With all surface lifts now running, Vail Mountain just waiting on Sun Down Express

John LaConte
Vail Daily
Skiers ride the Black Forest surface lift (No. 27) on Vail Mountain on Monday. The surface lifts on the mountain are now running after not seeing operation during 2021-22.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

VAIL MOUNTAIN — Vail Mountain’s new Avanti Skills Zone was designed to have a dedicated surface lift, but for most of the skills zone’s existence, that surface lift has not been running.

That was until this New Year’s Day holiday weekend on Vail Mountain, when the Black Forest lift (No. 27) along with the Wapiti Platter (No. 24) started taking skiers up the slopes once again.

A surface lift or platter, sometimes called a “Poma” for one of the companies that popularized them, is a type of lift that doesn’t use a chair or gondola car, instead pulling skiers or snowboarders uphill with their equipment still sliding against the snow as it would when traveling downhill.

The Black Forest surface lift is located near the Avanti Express, offering an alternative to that lift for guests who don’t want to take the full ride to the top. It saw decent traffic on its opening weekend before one of the platters became lodged in the turnaround on Monday, causing the lift to shut down early for the day.

The Wapiti Platter takes guests from the top of the Orient Express to the Two Elk restaurant in China Bowl and also started running over the weekend.

The operation of those surface lifts, which didn’t get up and running during the 2021-22 season, means that Vail Mountain is now waiting on just one lift to reach its new level of full service for its 60th-anniversary celebration during the 2022-23 season.

Vail Mountain opened to guests on Dec. 15, 1962, and enjoyed a grand opening celebration on Jan. 19, 1963.

As a birthday present to itself, the mountain had planned to operate a completely new lift line this season, an express chair taking guests from the bottom of Sun Up and Sun Down Bowls to the top of the Wildwood area. The new chairlift will be called the Sun Down Express (No. 17) and while the lift towers have been erected and the lift stations constructed, the cable has not yet been hung and the chairs are not yet mounted.

Mountain officials had originally targeted a December opening for the new Sun Down Express Chair, but have since pushed it back to January.

In addition to the new chair, Vail has also constructed ice bars on the mountain in a throwback to Vail pioneer Bill Whiteford, who constructed a short-lived ice bar on Vail Mountain in the 1963-64 season.

Whiteford was also remembered during Vail’s fireworks celebration on New Year’s Eve, which took place above the mountain and could be seen from most points in the village (despite the obstruction of some snow clouds). Whiteford is credited with firing off Vail’s first fireworks in 1962.

The New Year’s Eve storm system brought 7 inches of snow to the slopes of Vail. A winter weather advisory from the National Weather Service remains in effect for the Vail area until 6 p.m. on Wednesday.

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