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Colorado Ski Areas Invest in Dining, Chairs, Snowmaking

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Colorado ski areas invest in dining, chairs, snowmaking for 2013-14

With two months left before snowmaking begins in earnest, resorts are racing to finish a flurry of upgrades for 2013-14.

While the days of new lifts accessing new trails are winding down — only one resort is expanding ski terrain for next season — resorts are investing heavily in snowmaking as well as lodging and dining facilities.


Arapahoe Basin dropped $1 million on a remodel of the 6th Alley Bar & Grill and a base-lodge expansion. Beaver Creek is preparing for the 2015 FIS World Alpine Ski Championships with a new 500-seat restaurant at Red Tail Camp. Steamboat's new 13,000-square-foot Four Points Lodge marks its most significant on-mountain improvement in 10 years. Loveland is adding its first on-mountain eatery at the remodeled Ptarmigan Roost Cabin.


Durango Mountain Resort, Eldora, Telluride, Ski Granby Ranch and Sunlight are adding new snowmaking equipment, reducing power costs while expanding capacity. Winter Park is replacing its snowmaking supply pipe.


This year, Breckenridge is the only Colorado resort getting bigger, with its hard-earnedexpansion onto its 12,300-foot Peak 6, the largest terrain addition for the country's busiest ski hill in the past decade. Peak 6 adds two new lifts accessing 400 acres of lift-served terrain and 143 acres of hike-to steeps.

Crested Butte is glading existing terrain, adding more tree skiing and kid-specific runs.

Steamboat recently won local approval to add night skiing to the lower portion of the mountain.


Arapahoe Basin is working on a federal environmental review of its proposed lift-served expansion into the steep backcountry adjacent to the resort known as the Beavers, which, if approved, will mark one of the more significant ski-area expansions of the decade. Eldora, which this season joins Vail's vast Epic Pass, and Monarch also are in the middle of federal reviews of expansion plans.

Wolf Creek recently won federal approval for the new Elma lift, which will eliminate a cross-mountain traverse, as well as new sports center and racing facilities, marking the first steps in a sweeping plan to improve skiing at Wolf Creek.


Copper Mountain spent $7 million for 2013-14, with a new surface lift replacing the Storm King T-bar and a new West Ridge Platter surface lift reaching the upper portions of the ski area. New this season, Copper unveils "Sherpa," a hands-free "intelligence" app that delivers mountainwide trail tips, directions and basically locals' insight via headphones.

Family-owned Wolf Creek is replacing the Treasure Lift with a new high-speed detachable four-pack chair.

Vail Resorts plans to spend $130 million to $140 million at nine resorts for 2013, and company chief Rob Katz has warned analysts that the 2013-14 capital plan will likely mark the high point for winter investment as the company turns toward improving summer traffic across its multiple-state empire.

At its flagship Vail, the company is replacing Mountaintop Express Chair with a six-person lift. Across all Vail Resorts hills in Colorado, California and Utah, the company's fourth generation of EpicMix will include online pins and awards for ski-school students.


Silverton Mountain this year expands its heli-operation to include overnight heli-touring for $429 a day. Last year, the southern Colorado ski hill that leans more toward heavy-breathing adventure than coddling debuted heli-mountaineering trips. This season, the heli drops you on a peak with a guide and you tour several lines before descending to a stocked multiple-person dome tent.

Winter Park is selling $10 passes good for all-season rides accessing the Cirque, a 1,332-acre playground of steep terrain. Loveland will continue its free Sno-cat rides up the Ridge.

post #2 of 3

Interesting stuff.  Some random thoughts...


$1 million into the sixth alley bar at A-basin is my favorite :) and continuing to move on the Beavers is fantastic!   Go, go, go A-basin, go!


The Cirque sled rides at WP are a great idea.  It will be interesting to see how that works out logistically.


I hope Wolf Creek knows what they are doing.  That's a ton of money going into a very difficult to access ski area.


Vail keeps putting in better lifts, and the lift lines don't seem to get any better.


I'm doubtful Copper is going to get everything planned done this summer given the progress so far.  We'll see soon enough.


Finally, it's amazing what they've done with Breck.  Just a decade ago it wasn't worth skiing for me cause Breckenflats sux.  It's now a nice mountain for expert skiers.   Amazing transformation.

post #3 of 3
Originally Posted by tball View Post


I hope Wolf Creek knows what they are doing.  That's a ton of money going into a very difficult to access ski area.



Here's what I think about Wolf Creek's expansion (and "I hope they know what they are doing" matches a lot of my sentiments).


From a Colorado centric standpoint, it is out of the way. From a Texas/Oklahoma/New Mexico standpoint, they are close, and the fact that they are far cheaper than most of the other alternatives in the same area helps too. That whole area of the state sees a ton of Texas visitation in both the summer and winter, something you don't really realize until you live here and see the influx. Their skier visits are quite healthy for being away from major population centers- Loveland gets about 275,000 in a prime location, Wolf Creek gets 200,000 to 220,000 with a shorter season.


The bottom line is that they are debt-free and making money, so it makes sense to sink that money into improvements. I'm just not sold that all of these "improvements" will actually be that.


First and foremost, I will believe that they will actually build the Matchless Tram when they get NEPA approval. The tram idea is crazy, and part of me suspects that one of the reasons it was proposed was to give the environmental folks a target to allow the other lift and expansion areas smooth sailing- they can "knuckle under" and axe the tram, and the other plans to nearly double the number of lifts on the mountain seems much more reasonable by comparison. But seriously- building a tram into a roadless area that is prime elk hunting grounds (and has already drawn opposition from people with guide privileges there) that requires a SUP expansion into a DIFFERENT National Forest than your ski area currently is permitted through? Oh yeah, and it is expert expert terrain that is about an hour of lift rides from your base, would require herculean avalanche control efforts, and it would be a nightmare to rescue Bubba when he brings his snowblades out there to play. I would like to see it exist, but I have serious doubts that even the ski area seriously expects to get approval to build it.


So what's left? You build some high-speed lifts, you have the Pass Pod expansion, and you have the build out in Alberta.


High Speed Lifts- As mentioned, Treasure is new this year. As next year is the Elma install, I expect Bonanza will get done for the 2015-2016 season.  These are not long lifts, and high speed is not really needed.  Lift stoppages are common on these lifts and the primary stated reason to swap high speed lifts in, but the reality is that a lot of the stoppages happen from poor load and unload management (especially unload). On Texas vacation weekends, skiers block the unload, forcing the lift to stop, and employees don't ever seem to assign somebody to manage it- that type of thing happens pretty much anywhere else, and somebody gets out there to play traffic cop.


Pass Pod- A good idea. A due North-facing beginner-intermediate slope can allow Wolf Creek to fight Arapahoe Basin and Loveland for opening bragging rights, on natural snow. Wolf really needs more beginner terrain.  Snowmobilers will complain because it will encroach on their use of the top of the pass, but their use also gets rid of any notion that this is a pristine, unspoiled environment that shouldn't be expanded into- it is already heavily used by humans. The plan is to reuse the Bonanza lift here, which should keeps costs manageable.


Elma lift- A good idea, just one I am less thrilled about. The good is that the Park Avenue flat traverse exit from Alberta sucks, and I am on skis. The good is that it should make lapping Waterfall fairly easy yet still require you to work for it (Elma ride, ski to base, ride Treasure will be faster than Riding Alberta and skating out the traverse back to the gates). The bad is that the current area served by the lift will go from one of the last places on the hill to see tracks in the trees to a place that becomes a beginner area- no more good snow there.


Meadows lift- Hate this idea. Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate this idea. Currently, the area the lift will serve is ONLY accessible by skiing the Numbers Chutes or Area 54- ROWDY terrain that means the Meadows stay low traffic, and they can be really fun to cruise through after tackling to tougher stuff above. Adding a lift that will allow beginners to chew up this terrain means the expert skier, instead of getting 200 feet of steeps followed by a fun, laid back 700 vertical feet of deep low-angle powder, will now see 200 feet of steeps followed by groomed flat. I don't think the beginners using that lift will really like experts bombing out of the trees, either. Just leave it as is and allow experts to go top to bottom on Alberta lift without hitting the groom. You can't make it steeper, but at least keep it off-piste.


Sunset lift- OK, I get that this area (Spooner Hill) is currently within boundaries, and it doesn't get used because the access is either skin up or hike out Knife Ridge for a full hour to access intermediate terrain. I also get that a big part of the reason Meadows lift is proposed is to make placement for this lift easier. I would be a lot happier with this lift if they altered the placement to allow Spooner Hill to be lift served without the need for Meadows- I know it can be done, it will just probably require a longer traverse, which they seem to really want to get away from.


My bottom line is that the Alberta area exists today as something totally unique. 1000 acres, no cut runs, served by 1 lift- even at 1200 person per hour capacity that means 1.2 people per acre per hour.  Adding 3 more lifts in there will DESTROY what they currently have and will increase skier density by a LOT. 


Season pass prices went up $50 this year. I'm worried that the result of this expansion will force me to spend more for a pass to infrastructure improvements that don't hold a candle to "the good old days" of getting lost in Alberta run after run after run.


I don't think this expansion is going to drive them out of business, at least not any more or less than the issues all of our ski areas are going to have in 20 years when the boomers no longer ski...

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