Of the dozen North American skier visit champions, only one mountain operates fewer than 15 lifts. Number one Vail has 25, number two Breck 23. Whistler and Mammoth spin even more. But the fourth most-visited ski area on the continent has only 13 lifts. That mountain is Keystone, an intermediate skiing mecca under 100 miles from Denver International Airport.
In 2009, Vail Resorts and SE Group updated the resort’s master plan, a road map for expansion over the coming decades. With eight new lifts planned for Dercum Mountain, North Peak and The Outback, Keystone’s plan outlines significantly more growth than slated for Vail’s other Colorado resorts. Much of the expansion would come above current lift service, adding high-alpine terrain to attract a broader spectrum of skiers and snowboarders to Keystone.
- Ski Tip Gondola. A new Ski Tip portal is planned with a 3,400′ x 1,154′ two-way gondola that could transition approximately 18 percent of skiers away from the crowded River Run and Marmot portals. Skiers would ride the gondola to a point above the River Run Gondola mid-station and return there at the end of the day to ride back down. Critics have suggested this gondola is merely a real estate play.
- Two-stage Argentine high-speed quad. A new high speed quad could replace Argentine and continue to a point near the Dercum summit with a mid-load angle station in the vicinity of the former Saints John and Ida Belle lifts. Three new trails would be cut between Peru and Montezuma. The mid-station would take pressure off the crowded Lower Schoolmarm trail and Peru Express.
- Summit Learning Center Lift. A new fixed-grip triple chairlift is proposed to connect the top of the new Argentine to the top of the mountain between Ranger and Montezuma. This would be the seventh lift to serve the summit of Dercum Mountain. With the new triple’s 1,000 skiers per hour, a whopping 16,800 people could theoretically unload at the Summit House in one hour.
- Bergman Bowl Express. This game-changing high-speed quad would top out at 12,200 feet above the current lifts on North Peak with a vertical rise of 1,000 feet, bringing lift service to above treeline terrain currently serviced by snow cats. A Bergman expansion would surely elevate Keystone in the eyes of advanced and expert-level skiers.
- Independence Bowl Lift. Proposed as a fixed-grip triple with a capacity of 1,200 pph, the Indy lift would provide access to seven short runs adjacent to Bergman Bowl.
- Windows Lift. This one would serve two-fold, providing access to Bergman and Independence Bowls while also making it easier to access the Windows under the Outpost Gondola. When I took pictures of the Outpost last season, I inadvertently found myself in in this seriously steep terrain that no one had touched!
- Wayback replacement. This long-awaited project would replace the slow fixed-grip quad installed as part of the Outback expansion in 1991 with a 2,400 pph detachable in the same alignment. Doppelmayr could likely re-use existing towers and chairs to save Vail some money.
- Outback surface lift. A 3,425′ T-Bar or platter could provide lift access for the first time above the popular Outback Express. It would have a slight curve like the Cirque platter at Snowmass. A related project would upgrade the Outback Express to 2,400 passengers per hour.
The White River National Forest’s acceptance of this plan does not automatically equal approval and these projects are subject to further review under the National Environmental Policy Act. However, the Wayback replacement could come as early as next summer following this summer’s installation of a Montezuma six-place. Vail Resorts will likely spend upwards of $120 million on capital projects next year across its mountains and we’ll know in the first week of December which ones make the list for 2018.