Vermont ski areas have invested an estimated $19 million for the 2019-20 season. Projects include snowmaking, lift, trail and park, base lodge, groomer and amenity upgrades to improve the guest experience as well as to entice new entrants into the sports of skiing and snowboarding.
Adam White, director of communications at Vermont Ski Areas Association (VSAA), a nonprofit trade association representing 20 Alpine areas, noted that the snowmaking improvements trend continues as the “most consistent improvement across all different sizes of ski areas.”
While efficiency is important, there is an additional focus on environmental sustainability. By aiming to be more environmentally responsible, systems now provide more coverage faster, using fewer resources at less cost. Additionally, automation is being added to more systems, and more control by computers contributes to efficiency and sustainability, White added.
Another hot trend continues with more on-snow and off-hill amenities to appeal to action sports-oriented young people and those young at heart. Examples include Woodward progression features added at Killington, the new Riglet Park at Stratton, and the indoor skate and bike park additions at Bolton Valley.
The cyclical consolidation trend continues with Vail Resorts having purchased Mount Snow, and the trend of expanding season passes heats up with new offerings at Bolton, Magic, Mount Snow, Okemo, Pico, Snow Bowl, Stowe and Suicide Six. Cochran’s lowered its lift ticket prices thanks to its financial flexibility of being a nonprofit.
Killington Mountain Resort and sister area Pico Mountain lead the pack with major lift, snowmaking and Ramshead changes.
At Killington a forth tunnel, new quad lift, and two new bubble surface lifts continue the transition to a more beginner/intermediate-oriented and family-friendly area. The addition of Woodward progression elements at Ramshead change the game for youth learning to ski or snowboard, noted President and GM Mike Solimano.
The replacement of the North Ridge Triple with a Leitner-Poma fixed-grip quad with 2,400 rides per hour capacity affirms Killington’s commitment to the longest season in the East by facilitating fall and spring skiing at this high-elevation area on Killington’s northern flank, Solimano noted.
Two new covered SunKid conveyor lifts at Ramshead combined with the extension and reconstruction of its learning slope and addition of Woodward snow features will facilitate learning by incorporating a progression that will do away with the need to bus kids to Snowshed to progress to the next level.
Killington’s snowmaking upgrades include the replacement of 12,000 feet of snowmaking air/water pipeline, 120 low-energy tower snowguns, 400 low-e snowguns, and 60 semi-automatic water-and-air hydrants.
Phase one of the K-1 Base Lodge replacement is underway, with completion scheduled for the 2020-21.
The game changers at Pico include a $2.1 million snowmaking overhaul and expansion thanks to a new water source and debut of a free season pass for kids 12 and under with an adult pass purchase.
Okemo Mountain Resort snowmaking upgrades include 5,000 feet of new pipe, completing a five-year project to replace main feeds to Okemo’s snowmaking system across the entire mountain. “This project enhances our water-pumping capacity due to the increased size of the pipe, and it ensures that we can get water to the places where we want it when we want it,” noted Communications Manager Bonnie MacPherson.
Okemo’s Summit Lodge was renovated to feature a more open floor plan, with detailing that pays homage to the iconic Vermont barn with wooden beams, exposed stone and sliding barn doors. The lower level features a new bar area with fireside sofas and high-top tables and chairs.
The mid-mountain Sugar House Lodge was also updated, and its lower level features a kid-friendly focus and menu plus walk-up counter service.
A building renovation has created a new Employee Center with gathering space for employees, meeting rooms and relocation of the human resources and uniform departments.
Okemo, a Vail Resorts-owned area, also introduces EpicMix, a free app that allows guests to check snow conditions and lift-wait times, view web cams and trail maps, track their verticals, and earn digital pins, MacPherson said.
New passes include the Northeast College Pass (unrestricted access to Okemo and Mount Sunapee, plus unlimited access with holiday restrictions to Stowe) and Epic Day Pass (one-to-seven-day discounted ticket purchase valid all winter).
Magic Mountain has $2 million in lift and snowmaking upgrades. Magic President Geoff Hatheway said the installation of a fixed-grip quad chair to the summit is should be completed by Christmas. Magic also made snowmaking upgrades to expand snowmaking to over 50% of its trails on both sides of the mountain. Pitch Black, a new double-diamond trail and a new East Side Glade were added. Magic also joined the new Indy Pass, which gives two days at each of 44 resorts for $199.
Stratton Mountain Resort added 12,500 feet of new snowmaking pipe featuring the latest hydrant technology for its learning zone. A one-acre parallel teaching area was crafted to eliminate the fear factor as beginners learn basic skills before heading up the 550-foot covered carpet. Stratton also added a Burton Riglet Park for kids learning to snowboard.
Vail Resorts purchased Mount Snow as part of its acquisition of Peak Resorts’ 17 areas. That means the area is now Epic with various pass options, including the new Epic Day Pass.
Snowmaking improvements bring the area to 83% snowmaking coverage with 7.2 acres of snowmaking added to the Sunbrook side and an additional 9.8 acres added to Fool’s Gold at Carinthia. Fools Gold becomes a park with small features this year.
Bromley Mountain continued trail widenings so as to regain original trail widths, invested in more park features for a variety of rider abilities, and updated its rental fleet.
Suicide Six invested $250,000 in snowmaking pumps, automation and instrumentation that provide faster responses to changes in weather and conditions. Six also joined the new Indy Pass.
Middlebury Snow Bowl has a new Prinoth Groomer, snowmaking pipe upgrades, lift and trail upgrade, and new transaction windows and point-of-sale-system at the ticket counter. The new Shared Parent Pass — for families with kids who aren’t skiing yet — allows both parents to ski on the same pass.
At Sugarbush Resort the Lincoln Peak Courtyard has been rebuilt with cobblestones, new fire pits, gardens and bar tops; and Mt. Ellen has two new EV charging stations. Additionally, snowmaking was added to Sleeper Road, and there are an assortment of infrastructure upgrades around lodges and lifts.
Bolton Valley replaced its night-skiing lights with 150 high-efficiency LED lights and repositioned and added lights to locations that needed better lighting, including the slalom racecourse. Bolton also made base lodge renovations, re-surfaced and added new features to its indoor skate and bike park, and joined the Indy Pass.
Mad River Glen replaced nearly all of its snowmaking pipe and electrical systems and completed drainage and culvert work.
Smugglers’ Notch has a new lesson option that focuses on imparting knowledge of equipment, reading terrain, and seeking the best conditions along with ski/snowboard skills. Stowe Mountain added a Maple Waffle Café inside the Gondola summit shelter and has a new Whistle Pig Pavilion adjacent to the outdoor skating rink at Spruce Peak.
Jay Peak with its multiple hotels, 5,000 acres of ski-and-ride terrain, and amenities of movie theater, indoor water park, ice arena, climbing center and synthetic-turf athletic fields is for sale.