Vail eyes new high-speed lifts |

Vail eyes new high-speed lifts

Edward Stoner
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Vail Resorts wants to replace Chair 5 in the Back Bowls with a faster lift and build another new lift nearby that would run to the top of Game Creek Bowl. (Preston Utley/Vail Daily file)

VAIL ” Vail Resorts wants to move ahead quickly with plans for a new, high-speed Chair 5, company officials said.

“We think that’s been long overdue,” said Tom Allender, a planner for Vail Resorts.

And plans are still on the table for a second high-speed lift in Sun Down Bowl that would bring skiers up to the top of Game Creek Bowl.

In 2003, Vail Resorts abandoned the idea for a second lift in Sun Down after many Vail locals decried the prospect of two high-speed quads in the Back Bowl.

But in a presentation of its mountain plans for the next decade, company officials said Tuesday they are still planning for the “Sun Down Express” lift. There were no significant terrain expansions in the plan, which also included some lift upgrades, a new restaurant and new snowmaking.

The company doesn’t think its “manage to” capacity of 19,900 skiers a day will have to change, Allender said.

The current Chair 5, the High Noon Lift, is a slower, fixed-grip chairlift that serves Sun Down and Sun Up bowls.

Some locals still think high-speed lifts in Sun Down are a bad idea.

“I believe that skiing is more about quality than quantity,” said Howard Leavitt, who has lived here for 32 years, and opposes the fast lifts in Sun Down. “The more people you pump onto Chair 5, I don’t think it’s going to alleviate the problem back there.”

There are already enough high-speed quads to appeal to tourists, he said. The slower lift keeps fresh powder in the bowls longer, he said.

“There’s nothing wrong with taking a little time on a chairlift to meet your neighbor,” Leavitt said. “People are just so into instant gratification. That’s not what the sport is all about. … Stop and smell the roses, man.”

The plan is a “road map,” and not set in stone, officials said. The projects need approval from the U.S. Forest Service, which owns Vail Mountain’s land.

Bill Jensen, chief operating officer for Vail Mountain, said the company could start seeking approvals for the new Chair 5 in the next month, and the chair could be done in one to three years.

After that, the company might seek to build the second lift in Sun Down. It would help skiers circulation around the mountain from the west to the east, and it might alleviate crowding at Chair 11, Jensen said.

“We see it as a very effective improvement in flow across the mountain,” Jensen said.

Slower, fixed-grip lifts are disappearing from the mountain. This summer, Chairs 10 and 14 are being replaced with a high-speed quad. Chair 1 out of Vail Village was removed last year.

Over the next several years, the company also plans to build a 500-seat, fine-dining restaurant just west of Chair 5 at Vail’s mountaintop and expand its snowmaking coverage.

It also plans to extend its race course to the top of Golden Peak proper, which still bears the scar of a never-used lift line that was cut when the resort first opened.

The expansion would give Ski and Snowboard Club Vail more space for its kids as well as internationally sanctioned downhill and super-G venues, said Aldo Radamus, executive director of the ski club.

“The club has grown by a factor of about four since the time that Golden Peak was originally dedicated to race training,” he said.

Vail Resorts already has approval for a new gondola that will rise out of Ever Vail, the development planned for West Lionshead, up to the bottom of Chair 26.

The company is considering making the gondola go from Ever Vail all the way to Eagle’s Nest, Allender said.

Also, Vail Resorts might make the Vista Bahn do a left turn and go all the way to the top of the mountain, whether as a four-seater, a six-seater or a gondola, Allender said.

“There is discussion about taking it to the top,” Allender said.