As the leaves begin to turn, many people's minds are turning to thoughts of hitting the slopes. And with predictions of big snowfall thanks to El Niño this season, America’s ski areas are expecting epic conditions. Several ski areas across the country have been working hard throughout the summer adding new lifts and cutting new trails in anticipation of a great winter. Here are just a few updates from some of the country’s best ski areas.
Taos Ski Area's new Kachina Peak lift in New Mexico. — Photo courtesy of Steve Larese
Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico enjoys the first full opening of its newest run, Kachina. Topping out at 12,481 feet, this black diamond screamer with a 3,274-vertical-foot payoff was only previously accessed via a 45-minute ridgeline hike. Since its sale by the Blake family to billionaire Louis Bacon last year, many of the aging base buildings at Taos have been completely torn down and are being rebuilt. Long-time Taos lovers shouldn’t worry, the beloved Martini Tree and Rhoda’s restaurants and bars will be open as usual. A new hotel, spa and other features are scheduled to open for the 2016/17 season. Other improvements that will be seen this year include improved parking and roads. Taos’ master plan sees $350 million to be invested through 2024 to make this excellent terrain a world-class ski destination.
Utah’s newest resort, Park City, in is now also the largest in the United States. Park City is the combination of Park City Mountain Resort and Canyons Resort, linked by the new Quicksilver gondola that provides access to 7,300 skiable acres on 300 trails. The high-speed gondola will transport skiers and snowboarders between the base of Silverlode Lift at Park City and the Flatiron Lift at Canyons, up and over Pinecone Ridge that previously has separated the two areas. The $50 million price tag includes the eight-person gondolas, the new King Con Express six-pack lift (upgraded from a four-seater) and the Motherlode Express Quad lift (upgraded from a triple). Park City was the site of the 2002 Winter Olympics, and the area’s average of 350-400 inches of snow has long made both areas premiere ski destinations. Also new this season is the Miners Camp restaurant at the base of Silverlode lift at Park City. Miners Camp replaces the Snow Hut, and has 500 indoor seats and an upgraded menu. The Red Pine Restaurant on the Canyons side is being renovated to include an additional 250 seats.
Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort in Utah gets a new crown with the Summit Lodge, which will offer a 360-degree view of the mountains at 11,000 feet. The two-story building replaces the old ski patrol and warming hut that greeted Snowbird Aerial Tram skiers for the past 40 years. The new 23,000-square-foot lodge has a cafeteria with seating for 192 people on the first floor, dining room seating for 180 people, a coffee shop and a 10,000-square-foot deck.
Cherry Peak Resort opens for the first time ever this season in northern Utah, 15 miles from Logan. The ski area will have three triple chairlifts, snowmaking, a terrain park and 29 runs (six green, 13 blue, 10 black), the longest at 1.25 miles. The three-story day lodge hosts events year-round. In addition to skiing and snowboarding, tubing and ice-skating will be offered, as well as mountain biking and concerts in the summer.
Arizona Snowbowl ski area near Flagstaff gets its first new lift in 30 years with the Humphreys Peak Quad. The half-mile long lift opens up new terrain that descends 775 vertical feet. Arizona Snowbowl’s most popular run, Ridge Trail, is widened for this season, and it provides views all the way to the Grand Canyon. New snowmaking will help the ski area open sooner in the season.
Durango, Colorado’s most popular ski area goes back to its original name of Purgatory this season, not that Durango Mountain Resort ever really caught on with locals. Celebrating its 50th anniversary this season, the ski area has replaced its 30-year-old Legends Express lift with a high-speed detachable quad that will get skiers and snowboarders to the summit in less than five minutes for 1,500 feet of vertical terrain. Two new trails have been added along with the lift.
Running down Lone Mountain at Big Sky Resort, Montana. — Photo courtesy of Lonnie Ball, courtesy of Big Sky Resort
Montana’s Big Sky Resort sees an increase in its Swift Current Terrain Park with new jumps and rails, and new this season is The Cache terrain park that has small and medium features. The new Lost Frontier family-friendly adventure area features banked turns and rollers for kids and beginners. A new glade run, White Magic, is three acres of new terrain accessed via the Swift Current lift. Whiskey Jack’s restaurant has been renamed Montana Jack and serves craft beer and gourmet burgers, and Everett’s 8800 restaurant is now open on the slopes at 8,800 feet, offering what it calls American Alpine fare with plenty of fireplaces and decks. Non-skiers may dine at Everett’s 8800 by taking a ski lift with a pedestrian lift ticket. On the green side, Lone Tree Chair lift has been converted from diesel to electric, and Tesla car chargers have been installed at the Summit Hotel garage. Averaging more than 400 inches annually, Big Sky started the season with a 16-inch "dusting" on September 18.
New York’s West Mountain gets a new triple chair this season, the West Express, which replaces the double Summit Chair that was installed in 1962 at the main lodge area. A new trail, the Gnar Wall, runs underneath the new lift, and LED lighting is being added to Holy Mackerel and the Gnar Wall for increased night skiing and boarding.
At California’s Squaw Valley, the quad Siberia Express has been replaced with a high-speed, six-passenger lift. At nearby Mt. Rose in Nevada, the new Enchanted Forest family zone serviced by the new Wizard Lift, adds four new beginner trails for families and those starting out, and eases traffic on the popular Ponderosa Trail.
Lutsen Mountains in northern Minnesota adds a $7 million Doppelmayr eight-person gondola system this season, replacing its old four-person gondolas. The new gondolas will transport 1,000 skiers and boarders to the top of this 95-run ski area each hour.