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Keystone big on future upgrades

Nicole Formosa
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

KEYSTONE ” Keystone Ski Resort executives touted their long-term plans for the county’s largest ski area on Monday night including replacing the River Run Gondola, building a new on-mountain restaurant, relocating the Outpost Gondola and beginning a $2.3 million expansion of the Keystone Lodge Spa.

Keystone chief operating officer Pat Campbell, director of skier services Pete Sonntag, and Luke Slottow, general manager of the Keystone Inn, spoke to a full Keystone Citizens League meeting on Monday about future improvements at the Colorado ski area, which is owned by Vail Resorts.

Campbell said Keystone has caught the attention of its parent company and is poised to take the next step.

“The question I’ve heard all winter from our corporate offices and even from our analysts in our earnings calls is: ‘What the heck’s going on at Keystone?’ People have really noticed the success that we’re having, but also the incredible potential here at the resort, so I think we’re sitting in just a great position looking into the future for development,” Campbell said.

Campbell is about halfway through working with mountain planners on updating the resort’s master plan. The master plan, which is subject to Forest Service approval, identifies a host of long-term priorities at the resort, but top of the list for Campbell is replacing the 23-year-old River Run Gondola.

As planned, the new gondola would start on the north side of the Snake River to shorten the walk from the free parking lot, and would include a mid-station.

The mid-point stop would allow skiers and riders to lap beginner and intermediate trails like Spring Dipper, Jackwhacker and Flying Dutchman without traversing to the mid-mountain Montezuma Express lift.

“We think that’s a real advantage because sometimes that terrain is underutilized because the lift isn’t centrally located to it,” Campbell said.

The gondola replacement, which gained a six-year approval from the Board of County Commissioners in 2005, used to be tied to real estate development in the Hunki Dori parking lot, but is now viewed as a stand-alone project and can move forward without a real estate anchor, Campbell said.

Marriott began eyeing the parking lot land two years ago and gained site plan approval from the Snake River Planning Commission for a five-story timeshare development with room for skier services and commercial businesses, but never broke ground. Vail Resorts is still in discussion with the hotel and resort chain, Campbell said.

Keystone also plans to replace the Argentine two-pack with a new lift that would whisk skiers from the Mountain House base area to the top of Dercum Mountain. Once there, a future trail off the Schoolmarm run would allow direct access to the back of Dercum Mountain down to the Santiago Express chair. The new run would take the pressure off of the intermediate Mozart trail, which is the only low-level access from the top of Dercum Mountain to the backside.

The top of Dercum Mountain ” where six lifts dump skiers and riders onto a 2-acre area ” is also a focus for future change.

The existing ski school facility off the Schoolmarm run, which includes a chairlift and a magic carpet, will move across the mountaintop to an area just east of the tubing hill, providing a learning area for beginners that’s sheltered from wind and other skier traffic, according to Sonntag.

The planned replacement for the ski school facility is a new on-mountain restaurant with a fine dining component.

“Once we’re ready to move into the restaurant, we’ll probably have to take the Summit House (the existing Dercum Mountain food court) down,” Campbell said, adding that removing the Summit House will open up the top of the mountain more for skiers.

The fine dining portion of the new restaurant could eventually take the place of the Alpenglow Stube, Keystone’s award-winning restaurant in the Outpost Lodge at the top of the Outpost Gondola.

The reason behind that change stems from the resort’s plan to take down the Outpost Gondola and use it to connect the River Run, Mountain House and Lakeside base areas on the valley floor. If that happens, nighttime restaurant services would end at the Outpost Lodge, but daytime food and beverage operations would continue, Campbell said.

Resort officials have begun meeting with owners in the Lakeside area about potentially partnering with the resort on the costs of installing the gondola, Campbell said.

Other potential long-term plans for the resort include improving access to the hike-to or snowcat-served North and South bowls, and opening new terrain, such as the West Ridge, located just west of the Outback Express.

Campbell said she hopes to have the master plan completed this summer and in front of the Forest Service for approval this fall. Once the master plan gains approval, Vail Resorts can begin to prioritize specific projects.


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