Colorado ski resorts are pumping more money into chairlift improvements this year after taking a breather last season.
Four new chairlifts are being built this season compared to only two last season, according to Colorado Ski Country USA, a state trade association, and Vail Resorts, which doesn't belong to the association.
Colorado Ski Country USA said Tuesday its 22 member resorts are spending $50 million on capital improvements for the 2011-12 season. That includes everything from high-profile projects such as chairlifts and terrain enhancement to essential but less sexy steps such as grooming machines.
In addition, Vail Resorts' four ski areas are spending tens of millions of dollars on improvements, easily boosting the state ski industry's investment over $75 million. Vail Resorts operates Vail Mountain, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone.
VR said it is making up to $90 million in on-mountain and lodging improvements company-wide, but that includes ski resorts outside of Colorado. No figure was available for the improvements just in Colorado.
The Aspen Skiing Co. is one of the resorts investing in a new chairlift. The new Tiehack Express at Buttermilk will be a high-speed, four-passenger chair. It replaces the Eagle Hill and Upper Tiehack lifts and reduces the ride time from 18 to 7 minutes. The Tiehack side of Buttermilk will also add gladed terrain.
Other new chairlifts in Colorado's ski country include:
The Rose Bowl high-speed quad chairlift at Beaver Creek. It will serve all terrain levels from novice to extreme.
Copper Mountain is replacing the High Point Lift in West Village. The Union Creek high-speed quad chairlift will have a new alignment designed to improve skier circulation out of West Village.
Loveland will replace a Chair 4 with a fixed-grip triple-seat chair.
Several resorts are also building new restaurants or remodeling existin g eateries.
At Aspen Highlands, the Skico is gutting and remodeling the interior of the Merry-Go-Round Restaurant. The Skico also started construction on a new Elk Camp Restaurant which will open in the 2012-13 season. The new restaurant, which will replace Cafe Suzanne, will seat 300.
Vail is opening a 13,000-square-foot restaurant that will offer table service.
Other notable projects include Copper Mountain's development of a training center in a partnership with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. “To support and develop the U.S. Ski Team Speed Center at Copper, the resort is implementing a new automated snowmaking system, as well as safety, communications and timing equipment necessary to develop a unique training venue,” Colorado Ski Country USA said in a press release.
The training center will operate from Nov. 1 through Dec. 10 each winter to bolster the U.S. teams' ability to train for speed events before their competitive season begins.
Ski resort spending dropped before the 2010-11 season as operators dealt with the effects of the recession and the lingering economic hangover. Ski areas across the country invested heavily in high-speed chairlifts over a 20-year period starting in 1990. Now, many of those first-generation, high-speed chairlifts are nearing the point where they need to be replaced, according to an industry official. That will likely absorb capital improvement funds for the next several years.