With last year’s epic leadoff powder days a fading memory, less-than-stellar snow at our local ski resorts this time around may have taken the edge off skiers’ and snowboarders’ anticipation. But take heart: All of us, from long-time locals to visitors from faraway, have plenty of reasons — tens of millions of them, in fact — to be thankful heading into the 2004-05 winter season.Vail Resorts, based in Avon, spent millions in capital improvements at Beaver Creek and Vail this year. A large part of that went toward “dramatic” projects that will change the entire dynamic of how one approaches “The Beav’,” ranked No. 4 in North America by readers of SKI magazine.”We’ve done a lot of big things this year,” says Beaver Creek Resort’s chief operating office, John Garnsey, who spent the off-season overseeing the installation of two new high-speed quad chairlifts, as well as other significant projects. “It’s exciting.”The money is intended to keep North America’s largest ski resort ahead of the curve in maintaining its No. 1 ranking while symbolically ushering in the beginning of a much-heralded, billion-dollar “New Dawn.” It’s all part of the game, says Bill Jensen, Vail’s chief operating officer.”The ski business is very capital-intensive,” Jensen says. “It’s always a balancing act.”A lion’s share comes hereIndeed, Avon-based Vail Resorts, Inc. which owns and operates Vail and Beaver Creek, as well Breckenridge, Keystone and California’s Heavenly typically invests tens of millions of dollars every year refining infrastructure, on-mountain guest facilities and cosmetics throughout its system.”Our company is spending approximately $60 million this year in capital improvements on-mountain at our ski resorts and in our hospitality division,” says Kelly Ladyga, director of corporate communications. “It’s in line with what we’ve been spending on capital improvements for the past several years.”This time around however, Vail Resorts apparently concentrated the lion’s share of its capital improvements budget here in the valley. By comparison, Heavenly — as part of a public commitment by the ski company to spend $40 million in five years since purchasing the resort two years ago — is reported to have spent $10 million this year in a new “six-pack” chairlift (the Powderbowl Express) as well as upgrades to its on-mountain dining and snowmaking facilities. Breckenridge, meanwhile, having seen a new six-pack lift and other significant improvements last year, only can boast of being able to offer “four parks and four pipes,” in addition to its “already legendary four peaks”; and at Keystone, online chatter mainly involves a second season of “Snowcat adventure skiing,” “enhanced tree-skiing,” “improved snowmaking” and “a stronger commitment to grooming.”Beaver Creek’s new ‘Landing’By far, the most ambitious project at any of the company’s five resorts this year is Beaver Creek Landing, opening for business on Dec. 18. An entirely new portal to Beaver Creek Resort, which includes Bachelor Gulch and Arrowhead, it’s been years in the making and has involved several incarnations, all aimed at delivering day-visitors onto the mountain directly from a base in the valley.”It was always part of the plan,” says Garnsey, describing the project as “dramatic.” “It works better for everybody.”Now, instead of driving up Village Road to Beaver Creek in cars and buses, visitors for the day can grab two new high-speed quad chairlifts. The lower and upper Beaver Creek Mountain Express lifts (chairs 15 and 18), each have a capacity of 2,400 people per hour. This leaves an 18-minute ride to the top of Strawberry Park. From there, it’s an easy schuss on wide-open intermediate runs to Beaver Creek Village, or to Larkspur Bowl and Red Tail Camp on what’s basically a new, wide-open ski run, the Beaver Creek Mountain Expressway, formerly a skinny catwalk known as Beano’s Trace.”One of the key goals with all this is to do a better job of distributing riders on the mountain. Before, we always had crowds at Centennial (Chair 6), and it would take a long time for them to disperse out across the resort. Now, destination guests staying in the village will use Centennial; day-skiers will use Beaver Creek Landing. It reduces traffic, and it makes the village experience a lot more pleasant,” says Garnsey. “Beaver Creek will continue to be most popular, and it can handle a lot of skiers. But now we won’t have the bottlenecks.”‘Fastest way to the Talons’With the new lifts, Red Tail Camp becomes Beaver Creek’s new “hub,” Garnsey says, with much-faster access to the resort’s challenging “Talons” area the 13 steep, challenging runs on Beaver Creek Mountain, Grouse Mountain and the slopes of Larkspur Bowl. On a powder day, that will make a huge difference to those wide-eyed early birds looking for fresh tracks. Until now, riders first had to park in the valley, take a bus the village, then walk to and ascend either the Centennial or the Strawberry Park Express Lift (Chair 12) before ever touching down on snow.”Beaver Creek Landing is, by far, the fastest way to the Talons,” Garnsey says.Another useful detail? Crews have cut a new connector trail from the top of the ArrowBahn Express Lift (Chair 17), across the Cabin Fever and Gunder’s runs, to the new Upper Beaver Creek Mountain Express Lift at Bachelor Gulch. Intermediate skiers and snowboarders looking to get from Arrowhead to Beaver Creek, across Bachelor Gulch, now have a much more enjoyable journey, descending from the top of Strawberry Park on intermediate runs like Pitchfork and Stacker, rather than getting tangled with beginners on the Intertwine catwalk.”It’s a dramatic improvement for everybody,” Garnsey says. There is also a new ski patrol headquarters and warming hut for McCoy Park Nordic skiers at the top of Strawberry Park, worth another half-million dollars or so.With all that in mind, Garnsey adds, at the end of the day skiers and snowboarders now have three options for returning to their vehicles at Beaver Creek Landing: Taking a Beaver Creek shuttle from the village. Downloading from Bachelor Gulch on the Lower Beaver Creek Mountain Express Lift. Skiing through Bachelor Gulch and down a new catwalk called “Leav the Beav.”Bridge to a ‘New Dawn’Vail Resort’s COO Bill Jensen, meanwhile, says Vail has received an impressive amount of corporate reinvestment this year. Most obvious, he says, is the new skier bridge over Gore Creek. Beyond providing a convenient “icon” for a new Lionshead plans, approved recently by the town of Vail, include an entirely new plaza and ice rink, as well as a five-star hotel Jensen says the massive structure “is symbolic of the beginning of Vail’s ‘New Dawn,'” a billion-dollar plan to redevelop the resort’s base, and much of the town of Vail, over the next decade.The new bridge is twice as wide as the old one and offers pedestrian walkways on both sides, allowing people crossing Gore Creek on foot to avoid the harrowing gauntlet of snowriders on final approach to Lionshead’s EagleBahn Gondola (Chair 19) and Born Free Express Lift (Chair 8). It also provides a route for heavy equipment, as well as housing substantial electrical and water lines that feed snowmaking operations farther up the hill.”It’s part of a commitment to the community that we’d pursue efforts to get snowcats and other heavy equipment off Forest Road,” says Jensen of the bridge. Skiers and snowboarders first glided across the bridge (many of them unwittingly) on opening day last week. “It was a bit of a gamble on our part, but in the end it was far better than tunneling under the creek.”No-so-obviousOther significant investments at Vail were made in “not-so-obvious places,” says Jensen. In particular, he says, guests may not immediately notice the new snowmaking facilities at Glen Lyon west of Lionshead. They include a new water pump house and a massive underground water line connecting it to the existing snowmaking system higher up. Another new bridge over Gore Creek has been constructed there, too, for water and electric lines, as well as heavy-equipment traffic.A whole slew of other projects, meanwhile, aim to improve conditions on the slopes and in the resort’s many on-mountain restaurants. At Golden Peak, Jensen says, big bucks were spent renovating the snowmaking system and making substantial improvements to the terrain park. Roughly 350,000 cubic yards of dirt was transported up the hill from various construction projects in town to fill in off-camber contours throughout the area, he says, and a significant amount of timber, mostly aspen and lodgepole pine, was felled to allow for more spacious terrain.”It’ll be noticeably different this year,” Jensen says.What about the huckers … and the corduroy?Those improvements, Jensen adds, should allow mountain operations to make more snow faster, more efficiently and earlier in the season so the terrain park can open up to two week sooner every winter.Stephen Laterra, Vail’s terrain-park designer, says 10 new features have been added at Golden Peak, including new rails and log rolls. And the additional space makes the terrain park safer and more enjoyable for freeriders to maneuver, whether they’re competing, showing off their fledgling jib talent or simply observing, he says.”The main difference will be at the jib park, which will now start farther uphill,” Laterra says. “Everyone can see everything that’s going on. There’s more room; everybody’s got more space.”At the same time, says Jensen, money was spent sprucing up Vail’s various on-mountain dining facilities. The lodge at Mid-Vail alone, for example, saw significant renovations, say Jensen, including: a heated outdoor deck and gas fire pit; a pizza station; improvements to food courts on both levels; and new paint and carpet throughout.”Mid-Vail really has a fresh feel,” Jensen says.Skiers and snowboarders at Vail and Beaver Creek also will benefit from what Jensen calls a “new initiative” aimed at “33 percent more grooming.” Combined, the two resorts already known for their impeccable grooming standards now boast of a fleet of more than a dozen new Snowcats. All this is above and beyond the normal replacement of old machines.”We’re not necessarily going to groom 33-percent more terrain. What it means is we can increase the frequency of grooming the terrain we already groom,” he says. “Basically, skiers and snowboarders will find more of their favorite groomed runs groomed more often.”Still to come And that’s not all, as some projects are have only begun or are in the early planning stages. At Beaver Creek, for example, Garnsey says the replacement last year of the aging, fixed-grip double Westfall Lift (Chair 9) with the Birds of Prey Express Lift, a high-speed quad, “exceeded our expectations.” Now, the old, fixed-grip Larkspur Lift (Chair 11), will work its final season, he says. It’s due to be replaced next summer with another new, high-speed quad.”It’s one more piece of the overall plan,” Garnsey says. “There’s a lot of great skiing in Larkspur Bowl, but a lot of people pass it up because of the old lift.”And if all goes well, Garnsey adds, three new support facilities are in the works: The old, rickety maintenance yard just above Beaver Creek Chapel is to be replaced with a new facility further up Dally Road. A new, central warehouse is planned near the Eagle-Vail business park on Highway 6, to be shared by Vail and Beaver Creek resorts. The Bachelor Gulch Metropolitan District plans to build a facility of its own near Beaver Creek Landing.Jen Brown, communications manager for Vail Mountain, says it’s all “part of a continued effort” by Vail Resorts to reinvest in its premier properties.”It’s a matter of meeting increasing expectations. It spans every single component of operations. Systems need to be upgraded all the time. We evaluate what works, what doesn’t,” she says. “We’re constantly looking for new innovations and higher quality. When high-speed quads came out, for example, we realized they would make a huge difference in the skiing experience. Now, at Vail, we have 14 of them. If it’s proven technology, and it makes business sense, we’ll take a look at it and, eventually, incorporate it into our operations.” VTStephen Lloyd Wood is an award-winning freelance writer and public-relations consultant based in the Vail Valley. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.Capital improvements this year at Beaver Creek Beaver Creek Landing, including two new high-speed quad chairlifts, the new “Leave the Beav” catwalk and a temporary ticket office with bathrooms. A new maintenance facility on Dally Road. The new 500-space Wolf parking lot, west of the Tarnes employee-housing complex; paving of the existing West lots, now known as the Bear and Lil’ Bear lots; improvements at the East lot and on U.S. Highway 6; and two new “low-ride” buses. Improved snowmaking and grooming capabilities, including seven new snowcats and a new water pump house on Dally Road, near Beaver Creek Chapel. A new ski patrol headquarters and Nordic warming hut at the top of Strawberry Park. The Beaver Creek Mountain Expressway, formerly the Beano’s Trace catwalk, providing improved access for skiers and snowboarders to Larkspur Bowl and Red Tail Camp from the top of Strawberry Park.Capital improvements at Vail New skier/pedestrian bridge at Lionshead.Improved snowmaking facilities at Glen Lyon, west of Lionshead, including: a new water pump house and a new underground water line connecting it to the existing snowmaking system; a new bridge for heavy equipment over Gore Creek. Improved grooming capabilities, including six new snowcats (beyond the normal four or five purchased every season.) Renovations at the various on-mountain dining facilities, including: a new heated outdoor deck and gas fireplace, a new indoor pizza station and improvements to food courts on both levels at Mid-Vail; new carpeting and paint. New radio system for staff at both Vail and Beaver Creek. Improvements to the Golden Peak terrain park, including: 10 new features; improved snowmaking; and re-contouring much of the area. Improvements at Game Creek Restaurant. Revamped staff uniforms
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