The snow wasn’t deep enough to satisfy hard-core powder hounds last season. But for 2018-19, pockets evidently have been deep enough for resorts to make big investments aimed at pleasing them, along with skiers and riders of all levels.
Is it by sheer coincidence that five mountains will unveil six chairlifts all in one winter? Probably, says Chris Linsmayer, spokesman for Colorado Ski Country. Planning and timing just happened to align, he says.
But he says it’s also a sign of the industry still thriving, despite the trade group reporting a slight dip in skier visits last season compared with 2016-17.
Freezing weather is forecast this week for Summit County. The snow guns are out at Arapahoe Basin and Loveland ski areas, the two vying again to open first this month — and two of the five destinations banking on their money to pay off sooner rather than later, regardless of Mother Nature’s fickle ways.
“If there was nervousness, you wouldn’t be seeing these types of investments,” Linsmayer says. “I think it’s really about meeting consumer demand and consumer expectations.”
Thanks to these projects, thinner lines and bigger adventures are in store:
A-Basin (opening to be announced)
Skiers and riders last year got a taste of the much-anticipated terrain expansion. Now the entire 468 acres encompassing the Beavers and Steep Gullies is poised to open, with the towers of the Beavers Lift planted last month. It’ll serve 34 new runs.
“Some people would say this has been in the making since 1946,” says A-Basin spokeswoman Adrienne Saia Isaac, going back to the founding days.
The expansion takes in the backcountry forever prized on the basin’s west side. Intermediate groomers are spread across the Beavers, which also likely will be a go-to spot for tree skiing, the north- and west-facing aspects promising to keep snow piles.
The hike-to Steep Gullies, meanwhile, adds a double-black diamond dimension to the ski area. A-Basin wants the terrain to become known as some of the most extreme in Colorado.
Copper Mountain (Nov. 16)
Center Village off Interstate 70 will have a new look with two new “workhorses.” American Flyer and American Eagle will be the fresh, glossy providers of mountain access, replacing lifts installed in the 1980s. And one will be a throwback.
The high-speed, six-person Flyer will have pull-down hatches with plexiglass to protect faces from the frigid wind, becoming Colorado’s only running “bubble chair.” It’s a nod to one of Copper’s early lifts from the ‘70s.
Eagle features six-person chairs and the resort’s first gondola cabins, a combination expected to increase uphill capacity by 40 percent. The Flyer is projected to add another 33 percent.
“Not everyone can dream big, but Chet Upham could,” reads an online account by the ski area. So Loveland’s priciest-ever capital improvement project shall be named for the longtime owner, who died in 2008.
Chet’s Dream, Loveland’s first high-speed quad, replaces the base’s busiest Lift 1. Next: replacing Lift 6 with a fixed-grip lift, likely in the next year or two, said John Sellers, the ski area’s spokesman.
Winter Park (Nov. 14)
Upon acquiring new properties in 2017, Alterra Mountain Co. requested wish lists.
“The No. 1 thing we had was replacing the Zephyr Express,” says Steve Hurlbert, Winter Park’s spokesman.
The workhorse since 1990 will now be a 10-person gondola, the first for the resort, which in terms of skiable acres is the state’s fourth-largest.
“It’s amazingly exciting,” Hurlbert says. “Not only because we felt like we were the only resort our size in Colorado that didn’t have a gondola, but also from a practicality standpoint, it was something we really needed.”
Peak season wait times are expected to decrease by 15 minutes. Also, from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. every day, the gondola will serve a new mountaintop après at the Lodge at Sunspot, with live music Fridays and Saturdays. No lift tickets needed for restaurant goers.
Wolf Creek (Nov. 2)
The 10th lift at the humble, southwest ski area will “strengthen our core,” says Rosanne Pitcher of the owning family.
The detachable, high-speed quad Charity comes courtesy of Doppelmayr, the only new lift in Colorado not made by Grand Junction-based Leitner-Poma.
It’s the third lift in the 900-acre Alberta zone and will access 55 acres of widely unrealized terrain catering to beginners. But experts also will welcome Charity with open arms. Rather than hike after their turns from Knife Ridge and Horseshoe Bowl, they now can catch a ride down.
The lift is named for Charity Jane Pitcher, the late wife of the late founder, Kingsbury Pitcher. And it’s only the next in line for powder-packed and fast-growing Wolf Creek, which opened the Lynx Lift last season. Two more lifts and 900 more acres east of Charity are possible in the wake of the U.S. Forest Service’s controversial approval of an independent developer’s Village at Wolf Creek.