Big Changes at Big Mountains.
In the interests of fair play, on the heels of our What’s New at Eastern Ski Resorts post, we’re presenting our highlights of new developments at western resorts. The nominees, as you’ll see, are almost too numerous to count.
As mentioned in our previous post, one of the biggest changes on an industry-wide scale is the on-going expansion of the multi-mountain ski pass. Skiers can add Crested Butte in Colorado and Stevens Pass in Washington to the growing list of western resorts under the Vail umbrella. That means the Vail’s Epic Pass now encompasses Vail, Breckenridge, Telluride, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin, and Beaver Creek in Colorado, 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, Stowe and Okemo in Vermont, and Mount Sunapee in New Hampshire, as well as 30 resorts in Europe and nine in Japan.
Meanwhile, Alterra Mountain Company’s Ikon Pass includes western resorts Mammoth, Big Bear, June Mountain, Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows in California, Winter Park, Copper, Eldora, Aspen, and Snowmass in Colorado, Deer Valley, Alta, and Snowbird in Utah, Jackson Hole in Wyoming, Big Sky in Montana, and Revelstoke in British Columbia (in addition to 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 out east).
If variety (and jet-setting) is your thing, consider the Mountain Collective pass. Collective members get two free days of skiing (plus unlimited 50 percent off single-day lift tickets thereafter) and exclusive lodging deals at each of the following 17 destinations: Alta, Snowbasin Resort, and Snowbird in Utah, Aspen/Snowmass in Colorado, Big Sky in Montana, Banff/Sunshine and Lake Louise in Alberta, Jackson Hole in Wyoming, Revelstoke in British Columbia, Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows and Mammoth Mountain in California, Sugarbush in Vermont, Sun Valley in Idaho, Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico, Niseko United in Japan, Coronet Peak/The Remarkables in New Zealand, and Thredbo in Australia. Affiliate Destinations include Chamonix in France and Valle Nevado in Chile (Collective members only receive two free lift tickets at global affiliate destinations, and not the other benefits).
In addition to pass options, here are some notable changes coming to ski areas west of the Mississippi.
Copper Mountain is enhancing how guests access the mountain’s world-class, naturally-divided terrain by upgrading major lifts. The American Eagle lift is being replaced with a high-speed lift that includes a combination of both 6-person chairs and 8-person gondola cabins, increasing uphill capacity by more than 40 percent. A high-speed 6-person chair with bubble enclosures is set to replace the high-speed quad known as the American Flyer lift, primarily serving the resort’s easy and intermediate terrain as well as expedited access to Copper’s advanced high alpine bowls.
Eldora also has a brand new 6-person lift that will remedy long lift lines that have plagued this Colorado gem since being discovered in the past decade. While crowds will likely still be an obstacle on the weekends, this 6-pack will become the go-to for weekday skiers who will now be able to register serious vertical in a single day.
Winter Park’s venerable Zephyr Express chairlift is being replaced by a new 10-person gondola, part of the resort’s $28.2 million capital improvement campaign. Other additions include the first phase of a complete overhaul of Winter Park’s snowmaking system, increased lift maintenance, snowcats, and 21 acres of logging in Eagle Wind Territory to improve glade skiing. The $16 million Leitner-Poma gondola will increase uphill capacity to 3,600 guests per hour, decreasing wait times by 15 minutes during peak season. Winter Park is also upgrading its antiquated 42-year old snowmaking system.
In Durango, Purgatory Resort is expanding its terrain with new intermediate and expert trails on the back and front sides of the mountain, as well as new gladed terrain. The triple chairlift – Needles Lift 6 –will offer a new mid-way loading zone that provides ski teams, terrain park fanatics, and skiers/riders who want to make laps on the front an easier way to access terrain. New snowmaking equipment is being purchased to improve the resort’s ability to make snow and open the resort more efficiently.
Alterra is underwriting a 72-seat expansion at Steamboat’s slopeside Bear River Restaurant. While adding extra room to a restaurant might not sound like much, company CEO Rusty Gregory said its evidence of Alterra directing “a significant amount of money” into untangling the decades of planning for the base area “to fix the mess that it’s become.”
Loveland Ski Area is replacing Lift 1 this summer, and the 1,800-acre ski area let the public submit their name ideas for the new chair. The name will be “Chet’s Dream,” in honor one of the ski area’s founding fathers, Chester R. Upham, Jr. (May 19, 1925-Jan. 24, 2008). Upham was pivotal in the decision to add Lift 1 to the rope tow-only ski area in the 1960s.
Arapahoe Basin is adding 30 new runs and 468 acres of new terrain called The Beavers and The Steep Gullies, which will open this season. The Steep Gullies will be accessible via a 30-minute hike to the top and a hike back out to the bottom of Pallavicini lift, and is only recommended for advanced skiers and riders. The Beavers will feature a new fixed-grip quad and terrain that will range from intermediate groomers to advanced tree skiing. The iconic, 40-year-old Norway lift was removed earlier in July.
Base-area improvements at California’s Big Bear are part of Alterra’s $555 million capital improvement campaign across the company’s resorts.
“This is a very well-capitalized company with private investors,” said Alterra’s Gregory, who spent 40 years working at Mammoth Mountain. “We are an operating company, so it’s really recurring earnings we are looking for. Those recurring earnings eventually at some level go back to shareholders, but if you look at the Crown family’s history, they buy and hold assets for a long, long time.”
Gregory’s home resort, Mammoth Mountain, continues to evolve with a new round of investment in infrastructure at Canyon Lodge, part of $10 million worth of capital improvements this summer. The first of a multi-phase, $20-25 million plan, Phase 1 includes installation of escalators, new restrooms and updates to the parking and bus-drop areas. The second phase of Canyon Lodge improvements is expected to begin later this year.
Heavenly is replacing the two-seater Galaxy lift with a three-person chair this summer, increasing skier access to 400 acres of the resort’s intermediate terrain
In June, Deer Valley Resort unveiled its largest investment in capital improvements in over a decade with $8.1 million in mountain enhancements for the 2018-2019 season. Most notably, Deer Valley will replace the Homestake chairlift with a new, detachable, high-speed quad chairlift. The new chairlift will benefit skiers by cutting ride-time in half and increasing uphill skier capacity by 400 skiers per hour. The Homestake chairlift provides skier access from the Silver Lake Village to the top of Bald Eagle Mountain.
Additional improvements planned for 2018-2019 season at Deer Valley Resort include snowmaking system enhancements with additional low-energy guns, five new fan guns, upgrading control systems, and replacing several thousand feet of snowmaking pipes, plus the purchase of four new Prinoth snowcats, including one Beast to add to the snow grooming fleet.
Nearby, Vail Resorts is making significant capital improvements at Park City Mountain. Coming on the heels of a $50 million investment to connect Park City and the former Canyons resorts, coupled with massive upgrades to lift infrastructure and on-mountain dining in 2015, Vail Resorts plans to continue with Park City’s transformation by focusing on improving the on-mountain dining and skiing experience for guests.
Slated to debut this winter, the High Meadow Family Fun Zone at Canyons Village will offer guests a dedicated learning area at the new High Meadow lift. The existing High Meadow lift is being replaced with a high-speed, 4-passenger lift, increasing uphill capacity by 50 percent. Additional snowmaking throughout the area’s gentle slopes will ensure guests ideal snow surface conditions for learning. And Park City’s iconic Mid-Mountain Lodge is undergoing an interior renovation to create a dining experience of relaxed mountain luxury, while preserving the historic nature of the 120-plus-year-old historic miners’ boarding house.
In Little Cottonwood Canyon, Snowbird’s resort base is seeing some major renovations. Two bridges will allow for easier access to The Cliff Lodge, Snowbird Center, and Lower Village. From the base of the Peruvian Chair, the 70-foot Peruvian Bridge will provide easy access to the Aerial Tram. The Chickadee Bridge will cover the entire expanse of lower Chickadee trail. Spanning 491-feet in length, the trestle-style bridge will allow for easy foot-traffic while guests ski underneath.
As the central hub of Snowbird, the Snowbird Center renovations aim to add ease of comfort to your day, including a new 1,700-square-foot guest lounge on Level 2 featuring a new Smart Wall with real-time informational displays plus charging stations for phones and cameras, newly expanded restrooms with additional stalls and hand dryers, and The Forklift’s new outdoor bar. Construction of an all-new restaurant and additional conference space will begin on the west side of The Cliff Lodge. Conveniently located on L1, a family-friendly restaurant will provide unobstructed mountain views, tiered seating and an outdoor patio with fire pits.
Further up the canyon, at Alta, the Forest Service has completed an Environment Assessment on several projects included in Alta’s Master Development Plan, finding that no significant environmental impacts. The projects authorized by Forest Service include modification of the Albion Base parking lots and roadway to improve skier access and safety, installation of a small tram from Germania Pass to just below the top of Mt. Baldy for avalanche mitigation work, installation of remote avalanche mitigation devices on Sugarloaf Mountain and East Castle to reduce dependence on artillery and helicopters, replacement of the Sunnyside and Wildcat lifts to upgrade aging equipment, construction of a new Flora lift to replace the East Baldy/Return to Collins road, expansion of Alf’s restaurant to improve circulation and increase seating and restroom space, expansion of the West deck, and creation of additional interior space at Watson Shelter.
Kudos to the operators of Powder Mountain in Eden, who recently decided not to maximize profits, and instead opted to max out the powder per capita by lowering its cap on day ticket sales at the resort. The move will preserve their “unparalleled skier experience.” said resort officials.
Big Sky has announced that it will be making some infrastructure changes to become the Alps of North America. In the immediate future, there will be new lifts coming to Andesite and Shedhorn mountains. Andesite is getting a Doppelmayr D-line eight-seat chairlift, while Shedhorn gets a quad.
“Shedhorn is really exciting to all of our local community because it’s adding a high-speed lift in the place of Shedhorn which has been a two-person lift for the last 25 years,” said Taylor Middleton, Big Sky’s general manager.
Later, resort officials plan to renovate the mountain mall, creating a food space and an event venue. Some other infrastructure improvements the resort will add down the road are night skiing, more snow coverage, and updating of Moonlight Basin’s chairlift system.
Two new quads and a 6-pack at the Arizona Snowbowl will change the way you think about skiing in the Grand Canyon State. After implementing the Grand Canyon Express 6-pack last year, the Snowbowl is building a new quad to serve beginner skiers and riders at the Hart Prairie beginner area, providing some of the best teaching terrain in the country. The new restaurant at Snowbowl’s base area beside the Sunset Chairlift and near the Grand Canyon Express offers 300 indoor seats, plus a patio complete with a fire pit, allowing guests ski-in, ski-out access. New slopeside bathrooms will be added as well.
Sipapu’s historic lodge is undergoing renovations that include a new 2,141 square foot addition, housing a new rental shop with upgraded ski and snowboard rental equipment, a new ticket office, retail space, and improved traffic flow with new bathrooms and locker room. Enhancements the snowmaking system will help Sipapu continue to be the first ski area to open in New Mexico, a title the resort has held for 14 consecutive seasons.
This winter, a brand new Magic Carpet lift will service Pajarito Mountain’s Beginners Area, replacing the old Mighty Mite handle tow. A conveyor lift is an easy way for beginner skiers and snowboarders to ride up the mountain. The Magic Carpet will be 170 feet long, moving 800 more guests per hour than the old handle tow, for a total of 1,000 guests per hour
Red Mountain in Rossland, British Columbia, is seeing major changes this summer, including a connecting lift from the Grey Chair to the Silverlode Chair, additional parking, and a new on-mountain hostel. Red Mountain officials predict the new connecting lift will relieve congestion during busy days at the resort and the hostel will provide a more affordable on-mountain experience. They are also building several on-mountain cabins and a clubhouse.
Whistler/Blackcomb is undergoing $50 million worth of upgrades and updates this summer, which includes three new lifts. A 10-person gondola will replace the Wizard and Solar lifts on the Blackcomb side of the mountain, while the resort’s Family Ski Zone’s 4-passenger Emerald Express is replaced by a new high-speed 6-passenger chair. The 3-seater Catskinner lift is also being replaced by a new high-speed 4-passenger chair.
Finally, one bonus mention that escaped our review of eastern resort improvements. Mont Tremblant in Quebec is replacing the fixed-grip triple Lowell Thomas lift with a detachable quad. The summit chalet, Le Grand Manitou, is also being expanded and renovated, and the resort is adding 50 acres of new gladed terrain.
Image: Arapahoe Basin