Vail skiers split on new Back Bowl lifts

Edward Stoner
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Vail Mountain has proposed replacing Chair 5 with a faster lift and putting a second high-speed quad in Sun Down Bowl. (Preston Utley/Vail Daily file)

VAIL, Colo. ” A faster Chair 5 is popular, but opinion is split on a second high-speed quad in Sun Down Bowl.

Those were the results from the comments from the public that the Forest Service got on Vail Resorts’ plans for lift upgrades in the Back Bowls.

“An upgrade of Chair 5 would be of benefit to skiers,” wrote Kate Cocchiarella. “While we support preserving the unique experience that is skiing in Vail’s Back Bowls, a faster Chair 5 would help with the extraordinary lines that form at times.”

Vail Resorts has proposed to replace the Chair 5, the original Back Bowls lift that serves Sun Down and Sun Up bowls, with a high-speed, four-person lift that would cut the ride time in half.

Most chairlifts at Vail are high-speed, four-person lifts. Chair 5 now seats three people, and the waits there can exceed 45 minutes on a busy powder day.

Still, some skiers object to the replacement, saying the high-capacity lift would cause fresh powder in the bowls to disappear faster. Others say the fast lifts would invite more beginner and intermediate skiers into the bowls’ black-diamond terrain.

“Slower is not always a negative,” wrote Robert Gosiewski. “Many people enjoy the slower pace of these bowls and their chairlifts because it can be more peaceful and less crowded. They help keep a tradition of mellow skiing alive, surrounded by the fast-paced commercial skiing on the rest of the hill.”

A summary of comments released by the Forest Service show 20 people expressing support for the new Chair 5, and 13 opposing it.

Another facet of the proposal is a new chairlift for Sun Down Bowl that would rise from the base of Chair 5 to the top of Game Creek Bowl. Vail Resorts planners say the lift will help traffic flow from east to west on the mountain and alleviate congestion. The company also says it will bring more skiers to “underutilized” slopes such as O.S., Never and Seldom.

“I would like to vehemently argue against allowing an additional lift to be built in the Back Bowls,” wrote Bobby Bank. “The Back Bowls are a very special and unique feature of Vail Mountain. Increasing lift capacity will change/ruin the skiing experience that has remained pretty much unchanged since the ski area started.”

Thirteen people supported the new Sun Down lift, while 15 said it wasn’t a good idea.

“The ability to get back to Lionshead at the end of the day from Sun Down would be amazing!” wrote Margaret Bathgate. “We thoroughly enjoy the Back Bowls, but if you come out of the back in the afternoon and head to Northwoods, the lines are out the wazoo. Having a chair out of Sun Down would not only give us a choice, it would give lots of other people a choice.”

Roger Poirier of the Forest Service said the agency will evaluate the comments. A draft environment study will be issued, and more comments will be collected.

A final decision could come next year.

Vail Mountain is almost entirely owned by the Forest Service, and is operated by Vail Associates, a subsidiary of Vail Resorts, under a permit.