Faster Chairs At Sun Valley, Jackson Hole Aim To Ease Congestion

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Two of the West's most recognizable ski and snowboard mountains will be replacing a pair of aging chairlifts with swifter versions during this year's summer work season.

The projects at Sun Valley and Jackson Hole are elements in multi-year improvement plans that have been approved by the U.S. Forest Service, from whom the resorts lease use of public land.

At Sun Valley, the last five construction seasons have been about upgrading chairlifts all over the 2,000 acres that sit under Bald Mountain. They took care of the Warm Springs side of the mountain -- far skier's left -- with new and realigned chairs. Now it's time to fix up the other side.

This summer, installation crews will turn their attention to Seattle Ridge, an all-green pod on far skier's right off Bald Mountain. Since 1993, more and more skiers and riders looking for gentle, quiet terrain have ridden 4.5 minutes on the high-speed Seattle Ridge quad.

Now, this summer, Sun Valley crews will put up a six-pack detachable chair, which will allow 600 more folks per hour to get onto Seattle Ridge's collection of easy-going trails.

Management hopes this project will reduce wait time in one of Bald Mountain's busiest intersection along the Broadway runout. The Seattle Ridge high-speed shares loading space the 50-year-old fixed-grip Mayflower triple that heads up to the 9,150-foot summit of Bald Mountain.

Next up in 2025 construction season will be replacement of the detachable Christmas quad with a six-pack "chondola," creating a base-to-summit gondola route and hopefully moving people more readily through the busy mid-mountain Roundhouse area.

About 450 miles to the east, Jackson Hole got the go-ahead from the USFS in January for replacement of the fixed-grip Sublette four-seater. For nearly 40 years, Sublette has been the way to get skiers and riders into a trio of bowls just below famed Rendezvous Bowl.

For the 2024-2025, Sublette riders will feel the speed with a new detachable quad that will cut riding time down to about four minutes. Unloading area will be enlarged, and a new traverse will run under the tram to Tensleep Bowl.

This project follows on the heels of making Thunder chair a detachable quad that brings skiers and riders from the bottom of the Headwall amphitheater back up to the ridge at Laramie Bowl. It also is the only new lift included in Jackson's six-year plan to realign trails, modify visitor venues, develop a full menu of summer activities, and mitigate avalanche danger.

 

 

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New Chairlifts Top Off-Season Upgrades At Idaho Big Mountains

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Getting busier by the year, a trio of Idaho's ski and snowboard resorts continued a recent trend of modernization this summer with four new high-speed lifts that aim to ease lift line congestion and get folks up and around the mountains more readily.

The Ikon Pass folks have bought Schweitzer, and the first move is to dramatically upgrade the easy slopes below the main base area. Gone is the 32-year-old Musical Chairs fixed-grip double, and up and running is the new high-speed quad Creekside Express. The detachable chairlift will triple capacity and cut ride time to 3.5 minutes between lower Fall Line parking and main lodge -- the mountain's only green-rated runs.

The new lift is a glimpse at what's to come in Schweitzer's easy-going area. The existing Creek Village housing area will get a new day lodge, expanded beginner and intermediate terrain, easy access from the upper mountain -- and much more parking.

The first investments by a reinvigorated ownership at Brundage Mountain (1,920 a.,1,921 vert.) arrived for this season, in the form of a much-needed second high-speed quad on the front side. The old Centennial triple has been replaced by a detachable four-seater that will nearly double capacity and cut time on the lift from 16 minutes to six -- dramatically reducing lift lines.

Next up for Brundage will a new guest service's center at the base, and the expansion of the main lodge -- both planned for the next couple years.

In the past couple of seasons at Sun Valley (2,457 a., 3,400 vert.), mountain planners worked to rectified traffic flow on the frontside. This summer, crews headed to the side-mountain Warm Springs area. Two new high-speed chairlifts that run side-by-side are ready to run. The base-to-top Challenger six-seater adds 50% capacity and a mid-station before the 7.5-minute ride to Lookout Restaurant.

The other new lift, a four-seater called Flying Squirrel, replaces the 35-year-old Greyhawk quad. It runs up the same route to the divide, where skiers and riders can dump into Frenchman's and other frontside sectors. A steep black section has been added as Lower Flying Squirrel, alongside newly opened Little Scorpion glades to put more variety into the runs back to the Warm Spring base.

Other improvements at Idaho ski and snowboard mountains this season include:

  • A major overhaul of the Shoshone Lift beginner area at Grand Targhee.

  • Glade clearing and trail regrading at Lookout Pass.

  • Reinvigorating the long-ignored snowmaking system at Soldier Mountain.

  • A new "family friendly zone" and terrain park beginner area at Tamarack.

 

 

 

 

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Off The Beaten Track, Idaho's Mountains Have Something For Everyone

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The Rocky Mountains in Idaho spread uninterrupted north off the Snake River into the state's upper regions where a strong menu of skiing and riding awaits those who are willing to go an extra mile.  

Though not the highest in the Rockies -- treeline hovers around 7,000 feet -- this landscape is among the most persistent: Seemingly endless ranges, steep and remote, with many roadless sections. Rural townships nestle in tight quarters. Only 10% of municipalities in Idaho have five-digit populations, and the largest wilderness area in the Lower 48 -- 2.2 million-acre Frank Church River of No Return -- anchors the state's midsection.

This crinkled topography in the Gem State produces as diverse a collection of ski and snowboard mountains as anywhere in the West -- and some of the least familiar. Nearly two dozen dot the road-trip map from Boise to Coeur d'Alene, big and famous like Sun Valley, local treasures like Little Ski Hill -- and plenty in between.

After first dumping "concrete" on the Cascades, Pacific storms have plenty left for Idaho's northern tier resorts, like at Schweitzer that averages 400 inches a season. Snowstorms dry out a bit as they head across the high ground toward the Grand Tetons, dropping a lighter variety of powder as they go.

Idaho mountains can give skiers and 'boarders all they want, need and can handle. There are the "big boys" like Sun Valley, Soldier Mountain, and Schweitzer. Then an array of solid mid-sized mountains sprinkled about, such as Tamarack, Lost Trail, Pomerelle, and Lookout Pass.

Volunteer-operated Bogus Basin should be on the top of anyone's list for skiing and riding at the edge of town. Opened in 1942 by the famed Engen brothers, Bogus is 16 miles from Boise and has 1,790 vertical feet on a surprisingly large layout of 2,600 acres. As a non-profit operating on private and public leases, ticket prices stay reasonable and lights up five days a week for night skiing.

And, Idaho likely as many nook-and-cranny town bumps as any state in the West -- and each with their own quirks and foibles. For those of us who grew up lapping the town hill after school, this sample of oddball little hills should bring back plenty of memories.

  • Cottonwood Butte's main lift is a 3,000-foot-long T-bar.

  • Little Ski Hill is open 3:30-9:00 p.m. on weekdays.

  • Chipmunk Ski Area has the longest rope tow in America, 300 feet, and $5 tickets.

  • All of Rotarun Ski Area's 485 feet of vertical are treeless.

  • Snowhaven's T-bar was put up in 1972 -- and still running.

 

 

 

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New Lifts Will Facilitate Moving Around Sun Valley And Snowbasin

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This summer, the longtime owners of Sun Valley and Snowbasin will make major upgrades at each mountain to smooth out flow and reinvigorate portions of their resorts.

Idaho's Sun Valley has two separate base areas that serve two distinct sides of the mountain -- the main one integrated into the town of Ketchum and the other 12 miles to the west in the Warm Springs settlement. In 2014, a forest fire above Warm Springs took out the Flying Squirrel fixed-grip double chair, making it cumbersome to get into a pair of popular powder stashes from that side of the mountain.

One aim of the Warm Springs project this summer will be to make it easier to get into the Little Scorpion and Frenchman's powder stashes from the Warm Springs base, and to rejuvenate the skier's right portion of the east side of the Sun Valley trail map. A new high-speed quad chair called Flying Squirrel will restore that access by delivering skiers and riders to a ridge top above them.

The other part of the project is a new Challenger chair -- the heavy-lifting high-speed quad from the Warm Springs base up 3,000 vertical feet to the summit ridge line of Baldy Mountain (9,150). Previously, the Challenger shared ridership with the 35-year-old Greyhawk high-speed quad that unloaded halfway up. That chair will be dismantled, and the new six-seat Challenger will have a mid-station.

At Snowbasin in Utah's northern Wasatch Range, the expansive Strawberry Peak area and its eight-seat gondola has become a more and more popular loop for advanced skiers and riders since expansion in 1998.

However, the 1,000 or so acres there is separated by a long ridge from the main mountain and base area -- making for long runouts at the end of the day. So, the new six-pack Demoisy Express is set to go up this summer to ease both congestion and make the return run easier to catch.

The new high-speed will load next to the gondola and rise nearly 2,000 vertical feet to a sheltered dropoff point just short of the top ridge. From there, trails lead to and from the frontside Middle Bowl Express, and skiers and rider get a choice of the alpine terrain of Diamond Bowl or the Strawberry treeless steep slopes.

 

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Handful Of Midwest Ski Areas Celebrating Milestones This Season

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Five Heartland ski areas are celebrating significant milestones this season. All have been in business at least 65 years and a couple started in 85 and one 75 years ago, according to the National Ski Areas Association.

Pine Mountain, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and Wilmot Mountain, just north of Chicago along the Wisconsin border, opened in 1938, and celebrate 85 years this season. They opened just a couple of years after Sun Valley in the west and Bromley Mountain opened in the east, both credited with kicking off the North American ski resort industry. That first chairlift installed at Sun Valley 87 years ago was purchased by Everett Kircher in 1947, moved to Boyne Mountain and introduced the modern era of skiing to the Heartland. It's still in use hauling visitors to the top of Mountain to hike across the world's longest timber towered suspension bridge that was opened last fall. It's available to walk across year round.

Wilmot Mountain, located just north of Chicago along Wisconsin’s border, also turned 85 this season. Its unassuming vertical drop of 230 feet is offset by its stature with the million or so skiers that have skied here since it opened in 1938. It offers 25 trails, seven lifts and two surface tows to accommodate the large weekend crowds.

Pine Mountain is also home to the Kiwanis Ski Club jumping tournament that draws the best jumpers worldwide every year. Jump Weekend is where the US jumping record was set at 140 meters/459 feet and is still held here. The ski area offers a 500-foot vertical, 27 runs, three chairlifts and two surface tows.

Lutsen Mountains, 75 years old, opened in 1948. It's the largest ski resort around the Great Lakes with a nearly 900-foot vertical, the only gondola in the Heartland, and 95 runs scattered across four mountains. It lives up to its namesake “Mountains of the Midwest.” It's located in Minnesota's Arrowhead offering gorgeous views of Lake Superior from most of it's trails.

Michigan's Nubs Nob and Wisconsin’s Tyrol BasinPine both opened in 1958 and celebrated 65 years in business this season.

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Quartet Of Southern Idaho Resorts Aim At Skier-Comfort This Season

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Like many U.S. ski and snowboard resorts this season, a group of four Idaho resorts focused on nitty-gritty projects to make things more comfortable and safe for skiers and riders in 2022-2023.

At Boise's own Bogus Basin, lift crews added more chairs to Morningstar and Superior Express to help move more skiers and riders around the mountain. Two new trails on the upper mountain make back-to-front connection easier, and some greens got wider.

Night skiing terrain has expanded, putting Sunbeam and Superior runs under the lights. Down below, there are 50 more parking spots, and snowshoeing operation is gaining ground.

About two hours' north sits Tamarack. Rejuvenation continues since new owners took over in 2018. Focus this summer was on apres-ski: A new 5,000-square-foot restaurant and bar -- with mezzanine and outdoor seatings -- went in slopeside in the base village. Pay digitally and choose from a wall of 40 self-serve beer taps.

The Indy Pass works at Tamarack. On the 1,100-acre mountain, snowmaking continues to be amped up so that about a fifth of the terrain has snowguns. Tamarack's trail map leans toward the more difficult and difficult categories, with clearly 80% of the trail falling into one or the other rating.

Just up the road, Brundage Mountain ski patrol have moved into new digs this winter. A brand-new 2,800-square-foot space houses patrol and first aid facilities. A couple of new groomers are on the hill to smooth out the early-season surfaces. Brundage is also a members of the Indy Pass system.

Nostalgians will take the last rides on the 32-year-old Centennial fixed-grip triple, as plans call for a detachable high-speed chair to go in next season. Also in the near future at Brundage is a new base lodge to replace the original A-frame, and there will be hints of real estate development around the base of the heretofore day-trip resort.

In Idaho's southeast sector, venerable Sun Valley continues its march toward 90 years in business (2026) by opening up some new terrain in the Warm Springs portion of the 2,700-acre resort. Two gladed sections were cleared this summer to expand the mountain's western edge in preparation of two new chairlifts scheduled to go in for next season as part of an aggressive improvement plan.

Also, Sun Valley joined the Ikon Pass as a seven-day partner, and the Mountain Collective for its two days free and half-off any additional days. And, Sun Valley will reclaim some of its old racing roots by hosting the U.S. Alpine Championships in March.

 

 

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SnoCast: Stormy Pattern Continues Out West

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A busy weather week continues nation-wide with a fast storm pattern. We'll see multiple waves of snow out West, and changeable conditions in the East heading into the first weekend of December. Let's dig into this week's SnoCast.

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South Idaho's Mountain Resorts Bring On Summer

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A summer road trip in the Rockies should include time in southern Idaho, where a half-dozen ski and snowboard mountains flip to summer.

There's no shortage of strenuous biking and hiking, relaxing strolls through the wildflowers, music performances and more around the base areas of South Idaho's mountain resorts -- from Idaho Falls to McCall to Boise.

Bogus Basin continues its summer renaissance. It's home to Idaho's only mountain coaster, with 4,330 feet of twists and turns at up to 25mph. The Boise home hill's Basin Gravity Park debuts a one-mile beginner X-C trail, an extension of the Around the Mountain route, and a technical downhiller.

Tamarack takes advantage of its lakeside location by building a watercraft fleet over the last couple of summers. This summer, new jet skies and surf boats joins with paddleboards, kayaks and pontoon boats on Lake Cascade. On the hill, the 27-mile MTB park expands with a couple of intermediate flow trails, and a summit loop.

Kelly Canyon has begun lift-served MTB action to deliver riders to an 18-mile network of trails, plus a 4-mile special loop that will be a training ground for interscholastic riders. New at Kelly, just outside of Idaho Falls, will be UTV side-by-side rentals.

Brundage has built a 20-year reputation of solid hiking and biking trails on the mountain near McCall. The mountain added six new trails for this summer, including a dramatic uphiller into Lakeview Bowl. A scenic chairlift ride unveils a 360-degree view of Payette National Forest and environs.

As usual, Sun Valley offers up a plethora of summer activities and events for summer visitors. Downhill MTBers can ride the gondola to the ridge atop Bald Mountain while, down below, the resort links with a 30-mile cruiser system of paved, non-vehicle riding. Events highlight with performances on the famous ice rink at the resort above McCall.

Neither Soldier Mountain, Pomerelle nor Pebble Creek spin chairlifts during the summer. So at Soldier outside Boise and Pomerelle near Twin Falls, uphill MTBers take the lead to climb the mountain on their own. Just south of Pocatello, Pebble Creek will be open for special events and private affairs only.

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Two-Day Mountain Collective Pass Returns With Western Flavor

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With prices for 2022-23 comparable to recent seasons, the two-days-each Mountain Collective ski and snowboard pass returns with a shuffled resort lineup that includes two big mountains in the West coming back to the fold.

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American Meccas Of Cross Country Skiing

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Ask the general public to name an alpine skiing “Mecca” — described as a location where people, who share a common interest, yearn to go — even those who don’t ski can come up with at least Aspen or Vail, if not Killington and Sun Valley.

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Ikon Passes Now On Sale For 2022/23; Spring Skiing For Early Birds

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Details of the 2022-2023 Ikon Pass are out, highlighted by Sun Valley and Snowbasin joining the mega-mountain season pass family.

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5 Ski Resorts That Has Something for Everyone – Even Non-Skiers

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There’s something to be said about the magical feeling you get when you look outside and everything is coated in fluffy white snow. To the people who live in ski resort towns, it’s just another wintery day, but to those who come from warmer climates, it’s a winter wonderland! 

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Ski Mag Ranks The Best Ski Resorts in the U.S.

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From Vermont's classic glades to the powder-choked bowls of the West, the destinations on this list will delight skiers of all stripes.

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Several Midwest Ski Areas Celebrate Milestones This Season

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No less than nine Heartland ski areas are celebrating significant milestones this year. All have been in business at least 60 years and one started 85 years ago, according to the National Ski Areas Association.

 

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Summer Winds Down With Traditional Oktoberfest, Brew Fest Events

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At many ski and snowboard resorts, October comes in September -- in the form of the lederhosen, dirndl, clogs, knee socks, and, of course, beer.

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SnoCast: Coast to Coast Snow To End January

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So much to cover in this week’s SnoCast as we dig out from feet of snow in the west, and eye new snow in the Midwest and Northeast—everyone gets something to finish off January.

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Idaho Resorts Open With A Modest Array Of New Features

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Ski and snowboard resorts throughout Idaho are opening for the season, albeit cautiously, and offseason improvements are muted but still significant.

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Idaho Resorts Unfurl Plans For Covid-19 Winter

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The standard Covid-19 precautions are in place for this ski and snowboard season in the Gem State. Regional and local conditions may change, prompting changes in restrictions, but here's a look at some of the resorts' plans.

 

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Some Western Resorts Go Ahead With Lift Construction; Others Put Them On Hold

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The COVID-19 pandemic's impact has spread across the ski and snowboard industry in the West, and one of its victims has been plans for new lifts. But a quintet of resorts are pushing ahead with plans, while others take a pause.

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Sun Valley Moves Forward With Expansion Project

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Sun Valley Resort said it remains on pace to open a large new expansion this winter.

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