While you’ve been mountain biking, enjoying the beach, or traveling this summer, your favorite ski area has been busy making improvements for the upcoming 2014-15 season.
The summer is a critical time for construction projects that would either be too disruptive during the ski season or not possible because of frozen ground. This includes things like installing new lifts, constructing new buildings, expanding terrain, or replacing old snowmaking pipes.
Considerations on how to spend limited capital dollars mean that some improvements are mundane, while others have sizzle. The former are necessary (but unsexy), while the latter get snowriders excited, especially when it comes to new chairlifts. Here’s a rundown of a few major improvements being constructed at North American ski resorts this summer.
Kachina Lift, Taos Ski Valley
New lifts are one of the more common capital improvements in the ski resort industry. According to NSAA statistics from the Kottke End of Season Report, an estimated 46 new or upgraded lifts will be installed for the 2014-15 season.
Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico is undergoing a major upgrade with the installation of the new Kachina Lift, which will provide lift access to an area of the mountain that was previously only accessible by human power. The lift will increase the amount of advanced/expert terrain at Taos by 50 percent. The fixed-grip triple chair will not go all the way to the summit of Kachina Peak, preserving some hike-to terrain for those guests who value the backcountry experience. Nevertheless, the new lift will increase Taos’s lift-served vertical drop to 3,250 feet.
SunBurst Six Lift, Okemo
Imagine starting a powder day inside the comfort of a gondola, but without having to take off your skis. That’s what riding a bubble chairlift is like. The window-like shield that lowers after boarding the chair provides protection from the wind and precipitation. Pretty nice on a cold day, for sure.
Okemo Resort in Vermont is replacing the Northstar Express with a six-pack bubble chair, complete with heated seats. The new SunBurst Six lift will be the first in the Northeast US with heated seats (Mount Snow installed a six-pack bubble chair a couple of seasons ago, but it does not have seat heaters). Not only will the heated seats keep your buns warm, the chairs will be removed from the line each night and stored in a large barn at the bottom terminal, protecting the chairs from overnight snowstorms.
If you get first tracks on a powder day at Okemo this winter, your first ride up will be cozy and dry.
It’s hard to talk about capital improvements and not mention Vail Resorts.
Breckenridge is replacing the Colorado Super Chair quad with a high-speed, six-pack chair. The increase in uphill capacity (approximately 30 percent) will move skiers and snowboarders up Peak 8, a notoriously crowded area of the resort, more quickly.
Similarly, the Centennial Express at Beaver Creek is being replaced with a combination gondola/six-pack combo chairlift.
Kids Center, Arapahoe Basin
While new chairlifts are in the master plan at Arapahoe Basin, this summer’s construction involves a new, three-story Kids Center to serve the burgeoning lesson and rental programs that are offered to its youngest customers.
The new building will help A-Basin to provide space for lessons, equipment rentals, food service, restrooms, and other facilities for families with kids from Summit County, the Front Range, and beyond. Solar panels, low-flow toilets, and low-energy lighting are features consistent with A-Basin’s commitment to environmental stewardship. The kiddos can even learn about mountain ecology through a series of educational posters and programs.
Beginners will have an easier time navigating the rental shop and lesson registration, which will now be adjacent to each other in the Lodge at Cedar River. The tubing park is being converted into a beginner lesson area, served by a new Magic Carpet conveyor lift. Tubing will be moved to the top of Summit Mountain, where tubers will have a Magic Carpet lift of their own. The old snowsports building is being repurposed as a day lodge, providing lockers, food service, vending machines, and other services for guests. Other changes will improve the flow of visitors through the ski area, including in and out of the parking lots. No one wants their great day on the slopes to be ruined by a big backup in the parking lot at the end of the day!
On the heels of last season’s new lift and 997-acre terrain expansion, British Columbia’s Red Mountain is at it again in 2014/15. The resort is adding 195 acres of cat skiing on Mt. Kirkup, costing $10 per run, on top of a lift ticket or season pass. The expansion area will have intermediate to advanced gladed tree skiing and three cut runs.
There are many more ski area improvements happening this summer, so even if your friendly neighborhood ski hill is not on this list, get out for yourself this winter to see what’s new!