Vail Unveils Its Future Full Of New, Upgraded And Realigned Lifts


With a new and approved master plan in hand, Vail Mountain officials now have a blueprint for overhauling their massive lift sytem to unclog main base areas and streamline everyone's ability to get around Colorado's biggest mountain.

No dates have been put to any of these upgrades, as each new lift will have to be OK'd by Forest Service officials, on whose domain 5,317-acre, 21-lift Vail Mountain operates. But with emphasis in the plan on getting guests up and out of Vail's five base villages, skiers and riders should expect to see the first construction on the lower front side.

When looking maps of the aggressive plan, skiers and riders can hardly find a spot on the frontside of Vail Mountain that won't be affected if this plan reaches full fruition.

The plan aims to reduce lift lines out of Vail Village with an already-approved six-pack Trans Montane chair to Riva Ridge run, and an upgraded workhorse Eagle Bahn gondola from eight to 12 seats -- with new a mid-station next to the top of the Born Free Express, which is soon to be a six-pack as well.

Perhaps the biggest game changer will be Riva Bahn Express gondola out of the Golden Peak base. It will be Vail's first lift to deliver folks from the bottom to the Back Bowls in one fell swoop. Now a high-speed quad that winds its way up to the base of Northwoods chair, River Bahn will become a 16,000-foot-long gondola -- with a mid-station -- that runs all the way up to the ridge that overlooks the Back Bowls.

On the opposite side of the bottom, the fixed-grip Cascade Village chair -- one of Vail's first lifts -- can get upgraded to a high-speed quad.

On the mountain, Vail will add seats all over the front side, including ridge-reaching pair Wildwood and Mountaintop high-speeds and the busy Avanti Express. Even the short (1,000 ft.) fixed-grip Little Eagle that serves upper mountain learning areas is planned to be a high-speed quad.

On the backside, the most significant upgrade is a new Mongolian Express that will give new life to Mongolian and Siberian bowls. Previously served by a high-speed quad and a long traverse, the skier's left sector will have a new high-speed chair right in the middle of the action. And, both Teacup and Orient high-speeds get two more seats.

Vail officials insist that the updated plan does not try to get more skiers and riders on the hill (they "manage to" a 19,900 capacity right now). Instead, they say that it will create a more efficient lift system that will spread them out all around the mountain.



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Northern Colorado Resorts Open Up With New Lifts, Terrain


The Continental Divide brings deep snowfall to northern Colorado's mountains where three ski and snowboard operations are constantly upping their games.

Up north, Steamboat  (3,741 a., 3,668 vert.) wraps up a multi-year overhaul up with the extension of the new Wild Blue Gondola to the 10,384-foot-high summit of Sunshine Peak, and a high-speed chair for more expert terrain.

The 10-seat gondola cabins load at the base, head to a mid-station at the revamped Greenhorn Ranch learning center, and then take a sharp right to complete a 13-minute run to the top. The Wild Blue base-to-summit gondola will nearly double the ability to get people out of the totally remodeled base area and help loosen morning and late-day choke points.

Also added to the trail map is a detachable quad on the far east boundary off Mahogany Ridge into the Fish Creek area -- long a locals' powder stash. The new quad serves 655 acres of gullies and glades, and eliminates a hike out.

About 80 miles down U.S. 40, Winter Park's (3,081 a., 3,060 vert.) skiers and riders who want more out of the Denver-owned hill will get a glimpse of the future with a new six-pack in the mountain's midsection.

Named Wild Spur Express, the new detachable six-seater runs along the same route as the 36-year-old Pioneer Express four-pack, one of the oldest high-speed chairs in Colorado. The new detachable chair increases uphill capacity by 30% in the popular Vasquez Ridge section. To further ease congestion, officials added a mid-station to keep more folks on the hill.

The new high-speed is the first move of a proposed multi-year project to expand the Vasquez Ridge and Cirque sections, which top out at 12,060 feet elevation. Also planned is a three-mile gondola from the downtown Winter Park.

About 30 miles north, Granby Ranch Ski Resort (406 a., 1,000 vert.) continues to dig its way out of a tumultuous 40-year history. Being the only Colorado ski and snowboard mountain on private land has attracted, over the years, all manner of developers with schemes of varying success. New ownership in 2021 promised stability

New this season is a 400-foot-long conveyor at the base to further promote Granby as a learner's hill.

Granby's on the Indy Pass, while both Steamboat and Winter Park accept Ikon Pass.


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Local Pressure Convinces Homewood To Ditch Plan To Go Private


A radical move to make Homewood Mountain Resort fully private has crumbled in the face of local opposition, and the plan now calls for access to all on the slopes of the Lake Tahoe resort.

Plans right now call for day and season tickets to be sold to anyone, and a lifetime membership program to begin in 2024-2025. In addition, the replacement of the 1982-era triple Madden chair with a gondola now appears possible. According to, some of the gondola has been delivered.

The endemic lack of skiers and riders on the hill remains, but owners say construction of base condos, a West Shore shuttle, a 270-vehicle parking garage and lifetime memberships should begin to ameliorate that issue.

In 2022, owners of the 1,260-acre ski and snowboard area that rises out of the west shore of Lake Tahoe said that the inability of non-locals to get to the slopes because of heavy weekend traffic off I-80 had resulted in a precipitous decline in day and season ticket sales. They put much of the blame on multi-mountain passes that drew more weekenders to Squaw Valley, now Palisades Tahoe, and Northstar clogged the shortest route from the Bay Area to Homewood.

The pivot to private was to happen this season, with tickets sold only to property owners at Homewood and area HOA members.

However, community members formed several groups in the past year that protested furiously against the plan. When the local planning commission turned down the design of condos to be built at Homewood, owners acquiesced to keep the mountain public.

Opponents remain skeptical that ownership JMA Ventures, a commercial real estate developer based in San Francisco, will follow through with the new plan.

Opened in 1962, Homewood offered a local alternative to the big mountains around Lake Tahoe. With 1,650 feet of vertical drop and the region's only snowcat tour service, Homewood has one of the oldest high-speed quads in the nation -- installed in 1982 -- three triple fixed-grips and a couple of platters.

Half of the trail map is rated blue, with dozens of hidden stashes to take advantage of 400-inch snowfalls in good years. Plus, the mountain is often sheltered from high-ridge winds because it crouches 1,000 feet below the 8,740-foot-high summit of Ellis Peak.

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Brian Head To Add Terrain, Incorporate Adjacent Development


Add another Utah ski and snowboard resort to the expansion list, as Brian Head is set to initiate construction that will eventually transform the modest-sized ski and snowboard area into a large-scale new resort.

The project calls for building a gondola to connect an existing layout at Brian Head with newly developed Aspen Meadows resort on 2,000 privately owned acres just over a divide. The Brian Head-Aspen Meadows linkage joins the recently announced Deer Valley-Mayflower marriage that promises to vastly alter the future Utah ski and snowboard landscape.

Languishing for more than three decades, the reactivated Aspen Meadows master plan calls for a third base area for the southern Utah mountain, more than doubling its skiable terrain, and adding seven new lifts, including a two-stage gondola to link the two areas. More parking and new lodging and residential areas are in the plans.

Mountain officials have not set a timeline for the development but have indicated that full build-out of lifts, new skiable terrain, and residential structures could take 30 years.

In 2019, Colorado-based Mountain Capital Partners acquired Brian Head as an element of a spending spree that began in 2015 with Purgatory in southwest Colorado, and now includes 11 ski and snowboard mountains, one snowcat tour service, one dedicated mountain bike park, and two golf courses.

Once in the fold, the Durango company has made it a habit to immediately put money "onto the hill" in the form of snowmaking, lifts, grooming and terrain. So Brian Head regulars and visitors can expect to see on-mountain improvements in the next couple of seasons.

Brian Head has long been a hidden gem on the Utah ski map. Its both the southernmost mountain in the state and the highest base elevation (9,600 feet). Cedar City lies 40 minutes away I-15, and Las Vegas is three hours' drive.

Currently, the trail map encompasses 650 acres with 1,548 feet in vertical drop. Two high-speed quads join with six other chairlifts to deliver skiers and riders around the mountain. The skiable terrain divides up neatly between green-blue Navajo Mountain, and blue-black Giant Steps Mountain.

Sitting on the extreme southwest corner of the Rocky Mountains, Brian is well-situated to catch the leading edge of storms that come up from the southwesterly direction. Also, a number of national parks near Brian Head draw visitors to southern Utah.


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Colorado Resorts Gear Up For Summer Lift Construction


When outdoors enthusiasts head to the Colorado Rockies this summer, they will be a sneak peak at a half-dozen new and replacement lifts that are expected to be ready to go for the 2023-2024 ski and snowboard season.

Beginning in the north, the multi-year makeover at Steamboat culminates this summer with the second-leg of Wild Blue gondola and a new high-speed quad to open up Mahogany Ridge.

The first leg of the 10-seat gondola began spinning this season, topping out at a regraded "terrain-based learning" terrain now named Greenhorn Ranch. Ski school headquarters moved up there, served by four moving carpets and a new high-speed quad to make Greenhorn Ranch an encapsulated learning center.

This summer, the Wild Blue gondola will be extended to the 10,384-foot ridgetop Sunshine Peak. The new quad will serve new terrain on the east boundary in Fish Creek Canyon.

At Winter Park, the out-of-the-way Vasquez Ridge trail network will get a faster ride as the 37-year-old four-person Pioneer Express will be replaced by a six-seat detachable chair. A mid-station will improve access of the lower moderate terrain and the more gnarly upper bump runs.

In Summit County, Keystone is scheduled to finally put up the high-speed Bergman Express six-pack to open up heretofore hike-to upper mountain terrain. Postponed last summer, installing of the new chair gives intermediate skiers and riders a taste of alpine bowl skiing, while provide lift access to steeper Erickson Bowl next door.

At Breckenridge, an upgrade at Peak 8 base will replace fixed-grip Lift 5 -- put up in 1970 as one of the resort's first lifts. The new high-speed quad Lift 5 will swish novices higher onto the mountain, as well as give prime access to the long Park Lane terrain park.

Up on Aspen Mountain, the long-awaited Pandora expansion will get its new chairlift this summer. As Aspen's first boundary expansion since it opened in 1946, adding the Pandora snowfields off the summit means 153 acres and a new high-speed quad to skier's right off the summit.

Finally, at Silverton Mountain, crews will install a second fixed-grip chair for its guided powder-stash terrain. Located east of the existing double chair, the new chair will let skiers and riders lap the steeps off Velocity Basin without having to return to the base.

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Another New Chairlift at Sundance; Timberline Gets OK For Gondola


New lifts often open up new terrain, but at Utah's Sundance Mountain and Oregon's Timberline Lodge, the plans for new lifts are to make it easier to move around their mountains.

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