Steamboat is the fourth largest ski resort in Colorado with 19 lifts and almost 3,000 acres of terrain on 10,568 foot Mt. Werner. In 2011, Steamboat Ski & Resort Corporation commissioned Ecosign Mountain Resort Planners to perform a detailed mountain analysis and update the resort’s master plan. The Routt National Forest approved the plan in 2013, which envisions seven new lifts installed over the next ten years to better serve skiers. Included are a mid-mountain learning center served by a second gondola, a new lift on Sunshine Peak and replacement of four lifts with upgraded equipment. The first of the upgrade projects already underway, replacing the Elkhead triple (a 1984 Yan) with a Doppelmayr detachable quad. Initially proposed as a six-pack, Steamboat opted to build a 4-place detachable instead. The new Elkhead will be the first Doppelmayr lift built here since 1997 following four new Leitner-Poma lifts built at Steamboat in the 2000s.
By far the largest component of the 2011 plan is the Rough Rider Learning Center in Bashor Bowl served by a new 8-passenger gondola. The Bashor Gondola will rise from the base of the Silver Bullet Gondola to the northeast, crossing Christie Peak Express and Christie III. The top terminal will house an 8,000 square foot skier-services building. Unfortunately for the gondola’s future mechanics, 3,500 square feet of that space for gondola cabin storage and maintenance will be a lunch room for 300 kids during the day. At night, the gondola will service the lodge and a new tube park near the top terminal. It will also spin all summer alongside the Silver Bullet.
Two fixed-grip chairlifts dubbed Rough Rider and Swinger (no way that name sticks) will service teaching terrain in Bashor Bowl along with 2-3 new magic carpets. The 1989 Rough Rider platter nearby will be removed. A third new chairlift will replace the Bashor lift in the same vicinity but in a new alignment ending 500′ higher. Bashor is the second oldest lift at Steamboat, a Lift Engineering double dating back to 1972.
The new learning center will provide a much-needed alternative to the congested base area, which has seven beginner lifts crammed onto 20 acres. The Christie Peak Express provided some relief in 2007 but did not completely solve the problem. To quote from Ecosign, “unfortunately, at the exact time of day when maximum capacity is needed for staging, the ski school begins to use the Christie Peak Express and significantly decreases its loading efficiency.” A new gondola will serve as a much-needed third option, relieving half hour-plus gondola lines that persist for hours on peak days. All of this sounds a whole lot like Jackson Hole’s Sweetwater Gondola and Solitude Learning Center currently under construction that will similarly boost out-of-base capacity.
The other significant piece of the plan would bring a third lift to Sunshine Bowl for the low-intermediate skiers that make up the majority of Steamboat’s clientele. The Sunshine II high speed quad would supplement Sunshine Express with additional trails cut to the east. Sunshine Express came to Steamboat in 2006 but dates back to 1997 at The Canyons (American Skiing Co. owned both mountains back then.) Sunshine II will be 5,900 feet long with 1,025′ of vertical and a capacity of 2,400 skiers per hour.
The 1984 Yan South Peak triple will eventually be replaced with a third high speed quad starting at the bottom of Sunshine Bowl. This may come as a surprise given the alignment is only 1,700 feet long. However, Ecosign notes the existing triple only achieves 80 percent loading efficiency due to skier ability, resulting in 15 minute lines before lunch and near the end of the day. With two high speed quads in Sunshine Bowl, up to 3,500 skiers will seek to leave via South Peak at peak times. A new high speed quad with 2,400 skiers per hour and 90 percent loading efficiency will meet this need for getting out.
The rest of the approved master plan focuses on optimizing capacity and modernizing existing lifts. Thunderhead Express, which runs from the top of the new gondola to the top of the old gondola, would be upgraded to a high speed six-pack moving 3,200 skiers per hour. Thunderhead currently experiences 30-plus minute lines on peak days with more than 12,000 skiers at Steamboat. Carriers would be added to nearby Pony Express to bring it up to 1,800 skiers per hour, up from the current 1,200 (Garaventa CTEC designed it to eventually reach 2,400 skiers per hour.)
At the completion of this plan, Steamboat will operate 29 lifts – 2 gondolas, 2 six-packs, 7 high speed quads, 10 fixed-grip chairlifts and 8 surface lifts – serving a comfortable carrying capacity of 18,000 skiers per day. Elkhead Express will be the mountain’s the third new lift built since Intrawest bought Steamboat from American Skiing Company in 2007. In 2014, after an initial public offering and with increasing revenues, Intrawest said it plans to invest $8-12 million in capital improvements annually across its portfolio of six mountain resorts. The company’s stock is up 37 percent in the last three months so hopefully that bodes well for more new lifts at Steamboat. In addition to everything mentioned above, the mountain’s next master plan will include a 7,000 foot high speed quad north of Pony Express serving new trails on Pioneer Ridge.