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Tuesday, August 16, 2011
What economic slump?

By Jeremy Benson
ESPN Action Sports

As part of a $7 million improvement project, Park City will be doing some work on its 22-foot pipe.

Ski resorts across the country are planning massive capital investments that seem to show that the ski industry, at least, is ready to bounce back from the economic slump. Over the past few months, resorts from Vermont to California have announced plans for improvement projects larger than any we've seen in recent years.

In California, Squaw Valley, which was purchased by KSL Capital Partners last December, is investing $50 million over the next three to five years. Year one involves on-mountain improvements like a renewed focus on terrain parks and improved trail signage. Year two includes the replacement of the existing Granite Chief and High Camp chairlifts with new high-speed detachable quad chairs. "With KSL as owners we finally have the funding," said Squaw Valley spokesperson Amelia Richmond.

Nearby Northstar-at-Tahoe, which was acquired by Vail Resorts in October 2010, is putting $30 million into major on-mountain and village capital improvements, including installation of a new high-speed quad this fall and new trails that will increase the resort's skiable acreage by 10 percent. "We have elected to take an aggressive approach with our first-time investments at Northstar-at-Tahoe," said Rob Katz, CEO of Vail Resorts.

In Utah, Park City Mountain Resort is spending over $7 million this summer in improvements including a new 3 Kings Park area chairlift and earthwork to the foundation of their 22-foot superpipe, as well as new, more efficient snowguns and snowcats.

On the East Coast, Vermont's Killington Mountain Resort is spending roughly $7 million on the removal and replacement of the Peak Lodge and a number of infrastructure improvements, as well as numerous on-mountain upgrades to trails, glades, snowmaking and grooming.

Despite a slow economy, resort spokespeople say that high visitor numbers, coupled with a record-setting snowfall last winter, have aided in their ability to dump funds into improvements. "Despite the slow economy, our resort (and the company for that matter) saw record visitation during the 2010-2011 winter season, as well as record snowfall," said Jessica Van Pernis of Northstar. Added Squaw Valley's Amelia Richmond, "We've had the snow. Snow trumps a bad economy. Skier visits have been favorable over the past couple years."