Forest Service approves Vail Mountain snowmaking plan

Project will expand early-season skiing options at Vail

The U.S. Forest Service on Monday approved an ambitious snowmaking expansion plan for Vail Mountain.
Chris Dillmann |

By the numbers

452: Acres of Vail Mountain terrain currently available for snowmaking.

262: Terrain to be added through snowmaking expansion.

25 percent: Terrain on Vail Mountain available for snowmaking when the project is complete.

32.5 miles: Pipe to be added.

Source: U.S. Forest Service.

VAIL — The U.S. Forest Service has approved a Vail Resorts proposal to expand snowmaking operations on Vail Mountain. When the multi-year project is complete, about 25 percent of the mountain’s skiable terrain will be available for early-season skiing.

The expansion will add about 262 acres of snowmaking coverage to the mountain. Much of that terrain will be at higher elevations, allowing early-season access to the mountain from both Vail Village and Lionshead Village. Work on the project is expected to begin this year.

Snowmaking requires water, of course. Vail Mountain spokesperson Sally Gunter wrote in an email that the additional terrain can be served using water rights already held by Vail Mountain.

More snow is good for business

Venture Sports owner Mike Brumbaugh had a one-word response to the news: “Sweet.”

Venture Sports has locations in both Vail Village and Beaver Creek. Brumbaugh said he has seen the economic effects of snowmaking expansion at Beaver Creek and has been waiting for more available terrain at Vail.

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“It will really allow us to increase our chances of getting more early-season guests,” Brumbaugh said.

The Forest Service decision document focuses on Vail Mountain and the impacts there.

In a release about the decision, District Ranger Aaron Mayville wrote that improved snowmaking “will go a long way to improve early season conditions.”

Vail Chamber & Business Association Director Alison Wadey agreed with that assessment.

Better snowmaking will “provide a much better experience for guests,” Wadey said, adding that man-made snow over more of the mountain will allow the resort to provide good skiing in times that aren’t particularly busy now. Brumbaugh said he’s happy there will be better snow coverage in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

And while a number of families have made visits to Vail part of their Thanksgiving plans, Wadey said those families will soon have more options when it comes to skiing.

Where the snowmaking will happen

According to a release, the first phase of snowmaking will include 192 acres of terrain including  Swingsville Ridge, Swingsville, Meadows and Ramshorn, located in the Mid-Vail area of the mountain; Bear Tree, Cold Feet, a portion of Upper Lion’s Way and Lodgepole in the area of Avanti Express Lift (Chair 2); Coyote Crossing, Practice Parkway and Ledges in the Eagles Nest area; and beginner enhancements in the Gopher Hill Lift (Chair 12) area.

Wadey said the option to download from Gondola One will help ensure good conditions for early-season guests.

This map shows the location of Vail Resorts’ planned expansion of snowmaking on Vail Mountain.
Special to the Daily

Brumbaugh said the new snowmaking will give Vail an edge in an increasingly competitive environment. Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass and Alterra Mountain Resorts’ Ikon Pass give skiers a host of options, Brumbaugh said.

Having consistently good early season conditions means people can be confident booking lodging in Vail and Beaver Creek.

The competition is also working on guaranteed conditions. 

In late 2018, Aspen Skiing Co. — part of the Ikon Pass network — received Forest Service approval for expanded snowmaking at both Aspen and Snowmass.

While area resorts used to be able to count on early-season snow, dry early conditions have limited terrain openings in two of the past three seasons.

“We’re excited to be able to move forward and begin construction this summer on the first phase of this plan, which will provide a more predictable opening date, high-quality conditions during the early- and mid-season, and more reliable conditions through mid-April,” Greg Johnson, vice president of mountain operations for Vail, wrote in a release about the approval.

In the same release, Johnson wrote, “For early-season operations, our strategy will be to begin by making snow in the Mid-Vail area in order to open the Mountain Top Express Lift (Chair 4), followed by the Avanti Express Lift (Chair 2) and Born Free Express (Chair 8) for access out of and back to both Lionshead and Vail villages. This means a significant portion of the front side beginner and intermediate terrain will be open earlier, enhancing both the guest experience and the early-season resort economy in both villages.”

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at and 970-748-2930.

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