This story first appeared in The Outsider, the premium outdoor newsletter by Jason Blevins.
In it, he covers the industry from the inside out, plus the fun side of being outdoors in our beautiful state.
BRECKENRIDGE — In a resort landscape rich with thousands of timeshares, luxury hotels and vacation rental homes, Jim Deters has a plan for something different.
He calls it “a Rocky Mountain country club for adventurers.”
“Without the golf course, swimming pool or tennis courts,” says the serial entrepreneur who is transforming a tired 1980s hotel into a modern mountain inn with new-school amenities built around a social club that blends visitors and locals.
Deters’ Gravity Haus, set to open in two months, is anchoring his plan on a membership program built to appeal to mountain athletes, both living in town and visiting. As the vacation-home market reaches unattainable levels, Deters hopes the development of club-like amenities across a network of resort inns will create an inclusive community that isn’t based on real estate ownership.
As more people are priced out of the second-home market in ski towns, Deters says he’s seeing urbanites struggling to pursue the mountain lifestyle they want to live. So he’s keeping his prices decidedly un-country-club. His business plan was built around an average daily room rate for his 60-room hotel at $230 a night, which is about average for Breckenridge’s hotels and short-term rentals. He’s built high-occupancy rooms with custom queen bunk beds and dorm-style rooms with shared bathrooms as well as upscale suites.
“I wrote this entire project to be incredibly inclusive,” said Deters, who bought the former Village at Breckenridge Hotel from Vail Resorts in April for $6.2 million in a deal that included a long-term management contract with Vail Resorts’ hospitality brand RockResorts.
But Deters hopes his athlete-centric amenities and focus on experiences will elevate his Gravity Haus beyond traditional lodging.
“I think there’s this big gap in the market where it’s either really high-end stuff or you have to go find an Airbnb or it’s kind of corporate-y utility (stuff) that is just boring. I wanted to build something based on experiences and why you are up here in the first place,” Deters said. “I’m not a hotel guy doing this like a hotel, building boxes with boxes in them with beds. That’s not hard. But building a community and thinking things through with experiences, that’s harder.”
Deters has a track record for building outside-the-box companies. He cofounded Galvanize, the Denver-based coworking space that evolved into a training center for coding and data science. Before that he opened Cholon Bistro, the Asian fusion restaurant in LoDo. And a year ago, across the street from his kids’ school in Denver’s Virginia Village neighborhood, he opened the mountain-sport oriented Dryland Sports Co. training gym and Unravel Coffee, which uses a zero-emission coffee-roasting process for sustainably harvested beans.
He’s been coming up to Breckenridge for more than 20 years. His three kids learned to ski here. He’s an athlete, who rides, skis, plays and works in the mountains, often alongside his wife, kids and three dogs.
The Gravity Haus plan, he said, was born from “trying to solve my own problems with trying to live this lifestyle for the last 20 years.”
He’s corralled a handful of local investors to help with the renovation but he says this is largely “a passion project” for his family.
“This is pure local with no institutional money,” he said. “I don’t want to answer to institutional people because they don’t let you do innovative things.”
Deters and his team have ripped out everything in the old Village hotel on South Park Avenue on the plaza that connects to the base of Peak 9.
The old Village Pub is long gone, replaced with a lobby, bar and coffee shop that will feature his Unravel Coffee, made from beans sourced from farmers in Ethiopia, roasted in a zero-emission Bellwether Roaster, and served without the use of paper or plastic. The Cabin Juice bar and restaurant will be grab-and-go for breakfast and lunch and convert to sit-down service for dinner. Once again, the plan is to offer a place for locals and guests.
“It will be a place you want to hang out all day,” said Salvatore Proia, the longtime Boulder chef who will run the Cabin Juice kitchen and, not surprisingly, is an accomplished mountain athlete.
Athletes will be the target of Gravity Haus. The Dryland Sports gym will offer a host of classes for all ages and athletic abilities and will be one of the few facilities in the world with a MaxAir Super Tramp trampoline capable of bouncing today’s most acrobatic athletes 25-feet in the air. (That will be on the old plaza between the hotel and the condo complex next door.) The Japanese spa — built like an onsen — will have hot tubs, cold tubs and a dry sauna aimed at boosting recovery for spent athletes.
The Starter Haus coworking space will mirror what Deters built at Galvanize. Just like Galvanize evolved from a start-up coworking space into a community resource, where members could come listen to presentations by business leaders and tech entrepreneurs, Deters hopes his Starter Haus workspace will grow in similar ways, with start-up events and presentations focused on avalanche safety.
“Basically we are going to program this nonstop,” he said, rattling off a list of possible athletic events, film screenings and parties that could fill the space like he did at Galvanize. “So many lessons from Galvanize. I’ve learned plenty from that.”
He’s joined Summit County’s Colorado Adventure Guides to develop a backcountry hub, where locals can stop in for updates on the latest conditions and guests can recruit guides for backcountry skiing, paddling or mountain biking. He’s amassing a stable of toys — bikes, Faction skis, Weston splitboards and avalanche safety equipment — for guests and members. (His memberships start at $249 for a punch pass and go up to $3,400 a year for a family of four, with perks including access to gear, curated trips, lockers and discounted rooms.)
Deters flinches at the notion that he’s building something for a younger generation.
“I’m not trying to pigeonhole this into one demographic or category. The community I want to build doesn’t span a certain age,” he said. “It’s a community with a love of athletics and a love of nature and a love of the outdoors. I want this to be a mixing pot for all people who love the outdoors.”
Lucy Kay has forged some innovative tourism management strategies as the CEO of the Breckenridge Tourism Office. She’s recruited locals into helping sculpt a destination-management plan that protects Breckenridge’s character and keeps workers living in town while attracting a steady stream of year-round visitors to support those workers and their businesses.
She said Deters’ plan at Gravity Haus will fit well with the wide array of visitors her town attracts and she appreciates the project’s push to connect with the local community with its coffee, guide shop, gym and Cabin Juice.
“I think getting the local community to participate is important and I really like the energy around it. If it can work anywhere,” Kay said, “the odds are good it will work in Breckenridge.”
Deters wants to use his Breckenridge hotel to launch a global Gravity Haus brand, not unlike the Soho House club and hotels that grew from the U.K. and now have 23 locations in Europe and North America.
The new-school lodging movement already is underway in some mountain resorts, including Jackson Hole, where the boutique Anvil Hotel, the Mountain Modern Motel and luxury cabins at the Fireside Resort campground are changing the resort lodging experience.
Deters is under contract on a property in downtown Winter Park to build a Gravity Haus there. He’s eyeing properties in other resort towns. Why not a surf destination, he said. He’s not building new. He wants to fix dated properties.
“So we ask three questions. Is it good for you? Is it good for the planet? And does it create an amazing experience? Those are the three simple filters we’ve used to make decisions in building this experience company, not a hotel,” Deters said. “A hotel is the easy part. There is demand for a hotel in Breckenridge. We are hoping there is demand for this inclusive, outdoor enthusiast social club … that caters to the outdoor lifestyle and seamlessly blends work, play and stay.”