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Q&A with Andy Daly, a Ski Town Mayor

Andy Daly, Mayor of Vail Andy Daly, Mayor of Vail

by Troy Hawks

The mayor of Vail is a closet ski bum. Closet that is, if his faint but ever-present goggle tan didnt give him away. Andy Daly has held the office since 2011, with a previous stint from 2007 to 2009.

Hes also part-owner and operator of Powderhorn, and just announced the area was getting a new detachable high-speed quad chairlift as part of $5 million capital improvements for the 2015/16 season. Daly also helps steer the development of Alpine Mountain Ranch and Club, an exclusive single-family community in Steamboat adjacent to the ski area.

There arent many ski bums that can match Dalys resume. It all began in 1970 when he moved from his home in Andover, Massachusetts and took a job at Aspen Highlands. He has since gone on to hold executive positions at Copper, Eldora Mountain Resort, Beaver Creek, The Broadmoor, and Vail Associates. He was inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame in 2000.

In our Q&A with Andy, he shares his insight on the new upgrades at Powderhorn, state of Colorado ski towns and gives us a look at whats its like to be a mayor-slash-business leader-slash-ski bum.

First, congratulations on the new chairlift, folks must be pretty excited about that?

This is something that our season pass holders have been waiting for since we took over the place four years ago and the feedback has been really gratifying so were excited, it will be fun.

And in addition to winter, youve added a lot of events in the summer, how are you working to offer more activities year-round?

Thats where were headed. We really see more opportunities in the summer than we do the winter. The reason being is that Powderhorn is at the same elevation as Vail, its at 8,200 feet and it really gets warm down in Grand Junction in the summer so from both a locals perspective and a tourists perspective we think that Powderhorn can really be an outlet during the spring, fall and summers to provide a variety of recreational opportunities as well as an event venue.

From your view, what is the State of the Colorado ski town?

The mountain towns seem to be coming out of the recession fairly successfully. Here in Vail, were on our third record sales tax year, so were very excited about the future. In terms of other ski towns, this year the Vail Town Council went to Park City, Utah, and later this fall were going to Aspen.

As you look around, you see very healthy competitors. These are places that have continued to invest just as we have, so the competition is really strong between resorts, and I think thats healthy because it gets us all continuing to reinvest. In the end, it helps drive Colorado ski towns to be the strongest in the United States.

Colorado is among the fastest growing states in the country, are our slopes going to become over-crowded?

In terms of capacity, Colorado has seen modest growth over the years but at the same time the resorts continue to add capacity, partly as a necessity, because as equipment has advanced, skier want more space, and lower densities per acre, and expansions have provided that.

I think theres plenty of capacity to absorb reasonable growth within Colorado and think its the industrys opportunity to make sure were bringing in those newcomers to Colorado into the sport.

Andy Daly with Mikaela Schiffrin Andy Daly with Mikaela Schiffrin

And Colorados demographics are changing, how does that effect skiing?

Colorados growth has brought increased diversity to the state, and that creates a challenge and an opportunity for skiing from the perspective that we want to share that growth, and we hope that that will drive skier days.

But at the same time, we tend to be a pretty white sport, so its a great opportunity for us to reach out to folks of other ethnicities. We have a very strong Hispanic population in Colorado, and weve been doing an aggressive job of reaching out and bringing those folks into skiing.

Is skiing affordable enough for new people coming into the sport?

Theres no doubt that the cost of skiing has gone up, but as I look around Colorado, and I look programs like the Gems Card, there are affordable products available. For instance, Powderhorn is about a one-third of the cost of the major resorts, so skiing is very accessible.

I always tell people. When I was young, the Holiday Inn was the best place to stay that I could afford. There are lots of alternatives and I think the Gems program is one place to look, but at the same time there are many pass programs now that are tremendous values.

What do you enjoy when not skiing?

I love skinning and snowshoeing, I ride bike, hike and play golf. In fact, if it clears up today I think Ill take the opportunity to ride up Vail pass.

What is the most effective line youve used to convince your buddies to skip work and go ski?

I call them the night ahead so everybody has the opportunity to do whatever they need to do to make it possible. And then we just meet at 8:30 a.m. Sometimes the guys can ski for two hours, sometimes they can ski for four.

But weather forecasting has gotten good enough now that 12 hours before, we have a pretty good idea of how much snow were going to get so it makes it a little easier to get a plan together.

Is it hard for a skiing Mayor to stay incognito on the mountain?

Noyou just put on a helmet and goggles, and youre good. [laugh]

What does a great day on skis look like to you?

Obviously skiing with friends is great, but I have two boys and skiing with either one of them is always a great ski experience. Skiing is a lifetime sport, and we as a family still really enjoy skiing. My dad taught me to ski, so now were three generations. I can remember Drew when he was four years old and he looked up at my dad and he asked, Whats wrong Papa, cant you keep up?

Have you had any famous encounters on the slopes?

Oh yes. It was my fourth year in the ski business, and Copper Mountain had just opened (1972-73). We had been open for a couple of weeks and we were having our grand opening ceremony so a lot of notables came to the mountain.

Anyway I was patrolling there, and the call came out from dispatch to go pick up Governor Love because he had just broken his ankle. He fell on a roller on the NASTAR course and it later became known as Loves Bump.

Whats one of the worst falls youve taken?

We dont like to admit that occasionally we have bad falls, but I have a great friend, Jerry Blann whos now president of Jackson Hole, but at the time he was in Aspen.

I remember coming off of Walshs following Jerry, and hes an ex-racer. I never raced. Anyway, I cant unequivocally say that he sandbagged me, but I hit a water-bar that blew me up into the air, out of my skis, and onto my shoulder.

My shoulder was in severe pain but I just got back up, put my skis back on, and never said a thing to Jerry about it. Rather than admit that I had just had a bad fall, I didnt say a thing.

Whats the most insane event that youve seen held at a ski area? (Not a ski area you ran, of course)

Ha, yes! In fact, I was just talking about it with an old friend this morning. In the early years of Copper we had an event called the Miss Kamikaze, and we always held it the last day of the season.

People would race in any type of a sliding device that they could come up with, and it got so out-of-hand that we eventually had to move it. But it was an opportunity to defy gravity at a high-rate of speed in a totally unsafe manner [laugh].

Have ever snuck on a chairlift without paying?

You know, when I came out to Colorado for the 1969-70 season, I used to boot pack for tickets in Aspen. I was on the trail crew and it was in the early years of grooming, I was in great shape! Anyway, sometimes theyd miscount the tickets they gave us.

You have an amazing career, what remaining goals do you have?

The biggest focus right now is on Powderhorn, and as I think many people know, we bought Powderhorn at an auction and its one of those things when you hold up your hand and they point to you and you look behind you just to see if you hadnt made a mistake [laugh].

But weve got Powderhorn stabilized now, weve turned it around.

Weve got a great team running it, its cash flowing, so now we have an opportunity to really put together some improvements that will provide Powderhorn a long term future as a great community and regional resort.

The guys that are running it are doing a terrific jobthere are men and women that come from the Grand Junction area and theyve really put their hearts and souls into it and its really made all the difference in the world.