Ski season launches with changes at resorts in the West and Canada

Ski season launches with changes at resorts in the West and Canada
Heavenly Mountain at Lake Tahoe has expanded its snowmaking system and is lining up new on-slope parties. (Rachid Dahnoun)

Ski industry attorneys and accountants were as busy during the off-season as any in recent memory. Besides Mammoth Mountain's acquisition of Bear Mountain and Snow Summit, here are some of the major changes:

Vail Resorts bought Park City Mountain Resort, immediate neighbor of its other Utah property, sprawling Canyons. It plans to connect the two by chairlifts.


Park City's luxe Deer Valley acquired Solitude, a couple of canyons distant, and will get the keys May 1.

Utah-based Powdr Corp., whose properties include Oregon's Mt. Bachelor, Colorado's Copper Mountain and Vermont's Killington, partnered with Boyne Resorts, owner of Montana's Big Sky, Washington state's Crystal Mountain and Maine's Sugarloaf and Sunday River, among others.

Colorado's Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort and Arizona Snowbowl were sold to James Coleman, managing partner at New Mexico's Sipapu Ski & Summer Resort and Pajarito Mountain Ski Area.

As the dust settles and with resorts already open for the ski and snowboard season, here are highlights of what's new in California, across the West and in Canada.

Eastern Sierra

The Mammoth Brewing Co.'s new tasting room, just below the gondola at Mammoth Mountain, offers 13 beers — and its root beer — on tap. The 12-lane Mammoth Rock 'n' Bowl, which opened in March, also has three golf simulators and two restaurants.

It will be easier this season to coordinate a Mammoth trip with your in- and out-of-state friends and relatives. Alaska Airlines has added flights from LAX, San Diego and Las Vegas to Mammoth Yosemite Airport, as has United Airlines from San Francisco and Denver.

Lake Tahoe

Alpine Meadows has renamed its upper terrain the Pacific Crest Bowls after the Pacific Crest Trail, which spans the length of Alpine's ridgeline. New this season, the North Face Mountain Guide program allows skiers and snowboarders to gain priority lift-line access, explore hike-to-powder stashes and venture to neighboring Squaw Valley accompanied by the resort's most experienced guides.

Heavenly Mountain Resort debuts two new on-slope parties, a bash Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at East Peak Lodge and Tailgate at Tamarack on Sundays, showcasing NFL games and drink specials. They join the resort's signature Unbuckle at Tamarack après-ski parties featuring the Heavenly Angels. On the mountain, Heavenly has expanded its snowmaking system, focusing on beginner terrain at the top of the Heavenly Gondola and the Skyline Trail connecting the resort's California and Nevada sides.

Homewood Mountain Resort expands skiable terrain to the top of Ellis Peak, adding 750 acres of runs with a nearly 2,000-foot vertical drop. Groups no larger than 10 skiers and riders, accompanied by guides, will access the terrain by enclosed snowcat. The resort's new First Tracks Breakfasts program combines a meal and access to the slopes an hour before the public. Homewood also unveils the Foundation Bowl, an urban-style terrain park within an unused building foundation adjacent to the resort's mid-mountain Big Blue View Bar.


Kirkwood Mountain Resort, known for snowcat tours, private guides and avalanche education, introduces a new Discovery Series for intermediate skiers and riders. The clinics can be taken individually or as a series of three.

Northstar California Resort unveils a daily Champagne toast at which guests are invited to raise a glass of bubbly on the mountain each day at 2 p.m. Northstar also introduces Mountain Table, showcasing the best of California produce, meats and seasonal ingredients paired with regional artisanal wines, craft beers and distilled spirits. The mountaintop dinners will be served in Northstar's Zephyr Lodge, with panoramic views of the Pacific Crest. Also new are Primo Private Lessons, which include expedited lift privileges, exclusive on-mountain dining experiences and customized on-mountain instruction. Olympic gold medalist David Wise has helped design a new family-focused Progression Park designed to ease riders' transition between beginner, intermediate and advanced features.

Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort's new $5-million Solstice Plaza includes a 30,000-square-foot deck and 9,000-square-foot base area with a new retail shop, demo center and restaurant. On March 28, Sierra-at-Tahoe will host the NewSchoolers Invitational featuring the best in freestyle skiing competitors, including multiple X Games gold medalists.

Squaw Valley, in the midst of a five-year, $70-million improvement program, will play host to several festivals and, on March 4-8, two World Cup events: the Audi FIS Skicross World Cup and the FIS Snowboard World Cup. Squaw also introduces Mountain to Mat workshops, incorporating a guided half-day on the mountain, afternoon yoga classes, mini-spa treatments and locally sourced breakfast/lunch ($169 for pass holders, $229 with lift ticket).

Celebrating its 75th anniversary this winter, Sugar Bowl Resort has a season-long calendar of special events, après-ski parties, giveaways and a celebration slated for mid-February. This will be the first full season of operation for the Crow's Peak chairlift, part of more than $20 million in ongoing improvements that include the opening of the Sporthaus aquatic and fitness center.

Sugar Bowl continues to expand offerings at the adjacent Royal Gorge Cross Country Center, said to be the largest in North America, to include snowbike-specific trails and the Sierra Snowkite Center, said to be the first and only resort-based snowkiting center in California. Sugar Bowl also will be the host mountain for the final stop on the Rahlves' Banzai Tour, a race series that pits four skiers or snowboarders in head-to-head descents down each resort's signature run.


Arapahoe Basin's new Kids Center, partly powered by solar energy, will open in the spring, just in time for the final month (or two) of the season at what is routinely one of the state's last resorts to close.

Aspen/Snowmass opens a new children's center, the Hideout, at the base of Buttermilk. In the town of Aspen, the Limelight Hotel's 126 guest rooms have been renovated as have the Little Nell Hotel's six executive suites. Snowmass introduces four lanes of lift-served snow tubing, appropriate for ages 4 to 14, at Elk Camp.


Crested Butte Mountain Resort has added 10 new snowbikes (small bicycle frames with short skis instead of wheels) to its rental inventory. For newbies, a two-hour lesson and guided tour around the mountain is required. Crested Butte will open 40 new acres of expert terrain, called Teo 2, once the area has sufficient snowpack. Teo 2 stands above possible future expansion terrain on the mountain's back side. For intermediate skiers seeking gentle gladed terrain, Crested Butte also offers new glades in the East River area and off the Teocalli lift.


The new Burton Riglet Park at Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort anchors a ski and ride terrain-based learning facility in the base area. The park is designed for riders ages 3-7.

Steamboat is expanding night operations, which began last season, by two more nights. Skiing and riding will be available 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays and 6 to 9 p.m. in the spring.

Vail Resorts is launching two special programs for women. Women's Ultimate 4, a group lesson with a maximum of four women of comparable ability taught by a woman instructor, will be available at nine of its 12 U.S. resorts (Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin, Canyons, Park City Mountain Resort, Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood, Mt. Brighton and Afton Alps). Several of the Vail properties will also offer four-hour lessons that start later in the day, giving mothers time to get their children settled in ski school or on the mountain. Vail and Beaver Creek will be the center of the ski racing world Feb. 2-15 for the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships, expected to attract 700 competitors from more than 70 nations. Nearly all the races will be staged on the Birds of Prey section of Beaver Creek, with Vail the site of awards ceremonies and nightly events. During the championships, only about 5% of Beaver Creek's terrain and 1% of Vail's will be closed to vacationing skiers and riders.


Winter Park Resort, celebrating its 75th anniversary this season, unveils Lunch Rock Restaurant (elevation: 11,000 feet), with a 150-seat heated deck, 250-seat indoor restaurant, bar and great views, including of the Continental Divide.


The seven central Wasatch Mountain resorts (Alta, Brighton, Canyons, Deer Valley, Park City Mountain Resort, Solitude and Snowbird) have released a new map detailing lift alignments of a proposed over-the-snow interconnect via chairlift and ski runs called One Wasatch. It would evoke the über resorts of the Alps and offer the largest lift-served experience in North America — 18,000 acres, 100 lifts and more than 750 runs, all on one pass.

With Alta Snowbird's Boarding Pass program, take a Monday-Friday flight to Salt Lake City and ski within 24 hours of arrival for 50% off. To earn the discount, you must register online before your flight's departure, then present your registration confirmation email, boarding pass and photo ID at either resort. Alta has regraded its Corkscrew run, giving intermediates a wide-open descent to the Collins and Wildcat lifts — and, with a cat track gone, experts a chance to ski Alf's High Rustler top to bottom. Snowbird's new mountaintop restaurant on Hidden Peak, begun over the summer, will open for 2015-16.

Sundance Mountain Resort, owned by Robert Redford, is celebrating its namesake film festival Jan. 22-Feb. 1 in Park City with a new package that combines a stay at the resort with screenings, dining and skiing or snowboarding.

Cherry Peak is the state's newest (and 15th) ski resort, opening this season with three triple chairlifts, snowmaking, ice skating, tubing and night skiing. Cherry Peak is 15 miles from Logan, Utah, and a few miles south of the Idaho border.


The West and Canada

New Mexico's Taos Ski Valley has eliminated the 45-minute hike up to its iconic Kachina Peak (elevation: 12,450 feet) with a new triple chairlift. The lift increases Taos' lift-served vertical drop to 3,200 feet, and its advanced and expert lift-served terrain by 50%.


In southwestern Montana, Big Sky Resort has added four new intermediate gladed runs, bringing the resort's skiable acres to 5,800 — the most in the United States (and second in North America to British Columbia's Whistler Blackcomb). Whitefish Mountain Resort in Montana's northwest corner has added the new Flower Point triple chairlift and cut six new trails (five of them intermediate) on 200 acres that previously were hike-to, unpatrolled and beyond the resort's boundary.

Two resorts in Washington state's Cascade Mountains have new chairlifts. Crystal Mountain has added the High Campbell double and Quicksilver fixed-grip quad, and the Summit at Snoqualmie unveils the Rampart fixed-grip quad. The new Washington State Ski & Snowboard Museum, under construction at the Snoqualmie Pass ski area, is expected to open by late March or early April.

At Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Wyoming, it's another "save the date" for a new high-speed quad chairlift due for the 2015-16 season. The 1,600-vertical foot Teton Lift will provide access to Granite Canyon, now hike-to-backcountry terrain, beyond the resort's northern boundary in Grand Teton National Park. With the chair will come more inbounds advanced and intermediate terrain; the first two trails were cut over the summer.

Canada's Whistler Blackcomb, which reclaimed the No. 1 ranking from Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Ski magazine's annual reader survey, upgraded its aging Whistler Village Gondola with new eight-passenger cabins. The primary access to upper Whistler Mountain, the gondola takes 25 minutes to climb 3,690 vertical feet.