According to the National Ski Areas Association, the number of U.S. ski areas has dropped from 546 in the 1991-92 ski season to 477 in the 2012-13 season. However, most of the dearly departed areas were tiny local hills, so skiers and snowboarders still have plenty of resort terrain. In fact, many destination resorts have significantly grown in skiable acreage during the past couple decades. High-speed lift installations make more vertical feet on that acreage possible during a day on the slopes.
The 2013-14 season has brought another slate of terrain expansions and new ski lifts. In some cases, the trend of bringing “side-country” in-bounds offers the flavor of rugged backcountry skiing, minus any serious avalanche concerns.
Sugar Bowl Resort in California has installed the $3 million Crow’s Peak Chairlift to access more than 150 new acres of advanced and expert steeps and glades. Bucking the high-speed quad and six-pack trend, the new lift is a fixed-grip triple due in part to the lack of space for the top terminal. The fixed-grip lift also can better handle wind. Factoring in the sheltered nature of that portion of the resort, Crow’s Peak should be spinning even on most storm days.
Changes at Copper Mountain involve two surface ski lifts. The Colorado resort upgraded the Storm King surface lift that had been installed in 1985. The brand-new Celebrity Ridge surface lift runs at the top of the Sierra chairlift to improve access to Union Peak, Union Meadows, West Ridge and Copper Bowl.
Winter Park Resort did not build a new lift, but the Colorado ski area made access to its taste of backcountry skiing much easier. Although reminiscent of a backcountry experience, the 1,332 acres of the Cirque were in-bounds and avalanche-controlled in previous seasons. Reaching the area, however, required a fairly flat hike that was more time-consuming than technical. This season, the “Cirque Sled,” a 48-passenger snowcat, will eliminate that slog. A $10 pass covers unlimited rides on the Cirque Sled for the entire season.
While the Cirque Sled will just attract experts, a wide range of ability levels should appreciate the new Treasure Stoke Lift at Colorado’s Wolf Creek Ski Area. A major artery coming out of the ski area’s main base, the new detachable high-speed quad replaces the Treasure Lift, a triple chair.
In Utah, the only new lift is the replacement at Snowbird of the original Gad 2 double chairlift that goes back to 1971. The new high-speed detachable quad will cut the ride time in half.
Whitefish Mountain Resort has cut a few new blue runs as part of the Flower Point Project. Although the Montana resort’s new trails are already lift-served, a new lift in the 2014-15 season will directly access the north-facing Flower Point area. Whitefish, formerly known as Big Mountain, is unusual among U.S. ski areas in that the “front” of the resort faces south. Therefore, more north-facing terrain means more trails with better snow preservation in the spring.
Crystal Mountain in Michigan installed a new high-speed quad called the Buck Quad. Along with the new lift, the area increased its skiable terrain to 48 trails with three new runs: Buckaroo, Buck Glades and Gorge Glades.
With the snow falling, it’s time to get out there and enjoy those new lifts and trails.