|December 2, 2002
Questions, criticisms for McCarthy
KEYSTONE - Keystone residents lambasted the resort's new chief operating officer during a Friday night meeting of the Keystone Citizens League.
Roger McCarthy repeatedly assured the nearly 100 citizens at the meeting that he will address their concerns, which ran the gamut from inadequate snowmaking to concerns the area's recent capital improvements aren't on par with Vail Resorts' other properties.
"You need to understand, if this was an oil tanker, I can't turn it around in 100 yards," McCarthy said. "There's a huge amount for me to learn here. I can tell you, we'll have it fixed. We will take this place, I think, to where you're dreaming. Give us half a chance. Let's work together. We'll get there."
McCarthy has been Breckenridge Ski Resort's chief operations officer (COO) for almost three years. Last month, Vail Resorts added Keystone to his list of responsibilities, and he is now COO of both the Vail-owned ski areas.
McCarthy started his portion of the meeting by saying he's a straight shooter. He then suggested league members ask the three members of the local media in attendance to leave. While McCarthy said he has no problems with the media, if the press stayed, "It's going to be a different meeting," he said.
"What are you talking about?" asked league president John St. John. "The press stays."
Another man agreed, asking if McCarthy is "a straight shooter, what difference does it make?"
McCarthy let the matter drop, and then told residents his thoughts about Keystone's current condition. While Keystone has a good track record and is the third-most visited resort in the country, it is not where Vail Resorts wants it to be, he said.
"The philosophy of the company is, how do we bring Keystone back to where it should be?" he said.
The work list is significant. The River Run gondola, while state-of-the-art when built, now has "a lot of hours on it," McCarthy said, and needs some maintenance. The capacity of the snowmaking system needs to be increased, he said. Summit House, located on top of Keystone Mountain, "really doesn't fit where business is today," McCarthy said, and Mountain House, at the base of the mountain, "is less of a priority ... but needs work."
But some Keystone citizens said improvements need to be made soon. Several residents said grooming so far this season isn't adequate.
"When I hear guests say, "I'm not coming back,' that's bothersome," one man said.
McCarthy agreed, saying he's skied Keystone and also has some concerns about terrain.
"My own personal sense is we're not running enough cats out there," he said. "You'll see that change. We need to improve the grooming. Snowmaking ... we don't have enough capacity. We'll get it fixed by Christmas."
St. John said the citizens league wants to work with McCarthy - but only to a point.
"You're facing an uphill battle," he said. "The place is falling down around your ears. We're here to help you do it, but not on our backs."
"This is a mess," another woman agreed. "We think Keystone is in a turnaround situation. We have business people in here who have done what you're doing. We're offering to help."
Keystone citizen Michael Shilling urged his neighbors to give McCarthy "a little more of a chance." But decreases in night skiing hours, he said, concern him.
"Even though night skiing does not fill the lift lines, I think it fills beds," he said. "I don't think people are ever going to ski 11.5 hours, but when they're planning their trip, they like to have that option. That is the one differentiation we have."
McCarthy said he plans to watch the impact of night skiing reductions very carefully.
"We made this decision, which was quantitative," he said. "The qualitative side of it, I want to get a feel for."
McCarthy also said Vail Resorts won't neglect the resort's real estate. He speculated that Intrawest, now partnering with Vail Resorts to develop parts of Keystone, may not be involved much longer.
"I think you'll see Intrawest leave," he said. "One of the things we think about is how do we move Keystone forward as Vail Resorts comes in and takes over development from Intrawest? I think that, from my standpoint, is a very exciting thing."
Residents said they're also concerned about a recent increase in the Keystone Conference Center surcharge from 4.7 to 5.9 percent. The charge is assessed on resort lodging, restaurant and retail sales.
The center, McCarthy said, is at once a vital part of the resort's success and a financial drain.
"Conference centers don't make money," he said. "As a snapshot, they lose $500,000 to $1 million a year - that's standard. Conference is a money loser, but it fills beds and generates a business flow through those short periods of time when nothing goes on. It helps keep this wheel turning."
Nevertheless, local attorney Dave Helmer said, the original 4.7 percent surcharge was not intended to pay operating costs.
"The 4.7 was for building only and now they're changing it," he said. "More times than not, Keystone will say one thing, which will be a lie as opposed to what's in writing. I know that because I sue Keystone regularly."
Yet another citizen suggested Keystone residents again pursue the idea of incorporation, a plan that fell to the wayside when Vail Resorts stepped in.
"It's actually something we've talked about," McCarthy said. "I think we need to understand the issues before moving forward."
Jane Reuter can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at email@example.com