By David & Ann Schissler – About this time last year I was attending Zoom meetings with the National Ski Areas Association, Snowsports Industries of America, the Professional Ski Instructors Association, Ski Area Management magazine and other industry organizations to hear their thoughts and plans for a pandemic ski season. I remember wondering if there would be a ski season, what it may look like, how the industry would adapt and come out on the other side. I must say I for one was pleasantly surprised at what a successful season it was in spite of less travel and all the precautions taken to mitigate the pandemic. According to the NSAA it turns put last season was one of the 10 best with resorts logging 59 million skier/boarder visits. That’s up 11% from the previous three years. Small and mid-sized areas did particularly well with many riders staying close to home.
Last spring and all through this summer what has surprised me the most is how many ski resorts are pushing forward with delayed improvements and developments already scheduled for this summer. The amount of growth is impressive. Here are some developments of note.
As some of you know, Loon Mountain is the winter home of the White Book. Loon is in the process of replacing the venerable Kancamagus high speed quad with a state of the art 8-passenger high speed lift complete with bubble and heated seats. The “Kanc8” will debut this fall. The original “Kanc” high speed quad will replace the Seven Brothers fixed grip triple next summer bringing Loon’s high speed lift count to five.
The drive between Alpine Meadows and Palisades Tahoe (formerly Squaw Valley) is seven-miles. Construction of the long-anticipated Base-to-Base Gondola connecting the two is underway. The eight-passenger cabins will carry 1,400 riders per hour between the resorts in about 16 minutes. It’s a gigantic undertaking costing about $60 million with two base terminals and two mid-stations.
Steamboat, where I lived in the ‘70s, has begun a three-year, $135 million re-design of Gondola Square to include new retail, dining, and entertainment options. This season will see an expansion of 650 acres of advanced and expert terrain in Pioneer Ridge. The plan also includes the new Wild Blue gondola next season which will provide access to the Bashor teaching area. It’s worth noting that once the new terrain is open Steamboat will be the second largest ski resort in Colorado with 3,620 acres of skiable terrain (behind Vail with 5,317 acres). Interestingly, Steamboat raised $200,000 for local charities by selling the old Priest Creek chairs.
Vail Resorts is doing skiers no favors at Mount Snow this coming season. They’ve announced that in order to “improve the guest experience” (and some say to make up for the 20% discount on the Epic pass) 60% of their parking will now be PAID! This is no big deal to western skiers who have been paying for parking at many resorts for years (at most resorts you can still park for free as long as you arrive early and don’t mind hoofing it). I’m not aware of any pricing yet but I’m certainly not the first to say any price is too much.
At Beaver Creek 30-years of planning McCoy Creek are coming to fruition. For years McCoy Creek has been BC’s cross-country and snowshoeing area. It’s an absolutely beautiful high alpine meadow at the top of BC’s Larkspur or Bachelor Gulch lifts. The expansion will open 17 new trails and 250 acres of groom-able terrain for beginner and intermediate riders.
Big Sky Resort will be unveiling the fastest six-passenger lift in North America which is replacing the Swift Current lift. The new heated lift is meant to complement the Ramcharger 8 bubble constructed on Andesite Mountain. The Swift Current HSQ will be repurposed at a later date at some Boyne resort. The two new lifts have an impressive 6,600 skiers per hour capacity. Check out the construction video here: https://webcams.bigskyresort.com/SwiftyTimelapse.mp4
Breckenridge Resort turns 60 this year and to celebrate they will unwrap the new Freedom SuperChair on the north side of Peak 7. The lower terminal is just below the Lincoln Meadows and Monte Cristo trails which allows riders from Peak 6 to easily access Peak 7 and 8 and drops you off just above the Pioneer Crossing restaurant. The Freedom SuperChair should help reduce line time at the base of Peak 7 and improve traffic flow between Peaks 6, 7, and 8.