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Windham Reborn (Again)

Windham Reborn (Again)

Travel
By Steve Cohen
posted: 02/28/2007

Perhaps it's just coincidencethat untilrecently theWindhamMountaincorporate logoemployed acolor (forest green) and typeface similarto that of a certain upscale Utah resortthat sports a stag logo. Perhaps not.

"The resort we try to pattern ourselvesafter is Deer Valley, admits Dan Frank,longtime Windham general manager andnow part-owner and president.

Pipe dream? Hubris? To be sure,Windham and the Catskills will nevermatch Deer Valley in terms of terrain orsnow quality. But service and amenitiesare Frank's true focus. "Skiing hasbecome more of a vacation experiencethan a sport for our customers. We'refocusing on creating an exceptionallyhigh-quality environment.

Frank and his investor group boughtWindham last fall from Irv Naylor,Frank's boss of 23 years. His partnersinclude Windham loyalists with impressivebackgrounds. Randy Frankel andSteve Starker, both vacation homeowners,bankrolled a good portion of theWindham acquisition. They were partnersat a Wall Street trading firm thatGoldman Sachs reportedly paid $6.5billion for in 2000. Frankel and Starkerlater cashed out for lots of money—anddecided to have some fun with it.(Frankel also bought a share of theTampa Bay baseball franchise.) Otherpartners include an IBM senior VP andthe developer of a posh new condo com-plex, the Enclave Club, at the area's base.

Besides providing funding, the partnersbring business expertise and the connectionsthat will be needed to bankrollrobust investment at Windham. For thisseason, the beneficiaries are definitely thearea's better skiers. East Peak, with its1,600 vertical feet, gets a high-speed quadand two new legitimate blue trails cut intwisting New England style. With itsexisting runs—three fairly credible blackdiamondsthat never veer from the fallline—East Peak has always offered thearea's most entertaining skiing. But itopened in the late 1980s, just before highspeedlifts became ubiquitous. Until now,it hasn't been economically feasible toupgrade the fixed-grip triple, so EastPeak's terrain hasn't been as popular asit should be.

As for that triple, it has been refurbishedand moved to the westernmostflank of the resort, replacing an oldertriple (C Lift) with a realignment thatmakes for easier access to key terrain.

Windham, like the entire Catskillsregion, is in the nascent stages of arenaissance largely catalyzed by the9/11 attacks. Hundreds of better-heeled,culturally savvy metro New Yorkershave begun buying close-in retreatsthroughout the nearby Catskills. Forsome, a vacation home represents saferefuge in case of another disaster (yes,New Yorkers think like that these days).Most, though, are newly converted "lifeis-short disciples seeking a quiet place toenjoy friends and family. "We're seeing alot of multigenerational homes beingbuilt, says Frank. "People want theirkids and grandchildren around. Indeed,a swirl of stone-and-timber castles haverisen along the switchbacks of ClubRoad, the boundary artery that snakes upWindham's west side.[pagebreak]To serve this clientele, Windham willbuild on family-focused après-ski activities,never a strong suit at the resort. Akey piece of the puzzle is the MountaintopAdventure Park. Located on aplateau just above the town of Windhamand about a quarter-mile below the basearea, it has for two winters housed a sizeabletubing park and a nice daylodge.This winter it will begin, Frank hopes, tobecome the parklike locus of Windham'soff-mountain experience with the additionof an ice rink, fire pit, outdoor seatingand upgraded landscaping and lighting—"a social spot where families spendevenings hanging out, says Frank. Insummer, the skating rink would become askate park, with attractions like a zipline,giant swing and super trampoline addedto a mix that already includes highlypopular paintball.

Meanwhile, other local projects buttressthe resort's investments. There arenew restaurants (good ones), boutiquesand a three-screen movie theater. Newbrickwork and retaining walls on MMainStreet give the place a cohesive, upscalefeel. And the Catskill Mountain Foundation,founded in 1998, continues to gainsteam as a major culturalengine in Greene County(home to Hunter Mountainas well).

CMF underwrites avariety of arts and cultureprograms in the county. Itoperates a renovated movietheater/art gallery/bookstorein nearby Hunter,where it has also nearlycompleted the expansionand renovation of a performingarts theater. In2003, the group took overthe decrepit Sugar Maplessummer resort in Maplecrest,a few minutes' drivefrom Windham. CMFhopes to transform the 80-acre campus—abandonedfor 10 years—into an artsand culture center. Five ofits 22 buildings have beenrenovated and repurposedas state-of-the-art studiospaces. A working organic farm and artsand-crafts classes, many of them for children,already add a dose of local culture.

More golf and a spa are also onFrank's wish list, but he's happy with thedeliberate pace and eclectic nature of theWindham region's growth. That mightbe where his model differs from that ofDeer Valley, where explosive Park Citydevelopment puts pressure on the qualityof the experience. "Windham wants toretain a quaint coziness, he says."Grow too fast, and you get a lot ofstuff that runs away from you. We wantpeople to run to us.

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