The Beaver Run Resort and Conference Center in Breckenridge was buzzing with about 400 businesspeople from local restaurants, lodges and retail outlets, along with officials from town and county governments, the U.S. Forest Service and area nonprofits, eager to hear from local ski resort leaders at an event sponsored by the Summit County Chamber of Commerce Thursday.
Throughout the morning, COOs from Loveland Ski Area, Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, Keystone Resort, Copper Mountain and Breckenridge Ski Resort presented the latest and greatest their mountains have to offer for the upcoming season.
Ralph Garrison, director of DestiMetrics, emceed the event and gave a breakdown of where the ski industry in Summit County stands in the whole scheme of things.
“It’s game on. Not just because mountains are about to open. The game has been on for quite some time because we now have 28 percent of last year’s business on the books,” Garrison said.
Summit’s ski industry has slowly but steadily been clawing its way out of a recession that started about five years ago, he said. Last year, things started slowly but recovered well, and the season ended strong.
“In December there was a divot. But from that time on — with snow and a positive economic message for the first time since 2008 — things have been looking up,” Garrison said. “The season ended very strongly, as did the prospects for the future, not just for the summer but going into the winter season.”
The COOs also shared news of a variety of upgrades, partnerships and programs being developed on the mountains.
Breckenridge Ski Resort
The largest, and arguably the most anticipated, event planned for the 2013-14 ski season is Breck’s Peak 6 project.
The project will add 543 acres of skiable terrain, expanding the resort’s acreage by almost a quarter.
“What can I say? It’s been a long time coming,” said Breck resort’s SVP and COO Pat Campbell during the breakfast. “We are on the road to being open for this winter season.”
In addition to the actual excavation and building on the site since the start of the summer, resort employees have been working on creative branding for the project.
Breck is marketing Peak 6 as a place to “wander beyond the horizon,” “awaken your sixth sense” and “prepare for the experience of a lifetime.”
“If you spend any time out there, and I’ve been spending more and more, it’s a truly magical place,” Campbell said. “We really feel like it’s an extra special extrasensory experience.”
A contest spurred more than 1,800 name submissions for Peak 6 runs; suggestions came in from 43 states and 19 countries — and five winners came from Summit County.
“It really shows the excitement and anticipation. People can’t wait for it to happen,” Campbell said.
Keystone COO John Buhler highlighted accomplishments not only at his resort, but also throughout the Vail Resorts’ network.
“We are really excited and thrilled to have three new resorts under our belt here at Vail, and for the first time to have two urban resorts — Afton Alps in Minnesota and Mount Brighton in Michigan,” Buhler said. “This is a opportunity for us to experience Vail Resorts in a whole new way.”
Vail also now owns Canyons Resort, the largest ski resort in Utah, and the company’s Epic Pass now offers access to resorts worldwide on 26 mountains in four countries.
At Keystone, the focus has been largely on families, Buhler said. “Kids ski free was the biggest thing since sliced bread for us last year. We had 25,000 kids ski with us last year for free.”
Keystone also has a new family ski trail called the Ski Yard.
“This one has success written all over it,” Buhler said.
New features, called Rocking Rollers, Tornado Alley and Magic Moguls, add to the family atmosphere at the resort.
“It allows kids and their parents to have a place of their own,” Buhler said. “We are really fortunate our company is motivated about having families at the resort.”
Arapahoe Basin Ski Area
Arapahoe Basin has upgrades planned for this season and beyond, said the ski area’s COO Alan Henceroth. A-Basin plans to unveil an upgraded 6th Alley Bar and Grill this winter. It will feature added seating, more open space, table service and a new menu, as well as 20 beers on tap.
A-Basin is also gearing up for a major expansion in the next few years. This summer, an environmental assessment began on the ski area’s proposed 434-acre “Beaver Expansion.”
“It’s really a cool expansion,” Henceroth said. “If you picture the bowl of the old A-Basin and picture how cool Zuma Bowl has been for us, then throw in the Beavers and we have something equally as exciting.”
Henceroth also announced a new partnership with Taos Ski Valley. This winter, A-Basin pass holders will get access to a couple of days of skiing or riding at that resort, he said.
Loveland Ski Area
Loveland has grown up along with its longtime guests, and continues to grow a little each year, the ski area’s COO Rob Goodell said.
Loveland will have on-mountain restrooms this year, and Ptarmigan Roost will offer food service, Goodell said. Also new at Loveland will be a 3,800-square-foot addition to the lodge at the basin.
“One thing that is not new to Loveland but I want to share is we have a great relationship and partnership with the Loveland Ski Club,” Goodell said. “They have done an outstanding job developing training and their philosophy on developing racers.”
This season Loveland is the official training site for the University of Denver. “We are very excited about that,” he said.
Guests at Loveland will continue to enjoy the free ridge-top snowcat in the upcoming winter season, the COO said.
“That was extremely popular last season, and we will continue to operate it as weather conditions permit.”
Copper Mountain anticipates an exciting season, hosting the U.S. Ski Team’s Speed Center for the third year, COO Gary Rodgers said.
“This year, with the Olympics, we are really excited about that venue,” he said. “Sochi is going to shine a bright light on Copper.”
The resort has incorporated a variety of new features in the past few years, including expanded summer offerings and a half million dollar renovation of Woodard at Copper, an indoor/outdoor action sports facility.
Copper also has big capital investments planned for 2013-14 — about $7 million total, according to Rodgers.
“Most of it is going into mountain infrastructure,” he said.
Infrasture improvements include a new lift going into the summer terrain park, improved snowmaking systems, new snowcats and a new ticketing system.
“But the most exciting thing for us is our High Alpine Project,” Rodgers said.
“The 12s,” as the project is known, will improve access to three peaks with elevations above 12,000 feet. Plans include expanded terrain, improved lift access and additional cat-skiing operations.