Turning on a new lift | VailDaily.com

Turning on a new lift

Stephen Lloyd Wood

NWS BoP Lift 12-4-03 CS

For spectators attending – as well as athletes competing in – the World Cup downhill and super-G races being held on the mountain today through Sunday, the resort is activating the new, high-speed detachable quad, which replaces the resort’s two-person Westfall Lift, Chair 9. The Birds of Prey Express Lift provides quick access to near the top of Beaver Creek Mountain, where spectators on skis, snowboards and snowshoes can descend to various locations along the race courses.

“We’re excited to be able to share our new lift with racing fans this weekend and through next week,” says spokeswoman Christina Schleicher.

The Birds of Prey Express will begin operation at 9 a.m. Friday, and the downhill races get underway at 12:15 p.m., with free stadium seating in the Red Tail Finish Stadium. Fans also can access the course via a free shuttle bus system, which departs every five minutes from the covered bridge in Beaver Creek Village.

Open through Thursday

The lift will be open to the public through Sunday’s World Cup events, then remain open through Thursday as Beaver Creek hosts North American Cup, or NorAm, races and local training camps. The resort then will cease operations of the new lift next Friday through its originally scheduled opening day, Dec. 20.

Race fans are encouraged to carpool and use the free parking in the resort’s two lots on U.S. Highway 6. Ski passes, available at the ticket office in Beaver Creek Village, are required to board the Birds of Prey Express Lift. Passes will not be on sale at the lift or at Red Tail Camp.

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Free snowshoe rentals are available on a first-come, first-served basis on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Beaver Creek Nordic Center. Red Tail Camp will serve concessions during the races on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Wednesday’s sudden decision to bring another World Cup race to Beaver Creek from Val d’Isere, France, means grand opening celebrations for the new lift also have been postponed until Dec. 20.

“Beaver Creek has a history of being flexible and helping out whenever we can. It’s a real credit to the organizing committee and our mountain operation crews to adapt at a moment’s notice,” says John Garnsey, Beaver Creek’s chief operating officer.

“Changes everything’

The new Birds of Prey Express Lift opens a door to an area of the resort often overlooked – or just plain avoided – by skiers and snowboarders without the patience for the 13-minute ride up Westfall. The west-facing slopes, which are cut through dense pine forest, typically don’t see the sun until midday, so conditions there often are the best on the mountain long after everything else is sunbaked or skied off.

At 6,478 feet long, they are some of the longest runs in North America – and they’re steep, too, dropping 2,158 vertical feet for an average grade of 33 percent.

Pete Sonntag, director of Beaver Creek’s adult Ski and Snowboard School, says the new chairlift “changes everything” for advanced skiers and snowboarders, who typically have gravitated to the resort’s infamous Grouse Mountain. Long, steep, north-facing slopes there, fed by another high-speed quad lift, the Grouse Mountain Express, are something to behold, too – especially on a powder day.

Despite its challenging terrain, Grouse Mountain can get skied off by late-morning.

“The new lift will put more skiers on Golden Eagle, etc., and take pressure off Grouse Mountain,” Sonntag says.

Garnsey says the new lift also will relieve pressure on the mountain’s main access from Beaver Creek Village, the Centennial Express Lift, as well as skier traffic on Dally Road. And hopefully, he adds, it’ll go a long way toward correcting the perception of Beaver Creek as just a destination resort for beginners and intermediates.

Twice the capacity

By Stephen Lloyd Wood

After serving the World Cup competition, the new Birds of Prey Express Lift will assume its primary role of whisking skiers and snowboarders up the easternmost reaches of The Talons, an area newly identified as Beaver Creek’s most advanced terrain reaching from the Birds of Prey Express south to Grouse Mountain and west to Larkspur Bowl.

The new lift has the capability of transporting as many as 2,600 skiers and snowboarders per hour – more that twice the capacity of the now-history Westfall LIft, a slow-moving, non-detachable double-chair. It will cover the same trip from Red Tail Camp to the top of the mountain in half the time, or less than seven minutes. The former Birds of Prey Express Lift, which served much easier terrain linked to a long catwalk, Cinch Road, has been renamed the Cinch Express Lift.