Vail is a mountain which needs no introduction. The nation’s third largest resort now attracts more than 1.6 million skiers a season, 60 percent of which are destination visitors from around the world. Owner Vail Resorts has constructed a staggering ten new lifts in the last eleven years at its flagship, including a new 10 passenger gondola and three six place chairlifts. While the beast may take a brief break to focus on snowmaking and other enhancements this year, a new master plan suggests more big ticket lift investments are coming.
Already approved for construction is the upper Golden Peak project, consisting of three new trails and a T-Bar above the Riva Bahn angle station. This lift will be 2,001 feet long with a vertical of 678 feet. While built for with ski racing in mind, the new pod will be open to the public with a capacity of 1,400 skiers per hour. Construction is set to begin as soon as this summer.
At the opposite end of Vail’s front side, the last standing of four 1985 detachable quads is Game Creek Express. This lift is approved to be replaced in the near future with a six person detachable. It would be Vail’s fourth such lift following upgrades to the Mountaintop, Northwoods and Avanti Express lifts. Uphill capacity would rise from 2,800 per hour to 3,200 in popular Game Creek Bowl.
The Wildwood Express, a CTEC dating from 1995, would be replaced with a modern version. A similar project would swap the two stage Riva Bahn Express (1996 CTEC) for a new model. Born Free Express, a 1988 Doppelmayr, would also be replaced. Next door, the Eagle Bahn Gondola is coming up on 25 years of service. “Given its year-round, day and night operations, freight hauling duties, and limited capacity, the gondola will need a major overall or potentially an upgrade during the life of this plan,” the MDP notes.
Another proposed front side project is the Ever Vail Gondola, which would move 2,400 guests per hour from a new portal west of Lionshead. This lift was initially planned to terminate above the bottom of the Pride Express lift. Newer thinking has the gondola replacing that lift as well with an angle station at the current bottom terminal. With this option, the lift would have a slope length over 9,100 feet, making it the fourth longest on the mountain. Riders originating in West Lionshead could ascend all the way to Eagle’s Nest without needing to transfer lifts.
The nearby Cascade Village lift, a 1987 CTEC quad servicing Vail’s westernmost trail and the new Hotel Talisa, would be replaced with a detachable quad under the plan. This project would leave just two remaining fixed grip chairlifts in a sea of detachable technology at Vail.
In the Back Bowls, the 1988 vintage Orient Express would be replaced with a new high speed quad, increasing throughput from 2,400 to 2,800 in the process. I am a bit surprised this is not proposed as a six pack. In fact, Game Creek is the only additional lift set to become a six place chair under this master plan.
A major new lift approved in 2009 but not yet built is called the Sun Down Express. This high speed, detachable quad would stretch more than 6,000 feet from the bottom of Lift 5 to the top of Lift 7 with a capacity of 2,400 skiers per hour. Currently, the Sun Up Express and Teacup Express lifts provide egress for over 4,000 acres of terrain, causing congestion on busy afternoons. Sun Down would become a much-needed reliever.
On the opposite end of Vail’s Back Bowls, the Mongolia Express is proposed to replace the difficult to access Mongolia platter, which opens only some of the time. At 5,786′ feet long with a vertical of 1,575′, skiers would be able to spread out and lap this high speed quad without needing to return to the Orient Express.
While no new lifts are proposed in Blue Sky Basin, its operational boundary could be expanded both east and west. A series of new trails are proposed near Pete’s Express along with groomed access to West Earl’s Bowl.
Vail Resorts announces new lifts for its resorts each December and I expect at least one of the many projects in the new master plan will get the green light for 2020.