Beav’ building high-speed chairlifts
Construction crews have begun clearing the way for two high-speed chairlifts that are part of a grand plan to eventually connect skiers from Avon to the top of Beaver Creek Mountain.
The $20 million phase of the project, slated to be finished by the second week of December, will provide a new entry point for intermediate and advanced skiers hoping to bypass the long lift lines at the resort’s main Centennial Express chairlift lift.
“Any more access points would be great, in my opinion,” said Becky Young, an Avon resident and skier.
The new entry point, called Beaver Creek Landing, is just east of the Tarnes, Vail Resorts’ employee housing complex on Prater Lane. Skiers and snowboarders using Beaver Creek Landing should result in less traffic on Village Road, the main road to Beaver Creek Village, mountain officials said.
Currently, skiers can get on Beaver Creek Mountain one of three ways: Ride the town of Avon bus up to the village; park in one of the lots along U.S. Highway 6 and ride a Beaver Creek shuttle; or drive up to the village and pay to park in one of the garages. In every case, skiers and snowboarders have to use Village Road.
The new chairlifts are the resort’s less ambitious plan to carry skiers from Avon to the slopes. The resort company had once envisioned a Lionshead-style gondola running from Avon all the way to the top of Strawberry Park. The company still hopes to build a gondola, but it would only run from Avon to Beaver Creek Landing.
As proposed, the gondola would begin at an 18.4-acre parcel in Avon – known as the “confluence” – that is along the Eagle River and across from Beaver Creek’s east day-skier parking lot. However, those plans are still up in the air.
Construction crews have started cutting down trees to clear the path for the future lifts, said John Garnsey, chief operating officer for the mountain. Beaver Creek Landing essentially will be a miniature ski base with a lift ticket office, a bus stop, ski and snowboard rental shop and a Starbucks Coffee shop, Garnsey said.
Users would still park their cars in the west parking lot, then take a shuttle to Beaver Creek Landing to load the “Lower Beaver Creek Mountain Express” up to Bachelor Gulch. Then skiers will load the second new chairlift, dubbed the “Upper Beaver Creek Mountain Express” and connect to the Strawberry Park terrain on the west side of the resort.
Users can take a catwalk to return to Beaver Creek Landing, and either ride a shuttle or walk back to their cars. The resort will install a snowmaking machine along the catwalk, as well.
“It’s a very positive option for our day skiers as a way to access Beaver Creek Mountain,” Garnsey said.
The resort company originally planned to build a hotel, condominiums and shops on the confluence land. Now the ski company doesn’t know what it will build there. “We are still in the process of negotiating with a developer and working with the town of Avon,” Garnsey said.
Avon was opposed to helping pay for the original gondola project, which would have cost $30 million to $40 million, with the town pitching in about $6 million. But town officials are now supportive of the new proposal, which the town is not funding.
“The devil is in the details,” Town Manager Larry Brooks said.
Under the original plan, Avon buses would no longer have traveled to Beaver Creek Village. But Avon officials say tourists staying in Avon lodges overwhelmingly prefer the bus system. After conducting a survey, the town found that 80 percent of hotel guests still want to start their day in Beaver Creek Village, where the resorts’ shops, restaurants and skier services are.
“We still need to send our buses up the hill,” Brooks said.
Beginner skiers and those taking ski school lessons also would still check in at Beaver Creek Village, Garnsey said. And while some employees living in The Tarnes could use the new lift system to report to work more quickly, most employees must start their day in Beaver Creek Village, he said.
“Certainly the easiest way back to the Tarnes would be skiing down,” Garnsey said.
Resort and town officials will continue to work on reducing Village Road traffic, he added.
It is estimated that 40 to 50 percent of the people who use the parking lots off Highway 6 would choose to use Beaver Creek Landing. That would equate to as many as 1,200 people using the new lifts per hour on the busiest days, Garnsey said.
Staff writer Tamara Miller can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 949-0555 ext. 607.