‘Goose bumps’ at Keystone on opening day
November 6, 2009
KEYSTONE, Colo. – The view up and down the Snake River Valley from the base of Keystone’s gondola has always been a Colorado classic. And this year, skiers and riders can enjoy the vista from atop their boards as they glide across a new snow-covered bridge that leads right back to the gondola maze.
“This is the ticket,” said Stacy Miller, unbuckling her snowboard bindings for another ride up the hill. “It’s way safer than it was, with everybody speeding down the bottom of River Run,” she said, referring to the traffic jam that often formed at the base of the mountain before the new, wider bridge was built this summer.
The new bridge is the main improvement at Keystone, which opened for the season Thursday under bluebird skies, balmy temperatures and great top-to-bottom coverage on Spring Dipper and River Run – plus plenty of terrain park features.
A snowy October and cold nighttime temperatures helped the resort open a day early, much to the delight of locals and visiting skiers alike.
“This is starting my 50th season, and I still get goose bumps,” said Keystone’s Steve Corneiller, stopping in for a cup of coffee at the Inxspot just before the lifts started.
“I still remember cutting my teeth at Buck Hill [in Minnesota]. I saw my first Warren Miller movie in 1959, and I knew that I had to go skiing,” Corneiller said. “It got me to where I am today.
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“It’s going to be a good season. Every season is a good season. It all depends what you put into it,” Corneiller added.
In Summit County, all eyes are on the major resorts as they continue to be the economic drivers for the area, especially since the real estate slow down. The ski areas continue to emphasize value and the customer experience, offering ski school deals to entice customers, as well as upgrades to on-mountain food service.
Bookings have picked up slightly compared to last year, but are still behind the pace of previous years. The brightest spot for Vail Resorts has been the continued strong sales of season passes, especially the Epic Pass, valid for lift access at Breckenridge, Beaver Creek, Keystone, Vail and Heavenly Valley, in California.
Local businesses that felt the impact of the recession included Domino’s Pizza, where the last year was pretty slow, according to Leah Monroe, a manager at the Silverthorne Domino’s.
“But it didn’t affect how many days I got out on the hill,” Monroe said with a smile before exiting the gondola for her first run of the season.
Monroe’s boyfriend, Jon Dusanek, said he’s also been affected by the economic slowdown.
“I work in plumbing and heating, and I got laid off, which means I get to ski every day,” Dusanek said, explaining that he was able to put some rainy day money aside during the boom times to ride out the recession.
He reckons he’ll be working again soon as the heating season kicks into high gear in Summit County.
With the skier bridge done, Keystone resort officials are thinking cautiously about implementation of a master plan for the ski area, approved by the U.S. Forest Service last month.
The long-term plan includes new lifts and trails, as well as a robust forest health component to address pine beetle ill and forest regeneration, according to the U.S. Forest Service and former Keystone chief executive Pat Campbell (now chief exec at Breckenridge).
As outlined in a community meeting last year, the master plan emphasizes improvements to trails on the front side of Dercum Mountain aimed at easing skier flow. Not all the projects on the list are hard and fast, resort officials emphasized. The economy, skier trends and other factors will determine what projects the ski area might focus on in the next few years.
Keystone will consider adding a Spring Dipper bypass to create more green terrain and a better skier flow on the east side of the mountain, Doug Lovell told the Keystone Citizens League last year.
Lovell, who recently replaced Campbell at Keystone, also said a Schoolmarm bypass would allow intermediate-level skiers to access favored front-side cruisers like Wild Irishman and Paymaster without mingling with beginners on Schoolmarm, Lovell said.
Eventually, the resort wants to replace the Argentine Chair, incorporating a midway unloading station and new trail access from the top down the backside of the mountain. Lovell said. That could help ease congestion on Mozart, the primary access trail to the backside.
A new lift in Bergman Bowl would give Keystone some above-treeline skiing and open up new terrain for people intimidated by North Peak and the Outback, according to Lovell. The Bergman Bowl project would also include new trails extending down to the Outpost area, he said.
A lift in Independence Bowl is also on the conceptual drawing board, replacing the resort’s snowcat operation in that area.
Various other improvements are also being considered for Keystone’s backside, including more chairs on the existing Outback lift to up capacity, a surface lift to the Windows area (not a high priority, according to Lovell) and new trails and glading.
Lovell also mentioned the renewed possibility of a Ski Tip lift running up the east side of the mountain. A replacement of the Wayback chair and new trails on North Peak and the Outback are also in the 10-year-range outlook.
The ski area master plan was put together without a formal Forest Service public process, but any subsequent implementation of the individual projects would be subject to site-specific scrutiny. The resort did present the master plan to homeowner groups and to Summit County residents in a series of public meetings preceding adoption of the plan.
The new master plan is on file and available to the public at the U.S. Forest Service Dillon Ranger District visitor center. Call (970) 468-5400 for information.