The Beast of the East and More for You This Season.
The technical advances in skiing over the course of the past two decades – highlighted by the ongoing development of shaped skies – have been nothing short of remarkable, proving that the sport continues to evolve. Those advances often mirror the improvements in snowmaking and grooming, all of which make for a better ski experience.
That evolution continues today throughout North America. While some old-timers, myself included, are a bit concerned about the growing trend of large corporations – Vail and Alterra Mountain Company being the most obvious examples – gobbling up ski resorts, most skiers and boarders understand the economies of scale that help these areas pool resources to keep costs within reason.
One of the biggest changes on an industry-wide scale is the continued expansion of the multi-mountain ski pass. For example, you can add Okemo in Vermont and Sunapee in New Hampshire to the growing list of eastern resorts under the Vail umbrella, following the acquisition of Stowe in 2017. That means the Vail’s Epic Pass now encompasses some of the most impressive resorts in North America, including Vail, Breckenridge, Telluride, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin, Crested Butte, Beaver Creek, Park City in Utah, Mount Brighton in Michigan, Whistler and Fernie Alpine Resort in British Columbia, Mont-Sainte Anne in Quebec, Northstar and Heavenly in California, and Stevens Pass in Washington, as well as 30 resorts in Europe and nine in Japan. Whew!
Not to be outdone, Alterra’s impressive Ikon Pass includes eastern resorts Sunday River and Sugarloaf in Maine, Sugarbush, Stratton and Killington in Vermont, Loon in New Hampshire, Snowshoe in West Virginia, Blue Mountain in Pennsylvania’s Poconos, and Mont Tremblant in Quebec (in addition to Mammoth, Big Bear, June Mountain, Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows, Winterpark, Copper, Eldora, Aspen, Snowmass, Revelstoke, Deer Valley, Alta, Snowbird, Jackson Hole, and Big Sky out west).
Not planning of heading west this winter? The new Peak Pass from Missouri-based Peak Resorts features a total of six pass options valid at seven different locations across four states in the Northeast, including Mount Snow in Vermont, Attitash, Wildcat and Crotched Mountain in New Hampshire, Hunter Mountain in New York, and Jack Frost and Big Boulder in Pennsylvania.
Since you can typically find resort improvements – from snowmaking and grooming fleets to new lifts and lodges – throughout North America, we’re offering some highlights in two parts. This first post will concentrate on those ski areas east of the Mississippi.
Killington Resort – the Beast of the East – is pouring $16 million worth of capital improvements into the region’s largest resort. Those upgrades include a new 6-person high-speed Snowden bubble chairlift, new lift service at South Ridge, significant upgrades to the K-1 Express Gondola, more intermediate terrain, improvements to existing intermediate runs, and resort-wide infrastructure upgrades including the addition of hands-free lift access validation with RFID technology at both Killington and neighboring Pico.
“While we are committed to staying core to our beastly advanced terrain, we are also putting the focus on our blue family-friendly terrain,” says Mike Solimano, president and general manager of Killington Resort. “The investments we’re making will re-shape the guest experience for years to come. Uphill capacity will increase to 48,000 riders per hour and the downhill enhancements will create more diverse terrain for all levels of skiers and riders.”
At Mount Snow, Peak Resorts is spending another $22 million on its new flagship Carinthia Base Lodge, which anchors the east’s top terrain park. Built a decade ago, the Carinthia park area was (and still is) revolutionary in the world of skiing and snowboarding, with nine terrain parks including a super pipe spread across its own 100-acre mountain face. The new 42,000-square foot lodge is five-times the size of the one it replaces. In fact, the heated deck alone is bigger than the entire old lodge. It features a new coffee bar, two real bars, a large modern multi-station cafeteria, a sit-down restaurant, retail, rental shop, and ski patrol office. This all comes on the heels of last season’s $30 million snowmaking upgrade, giving Mount Snow some of the most reliable conditions in the east.
“Mount Snow has seen a major transformation over the past several years, first with the upgrade to our snowmaking capabilities through West Lake and now with our new Carinthia Base Lodge,” sad Erik Barnes, the resort’s general manager and president. “While the old lodge will no doubt be missed by some of our long-time guests, I’m looking forward to seeing the reactions from our pass holders and guests when we open the doors this November.”
Magic Mountain’s Green Chair project – a refurbished Borvig double chairlift – is expected to allow the area to open earlier in the ski season, while also providing novices and intermediates with a less-intimidating option. However, two additional projects at Magic have been stuck in limbo due to Vermont’s Act 250. Planned improvements to the area’s snowmaking pond have been on hold since the spring of 2017, with no predicted decision date. The other project, the replacement of the Black Chair with a refurbished Poma quad chairlift, was filed this year. According to a Magic press release: “The reality is that it increasingly looks like it will be difficult to execute either of these projects fully this fall in time for the new season if approvals slip further into September.”
Meanwhile, Jay Peak and Burke Mountain remain in receivership. In a report filed in mid-August, federally appointed receiver Michael Goldberg indicated he hopes to find a new owner for Jay next year. Though financial details were scant, Goldberg stated that Jay Peak’s 2017-18 season “ended strong and combined with cost savings, finished with more cash on hand than last year.” At the same time, Burke Mountain and its associated properties lost money again. The arduous process of title work at Jay Peak is nearly complete, leading the receiver to recruit “a prominent investment banker” to sell the resort. Interested parties will be shown the resort this fall and winter, with the goal of selling it next year. Court approval will be required before finalizing the sale of the resort. Likewise, the sale of Burke (thankfully no longer known as Q Resort, after former owner Ariel Quiros) is also on hold.
Sugarloaf’s snowcat-serviced skiing and riding in “sidecountry” terrain enters its first full season, after being introduced last March. The service features snow-grooming machines bringing skiers and riders to the steep terrain and powder of nearby Burnt Mountain. Last season, the cat rides were offered on weekends and vacation weeks only. The new glades on Burnt Mountain add 100 acres of terrain to explore at Sugarloaf.
“Since its opening, our sidecountry terrain has become a fan favorite among Sugarloafers,” said Crusher Wilkinson, Sugarloaf’s vice president of mountain operations. “The new Burnt Mountain Cat Skiing will not only enhance the skiing and riding experience, but also make the terrain more accessible to our guests.”
Sunday River‘s snowmaking system is undergoing major renovations to lay the foundation for doubling the water capacity that can be pumped to the ski area, thereby making snow more quickly and efficiently. Phase One, expected be completed by the end of this summer, includes nearly two miles of high-pressure pipe and a new 600 horsepower pump for an immediate 15 percent increase in capacity for the 2018-19 season. The pipeline runs from the resort’s namesake river to the snowmaking pump house located in the Barker Basin.
“It’s a game changer,” said resort president Dana Bullen. “We’ve always had the advantage of our location at the base of a huge natural watershed, but we’ve been limited by the capacity in our snowmaking infrastructure. This new pipeline solves that issue, and anything we do to our snowmaking system from this point forward exponentially improves how fast we can make snow.”
At Bretton Woods, a stone’s throw from the iconic Mount Washington Hotel, the last original chairlift is being replaced by a Doppelmayr 8-passenger lift, which is set to open this winter. A new summit lodge is planned for construction next year.
Trail work, snowmaking improvements, and lodge construction are underway at Waterville Valley. The upper portions of two expert trails on Green Peak have been excavated, and thousands of feet of snowmaking pipe have been put into place, with hundreds of Sufag tower guns lining old and new slopes. The front of the main lodge his been torn down and excavated, as Phase Two of the renovation project is in progress. The southeastern side of the building was rebuilt last year.
Prior to its sale to Vail Resorts, Mount Sunapee postponed the anticipated North Peak lift projects due to “financial constraints, planning and permitting approvals, and/or time constraints.” The relocation of the North Peak Triple to the Sun Bowl and installation of the former Sun Bowl fixed grip quad on North Peak are now planned for the 2019 off-season, with state and local permitting processes starting this fall.
Berkshire East has completed the purchase of Catamount Ski Area, which straddles the Massachusetts/New York border, for roughly $3 million. According to a press release issued by Berkshire East’s James and Jonathan Schaefer, the registered managers of Catamount, plans include a new a new 7,600-square-foot base lodge and triple chairlift at the 80-year-old resort. The new 1,600-foot Poma ski lift will be installed near the Esplanade Trail in the section for beginner skiers.
The state-run Belleayre Ski Center in the Catskills, near Poughkeepsie, is changing the way the mountain is skied on a daily basis with the addition of the Catskill Thunder Gondola. Although the new gondola doesn’t access a consistently long vertical run, the new lift will greatly ease traffic on the Tomahawk Chair, which serves up the majority of the area’s expert terrain.
Closer to New York City, Hunter Mountain is the site of what the resort’s owner, Peak Resorts, claims it’s the largest “on hill” ski area expansion in the East in the past 15 years. The $9-million Hunter North project, which is expected to open for the coming season, will add five new trails and four large gladed areas. Overall, the project will increase skiable area at Hunter by 25 percent, but bumps glade skiing terrain by 800 percent. All five new trails have snowmaking, to match the 100 percent snowmaking on the existing 58 trails. The new trails will be serviced by a new high-speed 6-person chairlift, making it the only New York Mountain with two 6-packs. To provide better access the new lift and area, Hunter North is also getting its own entrance, parking lots, and satellite base lodge.
“Hunter North is a game-changer for Hunter Mountain as it dramatically expands our winter offerings and adds variety to our terrain,” said Russ Coloton, Hunter Mountain’s general manager. “Views from the additional terrain are spectacular and I’m confident that visitors to Hunter Mountain this winter will enjoy an unrivaled skiing and riding experience.”