callaways and Waltons to Crested Butte in the first place, and that’s the tradition that is being carried on by their children.

Gina Kroft, 970-349-2201,
gkroft@cmbr.com
www.crestedbutteresort.com
 

For two years, the resort wrangled with the town of Mount Crested Butte over its contentious plans for the ski area. Final approval for development on 420 acres came last year. 

Callaway and Walton have watched the ski industry in Colorado change significantly in those nine years. 

Wall Street-traded ski resort companies sold high-end real estate and generated millions -- money that was then poured back into the resorts. Resorts such as Copper Mountain, Vail, Breckenridge and Steamboat enjoyed huge increases in capital spending. The build-a-village mentality swept through the state's resort business. 

As other resorts weathered paltry snow years by leaning on a bustling real estate market, Crested Butte Mountain Resort floundered. Skier visits plummeted. Snow conditions deteriorated. 

And Callaway and Walton felt their fathers' 30-plus years of work slipping away from them. 

Hope has returned now as the resort plows headlong into an ambitious real estate project that will generate millions toward a new base village packed with conference facilities, restaurants and residential units. 

Revitalizing Mount Crested Butte's aging village will also be a catalyst for an economic renaissance down the hill in the funky town of Crested Butte, say Walton and Callaway. 

The plan calls for 300 condominiums and 105 single-family homesites, about 60 of which will be clustered in higher-density pockets on the resort's northern boundary in a neighborhood called Prospect. 

"This is a truly spectacular piece of property," says Gage Davis, an Arizona-based resort development consultant who has worked with several Colorado resorts. "There are a lot of resorts out there that claim their offerings are really quite exceptional. They don't compare to the East Trade Parcel." 

If all goes as planned, selling the slope-side homesites -- priced between $245,000 and $695,000 -- will generate the funding for the condos and a new $250 million base village. 

It's a plan taken straight out of the Intrawest Corp. playbook. 

Intrawest, owner of Copper Mountain and nine other resorts in North America, has proved itself: The company can sell hundreds of millions of dollars worth of real estate before a shovel even meets dirt. 

While Callaway and Walton lament their late start, they relish that they have an almost finished palette across the state from which to plan. 

Look southwest, to Telluride, where open space and affordable housing issues are reaching a crescendo. Look northeast to Aspen, and learn the socioeconomic issues over housing and diversity that come with the world's priciest real estate. Look at the interstate-straddling Vail and see how development will most likely march down-valley when demand for resort-anchored real estate grows. 

About seven years ago, Callaway and Walton tabled plans to expand skiing onto Snodgrass Mountain, the gently sloping hill due west from existing runs. 

Community uproar and a general fear that Crested Butte was being transformed into something it wasn't forced the resort's leaders to reconsider their priorities. 

"We got crucified," Walton says. 

So in a unique move that helped assuage local concerns, Callaway and Walton moved skiing down their priority list and pulled open space and affordable housing to the top. 

"Instead of new lifts, we bought open space," says Walton, whose father, Ralph, acquired the resort with Edward's father, Bo, in 1970. 

The duo promises that 4 percent of every home sale at Prospect will be funneled into a trio of local land trusts dedicated to preserving ranchland, view corridors, wetlands and access to wilderness areas across the Gunnison Valley. 

"We are taxing part of the market to preserve the most important aspects of this community," says Callaway. 

With construction and sales beginning in the next few months, Crested Butte Mountain Resort is now planning to reignite its plan to add skiing to Snodgrass Mountain -- an area that lies inside its ski area permit from the Forest Service. 

This time it should be easier to swallow, since the resort has worked with the local community to preserve the flair that is unique to the town of Crested Butte, where playtime is just as important as work. 

"It's so easy to lose that essential thing that made you what you are and just become a collection of second homes," Callaway says. "You've got an ownership team in us who wants to stay true to our irreverent funky roots. 

"We'd like to keep Crested Butte's edge. It's real here. It's not like "Have a nice day, sir.' It's, "Nice hat, dude.'" 

-----To see more of The Denver Post, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.denverpost.com 

(c) 2001, The Denver Post. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.


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