Ski North America: Investing in the Future

Following years of consolidation by four major ski resort companies (Intrawest, American Skiing Company, Vail Resorts and Booth Creek) as well as a number of smaller ones, the acquisition by ski companies of resort areas has slowed to a near-stop. The industry has moved into a period of investing in ski areas and seeking to broaden the appeal of those areas beyond the skiing population, which has been static for years.

Investment has taken the form of ever-faster and ever-more-efficient chairlifts, better snowmaking and on-mountain lodging and amenities like restaurants and day lodges. The market broadening has taken the shape of children's play areas, spas and snow-related activities that anybody can do, such as snow-tubing.

Also, says Tom Moran, director of marketing for Continental Airlines Vacations, "The new runs tend to be toned down for beginners and intermediates. This is part of a broader appeal to families with skiers of different skill levels."

Bruce Rosard, president of Moguls Ski & Snowboard Tours in Boulder, agrees. "It's all about amenities," he says. "Clients want to ski for a few hours, then have a good meal and sit in the hot tub for a while."

Tour operators continue to expand their choice of destinations and, according to their spokespeople, to make a complex product easier to sell. Many agents, they say, are confused in the face of the variety of mountains; the predominance of nonbranded condominium accommodations, and seasonal air services.

"As a tour operator," says Sharon Swendner, director of marketing for Delta Vacations, "we are in the business of making it easier for agents. We have thoughts of resurrecting the old tagline, 'One call does it all' because that is what we're about. With one call, agents can get flights, lodging, 'skierized' car, lift tickets and other prebooked items that are commissionable."

More than that, Delta and other operators have specialists who can help agents deal with the dizzying array of mountains and accommodations. "Our agents have all that product knowledge at their fingertips," says Swendner. "They know which resort is suitable for which client. And they have individually been to many ski areas."

It's not just the resorts that are changing. So are the skiers. "Passengers are not skiing on as many days as they used to," says Jennifer Segaul, Destination Manager, Ski, for Certified Vacations Group, which operates tours for a number of carriers. "They are spending a day at the spa or shopping or snowmobiling."

Also, as is true of travel in general, skiers are taking shorter but more frequent vacations, typically two long weekends rather than a full week. Still, according to Segaul, the average stay for a ski vacation is 4.7 nights -- and since that often involves a family of three or more it can be a substantial booking.

Another trend described by Rosard is Snofaris -- multiresort holidays. According to Rosard, these packages include stays at two or three resorts, a car and directions from one resort to another. "People don't go skiing just to ski; they want to see the areas, to experience different places. We have some set packages but there is also flexibility in where people can go and how long they want to spend at each resort."

Also increasingly common are last-minute bookings, since travelers with Internet access can keep up to date easily on weather forecasts and snow conditions. But according to Segaul, ski mountain managers have been more flexible in the last few years in providing inventory, making those last-minute trips more workable.

More and more of that lodging inventory is in condo accommodations and operators are responding. "In the past we dealt mainly with hotels and resorts but were missing a big market with condo properties," says Continental's Moran. "We have added many more of those this year because of the large family market for ski."

While condos are not branded and not always rated, Moran says he and his division inspect the properties and place them in standard, moderate, first class and deluxe categories -- and price them accordingly.

Following is a state-by-state breakdown of changes in the major ski areas.

Vail

The four mountains that comprise Vail Resorts (Vail, Breckenridge, Keystone and Beaver Creek) are spending $48 million on enhancements with most of that being spent at Vail Mountain itself, on an expansion that may be available next winter and certainly will be available the following season (2000-2001). The mountain will add four chairlifts and 885 acres for skiing.

Coming to Vail this season (1999-2000) are new children's rental equipment; a new half-pipe that will have the capability to cut the only 15-foot-high "super pipe" in Colorado, and five new Snowcats to replace older ones.

In addition to capital improvements, the Two Elk restaurant, which burned down last fall, is being rebuilt and expanded. Its target opening is this Christmas.

At Breckenridge, a new six-passenger chairlift will replace the Quicksilver Lift, which was the first high-speed quad in the U.S. when it opened in the 1980s. This mountain is also adding an outdoor barbecue deck to Ten Mile Station, an on-mountain restaurant that made its debut last winter.

Keystone Resort has broken ground on a 49,000-square-foot expansion of its conference center; completion is scheduled for June 2000. The addition includes a 20,000-square-foot ballroom.

With the addition, the center will have 56,500 square feet, and together with the space in its hotels, the resort area will total 100,000 square feet in conference space, laying claim to the largest conference venue in the Rockies.

Aspen Skiing Company

These areas of Snowmass, Aspen Mountain, Buttermilk and Aspen will offer a season-long adult lift ticket priced from $39 through a new preseason ticket-purchase program. When pre-purchasing tickets, guests must provide an arrival date and name; tickets can be used up to 15 days after arrival date and there are no blackout dates.

On Aspen Mountain, there is a variety of restaurant news, including a new cafeteria-sundeck on the top of the mountain, a table service restaurant called Benedict's and a semi-private club called the Aspen Mountain Club.

At Aspen Highlands, there will be a new base village. Also, three chairs were removed to be replaced with a high-speed detachable quad.

Snowmass will offer new restaurants (at Sam's Knob) and a new children's race arena, a small hill permanently set up for children's snow event races. There are races in different events for different age groups. There is a time clock and an area from which parents can watch.

Winter Park

For the first time, this mountain will have ski-in/ski-out lodging with the opening of 230 condo units that will open in phases during January and February of 2000. To be called Zephyr Mountain Lodge, the property sits at the entrance to Moffat Tunnel, which connects Denver and Winter Park.

Steamboat

The American Skiing Company, which operates Steamboat, will open a new Grand Summit hotel here sometime during this season; its 230 units will open in phases.

Telluride

A new conference center opened last month in the town of Mountain Village, just steps from the mountain. This 23,000-square-foot facility is designed for corporate meetings and special events; it accommodates up to 550 people in the main ballroom.

The resort will host the International Snowboard Federation's World Championship from Jan. 8 to 15. More than 300 top snowboarders will compete in a variety of events for total prize money of $270,000.

Three new lifts, two of which are high-speed detachable quads, will open here next season. With the addition, 50% of Telluride's lifts are now high-speed detachables.

A new restaurant, Club St. Sophia, will open at the top of the gondola, adding upscale mountain dining to Telluride's amenities for the summer 2000.

Wyndham Hotels & Resorts will manage a new hotel-condominium here, the Lodge at Mountain Village -- A Wyndham Resort. It is a ski-in/ski-out resort that will consist of 86 one-, two- and three-bedroom condos; and 10 individual log and stone cottages. The resort is opening in two stages: 28 condos, two cabins and the main lodge have opened; the remainder of the units will be open in November.

Copper Mountain

This winter two new facilities will be open to skiers for the first time: the Copper Station day station and Copper Springs Lodge condominium-hotel. These projects are part of a program called Renaissance of Copper Mountain that is costing a total of $450 million over several years.

Phase One, which includes the two projects, is concentrated in Copper's East Village. It also includes Colorado's first six-person, high-speed chairlift, as well as new snowmaking equipment.

Copper Station, built of stone and wood, is the focal point of the East Village. The first floor features equipment rentals, lift ticket windows, information desks, lockers and a casual restaurant. The second level includes a Grand Hall Market serving breakfast, lunch and afternoon snack items. The third floor has a quiet area, complete with couches and great views for relaxing. Copper Springs Lodge will have one-, two- and three-bedroom units.

Vail Resorts

Vail Resorts has purchased Grand Teton Lodge Co. for about $50 million. The company operates several well-known properties, including Jenny Lake Lodge, Jackson Lake Lodge and Colter Bay Village, all located in Jackson Hole, within the Grand Teton National Park.

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort

This resort, which changed its name from Jackson Hole Ski Resort, will open a new Apres Vous quad lift that will increase capacity from 810 to 2,000 people per hour and will reduce the time to reach the top of the mountain from 10 minutes to five. Jackson Hole was one area that has just had an excellent ski season with well over 500 inches of snow.

The resort has made its first foray into lodging with the purchase of three management companies to form Jackson Hole Resort Lodging. JHRL now manages the majority of condos in and around Teton Village. The company opened the 37-unit Teton Club and 38-unit Moose Creek properties in the summer of 1999.

The Canyons

Although it opened just two years ago, the Canyons, in Park City, has become a major ski area and continues to grow rapidly.

For the coming season, the Canyons, one of the areas operated by American Skiing Co., will open Peak 5, providing skiers and riders a total of seven mountains to explore. The expansion, accessed by a new, four-passenger chairlift, will add about 300 acres of skiable terrain to the resort. The Canyons now claims to be one of the largest resorts in the country, with about 3,300 acres for intermediate and expert skiers.

Also, a new Sun Lodge opened in May 1999. This mid-mountain day lodge is located next to the Snow Canyon Express lift and offers a restaurant, restrooms and a sun deck providing scenic views of the canyon.

Phase One of the Canyons Resort Village will be completed this winter. The cornerstones of the slopeside village are the Grand Summit Resort Hotel and Conference Center and the Sundial Lodge. The 360-room hotel boasts the largest conference facility in the Park City area. It features a health club, 75-foot indoor/outdoor heated pool and spa, a restaurant and easy access to the slopes.

The Sundial Lodge will be a condominium hotel in the center of the resort village. It will have a lobby with central check-in, equipment lockers, a business center and two outdoor spas with plunge pools.

Park City

This resort will open a new 54,000-square-foot base lodge in December. The building will house a cafeteria, a rental center, concierge services, shops and a private club.

Park City is the official venue of the men's and women's giant slalom competition and all snowboarding events of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games

Deer Valley

Deer Valley Resort will invest more than $5 million on improvements for next season. That includes a triple chairlift on Flagstaff Mountain. It will be based in a new family ski area that includes two new runs and a snack area.

A new Silver Lake Express high-speed detachable quad will replace the existing Clipper triple chairlift. This addition will assist in transporting guests from the base area of Snow Park.

A new day lodge will open for the 2000-2001 season at the bottom of the Empire Express and Ruby chairlifts. It will serve lunch.

Deer Valley continues making improvements to its 2002 Olympic venues, including slalom and mogul runs.

Stein Eriksen Lodge, located mid-mountain at Deer Valley Resort in Park City, will complete a $25 million expansion in time for the 2000-2001 season, featuring 11 new three-, four- and five-bedroom condominiums -- 44 rooms altogether -- and a 20,000-square-foot conference center; plans also include a spa and expanded ski locker facility.

Salt Lake's Cottonwood Resorts

Four Utah resorts recently entered into a cooperative marketing effort that includes joint advertising, attendance at consumer and trade shows and an interchangeable lift voucher. They have adopted the name Salt Lake's Cottonwood Resorts, and consist of Brighton Ski Resort, Solitude Mountain Resort, Alta Ski Area and Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort. They receive an annual average of 500 inches of snow and their slogan is "Higher, Steeper, Closer, & Deeper."

By partnering, Cottonwood Resorts' spokespeople say they will gain more exposure while making it easier than ever to ski Salt Lake. Less than 30 miles southeast of downtown Salt Lake City, these four resorts are a quick drive up Big or Little Cottonwood Canyon. The Utah Transit Authority provides public ski bus service from downtown and south valley accommodations to each resort on a regular basis throughout the season.

Sugarloaf

Sugarloaf in Maine is building a "turbo tubing" park. The resort had offered a temporary turbo tubing park two days a week in the past, but the new facility will be open every day. It involves building huge tunnels in the snow that enable tubers to go much faster. A slower version will also be available.

Sugarloaf is also expanding Bullwinkle's, an on-mountain restaurant, doubling the seating and upgrading the food. According to a spokesperson, the restaurant is very casual during the day, and more formal in the evening.

Stratton

This Vermont area will have new lodging this season at Long Trail House. It will provide 142 studio- to three-bedroom units in two buildings with amenities to include a concierge, outdoor pool and hot tub.

The resort has spent $17 million in the last four years on snowmaking equipment and now claims the capacity to pump out more snow than any other mountain in the east.

On-mountain dining now features La Pista, an Italian-style bistro.

Smugglers' Notch

This Vermont resort has a new highlands lift and lodge in a new section of the mountain called the Morse Bowl. The double chairlift serves five new trails for beginners and advanced beginners. The new area is geared to children and adults seeking quiet terrain to practice.

The resort has converted its indoor tennis court into the Fun Zone! with an array of slides, boxes, walks and crawl-around amusements -- an inflatable playground.

A new, 18-unit condo building called the Sycamores at West Hill features a fitness center, children's play area and common areas, all a short walk from the Village Center. It will be ready for December occupancy.

Mammoth Mountain

This resort, which claims to be California's most popular mountain resort, will open a new building to house the base of the lower Panorama Gondola. The gondola itself will have new cabins that provide, according to the resort, a quiet, cushioned ride from the base to the 11,000-foot peak with 360-degree views from start to finish.

Beginning skiers and snowboarders will enjoy the Discovery chair, a high-speed detachable quad that will replace two older chairs. The addition of this high-speed quad servicing the beginner terrain of the Main Lodge will help skiers by allowing more time on the slopes and less on the lift.

Mountaintop dining is coming to Mammoth in the form of Top of the World, an intimate, 45-seat facility on Mammoth's summit. The new restaurant will offer views of the Eastern Sierra mountains.

A new lodge recently opened at Mammoth. Juniper Springs Lodge offers ski-in/ski-out convenience for guests at its 174 studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom condos; it also offers a Hearth Room lounge with a huge rock fireplace.

Whistler/Blackcomb

This Intrawest-owned resort in British Columbia will have two new high-speed lifts on Whistler Mountain next season. That will mean faster village uploading and better access to storm-proof mid-mountain terrain. Also new will be four gladed runs on Whistler Mountain.

With the addition, Whistler/Blackcomb will have 15 high-speed lifts which, claims the resort, are the most high-speed lifts at a single resort in North America. With a total of 33 lifts, Whistler/Blackcomb's new lift capacity increases to 59,000 skiers and riders per hour.

Mont Tremblant

This Quebec resort, another Intrawest subsidiary, will increase its skiable area by more than 20% for next season with a new face costing $10 million. With the additional area, Tremblant will be able to increase the number of its runs by 10, to a total of 90. Three-quarters of the runs will be for experienced skiers and the remainder for intermediate skiers.

Four viewpoints will be set up at strategic points along the runs in order to give skiers a chance to appreciate the landscape of the new face. Also, a small day chalet will be built halfway up the mountain.

Mont Tremblant opened the 139-suite Le Lodge de la Montagne, a resort hotel at the base of the slope, last fall.

For More Information
American Skiing Company: www.peaks.com
Aspen Skiing Company: (800) 525-6200; www.skiaspen.com
Booth Creek: www.boothcreek.com
Certified Vacations: (800) 223-7260
Continental Airlines Vacations:(800) 634-5555; www.coolvacations.com
Cottonwood Resorts: www.cotttonwoodresorts.com
Delta Vacations: (800) 221-6666; www.deltavacations.com
Intrawest: www.intrawest.com
Moguls Ski & Snowboard Tours: (800) 666-4857; www.skimoguls.com
National Ski Areas Association: www.nsaa.org
Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau: (800) 541-4955; www.visitsaltlake.com
Ski Utah: (800) 754-8824; www.skiutah.com
Stein Eriksen Lodge: (800) 453-1302; www.steinlodge.com
Wyndham Hotels & Resorts: (800) WYNDHAM; www.wyndham.com

Skiing Olympic Sites

Following is a quick look at the sites and which events will be held at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

  • Soldier Hollow is in Wasatch State Park near Heber City, about 43 miles from the Olympic Village in Salt Lake City.
  • Park City is in the Wasatch Mountains, about 25 minutes east of Salt Lake City.
  • Deer Valley Resort is a mountain resort in Park City, Utah.
  • Snowbasin Ski Area and the Ice Sheet at Ogden are in Ogden, about 55 minutes north of the Olympic Village.
  • Provo is about 55 minutes from the Olympic Village
  • "E" Center is a new sports arena in West Valley City, 10 miles from the Olympic Village.
  • Oquirrh Park is about 25 minutes west of the Olympic Village in Kearns.
  • Here's the rundown:

    Sport Venue
    Alpine skiing Park City Mountain Resort (giant slalom)
    Alpine skiing Deer Valley Resort (slalom)
    Alpine skiing Snowbasin Ski Area (downhill, Super G)
    Biathlon Soldier Hollow
    Bobsled Utah Winter Sports Park, Park City
    Cross-Country Skiing Soldier Hollow
    Curling Ice-Sheet at Ogden
    Figure Skating Skating Arena at Salt Lake City
    Freestyle Skiing Deer Valley Resort (moguls, aerials)
    Ice Hockey "E" Center
    Ice Hockey Provo
    Luge Utah Winter Sports Park
    Nordic Combined Utah Winter Sports Park/Soldier Hollow
    Short Track Speed Skating Skating Arena at Salt Lake City
    Ski Jumping Utah Winter Sports Park
    Snowboarding Park City Mountain Resort
    Speed Skating Oquirrh Park Oval

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