Former Intrawest CEO Bill Jensen (Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post)
Bill Jensen, a longtime captain in the ski resort industry, is joining Telluride Ski and Golf Resort as both a partner and chief executive officer.
Jensen, who helmed Intrawest from 2008 through 2014 and spent 11 years as an executive with Vail Resorts, joins Telluride resort owner Chuck Horning as a partner. That ownership stake is expected to deliver stability to the resort, which has seen several management veterans — including Dave Riley and most recently Greg Pack — come and go since Horning, who has played an active role in steering the ski area, bought it in 2003.
“I wasn’t going to come here just to be the next guy,” said Jensen, describing his and his wife Cheryl’s ownership stake as “meaningful enough.” “I’m proud and happy that Chuck gave me that opportunity. My sense of it was that it wasn’t that hard for him. He knows he needed to get that stability. The staff, which is just incredible, they want security and they want certainty.”
Despite the rotation in the wheelhouse, Telluride has thrived under Horning, a West Coast commercial real estate and healthcare facility entrepreneur. In recent years, the resort company’s revenue-based lease payments to its Forest Service landlord have climbed as much as 30 percent a year. Summer and winter sales tax revenues in both Telluride and Mountain Village have set records nearly every month for the last few years.
Jensen said those trends continued last season and numbers are up for the early season as well. “This resort has a lot of momentum. Telluride is well positioned to continue to enjoy the growth it has had for the last five to 10 years.”
Horning, in a statement, said the deal with Jensen marks “a significant step towards bringing Telluride to its potential.”
“Having Bill as a partner brings depth to the ownership of this resort, and our shared interest in bringing together community and resort sustainability with a long term vision is the core purpose for our partnership,” he wrote. Horning remains a majority owner.
While many major resorts have launched redevelopment of aging hotels around base areas, Telluride has plenty of room for new hotel construction at the slopeside Mountain Village.
Jensen plans to focus on hotel development, adding as many as 1,200 new beds in the upscale Mountain Village, where the resort company owns prime parcels. Jensen he also hopes to grow air service into nearby Montrose Regional Airport, with a long-term goal of airplanes ferrying visitors into the region seven days a week all year long, not just during peak travel periods.
Jensen stirred the resort world earlier this year, when, free from the confinement of a CEO position at a publicly-traded resort company, he began discussing his perspective on the future of the ski industry. He divided the nation’s ski areas into segments, saying a mere 45 “uber” and “alpha” resorts were thriving with climbing revenues, 150 were clinging to status quo with flat revenues and, most disturbing, 300 resorts were barely surviving or dying with declining revenues, no investment and a lack of destination visitors,
Telluride has the potential to join the nation’s handful of “uber” resorts, he said. It’s a great ski experience, with European views and a variety of both intermediate and expert terrain. With a push on the hospitality side, Jensen sees Telluride besting its competitors Sun Valley, Deer Valley and Jackson Hole — all resorts that offer a niche, often luxury experience beyond the biggest resorts in the country.
In Telluride, Jensen is being embraced.
“We are, quite simply, elated to have Bill’s talent and charm and his commitment to community. We look forward to experiencing first-hand the vision and leadership he has shown over his illustrious career,” said Michael Martelon, the chief of the Telluride Tourism Board. “There are times when this kind of announcement becomes emotional. It’s that moving. It’s that important to us.”