April 14, 2017

Ski areas keep pushing for bigger, better

Magic Mountain’s Black Chair will receive upgrades that enable it to operate as a triple as part of a $1 million 2017 improvements program.
Provided photo

Magic Mountain’s Black Chair will receive upgrades that enable it to operate as a triple as part of a $1 million 2017 improvements program. Provided photo

 

Since 1980, Vermont has seen well more than $500 million invested in mountain projects that have improved and expanded ski areas with higher capacity lifts, new trails, base lodges, high-tech groomers and energy-efficient snowmaking.

The result is 23 ski areas that now sport more than 1,200 trails on 7,300 acres of terrain, with 147 lifts.

Parker Riehle, president of the Vermont Ski Areas Association, said, “The emphasis on consistently upgrading snowmaking systems has increased the quality and quantity of snowmaking, so about 5,000 acres of terrain statewide can now be covered by over 600 miles of snowmaking pipe and guns. This has improved early- season conditions, significantly reduced recovery time after ‘weather events,’ and also saved $25.5 million in energy and fuel costs in the last decade.”

The investments made by the ski areas that have continued to operate — down from 78 areas prior to 1980 — have “increased their capacity to serve skiers and, in doing so, have sustained Vermont’s standing as the top ski state in the East and perennially among the top three in the country alongside Colorado and California,” he said.

Vermont resorts are expected to invest more than $40 million in new equipment and accommodations this year.

“By employing the latest technology and building the amenities to meet skier demands, Vermont has reaped 12,000 winter jobs and $900 million in direct spending that comprises over one-third of Vermont’s crucial tourism economy,” Riehle stated.

The following are improvements and projects planned at regional ski areas.

New facilities

— Sugarbush in Warren and Fayston is replacing the Sunny Double at Mt. Ellen and the Village Double at Lincoln Peak with Doppelmayr fixed-grip quads — each with 2,800 rides-per-hour capacity — for a $3 million investment. “We’re expecting both of these lifts to really improve the beginner experience with more lift capacity and easier access,” said spokesman John Bleh.

A $100,000 snowmaking line to Which Way at Mt. Ellen is being installed that will add “another mid-mountain intermediate trail that we can make snow on,” Bleh said.

Sugarbush is also spending $650,000 on two Pisten Bully 600 groomers as well as on solar arrays around the state to help offset costs.

— Ski Magic President Geoff Hatheway said $1 million is being invested in upgrades that will enable Magic Mountain in Londonderry to open by Thanksgiving instead of Christmas. Those improvements include new snowmaking pipe, additional energy-efficient snowguns, upgrades to the snowmaking pond and an expansion of the lift system.

“More trails will be covered than in prior years on both the east and west sides by blowing snow earlier (November start),” Hatheway said. The snowmaking pond dam will be rebuilt to increase the volume of water the pond can hold and existing pipe from streams will be reactivated to pump water back into the pond during acceptable high water flow periods.

Magic is also adding a base-to-mid-mountain double chairlift that will facilitate an earlier opening as “snow can be made quicker on a smaller terrain footprint” (than having to make snow from the top), Hatheway said. Additionally, a new conveyor lift will be installed for a new beginner area and the Black chairlift which operated as a double will be upgraded with new motor/drive so it can be approved as a triple chair, thus increasing lift capacity to the summit.

— Burke Mountain in Burke will replace the Pomalift that services Warren’s Way, a race training hill and competition site, with a T-bar for greater lift capacity. A relocation of the lift’s line will also facilitate access to the area’s upper mountain blue trails for those wishing to bypass steeper summit trails. In addition, there will be more snowmaking upgrades with the projects totaling $1 million, said Michael Goldberg, the federal receiver who oversees Burke.

— Mount Snow in West Dover is completing a 120-million-gallon water storage project and starting construction of a 36,000-square-foot base lodge at its Carinthia area.

The West Lake project will increase snowmaking water storage from 20 million gallons to 120 million, according to General Manager Kelly Pawlak. It is part of a $30-million water-storage consolidation project that began two years ago with upgrades of pipelines on the mountain and pond excavation. Current completion work includes a pipeline to West Lake, the building of three pump houses, and an inflatable dam.

Construction will start this summer on the $22 million (replacement) Carinthia Base Lodge. A three-story skier services building will include a cafeteria, restaurant, lounge, retail shop, convenience store, ski/snowboard rentals shop, ski school desk and ticket booth. Completion is anticipated for the 2018-19 season. The lodge is the first phase of a redevelopment of the Carinthia Base Area with plans including up to 150 ski-in/ski-out residential units.

Accommodations and energy

— Killington Resort’s assortment of 2017 projects includes some late spring bike park work on Ramshead and Snowshed with construction of connector trails and minor rerouting work, spokesman Michael Joseph said.

Also on tap are a $2 million remodeling of the lobby and health club at the Killington Grand Hotel and a $6.5 million investment in solar.

— A 100-kilowatt array will be installed on the roof of the Pico Base Lodge and a ground-mounted system will be built in a Pico parking area near U.S. Route 4. The two arrays will produce 560 kilowatt hours, said Tracy Taylor, business development and special projects manager. Additionally, three Tesla charging stations for electric cars are being added.

“Climate change is real and we are committed to renewable energy sources,” Taylor said. Killington and Pico receive solar credits from investments in four Vermont 500-kilowatt solar farms.

On-mountain projects for 2017-18 have not been finalized, but Killington has announced a “revitalization project” with a summer 2018 construction start. Phase one includes six or seven multi-family buildings at Bear Mountain, a remodeling of the Bear Base Lodge, installation of a fixed-grip quad chairlift on South Ridge, and bridge and tunnel work to re-establish the Snowshed Crossover Trail. Total phase one investment is estimated at $53 million. Phase two —18 duplex buildings at Bear Mountain — is estimated at $25 million.

— The Hermitage Club at Haystack, a private Wilmington ski-and-golf community, received Act 250 approval Feb. 16 for a 10-year master plan that includes a total of 550 residences. Sixteen townhomes in four buildings will be built this year, according to Bob Rubin, vice president of construction and development. Hermitage Club is the general contractor.

Presales are underway for the first hotel with a spring 2018 construction start anticipated. Since 2011, the club has invested over $100 million in construction projects, including a clubhouse, snowmaking, a heated bubble chairlift, 32 residences and the renovation of six inns in Wilmington and Dover.

— Construction of 14 Tamarack townhomes is underway at SouthFace Village located on an upper southern flank of Okemo Mountain in Ludlow.

Sales executive Bryan Gillam said the luxury Tamarack units were presold ($500,000 to $1.3 million) and will be finished for next winter. Gillam said presales will start soon for the third townhouse building and hopes are to start construction of the 19,000-square-foot lodge (pool, fitness club, restaurant, penthouses) this year. The entire SouthFace Village project is estimated to cost $200 million and calls for a total of 221 residences, six ski trails, and two lifts (one trail, one lift already operational) with the developer owning all the facilities and Okemo Resort managing the trails and lift operations.

More summer projects are possible as areas finalize next season’s budgets or plans with new owners.

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