From the Vail Daily:
BEAVER CREEK — Gondola or chairlift? Beaver Creek will be giving skiers and riders a choice next season.
The resort announced plans on Thursday to replace the existing Centennial Express Lift (Chair No. 6) with a new high-speed, state-of-the-art combination lift. The combo lifts, seen at some European resorts as well as at Northstar in Tahoe, Telluride and Sunday River in Maine, are also called hybrid lifts, telecombis, Telemixes and chondolas. The new lift will increase uphill capacity by 35 percent through the use of alternating gondola cabins and six-person chairs and is expected to be in place for the 2014-15 ski and snowboard season. Last season, the resort had announced its intention to replace the Centennial lift with a traditional six-person chairlift. However, after further consideration and discussions with the lift manufacturers, resort officials went with the combo lift, calling it a “more robust, flexible and guest-oriented approach.” The new lift will have the same capacity as a six-person chairlift, but it gives choices to every level of skier. Beginners and ski school kids tend to prefer the less-intimidating option of boarding the gondola, while people who prefer to keep their skis on can board the chairs. Chairs and cabins will be loaded from two separate lines. The new combination lift will transport 3,400 people per hour, up from the current capacity of 2,800 people per hour. “The unique and dramatic benefits to our guests to be able to install a combination lift with gondola cabins and chairs and replace one of the most utilized lifts at the base of Beaver Creek Mountain are tremendous and completely in line with the Beaver Creek brand promise to deliver high-quality guest experiences,” said Doug Lovell, vice president and chief operating officer for Beaver Creek Resort. “After careful consideration, we believe this is exactly the right solution to position Beaver Creek for the future and address the resort’s continued growth and diverse guest needs.”
Also, by having gondola cabins as part of the new lift, guests will have easier access to the Spruce Saddle area for nighttime and summertime dining and recreational activities. In coming seasons, those Spruce Saddle activities may also include an alpine coaster (named a Forest Flyer), ropes course and tubing hill. The year-round activities had been planned for an area closer to the base at the top of the Buckaroo Express Gondola, but nearby homeowners filed a lawsuit this fall opposing the project, calling it an “amusement park” and eyesore. Vail Resorts also announced on Thursday that they had reached a settlement with the Beaver Creek Property Owners Association and Greystone Condominium Association regarding the project. Under the agreement, the associations will request that the Beaver Creek Metro District purchase a permanent restrictive covenant from Vail Resorts for $5 million. The restrictive covenant will prohibit certain new recreational activities on much of the land at the base of Beaver Creek Mountain in perpetuity. Under the agreement, the metro district must fund the purchase of the covenant through a bond issue that would be subject to approval by voters in May, meaning that the cost of the protective covenant would be passed on to Beaver Creek homeowners and businesses. In return, the homeowners will support an application by Vail Resorts to the U.S. Forest Service to build the project in the area surrounding the Spruce Saddle restaurant. If the bond issue doesn’t pass, then the property owners have agreed to dismiss their lawsuit and not object to the construction of recreational amenities at the base of the resort.
Those are some major upgrades, but the jury is still out on whether the improvements will be a hit with skiers and snowboarders. Avon skier and former lift operator Dan Gorin said he personally prefers to take the chair, but he said there’s no question that the lift needs to be replaced. “If it stops less and gets people up faster, I’m all for it,” he said. “It definitely needs to be replaced. It’s the oldest lift on the mountain and also the most used.” Others said they saw it as a convenience for families with children. “(My kids) are pretty good skiers, so they don’t have a problem with the chair,” said Ann McCormick, of Eagle-Vail. “But especially with a cold or windy day, it definitely would help families out on the ride up to have a gondola.” Still, others questioned if the convenience was worth the cost. One Edwards woman, who declined to be named, said she worried the cost would be passed onto resort guests. “I guess for guests it’s a different thing, but local kids know how to ride a chairlift,” she said. “It’s so expensive to ski here, and I think this is part of the problem. It’s stuff like this and adding escalators that raises the prices. Do we really need that?” Construction on the combo lift is slated to start in June. Resort officials said they haven’t yet decided which lift company they will use, but those details will be announced soon.