Vail eyes long-term plan to replace slow ski lifts |

Vail eyes long-term plan to replace slow ski lifts

Matt Zalaznick
Special to The Aspen Times

Those old, slow two- and three-person chairlifts give a skier time to rest, chat, reflect, be dazzled by the Gore Range, compose poems …

True, there aren’t a lot of those plodding dinosaurs left at Vail or Beaver Creek, but nary a skier or snowboarder is calling out the historic preservation board.

“They’re slow, so I try to avoid them,” Santa Barbara tennis pro Peter Gerstenfeld said Friday as he skied to the entrance of the Sun Up Lift, Chair 17, which completes a bottom-to-top trip up the east face of Vail’s Sun Up Bowl, one of the famous Back Bowls, in a brisk eight minutes.

How is a skier to cope?

“I try to get into a stimulating conversation with a beautiful woman,” Gerstenfeld confided.

“Like my wife,” he added, as she skied past.

Not to worry. There are long-term proposals by Vail Resorts, owners of both Vail and Beaver Creek mountains, to replace at least two of the valley’s most notorious, never-ending lifts.

Beaver Creek operators have their eyes on the Westfall Chairlift, or Chair 9. That’s the long, contemplation-inducing lift that takes skiers on a not-so-harrowing, 13-minute ride from Red Tail Camp, over the treacherous Peregrine Run, to not quite the top of the mountain. The double-chair lift will be replaced with a high-speed quad in 2003, said John Garnsey, chief operating officer of Beaver Creek Mountain.

“That should open up a lot more of the mountain to a lot more people,” he said. “People won’t have to go all the way back down to the Centennial chairlift to get to the main part of the mountain.”

Next on Beaver Creek’s list to upgrade would be the Larkspur Lift, Chair 11, and farther down the road is the Rose Bowl Lift. But those improvements are several years away, Garnsey said.

“That would happen when skier volumes warrant it,” he said.

A few miles east, Vail Mountain has tentative plans to replace the Highline Lift, Chair 10 – the lumbering, cramped, two-person chair that runs from a gully above Golden Peak, up one of the steepest and most mogul-ridden slopes on the mountain and on to the top of three harrowing double-diamond runs.

It’s a 14-minute, 6,500-foot ride that doesn’t quite make it to Two Elk Restaurant. At the top, at least, an escape route leads to some green runs above the Northwoods valley.

Bill Jensen, chief operating officer of Vail Mountain, said Highline’s replacement would be a “detachable,” four-person, high-speed chairlift that would run all the way to Two Elk Restaurant. It would have a drop-off point at the top of the current Chair 10.

“We haven’t made a commitment, but as we look at the mountain and the renovations at Lionshead and Vail Village, it’s appropriate to get higher capacity out of Golden Peak,” said Jensen.

Riding the Riva Bahn Express to an upgraded Chair 10 would become the fastest way to Blue Sky Basin, Jensen added.

So what about Vail’s other non-express lifts? Like Chairs 5 and 17 in the Back Bowls?

“We don’t know if the best solution would be to speed up Chair 5 or put another lift in the Chair 5 and 17 area,” Jensen said.

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