Never and Seldom could become Always and Frequently
How and where to pick up more powder turns in Vail’s Back Bowls may not be a hot item to the politically minded, but in Vail recently, the issue has caused a bit of a stir.OK, so it’s not causing the commotion of the Blue Sky Basin/Category III expansion, but it’s certainly getting enough attention to keep Forest Service snow ranger Dave Ozawa busy.Ozawa has been fielding letters, e-mails, phone calls and visits from locals and long-time visitors regarding a Vail Resorts’ proposal to replace the creaky, jarring Chair 5 lift (a fixed-grip triple chair installed in 1979) to a high-speed detachable quad lift.Vail Resorts has also proposed adding a Sun Down detachable quad lift, which would run from a location just west of the current Chair 5 terminal to a location just south and west of the top of Chair 3.The public, so far, has had a mixed reaction to the proposal, which some say could ruin one of Vail’s few remaining powder stashes.Others, however, say the changes could relieve congestion in the Chair 5 maze, which is often extremely crowded on powder days.Vail co-founder Earl Eaton isn’t afraid of change, and he says Chair 5 should be replaced. He also says its terminal should be extended to the bottom of the Two Elk Drainage.”I think Chair 5 has got to be redone,” Eaton says. “In this day and age it’s obsolete. As far as the powder snow, it’s not going to last, I don’t care what you do. Even if people have to climb back up there, there’ll be enough (skiers to track it out), and if there’s not enough of them there’s going to be a mass evacuation of Eagle County.”Ozawa says Eaton’s idea of extending the lift isn’t feasible in today’s environmentally sensitive political climate, but many of the people he’s heard from support the project.”Right now I would say you have a majority, but not much of a majority supporting both lifts,” says Ozawa, who had received 37 comments as of Nov. 13. “Some people like the skiing the way it is you don’t get as many people out there (in west Sun Down Bowl) because you’ve got to work a little to do it, and you get good snow quality.”But Ozawa says others want to maximize their ski time on the mountain, and waiting in line at Chair 5 seems like a waste of time and money when fresh powder awaits.”People come out on vacation and they’re spending a lot of money,” Ozawa says. “They don’t want to stand in the lift line. Or there are guys that work in town, and they’ve got like two or three hours they can ski in the morning. If they go back to Chair 5, they get stuck, and then they can only get one run in before they’ve got to get back to work. A high speed (upgrade) would mean they could get two or three runs in before work.”Vail Resorts Vice President of Mountain Operations Brian McCartney says his company’s proposal is by no means set in stone. The resort won’t know exactly how much capital it will have for lift service and expansion until early in 2004.”There are a number of things to consider from a planning point of view,” he says. “But eventually Chair 5 is going to need to be replaced.”Outside of a knee-jerking loading process, Chair 5 is as safe as any on the mountain and operates normally. But it has a capacity of 1,500 people peanuts in comparison to the a detachable’s 2,600 uphill capacity.McCartney says he and COO Bill Jensen are still in the early stage of planning, and they are looking at multiple variations to the currently proposed plan.Some of the people who have spoken to Ozawa have suggested replacing Chair 5 and putting in a new fixed-grip lift, thereby limiting overall capacity in Sun Down Bowl and sparing some powder on rarely skied runs like Seldom and Never.Others have suggested replacing Chair 5 and not installing a Sun Down lift.”If you spend a whole bunch of money (upgrading Chair 5 and not putting in a Sun Down lift), it’s surprising to me that people are interested in this,” McCartney says. “It ends up meaning more people in the same place.”McCartney says his overall philosophy with the Back Bowls is to spread the people out and give skiers as much space as possible.”(In the past) the number of people that skied in the back was far outweighed by the people that skied the frontside,” McCartney says. “Today we have a more athletic skiing populace, new skis, people don’t have to be as adventurous, they just have to be skilled, and now all of the people skiing the bowls outweighs the number of people on the frontside.”McCartney says there was no definite timeline for the changes, which could come as early as next summer. He did mention that Chair 10, Chair 9, Chair 12 and Chair 15 were all candidates for upgrades in the future.”This is all planning and open conversation at this point,” he says. “I like all the comments because they cause you to consider what everyone else is thinking. And you can decide if your arguments are valid or not. It’s one of the thing I like about this place, is people still reserve the right to disagree.”Ozawa is preparing a report on the matter, including an environmental impact statement, that should be out in early December. After that, another public comment period will ensue.