Vail’s new Sun Down Express is now open
New lift in the Back Bowls allows for smoother flow around the mountain
Not many lifts on Vail Mountain have been erected solely for the purpose of improving guest flow around the resort, but the resort’s massive Sun Up/Sun Down Bowl area now has two.
The new Sun Down Express opened on Wednesday, taking guests from the bottom of the Sun Down and Sun Up bowls to the top of the Wildwood area, allowing Sun Down Bowl to be lapped with one lift ride. Previously, to reach the top of Wildwood from the bottom of the High Noon Express (No. 5), where Sun Down Bowl now loads, two lift rides were required.
But for many, the true benefit will be in the simplified access the lift provides between the mountain’s eastern points, like China Bowl and Blue Sky Basin, to western points like the Lionshead and Cascade villages. Guests can now reach Eagle’s Nest and the Grand Hyatt Hotel from Blue Sky Basin with just two lift rides.
In observing the location of Sun Down’s bottom terminal, near the bottom of No. 5, many were concerned about how guests would load the Sun Down Express from the Sun Up area of the mountain, if they were attempting to make it to Eagle’s Nest from Blue Sky in just two lift rides.
Marnie Cullen, of Edwards, said she assumed skiers would have to cross each other underneath the lifts, on the skiers’ right side of the No. 5 terminal. But instead, the new lift has an access point on the skiers’ left side of the High Noon Express, in the area where the ski school line used to be.
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“I was definitely concerned about how that would work, if everyone had to cross one another, but you can access from either side just fine,” Cullen said after riding the lift on Wednesday. “I’m a big fan.”
The Sun Down Express complements the Sun Up Express on the other side of the High Noon Express, which runs between the two lifts. The Sun Up Express is also a flow lift, meaning it was erected in an effort to improve flow rather than provide access to a new area of the mountain.
When the Sun Up lift was upgraded to a four-person detachable or “express” lift, it was renamed No. 9, after another flow lift in the Lionshead area which was removed in the 2008-09 season (Minnie’s Lift). The former Sun Up lift, No. 17, had been providing egress through the Back Bowls since 1992 before its upgrade and renumbering in 2016. The new Sun Down Express now takes the number of the former Sun Down lift, No. 17.
John Plack with Vail Mountain said crews were excited to have the new lift open in January, and during a great season nonetheless. With another 3 inches on the snowstake on Wednesday morning, Vail is reporting a cumulative 209 inches for the 2022-23 season. A January opening for No. 17 had been promised by Vail Mountain after an original late December deadline was targeted.
“I call it a powder hound’s new best friend because it gives folks who love that terrain the ability to lap their favorite lines on a powder day instead of having to take the long trek around to Chairs 5 and 3,” Plack said of the new lift on Wednesday. “It’s also going to greatly improve the flow and experience back to Lionshead Village from the Back Bowls. I also think guests will enjoy our maze configuration since you can get to either lift from both skier’s left and right.
“I rode it today and the ride was smooth as butter,” he added.