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Thursday, 14 March 2013 10:01

Skiing and Snowboarding the West this winter season

Written by  Evelyn Kanter

Summer is always a busy season for ski/snowboard resorts. That’s when they beef up snowmaking capabilities, modernize lifts, upgrade restaurants, negotiate with airlines for more flights, and design new programs to entice winter visitors, including those who don’t ski but enjoy off-slope activities and events. 

This season is the first time four top independent resorts in the west are partnering to sell a combination ticket. The new Mountain Collective unites Alta, Utah; Aspen/Snowmass, Colorado; Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows, Lake Tahoe, in a joint ticket that offers two days of skiing at each destination, for $349, plus unlimited discounts once the days are used.

Collectively, the pass offers more than 100 lifts and 16,000 acres of terrain for all levels. Although they now share joint marketing clout, as do the resorts owned by Vail, each is unique.

Only Jackson Hole has Yellowstone National Park a few hours away, for snowmobile tours and wolf and bear watching, and the Grand Teton just outside town, for solitary snowshoeing or just sitting and staring. A favorite spot of mine is the Stagecoach, a legendary roadside diner with a local band that has been playing on Sunday nights for decades, for two-stepping.  

ready to ski

New this year, United Airlines will operate holiday and weekend non-stop flights from San Francisco and New York’s Newark/Liberty. Delta Airlines will add similar non-stop service from Minneapolis.

At Squaw Valley, a new six-pack chairlift whisks riders to the mid-mountain High Camp, with its ice skating rink and the world’s only ski-in Starbucks. Alpine Meadows has built a mile-long terrain park, one of the longest in North America, for snowboarders and freestyle skiers.

At the south end of Lake Tahoe, Heavenly is opening another kid’s adventure zone. This one is on the California side, to go along with last season’s Black Bear Hollow at the top of the Gondola on the Nevada side.

Connecting from the Reno airport is now faster and safer with the completion of the I-580 Freeway, allowing shuttle vans and rental cars to avoid the Pleasant Valley bottleneck.

In Utah, upscale Deer Valley has replaced the long and slow Deer Crest chairlift on Little Baldy Mountain with a high-speed quad. The new St. Regis Deer Valley is offering complimentary photography classes for children.

In Colorado, Keystone is going after families with a major new focus that most surely will help travel professionals sell the resort - kids ski free all season. There are no blackout dates and no restrictions, other than a minimum two-night stay booked through central reservations, which is commissionable. Also, Keystone is installing a Burton Riglet park, to teach 3-6 year olds snowboarding.

A new program at all Vail resorts is the opportunity to race against Olympic champion Lindsay Vonn, via digital technology. She sets the pace, and skiers have their race times compared. Top racers will be invited to a grand finale event in April 2013, to race against her for real on the Birds of Prey World Cup Course at
Beaver Creek.


more than just skiing

The slopeside Park Hyatt at Beaver Creek is launching “Haute Tub” service. Guests can reserve one of five dedicated hot tubs for up to six people in one hour increments, and get Vegas-style poolside cabana service. Also, the hotel is launching weekly, complimentary cooking classes for teens, to inspire them to start cooking. Classes will include themes such as basic knife skills, gourmet pizza making and sushi rolling.

In Aspen, historic Hotel Jerome, which dates back to 1889, re-opens in December after a multi-million dollar facelift that includes a new Auberge Spa. Unlike the Victorian hotel, the spa has contemporary decor. The equally iconic Little Nell is modernizing its Victorian restaurant, Montagna, into a casual, modern venue, to appeal to a younger and less affluent crowd. The new name, Element 47, which is silver on the periodic table, reflects Aspen’s mining history.

Upgrades also are coming to Taos, New Mexico, but not in time for this season. In September, the US Forest Service approved construction of two new lifts to high-alpine terrain plus construction of a snowshoe trail system. Those will be built over the summer for next season.

Airline baggage charges have prompted a growth in rentals. I can vouch for Ski Butlers, which delivers current year equipment to resort guests throughout the West. Guests order online, and the equipment is delivered by a skilled technician who sets the binding while you watch. Unlike renting from the resort or a local shop, Ski Butlers lets you pick up in one place and return in another, for no extra charge. Last season, I got my gear at Heavenly and gave it back at Squaw. 

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