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Remember the feeling of anticipation on Christmas morning? Or on your 16th birthday? You could hardly wait for the big day and the opportunity to rip open your presents. For skiers and riders, the summer is a long buildup to the anticipation of opening day, and some lucky snowsliders will have a new present waiting in the form of upgrades and improvements at your favorite ski area.

Of course, like a new bike or even a new car, the best presents are shiny and big. The equivalent at a ski area would be a new lift or a new base lodge – something you can touch and feel that really improves the experience. However, many improvements that ski areas invest in over the summer tend to be less obvious. Upgrades to snowmaking systems, whether replacements of piping or new snowguns, typically eat up a large share of capital expenditure budgets, as do general trail clearing and grading, erosion control, and parking lot maintenance. While these might not be the sexiest of improvements, they are necessary to keep any ski area functioning efficiently.

But enough about operational upgrades. Let’s focus on the capital investment that marketing and PR gurus love to tout. Here are some sexy and sparkly new improvements that riders can anticipate for opening day 2015. 

Whitefish Mountain

Located on the doorstep of Glacier National Park, Whitefish has always been a terrific destination for a snowboard trip. This summer, improvements will make it even better, with an expansion and upgrade of the Summit House, the only mountaintop restaurant in Montana. New windows will take advantage of the spectacular views of Glacier National Park and the Flathead Valley, and an expanded mezzanine area will be able to accommodate 150 additional lunch time guests. A new ski patrol headquarters is also part of the $1.2 million capital improvement project. The Summit House renovations are part of a multi-year commitment on the part of Whitefish to upgrade their facilities; prior improvements have included a new triple Flower Point chair and a much-needed expansion of the base lodge.

New For 2015/16: Ski Area Upgrades & Improvements

PHOTO: Whitefish Mountain

Jackson Hole

The iconic Wyoming resort of Jackson Hole will be celebrating its 50th anniversary this winter, and a big part of the celebration is the opening of the new Teton Lift. The chairlift will be located between the existing Casper and Après Vous chairlifts and serve terrain that previously could only be reached by hiking. Steep, gnarly chutes, cliffs, and mandatory airs punctuate the terrain on Sheridan Ridge, though there will be some intermediate trails from the top of the chair as well. The top terminal of the chair will drop skiers very close to the popular but avalanche-prone Granite Canyon, the north facing “dark side” of Jackson’s famous out-of-bounds terrain. The opening of the Teton Lift will be on December 19, 2015, 50 years after the first opening day for the resort.

New For 2015/16: Ski Area Upgrades & Improvements

Jackson Hole Mountain. PHOTO: Chris Finenshau

Squaw Valley

No one likes to wait in line for anything, especially at a lift on a powder day. Squaw Valley doesn’t want you waiting either, which is why they are upgrading the Siberia Express from a high speed quad to a high speed 6-pack. The lift, which serves intermediate and advanced terrain, is frequently shut down for high winds at the summit. The newer 6-pack lift, with larger, heavier chairs, will be able to operate in more adverse conditions than does the current lift. The greater reliability was a key factor in the decision to upgrade the current lift, which was installed in 1985 and one of the earliest detachable quads in the US. The lift renovation is positive news for riders who will enjoy higher capacity and greater operational dependability for this popular chairlift.

New For 2015/16: Ski Area Upgrades & Improvements

Snowboarder under Siberia Lift. PHOTO: Squaw Valley

Sugarloaf

Big ski areas have extensive lift systems, with everything from conveyors, fixed grip, and detachable chairs. Sugarloaf is spending $1.3 million this summer to upgrade many components of their existing chairs, most notably replacing the bottom drive terminal of the King Pine quad chair. While the chairs, haul rope, and top terminal will remain, the replacement of the lower terminal will equate to a safer and more efficient experience for resort guests. The King Pine lift is popular with intermediate to expert skiers and riders, as it provides access to trails like Ripsaw and Widowmaker. In addition to the King Pine lift, other fixed-grip chairs that will receive upgrades include Double Runner, Sawduster, Skidway, Snubber, Timberline and West Mountain. The improvements will focus on new automated braking and anti-rollback technology.

New For 2015/16: Ski Area Upgrades & Improvements

PHOTO: Sugarloaf

This is just a sampling of the many upgrades at different ski areas across North America this summer. We hope the first day at your hometown hill will be like opening that big present under the tree on Christmas morning!

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