From its ambitious beginnings in Vail, Colorado, the number of major mountain destinations in the Vail Resorts constellation has grown to 11 in Colorado, Nevada/California, Utah and the Midwest. But each has its own distinct personality and character, drawn from its natural setting and heritage – there is nothing cookie cutter – each has its own idiosyncracies, specialities and traditions. About the only thing that is consistent among them is a a guest-oriented approach – everything from the layout and logistics to the compliment of services that are offered are intensely and deliberately thought out from the point of view of enhancing the guest experience.
“There are three keys to our success,” Kirsten Lynch, Chief Marketing Officer of Vail Resorts, said at a recent media reception in New York:
Kirsten Lynch, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Vail Resorts.
“Our assets,” which are quite literally the resorts, themselves: Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone in Colorado; Heavenly, Northstar, and Kirkwood, in Lake Tahoe, on the California-Nevada border; the Canyons, acquired last year, and the newest acquisition just this fall, Park City, in Utah, as well as Afton Alps in Minnesota and Mt. Brighton in Michigan; and the Grand Teton Lodge Company in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
The combination of Park City, with 3300 skiable acres with Canyons, which is the largest ski resort in Utah with 4,000 skiable acres – with mutual lift tickets and future plans for a lift connecting the two – making this the largest ski resort in the country.
All of the Vail Resorts – and 11 more – are all included in the 2014-15 Epic Pass. The pass provides for unlimited, unrestricted skiing and riding at the 11 Vail Resorts, to have up to five consecutive free days (when booking in-resort lodging) at the renowned mountain resorts of Les 3 Vallées, France (Courchevel, La Tania, Méribel, Brides-les-Bains, Les Menuires, Saint Martin de Belleville, Val Thorens and Orelle) and Verbier, Switzerland, and five consecutive free days at Niseko United, Japan.
The second reason for Vail’s ability to expand without imploding as other ambitious ski companies have is “a consistent track record of capital investment.” The company has invested $500 million over five years back into the resorts – $85 million this year. Indeed, after acquiring Northstar in 2011, Vail invested $30 million in improvements.
“Every year, we put money back in to elevate experience.”
The third element, Lynch notes, sounds simple but is not: “We understand our guests.”
This year, Vail Resorts is unfurling a major program directed at Women skiers – who are not represented in proportionately on the mountain – after spending last year asking women what they need, and more notably, why so many come to the mountain with their family but do not ski.
The survey disclosed some interesting practical obstacles, which will be familiar to any mother dealing with the hassle of getting kids dressed, into the rental shop and out into ski school on time. After that, it is hard to get to their own group by 10 am, then have to race back to pick up their child again, and at that point, there will be second thoughts as to whether it is worth it.
So this year, new 4-hour programs geared to women start later, end earlier and are less expensive than regular programs.
New Mommy & Me programs are also being introduced – this is a great idea because it overcomes some of the reticence young children have about being left in ski school, instructs the parent in how to continue the lesson afterward, and most pleasurably, gives the parent more precious time with their child rather than being separated during the holiday. The shared experience of skiing has the ability to foster bonds and connections.
Ski & Ride Schools are introducing “Women’s Ultimate 4,” a lesson for women with a female coach to learn or brush up on skiing in a small-group setting, from the City and Canyons in Utah, and Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood at Lake Tahoe. foundation-building basics of a “first-timer” class (open to all), to navigating the easiest greens, to sharing tactics and camaraderie on mountain green and blue runs. Women’s Ultimate 4 lessons are being offered at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone in Colorado, Park City and Canyons in Utah, and Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood at Lake Tahoe.
“This is just the beginning for the Women In Skiing initiative for Vail Resorts,” said Lynch. “We plan on continuing to invest significantly in this important segment of our guests.”
Ski Girls Rock
Let’s not forget the girls. “Ski Girls Rock,” a program designed by U.S. Olympic gold medalist and World Cup alpine ski champion Lindsey Vonn for girls from 7 to teens, introduced four years ago at Vail Mountain and offered at Beaver Creek, this year is being introduced at Mt. Brighton in Michigan and Afton Alps in Minnesota, where it is a three-day program offered at select times during the season.
The program was inspired and designed by Vonn and is led by female instructors. “It focuses not only on improving skiing technique, but also empowering girls through the sport and building students’ confidence while developing friendships, teamwork and social skills.”
“Vonn has chosen to bring this previously Vail- and Beaver Creek-exclusive program to Vail Resorts’ Michigan and Minnesota ski areas – Mt. Brighton and Afton Alps – because of her ties growing up skiing in the Midwest and knowing how important youth development programs are to the local community.”
EpicMixGuide: Personalized Itinerary for an Ideal Day
Vail Resorts has re-imagined how skiers and snowboarders can maximize their time on the mountain this winter, with the fifth generation of its award-winning, multi-channel app, EpicMix™. The new EpicMix™ Guide is like Siri for the mountains – it takes the guest’s input to generate a customized, step-by-step navigational guide to experience the mountain as if you were a long-time local.
“EpicMix Guide will enhance the way many of our destination guests experience our resorts,” Lynch said. You put in what kind of skiing or riding you like to do, what kind of terrain you want to explore and how much time you have available, and EpicMix Guide provides an appropriate itinerary to help you navigate the mountain in a carefree way – you don’t have to keep stopping to open up a map or calculate how long it will take to get back to base.
You log into any one of the various EpicMix channels (app, mobile web, desktop) and answer a variety of questions including: desired resort, starting point, terrain difficulty desired, and length of time available. EpicMix Guide then pours over 350 possible itineraries to automatically generate the optimal route for that day.
To create the program, the EpicMix development team tapped the insider knowledge of each resort’s most experienced Ski and Ride School instructors to build itineraries which would let guests explore each mountain in way that is appropriate for their skill level.
Once an itinerary is completed, skiers and riders can share their itinerary, along with photos and other stats about their day, on social media through Facebook and Twitter.
EpicMix debuted in 2010 as an RFID-based system which allows skiers and riders to track their days on the slopes and share their accomplishments via social media,. The RFID chip in season passes and day tickets tracks vertical feet, number of lift rides and other data.
“EpicMix was the first RFID-enabled ski application to combine physical performance tracking with social media sharing,” said Robert Urwiler, Vail Resort’s executive vice president and chief information officer. Now, EpicMix Guide takes that to new technological frontiers by making the transition from passive tracking to active recommendations.
EpicMix Guide will be available in early December 2014. Guests can activate their free EpicMix accounts at www.epicmix.com.
New Mobile Ticket Technology
Another new Vail Resorts innovation this season is EpicDay Lift Tickets, an online and mobile platform to purchase daily lift tickets at the guaranteed lowest price (as much as 25 percent off the lead rate) at its 11 resorts, and bypass the ticket window.
And here’s the catch: the earlier you purchase your tickets prior to arriving at the resort, the greater the discount. Lift tickets purchased at least seven days in advance can be discounted as much as 25 percent from the window price. More savings are available to guests who purchase multi-day tickets.
Lift tickets purchased at least seven days in advance will also be shipped to the guest’s home so they can head straight to the lift when they arrive at the resort; lift tickets purchased within seven days of arrival via online or mobile can be picked up at any ticket office EpicDay Express Ticket Pick-Up lane, bypassing the regular ticket line.
Once you’ve purchased one ticket, you can keep reloading, so you never have to stand in a ticket line.
Find more information or purchase tickets at www.snow.com/epicday.
Here’s more about what’s happening, what’s new and what’s special at the various Vail resorts:
Park City & Canyons, Utah
What is most distinctive about Park City, said Andy Miller, Communications Manager, is Park City’s connection to the Winter Olympics, which it last hosted in 2002 (Great Neck’s Sarah Hughes won the gold for figure skating that year) and there are Olympic things to do. For example, you can ride the bobsled run (year round) and at Olympic Park, actually train for ski jumping, regardless of ability, from beginner to world class.
Park city is also distinguished because it is a real town with a 50-year tradition of mining and skiing – as opposed to a purpose-built ski village.
You take the Town Lift right from Main Street up to the mountain, and can ski down to Main Street via a pair of runs.
“At bottom is the world’s only ski in/out whiskey distillery, High West (distributes even in NYC),” Miller said. “You can ski down for lunch or dinner, load on the chairlift and ride back up.”
Even though Park City is Olympian, the majority of terrain is green or blue – 20% green and the longest run, 3.5 miles, is green.
“We have 16 lifts and all but 3 have green runs – so green-trail skiers not deprived of the view” – or the experience – at the top.
Park City is a big mountain, with 3300 skiable acres, so it is really helpful to get oriented with complimentary mountain tours offered in the morning and the afternoon (the afternoon tour focuses on Park City’s history – there are still old mine structures on the mountain, and 100 miles of mine tunnels underground).
Becoming one of Vail Resorts means that Park City is part of Epic Pass, and there is mutual acceptance of lift tickets with Canyons, which was acquired by Vail a year ago.
Canyons provides a very different experience of a mountain village, ski in/out lodging and plenty of apres-ski activities. Between the two, they offer 7300 skiable acres, the largest in the US.
“Canyons is the largest ski resort in Utah, 4,000 skiable acres, varied terrain and more extreme” like the 9990 run (named for the altitude), which is more expert and is kept ungroomed.
One of the improvements at Canyons this season, is the renovation of Cloud Dine – a dining establishment on Dream Peak, which was a temporary lunch spot with limited capacity. It is being upgraded and turned into a permanent eatery, with 41% more seating, and a bigger kitchen.
Park City is only a 35 minutes drive from Salt Lake City airport – there are direct flights from LaGuardia, JFK and Newark. “You can fly from the northeast and be on the slopes the same day.”
Canyons has a special “Canyons California Getaway” deal for Californians who fly in and ski free the first day when they book 3 night stay; they also get early check in, so they can drop stuff and go to slopes.
Delta, Southwest and Alaskan Air (new to SLC) fly to Salt Lake City from San Francisco – just one hour flight – while Southern California has 35 flights a day into Salt Lake City.
Northstar, Heavenly & Kirkwood, Lake Tahoe
After acquiring Northstar in 2010, Vail invested $30 million in capital improvements in 2011. One of the improvements was the opening North Lake Tahoe’s first LEED-certified lodge, Zephyr Lodge, at the top of the mountain.
Northstar’s focus is on luxury, family travel – a casual elegance with a playful ambiance.
Luxury extends to accommodations – Northstar boasts the Ritz Carlton Lake Tahoe and Constellation Residences (also Ritz-Carlton).
The Village at Northstar has been voted “most family friendly” with “traditions” on and off the mountain, such as ‘smorologists’ serving hot, freshly baked S’mores at 3:30 pm (complimentary).
New this year is a 2 pm Champagne (or cider) toast on the mountain (complimentary).
“It’s the details” – like having Radio Flyer wagons so parents can more easily transport the kids and equipment.
There’s a 9,000 sq. ft skating rink in the middle of the village with heated cabins, so parents can dine and watch the kids skate (skating is free; rentals are $10).
Northstar, with 3170 skiable acres, has a layout of terrain that enables skiers to make smooth progressions from beginner to intermediate.
Where Northstar is casual elegance, upscale, catering to every whim and a haven for families, Heavenly, on Lake Tahoe’s South Shore, has a high-energy vibe.
Literally straddling the California/Nevada line, Heavenly is like no other ski resort – the view of the blue lake on the California side of the mountain, the brown plain of Nevada on the other, and this incongruous juxtaposition of Las Vegas-style nightlife and casino gambling with California’s laid-back, recycled, tree-hugging atmosphere. This is the one ski resort where you can literally do “24 Hours of Heavenly.”
The news in Heavenly is the opening in January of a Hard rock Hotel (where the Horizon was).
About 40 minutes south of Heavenly is Kirkwood, a big mountain, “authentic,” unpretentious, more remote, and from what I can tell, for die-hard, no nonsense skiers who don’t need a lot of distractions. Kirkwood is the only US stop for the Freeride World Tour.
Keystone & Breckenridge, Colorado
Keystone, another of my favorite resorts, is one of the easiest major resorts to reach from Denver (about 1 1/2 hour drive), is one of only two Colorado resorts to offer night skiing (and you can even take advantage the night you arrive), has wonderful apres-ski, a family-friendly atmosphere, great variety for everybody, fabulous dining (the Colorado Culinary school is located here).
For families, Keystone’s Kids Ski Free deal is back for the third year.
And Kidtopia, which started as a festival, is now every day, all season long – based out of the niftiest snow fort you’ve ever seen (each year it gets bigger and more ambitious – this year it has two snow slides so kids and young-at-heart can dual down), and fantastic tubing hill.
Keystone has two new restaurants for this season: Montezuma Road House (family-friendly) and Crepe Stand – a grab and go by a well known vendor on Main Street in Breckenridge.
Other favorite experiences (there are many), is the traditional Bavarian evening at Der Fondue Chessel, atop North Peak at 11,444 feet (you get there by gondola) and the fine-dining Alpenglow Stube,. Also, Keystone’s famous Ski Tip, which is not just an extraordinarily fine dining restaurant with the most charming ambiance of a cozy European inn, but is Keystone’s heritage. This former 1800s stagecoach stop was transformed by Keystone’s founder Max Dercum and remains the quaintest of country bed-and-breakfast inns. It is the oldest running ski lodge in United States.
Among the many distinctive experiences is the full-day Keystone Adventure Tours snowcat-skiing adventure.
Keystone Resort is one of the closest major resorts to Denver International Airport – reached in about 1 1/2 hours (allow two for traffic) off of I-70- and you go through the Eisenhower Tunnel instead of having to go over one of the mountain passes, which can be hairy in a storm. The Vail-owned shuttle company, Colorado Mountain Express, offers convenient service from DIA, and once you get to Keystone, you don’t need a car at all – there are free, convenient shuttle buses (they come on demand at night), that even take you to Arapahoe Basin.
Continuing its improvements which last season saw the opening of Peak 6, this season, Breckenridge is replacing the Colorado superchair – the main chair – so it will go from a 4 to a 6-pack,increasing capacity.
Beaver Creek Resort
Beaver Creek Resort has replaced the Centennial Express Lift with a new high-speed, state-of-the-art combination lift. The combination lift alternates a series of six-passenger chairs with 10-person gondola cabins. The new uphill carrying capacity will be 3,400 people per hour, an increase of 35 percent. The lift debuts opening day Nov. 26, 2014.
The combination lift is a significant benefit to beginners and kids, particularly those engaged in ski school lessons, because of the ease of loading and unloading the gondola cabins.
“Beaver Creek is an upside down mountain,” said Jen Brown, Senior Manager, Communications. “It is steeper at the bottom, and the beginner runs are at the top, so beginners can ski the top – getting the full view and true experience – and take the gondola down from the mid-mountain.”
New On-Mountain Candy Cabin: Feel like a ‘kid in a candy store’ at the new Candy Cabin located at the top of Strawberry Park Express Lift and Upper Beaver Creek Mountain Express Lift. This sweet cozy cabin will remind you of an old fashioned candy store with bulk candy being sold by the pound alongside custom chocolates and classic Pepsi products with real cane sugar.
Beaver Creek’s Ultimate White Glove Package: Already known for exquisite service, Beaver Creek is pulling out all the stops with its White Glove Winter Package for the 2014/2015 season. Amenities start with first class airfare into Vail/Beaver Creek’s Eagle Airport, a private helicopter to whisk you off to the base of Beaver Creek Mountain and private car to deliver you to an on-mountain cabin. After arriving at the resort, your personal Ski School Ambassador greets you with a champagne toast at the luxurious and secluded Trappers Cabin, a mountain-paradise setting. Your private chef will prepare gourmet meals while you work up an appetite on the slopes with your private Ski School Ambassador. The package also includes four Epic Passes, apparel from Helly Hansen, first tracks and more. Embrace the finer things in mountain life with this unforgettable vacation package valued at $50,000. (To learn more or book by calling 877-774-6223, or go to www.beavercreek.com/deals/whiteglove/aspx.)
Book Now: Vail & Beaver Creek to Host 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships, Feb. 2-15
Book now. The world’s best ski racers are returning to Vail and Beaver Creek, Colorado February 2-15 for the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships, an event that is second in size, scope and prestige only to the Olympics.
The added value for skiers and riders planning a trip to Vail and Beaver Creek during those dates? Only a tiny portion of the mountains are taken over for the events, so you have thousands of acres to enjoy, but you get to watch the events and enjoy the festivities at no charge. (This is one of the few competitions where you don’t need tickets to be a spectator).
The 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships are expected to showcase athletes from over 70 nations – including gold medalists Lindsey Vonn, Bode Miller, and Ted Ligety and Mikaela Shiffrin, the teen prodigy who in 2013 became the youngest American alpine skier ever to win a world championship. The event will draw an estimated 1 billion worldwide television viewers and an onsite media and broadcast entourage of approximately 1,500 members.
While Beaver Creek is the venue for most of the competitive events, Vail is “party central” – where the opening ceremony, medal ceremonies and concerts will take place.
This will be Vail and Beaver Creek’s third time hosting the World Championships – the previous two were held in 1989 and 1999.
The Championships’ competitions officially get underway on a Tuesday and conclude on a Sunday, covering 13 days, including two weekends, in the process. The championship showcases five men’s and five women’s individual races, along with the Nation’s Team event, featuring a parallel Giant Slalom format. To learn more, visit www.vailbeavercreek2015.com/, the official event site.
But book your lodging and lift tickets now before word gets out. To book at Beaver Creek and Vail resorts, go to www.snow.com.
For complete visitor information, go to www.visitvailvalley.com.
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