Investor sees opportunity at Powderhorn Resort

Phil Castle,  The Business Times

 Ken Gart remembers well his experience earlier this year visiting the Powderhorn Resort for the first time.

Ken Gart

Driving along the winding highway up the Grand Mesa on a clear blue day, Gart marveled at the scenic vistas. “It’s just this spectacular, beautiful setting.”

What Gart also saw, though, was the opportunity to develop a ski area that enjoys a local following, but could attract more regional business.

Gart and his brother, Tom, joined Andy Daly in purchasing Powderhorn Resort as well about 700 acres of undeveloped land nearby. Their venture, Powderhorn Partners, purchased the ski area and land for a total of just over $1.4 million in an August auction.

Located a 45-minute drive east of Grand Junction, Powderhorn offers 600 acres of groomed trails and three terrain parks served by four chair lifts. The ski area receives an average of 250 inches of a snow a season, although there’s capacity for snowmaking equipment to cover 21 acres of terrain.

Ken Gart expects his to be more involved in the real estate side of the venture. Daly, a veteran of the Colorado ski industry, will oversee ski area operations. “We wouldn’t have done it without Andy,” Gart said.

Nonetheless, Gart has both short and long-term goals for Powderhorn.

The goal for the upcoming ski season will be to make minor changes that improve the customer experience. One of the first changes was to lower the price of season passes now on sale.

The long-term goal, Gart said, includes more substantial changes, including the possibility of new lifts, additional terrain and other new development.

Daly and the Gart brothers bring considerable experience and financial resources to their venture.

Over the course of a career that began in 1970, Daly has managed nine ski resorts, including Beaver Creek, Copper Mountain and Eldora. He once served as president and chief executive officer of Vail Resorts. Daly also operates Gore Peak Investments, a real estate development and investment company in Vail.

For more than 80 years, the Gart family has been synonymous with sports in Colorado. What started in 1928 as a tiny fishing and outdoor gear shop in Denver grew into Gart Bros. Sporting Goods, a leading sports retailer. The company created the word Sniagrab — bargains spelled backwards — to market its annual preseason sale of ski equipment.

Gart Sports completed a merger with Sports Authority and the combined company took on the Sports Authority name.

The Gart family also built another chain of sporting goods stores under the name Specialty Sports Venture. The Gart family and Vail Resorts merged retail holdings in 1998. In 2010, Vail Resorts bought out the Garts’ remaining share of the ownership.

Today, Gart Companies acquire, develop and manage a wide variety of real estate holdings as well as operate a private equity investment firm.

And now the Gart brothers are investors in the Powderhorn Resort. Ken Gart said the resort will continue to cater local skiers and snowboarders. “Grand Junction has such a great active population.”

But he also hopes to build on that following in developing Powderhorn into a regional and, for some customers, a destination resort.

Powderhorn is among nine smaller ski areas marketed by the Colorado Ski Country USA trade association as “gem” resorts.

Gart said Powderhorn long had been undercapitalized, which hindered the ability of previous owners Steve Bailey and Dean Skalla to make substantial improvements. “The experience had not gotten better.”

With the start of the ski season only months away, there’s no time right now to make anything more than minor changes to offer a better experience, Gart said. But the long-term vision includes the potential for new chair lifts and terrain on the mountain and additional development nearby, he said.

In addition to scenic vistas from atop the Grand Mesa, Gart sees opportunity at the Powderhorn Resort. “It has a pretty good amount of potential.”