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Keystone to greatly alter resort

Aidan Leonard

SUMMIT COUNTY – Come 2004, Keystone Resort will be a very different place.

Come 2005, it may be even more so.

Indeed, if all the proposals currently on the table come through, Keystone will be undergoing significant changes in the next few years as it tries to reposition itself in the market.

“We’ll entertain any idea that will help us change the image, energy, and ultimately Keystone as a whole,” Chuck Tolton, director of mountain operations, said at a meeting of the Keystone Citizens League Thursday.

Those ideas currently include large expansions of both snowmaking capacity and the freestyle terrain on the mountain. They also include a redevelopment of the Mountain House, a possible future expansion of 500 acres for additional snowcat skiing, and the largest freestyle training facility in North America, according to Tolton.

First up is the movement and expansion of the mountain’s terrain park. Previously 21 acres in size with various features including a halfpipe and 21 rails, the park will now include one 17-foot high halfpipe, one smaller halfpipe, expanded jumps and 51 rails on 44 acres.

The park will now be located on the north side of the mountain near the Peru Express lift and will amount to what Tolton called “voluntary separation” for the more action-oriented youth visitors and a “re-alignment of resources to one side.”

Applause erupted among the predominantly older crowd when Tolton announced the change.

“It’s our hope that will alleviate some of the pressure on the front side of Keystone,” he said.

Next up is a $4.5 million expansion of the mountain’s snowmaking facilities.

Tolton said resort officials spent all of Wednesday in a meeting with various agencies – including the Army Corps. of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Forest Service – to finalize plans to put in a snowmaking reservoir at the bottom of Adventure Point.

“We got all the heads nodding in the right way,” despite the fact that no deal was reached,” Tolton said.

The intent of the project is to re-establish Keystone as a renowned early season resort and possibly lure the U.S. Ski Team to the mountain for its fall training programs.

The re-development of the Mountain House would essentially give the portion of the mountain revolving around the Peru Express over to the youth-oriented movement in skiing, he said.

“(We’d like) to brand that facility with food and music and all the stuff that they’re looking for,” Tolton said.

Still, it would not derail what Tolton called the concerted effort to establish River Run as the heart and soul of Keystone.

Tolton did not elaborate on discussions to expand the resort’s boundary by 500 acres, other than to say it would offer increased cat skiing opportunities.

The proposed freestyle training facility would take the place of the recently closed tennis center and would place the resort at or near the center of the map for freestyle skiers.

“It would be an extraordinary amenity that no one else has at this point in time,” Tolton said.

The concept for the facility came from a family whose son, a freestyle competitor at the University of Colorado, was killed skiing nearly a year and a half ago. The family will be a principal sponsor of the facility, which will include anti-gravity training, water ramps for aerials and various other indoor and outdoor amenities.

Additionally, a skateboard facility along the lines of that at the renowned Woodward camp in Pennsylvania, also has been proposed.

While some residents expressed concern for the residual impacts such facilities would bring, the majority seemed enthusiastic.

“I think it’s exciting,” said longtime Keystone resident Mike Clary. “I think it’s a neat deal, and I’m just sorry I’m 50 years out of it.”

“There’s nothing we will do at this resort that will be everybody’s cup of tea,” said Thomas Davidson, director of development for Vail Resorts Development Company. “I think we’ve got an opportunity here. If we have a resounding “no’ in the community, then that tells us something. But we’ve got to start exploring this.”

The overall changes are designed to help the resort capture part of the coveted 12-24 age bracket in skiing and snowboarding, an elusive group that is vital to the health of the industry in the long run.

“We’ve lost part of that (group), and we’re looking to recapture it and grow for the future,” Tolton said. “Because those people will grow up to buy property and bring their kids here in the future – and that’s vital for our future.”

Aidan Leonard can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or aleonard@summitdaily.com.


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