It’s Been a Busy Summer at Ski Areas Throughout North America. Here’s an “Executive Summary” for You

By David Schissler (August 2015) A recent article in the Aspen Times about the new Park City Mountain Resort, UTstated the National Ski Areas Association does not track ski areas by skiable acres. Well, the White Book of Ski Areas does. The new PCMR has 7,300 skiable acres, making it the largest in the US […]

By David Schissler

(August 2015) A recent article in the Aspen Times about the new Park City Mountain Resort, UTstated the National Ski Areas Association does not track ski areas by skiable acres. Well, the White Book of Ski Areas does. The new PCMR has 7,300 skiable acres, making it the largest in the US with Vail second at 5,289 skiable acres. Whistler is still the largest in North America with 7,494 skiable acres.

While new lifts and trails never fail to excite me, ski resort marketers have recently impressed upon me how important some of their less glamorous efforts are to the overall skiing or riding experience.Pat’s Peak, NH, which added a high-speed quad and six new trails in Cascade Basin last year, will be adding $1 million in “hidden” improvement this season. The snow surface will be better than ever with 10 additional HKD energy efficient snowmaking guns and 6 new SMI Fan Guns and will cover the Twister trail. To smooth out all that new snow Pat’s is also adding a new Pisten Bully snowcat.

Whiteface, Gore and Belleayre, NY are going green with an agreement to go solar that will save the resorts $14 million over the next 25 years. In practical terms this means at Whiteface alone the resort will generate enough of its own energy to account for 40% of its snowmaking each year or supply power to all the lifts and lodges for each ski season. Whiteface has also added 55 new fixed and 2 new mobile fan guns to its high-efficiency, low energy snowmaking system. A new Pisten Bully groomer will also be added to bring the fleet to 10 machines.

Not to be outdone by the NY resorts above, Jiminy Peak, MA, the first ski area in the US to install a wind turbine in 2007, continues its green march to sustainability by partnering with the Massachusetts-based solar project developer and owner Nexamp to construct a 2.3 megawatt community solar facility. Combined with Jiminy’s existing 1.5 megawatt wind turbine and a 75 kilowatt hour co-generation unit, the added solar generation will enable Jiminy Peak to offset 90 percent of its energy needs from renewable resources.

Mount Rose, CA is sending a bit of a shock wave across the Lake Tahoe area by announcing it will increase its minimum wage to $11 an hour this season. That’s $2.75 an hour above Nevada’s $8.25 hourly minimum and $2 more than California’s $9 minimum wage. Ski area employees may spark a bidding war with surrounding resorts. In fact, the move may have been spurred by Vail Resorts, owners of California’s Heavenly, Kirkwood, and Northstar, who raised its nearly company-wide minimum wage to $10 an hour.

Meetings Focus magazine, a trade publication for the multi-billion dollar meetings industry, recently polled more than 55,000 conference and event planning professionals to determine the best conference destinations in the country. For the second time,Sugarloaf, ME was chosen as the “Best in the East” locale for a conference or event. The title “Best of the East” is awarded to the property that receives the most reader votes for excellence within the Eastern United States and Canada. Properties are judged on the quality of meeting space, guest rooms, guest service and amenities, food and beverage service, recreational facilities and activities, the efficiency and helpfulness of the resort’s staff, and the overall value of the experience.

RFID (radio-frequency identification) technology is coming to Steamboat, CO and Winter Park, COresorts this season with SKIDATA. All daily lift tickets, season passes and frequency products will be available on QuickTrax™ cards, which are embedded with an RFID chip to enable hands-free access to lifts allowing guests to get on the lift faster. In addition to the lifts the RFID system will work with a reusable “QuickTrax” card that can be reloaded online or over the phone, allowing guests to bypass the ticket office. Guests also have the option of signing up for Resort Charge, which eliminates the need to carry cash or a credit card on the mountain. Resort Charge allows guests to make purchases at any resort operated restaurant, rental and retail location, ski and ride school, and more by attaching a credit card to their QuickTrax card.

Make this your season to ski Telluride and be rewarded. Book your ski vacation by September 30th, 2015 and receive up to 40% off on their finest lodging, guaranteed. Telluride calls this their Best Rate Promise with eight incredible stay and ski packages availabile throughout the winter season. Call (866) 850-5289 for lodging reservations or visit www.TellurideSkiResort.com

What’s the largest ski area development project you never heard of? Valemont Glacier Destinations, BC is in the vicinity of Mt. Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. A new proposal for a year-round resort outside of Valemount, BC is entering its next phase. The proposal includes a 2,000-bed resort next to the world’s longest in-bounds ski run and the continent’s largest vertical drop with the additional draw of being North America’s only summer skiing destination. The recreation area will cover about 20,000 acres while the skiable acres will be about 2,500 acres. A three-phase proposal includes the installation of 17 lifts. The resort will also feature the first ski in/ski out airport in North America. A gondola terminating at one of the peaks at the top of Twilight Glacier will allow year-round skiing and an initial vertical drop of 4,495 feet – the third highest accessible by lift in North America. With the addition of the airport vertical drop will increase to 5,232 feet. The first phase will also include two detachable quad chair lifts, two T-bar lifts on the glacier and a fixed grip quad chair. The lifts will give access to about 40 runs, a combination of groomed, open and gladed, ranging from beginner (nine runs), through intermediate, advanced, and will include eight expert runs.

Several plans for a mega-resort in this area have failed in the past, but developers and locals have an optimistic view of the current proposal. Stay tuned.

Regular visitors to The White Blog will recall a piece back in 2012 about Echo Mountain, CO in Idaho Springs going private as an alpine training center. Well, things have come full circle and Echo will be open to the public again this season. The mountain has gone through quite an evolutionary process over the past decade. Formerly Squaw Pass ski area, it closed in the early 1970s, and was reborn as the Echo Mountain snowboard park in 2006. It soon expanded, inviting skiers as well, before Pykkonen purchased the area and turned it into a training center in 2012. It continues to manage the 226-acre area, but plans to open Dec. 10 with a renewed focus on the family and beginner guests. Day lift tickets are currently listed at $49, and season passes start at $159.

A battle is brewing in Silverton, CO over a proposed change in terrain that would allow the heli-skiing operation, Silverton Guides, to access terrain now used by locals who hike up to some sweet descents. Community members quickly expressed fears the proposal would limit their access to highly prized backcountry ski terrain in exchange for expensive heli-skiing that might attract tourists. Silverton is one of the most extreme ski areas in North America and it’s the continent’s highest with a summit elevation of 13,487 feet. With only one chairlift, only advanced skiers use this high alpine environment.

There’s a movement on in West Windsor, VT to form Mt. Ascutney Outdoors, a non-profit organization to run the Mt. Ascutney, VT ski resort which has been closed since the 2010-2011 ski season. Several entities are joining forces to raise the estimated $905,000 needed to succeed. More than half that amount has already been raised. The townspeople of West Windsor voted to contribute $100,000, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board has contributed $300,000 and online fundraising has generated another $111,000. The purchase would include 1,581 acre forest which included the 469 acre ski area. The Vermont Land Trust has agreed to alpine skiing as an activity, but wants to limit the environmental impact of ski lifts, and has not yet agreed to the number and location of possible lifts. The base lodge will also need to be rebuilt after a fire last January. In 2012, Crotched Mountain, N.H., bought the area’s high-speed quad. Pats Peak, N.H., bought Ascutney’s triple chairlifts in 2014.

Two mountains in the Northeast have put expansion and perhaps even opening in question. Waterville Valley, NH, is behind in its plan to install a high-speed quad on the new Green Peak area. Financing for the lift has been problematic. Saddleback, ME is on record saying if it doesn’t receive funding for a new fixed-grip chair it may not open this season.

Look, up in the air! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! (it’s not Superman). Coming soon to a mountain near you:Drones for rent. Golden Star Enterprises recently announced it plans to market its drones to major ski resorts in North America. Fueled by the success of GoPro’s rental program at ski areas the company believes it can fill a need. They say many professional action sport athletes hire helicopters to get an aerial view of the action. It’s very expensive and time consuming. Golden Star plans to make aerial photography so affordable that skiers, hikers, mountain bikers and all outdoor enthusiasts everywhere will want one of their drones. Their two flagship products are designed for consumers requiring no training and no experience. Both the drones are meant to appeal to low budget beginners as the most cost-efficient and affordable drones in the market. The Kasper features a 1080p camera with the latest “follow me” AI feature, enabling the drone to automatically film a skiers performance accurately.

Planning a trip to a destination ski resort this winter? If you are, there’s a “magic date” coming up soon. Book your trip before August 31st and it’s very likely you’ll receive up to 40% off on rooms, lift tickets, and airfare. Do some research on the White Book of Ski Areas site and make your pick!