Tag Archives: Okemo Mountain Resort

Vail Resorts Continues Expansion with Acquisitions of Okemo, Mount Sunapee, Crested Butte & Stevens Pass

Okemo Mountain Resort in Vermont has always enjoyed a loyal following with a very special feeling of community; the resort, known for outstanding service, was one of the first in New England to offer bubble chairs © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Vail Resorts is continuing its buying spree, giving it more reach and penetration in New England with the acquisition of Okemo Mountain Resort, Vermont, which had been owned and operated by the Mueller family for 36 years. The acquisition from the Muellers also includes Mount Sunapee in New Hampshire and Crested Butte Mountain Resort in Colorado. For good measure, Vail also announced a separate acquisition of Stevens Pass in Washington State.

The acquisition of Okemo and Mount Sunapee vastly increases the value of Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass for eastern skiers, especially with the acquisition last year of Stowe Mountain in Vermont. In recent years, Vail acquired Whistler Blackcomb in Canada (the largest ski resort in North America), Park City and Canyons in Utah (which it combined into one, making it the largest ski resort in the United States). The Epic Pass is also valid its other owned resorts, Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin in Colorado; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood in Lake Tahoe; Afton Alps near Minneapolis, Mt. Brighton near Detroit, Wilmot Mountain near Chicago, and Perisher in Australia. Epic Pass holders also have limited access to 30 European ski resorts including Verbier and Les 4 Vallées in Switzerland, Les 3 Vallées in France; Arlberg in Austria; and Skirama Dolomiti Adamello Brenta in Italy.

Vail Resorts, Inc. (NYSE: MTN) announced today that it has entered into an agreement to purchase Triple Peaks, LLC, the parent company of Okemo Mountain Resort in Vermont, Mount Sunapee Resort in New Hampshire, and Crested Butte Mountain Resort in Colorado. Vail Resorts stated it will purchase Triple Peaks, LLC from the Mueller family for $82 million, subject to certain adjustments. At closing, Triple Peaks will pay $155 million to pay off the leases that all three resorts have with Ski Resort Holdings, LLC, an affiliate of Oz Real Estate, with funds provided by Vail Resorts.

As part of a separate transaction, Vail Resorts will also purchase Stevens Pass Resort in Washington from Ski Resort Holdings, LLC, who was advised on the sale by Houlihan Lokey, for a total purchase price of $67 million, subject to certain adjustments. Both transactions are subject to certain closing conditions, including regulatory approvals.

“Together, the acquisitions of Okemo, Mount Sunapee, Crested Butte, and Stevens Pass will significantly enhance the Vail Resorts’ network of resort experiences, adding even more variety and choice for all of our pass holders and guests. Okemo and Mount Sunapee are terrific complements to Stowe in the Northeast, as is Crested Butte to our four Colorado resorts, and Stevens Pass for our Whistler Blackcomb and Seattle guests,” said Rob Katz, chairman and chief executive officer of Vail Resorts. “Additionally, each of these resorts will individually offer guests from around the world entirely new and distinctive experiences in extraordinary locations from coast to coast.”

“We know our guests and employees will benefit from Vail Resorts’ outstanding track record of resort and community investment, environmental stewardship, and employee development,” said Tim Mueller, president of Triple Peaks, LLC. “We care deeply about the legacy of these resorts, and have absolute confidence in Vail Resorts to celebrate what makes them so special, while also providing long-term stability for the communities.”

“Triple Peaks, LLC and the Mueller family and Karl Kapuscinski, the tenant and operator of Stevens Pass Resort, have been outstanding operators of these resorts and we have valued our association with them,” said Steven Orbuch, founder and president of Oz Real Estate. “We are excited for the opportunities that these transactions create for Vail Resorts and its guests while providing a beneficial outcome for our investors.”

When the transactions close, the 2018-19 Epic Pass, Epic Local Pass, Epic Australia Pass, and Epic Military Pass will include unlimited and unrestricted access to all four resorts, with seven and four unrestricted days for the Epic 7 Day and Epic 4 Day passes, respectively. Whistler Blackcomb Edge Card holders will be able to use any of their U.S. days at Stevens Pass, subject to the restrictions on each card. “We are thrilled that the Epic Pass and our other season pass products will now provide our pass holders around the world with even more variety and unique experiences to choose from,” said Kirsten Lynch, chief marketing officer of Vail Resorts.

After closing of the two transactions, Vail Resorts plans to invest $35 million over the next two years across the four resorts to continue to elevate the guest experience. In addition, annual ongoing capital expenditures are expected to increase by $7 million to support the addition of these four resorts.  Together, these acquisitions are expected to generate incremental annual EBITDA in excess of $35 million in Vail Resorts’ fiscal year ending July 31, 2019.

Closing of Transactions

The transactions are expected to close this summer. Operations at the four resorts for the remainder of the 2018 summer season will continue in the ordinary course of business, as will future winter seasonal hiring. Upon closing, Vail Resorts plans to retain the vast majority of each resort’s employees and will be working with the local leadership teams in the coming months to determine the right long-term management structure for the resorts.

Vail Resorts will, subject to approval, assume the state land leases for Okemo Mountain Resort and Mount Sunapee Resort and will obtain new Special Use Permits from the U.S. Forest Service for Crested Butte Mountain Resort and Stevens Pass Resort. The state land lease transfers in Vermont and New Hampshire are subject to administrative review and consent from their respective states.

About the Resorts  

Crested Butte Mountain Resort, located in southwest Colorado’s Grand Mesa Uncompahgre and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forests, is known for the colorful and historic town of Crested Butte, renowned mountain peaks, and legendary skiing and riding terrain. The resort was established in 1961 and has since passed through three families. The Muellers added Crested Butte to their family of resorts in 2004, following their 1982 acquisition of Okemo Mountain and 1998 acquisition of Mount Sunapee.

Rising above the Vermont village of Ludlow, approximately three hours from Boston and four hours from New York City, Okemo Mountain Resort has developed a reputation for superior guest service, incredible snow quality, grooming, terrain parks, and family programs.

Jackson-Gore at Okemo Mountain Resort, a self-contained base area within the resort, offers ski in/out convenience, a spa, pool, hot tubs, and restaurants © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mount Sunapee, the premier ski area in southern New Hampshire, is just a short 90-minute drive from Boston. The four-season, family-focused ski area has breathtaking views overlooking Lake Sunapee and consistently receives accolades for excellence in snowmaking and grooming.

On the other side of the United States, Stevens Pass, with its exciting terrain and plentiful snowfall, will be the Company’s second resort in the Pacific Northwest. The resort, less than 85 miles from Seattle, sits on the crest of Washington State’s Cascade Range within two national forests, the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest on the west side of the crest and the Wenatchee National Forest on the east.

Pass Access Details

Skiing at Park City, Utah, part of Vail Resorts © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Vail Resorts 2018-19 Epic, Epic Local, Epic Australia, Epic 7-Day, Epic 4-Day, and Military Epic Pass holders will offer these benefits, subject to closing of the transactions:

  • Epic Pass™: Ski or snowboard unlimited and unrestricted from opening day to closing day for only $899. The Epic Pass pays for itself in just over four days of skiing or snowboarding. Enjoy full access to Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Crested Butte Mountain Resort and Arapahoe Basin in Colorado; Park City in Utah; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood at Lake Tahoe; Stowe Mountain Resort and Okemo Mountain Resort in Vermont; Mount Sunapee in New Hampshire; Afton Alps in Minnesota; Mt. Brighton in Michigan; Wilmot Mountain in Wisconsin; Stevens Pass in Washington; Whistler Blackcomb in Canada; and Perisher in Australia for the 2019 season. New for the 2018-19 season, Epic Pass holders will receive seven days of skiing or snowboarding with no blackout dates at Telluride in Colorado; seven days at Resorts of the Canadian Rockies, which includes Fernie Alpine Resort, Kicking Horse Mountain Resort and Kimberley Alpine Resort in British Columbia, Nakiska in Alberta, and Mont Sainte Anne and Stoneham in Quebec; and up to five total consecutive days with no blackout dates at Hakuba Valley’s nine ski resorts in Japan. The Epic Pass also grants limited access to Les 3 Vallées, Paradiski and Tignes-Val D’Isere in France; 4 Vallées in Switzerland; Arlberg in Austria and Skirama Dolomiti in Italy. A child pass (ages five to 12) is $469.
  • Epic Local Pass™: For $669, receive unlimited and unrestricted skiing or snowboarding at Breckenridge, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin, Crested Butte, Okemo, Mount Sunapee, Stevens Pass, Wilmot, Afton Alps and Mt. Brighton with limited restrictions at Park City, Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood, and Stowe, plus a combined total of 10 days at Vail, Beaver Creek, and Whistler Blackcomb with holiday restrictions. New for the 2018-19 season, Epic Local Pass holders will receive five total consecutive days with no blackout dates at Hakuba Valley’s nine ski resorts in Japan. The Epic Local Pass pays for itself in just over three days. A child pass (ages five to 12) is $359.
  • Epic 7-Day Pass™: For $669, receive a total of seven unrestricted days at Whistler Blackcomb, Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Park City, Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood, Stowe, Crested Butte, Okemo, Mount Sunapee, Stevens Pass and Arapahoe Basin, plus seven additional free days at Afton Alps, Mt. Brighton or Wilmot Mountain. New for the 2018-19 season, Epic 7-Day Pass holders will receive up to seven days of skiing or snowboarding at Telluride and at Resorts of the Canadian Rockies with no blackout dates as part of their seven total days on the pass. After the seven days, regardless of the resort at which they were redeemed, pass holders can get 20 percent off additional lift tickets at Telluride. A child pass (ages five to 12) is $359. The pass pays for itself in just over three days.
  • Epic 4-Day™: A convenient option for a short ski trip as the pass pays for itself in just over two days and includes a total of four unrestricted days valid at Whistler Blackcomb, Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Park City, Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood, Stowe, Crested Butte, Okemo, Mount Sunapee, Stevens Pass and Arapahoe Basin, plus four additional free days at Afton Alps, Mt. Brighton or Wilmot Mountain. New in 2018-19, Epic 4-Day Pass holders will receive up to four days of skiing or snowboarding at Telluride and at Resorts of the Canadian Rockies with no blackout dates as part of their four total days on the pass. After the four days, regardless of the resort at which they were redeemed, pass holders can get 20 percent off additional lift tickets at Telluride. The Epic 4-Day Pass is $439 for adults and $239 for children (ages five to 12).
  • Military Epic Pass: In celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Epic Pass on March 18, 2018, Vail Resorts is honoring the epic service of the Company’s founders from the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, and the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces, Canadian Armed Forces and Australian Defence Force with the introduction of a new $99 Military Epic Pass for active and retired military personnel and their dependents – an almost 90-percent discount to the regular Epic Pass price. Additionally, as the first of its kind in the mountain resort industry, all other U.S., Canadian and Australian veterans and their dependents are eligible for a $499 Military Epic Pass, which offers more than a 40-percent discount off the regular price ($269 for children under 18 years of age). Vail Resorts will donate $1 for every 2018-19 season pass sale to Wounded Warrior Project® to benefit wounded veterans and their families, which would exceed $750,000 based on last year’s sales. Visit www.epicpass.com/military for all details on military pass options.

Vail Resorts’ 2018-19 season passes are on sale now at the lowest guaranteed prices. Visit www.epicpass.com for details and to purchase.

Vail Resorts will continue to honor previously sold 2018-19 season pass products for Okemo, Mount Sunapee, Crested Butte, and Stevens Pass.

Skiing Kirkwood, Tahoe, California © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Vail Resorts, Inc., through its subsidiaries, is the leading global mountain resort operator. Vail Resorts’ subsidiaries operate 11 world-class mountain resorts and three urban ski areas, including Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone in Colorado; Park City in Utah; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood in the Lake Tahoe area of California and Nevada; Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia, Canada; Perisher in Australia; Stowe in Vermont; Wilmot Mountain in Wisconsin; Afton Alps in Minnesota and Mt. Brighton in Michigan. Vail Resorts owns and/or manages a collection of casually elegant hotels under the RockResorts brand, as well as the Grand Teton Lodge Company in Jackson Hole, Wyo. Vail Resorts Development Company is the real estate planning and development subsidiary of Vail Resorts, Inc. Vail Resorts is a publicly held company traded on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE: MTN). The Vail Resorts company website is www.vailresorts.com and consumer website is www.snow.com.

Letter “To Our Okemo Community”

In a letter addressed “To our Okemo Community,” Tim, Diane, Ethan & Erica write:

“Over the years, we have seen an amazing amount of change in the ski industry. Much of the evolution has been good: improved technologies around ski gear; the onset of snowboarding; grooming equipment; energy efficient snowmaking; and probably the most heartening is how many more people ski and ride or simply come to the mountains now versus three decades ago.

“Our business model has always been somewhat unique in this industry; operating large, successful ski resorts that are family owned.  It is something we have always enjoyed, been proud of, and worked hard to preserve. Another reason this decision has been incredibly difficult for our family.

“When approached by Vail Resorts, all of these thoughts, memories and realities stirred through our heads. What does this mean for us? For our teams? What does this mean for our communities? What does this mean for the mountains that we have poured a lifetime of energy into? We were not naïve in understanding this would mean changes in the future. We spent a lot of time contemplating all of this, and ultimately decided that moving forward with the sale was the best option for Okemo and its future. We realize the idea of a large company like Vail Resorts overseeing operations at each of our unique resorts may feel unsettling. However, the reality is they are mountain operators and run some of the best and most successful resorts in the industry. Putting Okemo in their hands will ensure a good future for the ski area, and will therefore support a good future for the Okemo Valley. They are great operators and good people, and they will invest in the mountain and our community.

“Please know we have entered into this transaction with the best intentions for the ski area, our fellow employees, and the community. If we did not think this was going to bring more opportunity for the resort in the years to come, we would not have made this decision. We feel that Vail Resorts is poised to continue Okemo’s excellence and bolster its legacy. We hope you will be open to their approach and give them the opportunity to prove their good intentions.

“It has been the greatest pleasure of our lives operating and growing this awesome ski area for the last 36 years. Thank you for accepting us into this community so long ago and thank you for sharing the greatest joy of our family’s life.

“With mountains of gratitude”

___________

© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

 

 

 

Vermont Mountain Resorts Gear Up to Enhance Guest Experience On and Off Slopes

 

Okemo’s innovative bubble chairs take away the chill from ascending the snowy slopes, even when the temps are single digits outside  © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Okemo’s innovative bubble chairs take away the chill from ascending the snowy slopes, even when the temps are single digits outside © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Even as Vermont’s major ski resorts add imaginative new experiences on and off the mountain to new heights, high speed six-pax and bubble chairs, other resorts are promoting their “pure Vermont” roots and authentic ski experience, touting old fashioned fixed grip chair lifts, proudly proclaiming themselves “throwbacks” in time.

Vermont, which will take center stage with the first World Cup events to be held here in 25 years, is distinguished not only for the sheer number of mountain resorts, but the differences in their character, personality and features.

This year, the resorts throughout the state have really focused on enhancing snowmaking and  rounding out off-mountain experiences, in light of the mischief Mother Nature can play. But good news! Accuweather is predicting a normal year for snow in the Northeast.

So what is new for the 2016-17 winter season? Quite a lot. Vermont’s resorts have had a busy summer full of lodging and restaurant renovations, lift and off-slope amenity improvements, and historic event announcements.  

Killington Resort 

Killington Resort is bringing Alpine World Cup skiing back to the eastern US for the first time in 25 years when the Audi FIS Ski World Cup takes place over Thanksgiving weekend, November 26-27. Giant Slalom and Slalom races will pit the best female technical alpine skiers from 26 countries against one another on Superstar trail, the infamous New England steep that is regularly the Eastern US’s last remaining open ski trail through late May or June. The general public is invited to view the women’s giant slalom and slalom races in a free general admission area at the base of the trail with a jumbo screen for watching the full race course, plus a weekend loaded with festivities including free live music, multiple movie premieres and additional surprises to be announced.

Skiing Pico, which together with Killington, affords six mountains to explore, the largest ski resort in the Northeast. Killington is hosting the Alpine World Cup © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Skiing Pico, which together with Killington, affords six mountains to explore, the largest ski resort in the Northeast. Killington is hosting the Alpine World Cup © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Killington and Pico, with six mountains between them, is the largest ski area in the Northeast and open the longest, from mid-October (you can ski in costume on Halloween) sometimes as late as June. It also offers 15 km of groomed Nordic skiing; two golf courses. Also enjoy ziplines and a mountain coaster year round. (killington.com)

Magic Mountain

Magic is under new ownership in 2016-17 as SKI MAGIC LLC purchased the ski area with an initial 5-year plan to invest capital into lifts and snowmaking. With a robust operating budget and new snow guns, Magic will have more snow in 2016-17, made earlier than ever before to improve the consistency and reliability of skiing on both the easier East Side and more challenging West side trails. For the first time in years, both bottom-to-top summit lifts (1,600’ vertical) will be in full operation. There will also be new daycare facility for young parents and some refurbishing to the lodge and Black Line Tavern. It also offers ski school, rentals, tubing park (night), and a base lodge with restaurant and bar. There’s no lodging at the mountain, but plenty of quaint places nearby.

Located in Londonderry – south of Okemo, east of Bromley, north of Stratton- Magic Mountain is much like Mad River Glen, with terrain is its most distinguishing feature.

“Magic Mountain is for people whose #1 priority is skiing. It offers 43 trails, all running from top to bottom (the green trail is 1.2 miles from the top; the longest, Wizard, is 1.6 miles).

“Like Mad River Glen, Magic Mountain is a throwback – nothing fancy. We are ‘tree-mendous’ – lots of glades.” With the capital improvements, he says, Magic Mountain will “provide better ski experience – more lifts, snow making, more consistent product – but we’re not changing its character,” Geoff Hatheway, one of the new owners. In an industry which always changes – follow the leader – we’re counter-culture, a throwback, with a pace and style more like 1960s and 1970s. We’re old school – fixed grip chairs top and bottom – not high speed (no six-packs or detachable quads). It spreads people out. We have snowmaking on 50%.

“We want to sustain, preserve and enhance the ski experience. What differentiates us is the people, the friendly vibe, friendly. And value? We make skiing affordable – lift prices are lower even at ticket window.

Magic Mountain has joined the Freedom Pass program.

Magic Mountain is 2 hrs from Boston, 3 ½ hours from NYC, 90 minutes from Albany. (magicmtn.com).

Off-slope Activities Appeal to Everyone at Vermont Resorts

Stowe Mountain Resort

Brand new this winter at Stowe Mountain Resort is the opening of an $80 million Adventure Center. This state-of-the art facility sets a new standard in the industry for kids and family amenities, says Jeff Wise, Marketing & Communications Director. Located at Spruce Peak and adjacent to Stowe’s new outdoor Ice Skating Rink, Stowe’s Adventure Center is home to all Stowe’s children’s programs (3-12), with ski in/out convenience. From beautiful daycare facilities (largest in Vermont, accommodating 60) to ski and ride programs for kids 3 and up (accommodating 500 children a day), the new Adventure Center has significantly advanced and expanded family amenities and services at the resort.

“It sets a new standard – visionary – we can have 500-600 kids checking in within 30 minutes. It offers a seamless experience for the family,” Wise says.

After skiing (4 pm), the Adventure Center turns into a family recreation center, offering an Indoor Climbing Center (called Stowe Rocks), a movie theater, activity center, kids-specific restaurant ,The Canteen (after 4 pm is family friendly), and right outside the door, a new ice skating rink (free skating, but rentals available), lit til 9 pm. Also, an outdoor pool, heated year round (swim in/out of building, (there is also an indoor pool in lodge next door).

The new Adventure Center is the final piece of a 15-year, $500 million building program. “The big news is that it is finally finished.”

Part of that plan was the 312-room Stowe Mountain Lodge, built at a cost of $100 million, which opened 2008, offering ski in/out convenience and now recognized as one of Top 10 in the world.

Stowe is open longer than most, Nov 19-April 21 because of $30 million snowmaking system. “New technology can make more snow at higher temps than before (we start making snow on November 1), and in fewer than 20 days, we can get 20% of top to bottom done.”

Stowe has trails on Mt. Mansfield, part of Appalachian Trail and the highest point in Vermont, second highest in New England (after Mount Washington, where people ski Tuckerman’s Ravine).

Stowe (stowe.com) also offers 75 km of cross-country skiing that connects to the Trapp Family Lodge. (Trapp just opened a beer hall).

Always innovative, Stowe Mountain Lodge, which is managed by Destination Hotels, is celebrating the opening of the new adventure center with a “digital detox for the family” package, incentivizing people to give up their phone for a period of time in exchange for learning a new experience. There are 22 to choose from including “learn to” ski, snowboard, rock climb, fat-tire bike, try the spa (there is a kids spa, too). “We want ‘screenteens’ to turn back into regular teens,” says Leslie Kilgore, Director of Public Relations & Social Media. (www.stowemountainlodge.com)

Smugglers’ Notch Resort 

After investing $5 million in snowmaking enhancements over the last four winters, Smugglers’ Notch Resort is turning its attention to the resort village’s most popular amenity for families, the FunZone. The new 26,000 sq. ft. FunZone replaces a bubble with a multi-story, indoor steel structure opening in March (Smuggs is very much a 4-season resort).

One section of the new FunZone will feature inflatables, games and areas for imaginative play with primary appeal to families with kids ages 2 to 10. A second area will offer features with appeal to older children and adults such as a ninja warrior-type obstacle course, laser tag, a climbing wall, column walk, slot car racing, and arcade and redemption center. The new FunZone, a $4 million investment, is expected to open mid-winter 2016-17.

Skiing down Rumrunner trail at Smugglers’ Notch, a trailblazer in family programs  © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Skiing down Rumrunner trail at Smugglers’ Notch, a trailblazer in family programs © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Smugglers Notch, now in its 60th season, has always been the trailblazer in family programs (Ski Magazine for 16th time voted Smuggs the #1 family friendly resort in eastern US), including innovative Mommy & Me, Daddy & Me ski/snowboard lessons where the parent tags along and learns the techniques to continue the child’s training.

Now, Smuggs has introduced Riglet Park, a special snowboard area for the smallest kids. “It’s hard to learn snowboarding so we build features out of snow and drag them around –they  don’t just take up the hill,” says Mike Chait, who prior to becoming Public Relations Manager headed the Ski & Ride school. The program was developed by Chait with Burton, and means that youngsters as young as 2 ½ can start learning snowboarding (indoors), and 3 years old (outside). The day-care facility also has its own 20-foot magic carpet which gives a fun introduction to non-skiing kids.

Smuggs also pioneered packages that included programming, and this year, is catering to the shift in how guests vacation – shorter periods, more time (Link: smuggs.com/winterbrochure).

A relatively new Winter Experience is designed for family members or individuals who don’t ski, but want to be on the mountain, so they get to pick from a menu of programs, such as snowshoeing, massage.

Smugglers Notch is a true, full-service resort, albeit overwhelmingly with families in mind, so it is like camp for everybody (the information guide is huge booklet, so it is worth your while to plan ahead).

Among the special activities you should pre-arrange: a Nighttime Cat Trax Tour, where you ride a snowcat up steep vertical pitch to the mountain top at night –it feels like riding a space rover – to a heated cabin from which on a clear night, you can see Montreal.

Also a Parents Night Out activity takes you up to the top of the Notch for a Snowshoe Dinner. (This is offered in conjunction with Kids Nite Out, when the kids get pizza, make your own sundae, movies and dance party). Parents ride the chair up to a catered candle-lit dinner catered by Hearth n Candle (Smuggs’ signature restaurant) in a heated building  (BYOB). Then, you take a guided snowshoe hike to Sterling Pond, the highest elevation trout pond. (Offered once/week ($75)  (4323 Vermont Rte 108 South, Smugglers’ Notch VT 05464, www.smuggs.com).

 Okemo Mountain Resort 

After several years of major snowmaking improvements totaling more than $1 million, Okemo is expanding its snowmaking system again. 18,000 feet of new pipe will introduce snowmaking capabilities on Catnap and Suncatcher in the South Face area. A Prinoth Bison X park cat, equipped with a Caterpillar 400 horsepower, tier 4 engine that meets all federal emission standards, is the newest addition to Okemo’s fleet of grooming machines as Okemo enters its third year of partnership with Snowpark Technologies. Rental equipment upgrades include 515 Volkl skis, 153 Burton snowboards and more than 1,000 pairs of boots.

Also, Okemo has joined the M.A.X Pass family of resorts this year. Okemo season passholders can take their pass on the road – up to 30 mountains (including Okemo’s sister mountain, Crested Butte in Colorado) with an Add-On upgrade.

Ski in/out convenience and a whole lot more at Jackson Gore Lodge at Okemo Mountain Resort © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Ski in/out convenience and a whole lot more at Jackson Gore Lodge at Okemo Mountain Resort © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Among the many attractions at Okemo (including indoor and outdoor pools at Jackson Gore, the ski in/out lodge), is a year-round mountain coaster.

Okemo is now offering scenic train rides –a shuttle takes you to the Green Mountain Railroad station in Chester, 20 miles south, for its slow ride back to Okemo. It offers a dining car so you can do dinner on the train. It takes one hour each way. Okemo offers the ride twice, four days a week ($25, booked through Okemo). (okemo.com)

Stratton Mountain Resort

Stratton Mountain Resort announces an addition to the vibrant slope-side Village dining fleet– Karma: an Asian fusion experience. A menu inspired by the Asian travels of Karma’s chef will debut with traditional ramen bowls and dumplings fresh-made with local ingredients, imaginative entrees and craft cocktails with a twist like vodka filtered through Herkimer diamonds for a side of positive energy.

Stratton Mountain Resort is offering jitney transportation from Manhattan to its slopes © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Stratton Mountain Resort is offering jitney transportation from Manhattan to its slopes © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Stratton’s snowmaking fleet gets a new computerized control system, allowing snowmakers to record real time energy use for increased snowmaking efficiency.

The Mountain Sports School welcomes Tim Massucco as its new Program Manager for the Stratton Winter Sports Club Freestyle. Massucco’s 16 years of coaching experience will enhance the training curriculums critical to the success of weekend and full-time competitive freestyle skiers.

The Stratton Jitney which began last year will again take skiers from Manhattan on Friday, returning Sunday afternoon (beginning December).

And in another incentive for millennials, its Stratitude Pass is now available for 18-32 year olds (instead of 1829) – $349 and no blackout days. (Stratton.com)

Mount Snow Resort

Winter 2016-2017 welcomes Mount Snow’s greatest season pass offering yet, the Peak Pass, which features a total of six pass options valid at seven different mountain locations across four states in the Northeast. And Mount Snow extended the period for millennials, 18-29, to purchase its pass for $399 through Dec. 15 (no blackouts).

With the success of the Grommet Jam Series, Mount Snow is increasing the uphill capacity in its beginner terrain park by 50 percent, by replacing our Ski Baba Lift with a 400’ SunKid conveyor called Grommet (Lift One).

Lastly, taking advantage of the dry spring this year Mount Snow increased trail and glades work. So far over 1600+ hours have been spent pruning, mowing and clearing new lines through tree skiing areas in preparation for powdery runs this winter.

Mount Snow’s terrain park has been voted #1 in the East and #6 in North America. “It’s not often an East Coast resort is in the top 10,” says Jamie Storrs, Communications Manager. “We are where the X Games started. Our lead pro, Devan Logan, is the most decorated Olympian, winning gold in the last Olympics, and the captain of team. He is the face of our professional team – we have 11 people on team – who are out there training most days.” Guests can watch.

Mount Snow is the most southerly of the major Vermont ski resorts. (West Dover, VT 05356, mountsnow.com).

Sugarbush Resort 

Sugarbush has invested $750,000 into capital improvements for the 2016-17 winter season which including lift improvements and improvements to the snowmaking pond, continuing to progress upon the on-slope experience. Skiers and riders don’t have to worry about crowded trails thanks to the Valley House Quad Sugarbush installed last season. With the new quad, Sugarbush’s uphill capacity is one of the largest in the northeast, while still managing to spread traffic across 16 lifts and two mountains. The resort has also completed Gadd Brook Residences, sixteen ski-in/ski-out condominiums at the base of Lincoln Peak available as two-, three-, and four-bedroom units.

Sugarbush, located in central Vermont, offers 139 trails on two mountains connected by the world’s longest detachable quad lift, and 2,000 acres of back-country skiing (there is a shuttle to take you back). (www.sugarbush.com)

Bolton Valley

One of the special features of Bolton Valley, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this season, is that it offers night skiing, and this year, night skiing hours are being expanded. Night skiing will be offered Tuesday through Saturday until 10 pm – that means you can ski Tuesday through Friday from 10 am to 10 pm, and Saturdays from 9 am to 10 pm (the daily ticket is good for night skiing). “There are amazing sunsets from the mountain, overlooking Lake Champlain in the west,” says Josh Arneson, VP of sales and marketing.

Bolton Valley’s lodge, visited in summer, was one of the first ski in/out lodges in the East when the resort was founded 50 years ago, has been renovated; the resort’s expansive backcountry can be seen behind the lodge © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Bolton Valley’s lodge, visited in summer, was one of the first ski in/out lodges in the East when the resort was founded 50 years ago, has been renovated; the resort’s expansive backcountry can be seen behind the lodge © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bolton Valley is also renowned for their extensive 1,200-acre backcountry area, where they have two backcountry cabins– one from 1928 and the other from 1935 – which are available for winter stays (the cabins hadn’t been available for two years while they were being renovated by the Green Mountain Club). Rugged and rustic, you get up there with your own supplies (sleeping back, food) – firewoord is provided – and can stay over.

There are also 15 km of groomed x-country trails, but above that is backcountry skiing.

Skiers will enjoy the benefits of more snowmaking, so Bolton Valley can make snow earlier and get to more trails faster.

Bolton Valley’s hallmark is its rustic, unpretentious quality – a step up from Magic Mountain and Mad River Glen because it has ski in/out lodging and indoor pool (the cafe and bar have been renovated). But it also has some unique programs: artist Natasha Bogar, who did the art that is in the hotel rooms, offers Paint Nights, where you come to paint and have a beer.

Over the past year most suites and 25 hotel rooms at Bolton Valley have received major upgrades. The units have seen improvements such as new carpet, drapes, furniture, painting, renovated bathrooms, new mattresses and new artwork. The improvements greatly enhance guest comfort in the rooms that had become a bit dated. Indeed, the hotel was one of the first ski in/ski out lodgings in the east when it was built.

Bolton Valley, the popular playground for Burlington, is celebrating its 50th anniversary year. “We’re planning to paint the 50th chair on the three original lifts gold – and if you get the golden chair, you might win something,” Arneson says.

This year, Bolton Valley has eliminated the $50 upgrade for the Freedom Pass add-on to its seasonal pass, giving unlimited skiing at the home mountain plus three free days at each of the 12 other areas in the program, from Eagle Crest in Alaska to Lost Valley in Maine (www.boltonvalley.com/tickets-passes-rentals/seasons-passes/Freedom-Pass).

Mad River Glen

Mad River Glen’s goal is to maintain and preserve the experience rather than overhaul or upgrade it.

“We’re the food truck of ski areas – authenticity – only cooperatively owned, nonprofit.

2000 skier-owners are dedicated to keeping Mad River Glen the way it is – a time warp.”

“The ability of Mad River Glen to consistently reinvest in the mountain’s infrastructure is a testament to the success of the Cooperative. Both the skier-owners and the management understand that skiers come to Mad River for the unique combination of legendary terrain, sense of community, low skier density and intimate atmosphere. In 20 years of co-op ownership, Mad River Glen has invested over $5 million in capital improvements.

Mad River Glen is located five miles from Sugarbush (www.madriverglen.com)

Suicide Six Ski Area

Woodstock Inn & Resort’s Suicide Six Ski Area replaces chair #1 with a new quad chairlift that will double capacity, offering a more comfortable and rapid ascent to the summit. Leitner-Poma of America, Inc., installed the lift at an estimated cost of $1.5 million. Funding for the new chairlift is being provided through a grant from the Laurance S. Rockefeller Fund. Recognized as one of the oldest ski areas in the country, Suicide Six has a rich history. Today, Suicide Six is one of Vermont’s leading family-friendly ski resorts featuring more than 100 acres of skiing on 24 trails and slopes with terrain suitable for all abilities. (www.woodstockinn.com/ski-area)

Bromley Mountain Resort

Green Team Go! With a focus on both establishing new habits and reinforcing current good ones, Bromley rethinks trash, recycling and composting food waste to implement a “Go Green” initiative this winter season. The intent is to eliminate organic waste and all recyclables from the Bromley dumpsters containing refuse destined for the landfill. Recycling for bottles and cans has always been available around the resort, but not universally across the base area, and composting has never been an option. This season bring change and while Bromley works towards keeping the planet beautiful, they’re pleased to announce that base area buildings have also received a makeover. (bromley.com)

Jay Peak Resort

The folks at Jay Peak are still of the mind that the 5,000 acres between their borders represent one massive terrain park, but they understand the need for focus. So this season the resort is increasing the snowmaking capacity to its LZ and Jug Handle parks by 60%, running a new waterline up the Interstate trail and installing 20 new guns along the Interstate. The expansion will not only allow Jay Peak parks to open sooner, but will also  allow the resort to open learning terrain at its Tramside area earlier in the season. (jaypeakresort.com)

The Hermitage Club

The Hermitage Club, in Wilmington, has taken over Haystack Mountain as a private club, investing $125 million in the redevelopment, with $285 million more to go.

At its busiest, there would only be about 1100 people on the mountain at any one time. It offers fine restaurants and inns.

“The Hermitage Club is looking forward to providing one of the fastest and most efficient ski experiences in the northeast. Not only do our members enjoy the absence of lift lines, our high-speed summit lift is the only one of its kind in the U.S. – a six-person heated bubble lift by Doppelmayr, zipping our skiers to the top of the mountain in less than six minutes. And take a break and enjoy the beverages and views at our Mid-Mountain Cabin, which has become a veritable slope side oasis for our members.” (hermitageclub.com)

Quechee Club

The Quechee Club ushers in a new experience for its members, visitors and area guests this winter season with the completion of a newly constructed Aquatic Complex and fitness club expansion. The complex includes a new indoor pool area with an aerobics room, in addition to implementing a new retention pond. The indoor complex, approximately 10,000 square feet, is twice the size of its initial pool  and includes four lap lanes and an open concept design with natural post and beam architecture to complement the refined yet understated aesthetics of the Clubhouse.(www.quecheeclub.com)

Mountaintop Inn & Resort

Mountaintop Inn & Resort is a four-season resort that in winter, affords top-notch cross-country skiing on 60 km of trails.

It offers a 32-room lodge plus 4 cabins and 23 guest houses, literally set on the top of a mountain, with a 748-acre lake and spa (known for weddings and particularly winter weddings).

The inn is 15 miles from Killington, and it offers packages that include lift tickets, as well as shuttle service to the mountain. (195 Mountain top Road, Chittenden, VT 05737, www.mountaintopinn.com).

Burke Mountain Resort

The Lodge at Burke Mountain will finally open its doors on September 1st with introductory rates starting from $109/night during its first month of daily service.  The 116 room Hotel is situated mid-mountain and provides a true ski-in ski-out experience.  Suites range from a standard studio to three bedroom with onsite amenities including a pub, restaurant, heated pool & hot tub, fitness center, arcade, retail and repair shop for guests to enjoy.  Striking views of the Willoughby Gap and Burke Mountain can be seen from nearly every window in the Hotel. (skiburke.com, 866-966-4820).

For more information, visit Ski Vermont (Vermont Ski Areas Association), skivermont.com

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© 2016 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

 

Bubble Chairs, Great Snowmaking Give Okemo Mountain Resort an Edge

It's 3 degrees but we're happy as clams inside the Quantum Four bubble chair on Okemo Mountain, Vermont © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
It’s 3 degrees but we’re happy as clams inside the Quantum Four bubble chair on Okemo Mountain, Vermont © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin

I always bump up my skiing at Okemo Mountain Resort, in southern Vermont. This time was the first time I really felt “the flow” – the fluid motion of putting the various elements of skiing together – the bicycle pedal motion of weighting and unweighting, the pushing knees together, shoulders square, standing up.

Okemo Mountain Resort's bubble chairs are a fabulous feature © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Okemo Mountain Resort’s bubble chairs are a fabulous feature © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

It has a lot to do with the quality of snowmaking and grooming – an art as much as a science, with a dollop of luck because of weather conditions. But it also has to do with the design of the trails, scenic to be sure with gorgeous views, but also wide enough to be forgiving, long enough to get some really good practice in before you have to get back on the lift, and relatively few crosses so you’re not overwhelmed by advanced skiers and snowboarders barreling past. Also, the excellent signage and superb trail maintenance eliminate as much as possible the anxieties that accompany you as you are trying to progress in your technique. And everything is done to make skiers and snowboarders as comfortable as possible – excellent lift system, detachables (best invention in skiing, followed by shaped skis), and now, two of the major chair lifts to the top (Quantum Four, new this year, and Sunburst Six) have bubbles – an innovation that turns your chair into a capsule against the cold and precipitation (including snowmaking).

This was particularly appreciated (a godsend, really), on the day it was 3 degrees (before the wind chill factored in, making it feel like sub-zero). When we left, the temperature rose to a balmy 15 degrees (really, it felt wonderful), under Blue Bird cloudless skies. The feeling of good cheer and utter euphoria made it feel downright balmy.

Remarkably, the Okemo snowmakers opened 20 trails in just 8 days time and by the time we left, 42 trails of its 121 (18 miles worth) were open, offering amazingly great conditions.

Great trails and snowmaking enable you to bump up your skiing at Okemo Mountain, Vermont © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Great trails and snowmaking enable you to bump up your skiing at Okemo Mountain, Vermont © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

We love the trails here – especially Sapphire, a wide, scenic, well-groomed blue trail that starts from the top of Sunburst Six (a six-pack bubble chair!), linking to Upper and Lower Arrow so the trail is long enough to really practice your skiing by the time you get back to the Sunburst Six.

We also love Blue Moon, an intermediate trail which connects to Lower Limelight and into the Jackson Gore area to the Quantum Four detachable quad bubble chair.

The design of the trails affords excellent movement around the three summits. Getting back to our comfy condo at the Adams House at Jackson Gore, we took the breathtakingly beautiful (but still a green and aptly named) Sweet Solitude into Roundhouse Run to Blue Moon.

Everything at Okemo, on the mountain and off, is really guest-oriented. This is not something to be taken for granted. The experience of really being cared for starts in the rental shop – the fellows (like elves) actually measured our feet before they gave us our boots (Diabello brand is absolutely my favorite, and I have never skied so well as when the boot fits properly), and were so helpful. and if you found your boot or skis or boards not the best fit, they happily exchanged them.

This warm and welcoming atmosphere continues with the lift operators who are invariably cheery and helpful. Bubbly, even (appropriate for the bubble chairs).

Stopping off for some sustenance at the Waffle Cabin on the trail at Okemo © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Stopping off for some sustenance at the Waffle Cabin on the trail at Okemo © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The on-mountain amenities – the lodges and eateries – are also absolutely marvelous. We love the Waffle Cabin that you come upon as you ski down Lower Arrow (there’s another near the base of the Coleman Brook Express Quad chair) – Dave couldn’t resist even in frigid weather. The Sugar House Lodge has an amazing Thai noodle station as well as Smokey Jo’s Grille (BBQ) and more traditional fare at a cafe. Up at the top of the Sunburst Six bubble chair, we sought comfort from the frigid temperature at the Summit Lodge.

The Epic restaurant at the Solitude base is an attraction itself: on Saturday nights, they arrange to bring diners up by snowcat for a five-course gourmet dinner (there is very limited seating, at 7 and 7:30 pm, and you need to make advanced reservations, 800-228-1600

For guests at Jackson Gore Inn – a luxury ski in/out resort within the resort – the pampering goes even further – you can check your skis right at the base, or in lockers (verboten to bring them into the guest rooms).

There is every amenity imaginable at Jackson Gore, including indoor pools, fitness center and classes, hot tubs, racquetball court, children’s splash features, and spa services  in the Spring House;  ice skating rink pavilion at the Ice House, fine-dining restaurant at Coleman Tavern and Siena, casual dining, indoor/outdoor pool and indoor and outdoor hot tubs and fitness center.

It's 3 degrees but enjoying the hot tub at Adams House condo at Jackson Gore, Okemo Mountain © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
It’s 3 degrees but enjoying the hot tub at Adams House condo at Jackson Gore, Okemo Mountain © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

There we were on our first night (when it was single digits temp), in the indoor/outdoor pool (that means you enter the pool from inside, but swim outside in a really gigantic pool kept to 80 degrees; and enjoyed the steaming hot tubs. The next day, we took advantage of the hot tubs right outside our condo at Adams House at Jackson Gore, where we had a superb two-bedroom condo with completely outfitted kitchen, dining area and living room (fireplace too), massive bathrooms (3 altogether), laundry machines, three flatscreen TVs, WiFi. Simply heavenly.

And the newest attraction at Okemo, the four-season Timber Ripper Mountain Coaster – a scenic and exhilarating ride through forest and along the contours of the mountain at Jackson Gore. You ride over 4,800 feet of rollers, banking loops and a twister section at speeds up to 25 mph. It looks like a combination of theme-park roller coaster and bobsled run. Really formidable!

There is also snow tubing in a four-lane park located just off the Stargazer carpet in the courtyard of Jackson Gore, and snowcat excursions (Tuesday,Saturday and Holidays at 5 and 7 pm, $40 or $50 to ride “shotgun”). and kids’ 20-minute snowmobile tours ($39).

Each year, the experience at Okemo, known for being one of the friendliest, most welcoming ski destinations anywhere, gets better and better. This year, they have introduced RFID card, replacing a lift ticket, so you just keep the card in your pocket and stand in front of the reader which opens the gate. It really moves the lift line faster. You can pre-purchase the card and keep adding to it.

This year, Okemo has also expanded SouthFace Village, its newest on-mountain community. The Sunshine Quad, a new fixed-grip Leitner-Poma chairlift, connects the Village Center at SouthFace Village to the South Face Express Quad and provides access to the new Suncatcher trail.

Jackson Gore Inn is a luxury resort-within-the-resort with ski in/out convenience © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Jackson Gore Inn is a luxury resort-within-the-resort with ski in/out convenience © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Snowmaking also gets better and better (and has been crucial this season). This year, Okemo expanded snowmaking on White Lightning and Rolling Thunder at Jackson Gore, increasing  coverage to 98 percent of its trails. Okemo also added a new Prinoth 500 horsepower grooming machine to its fleet (you can really feel the difference!). And, in partnership with Snow Park Technologies, enhanced the Tomahawk trail “for more flow and originality” with jumps and hits.

Okemo also has a variety of terrain parks. The Homeward Bound terrain park was renamed Robbins’ Nest, with jumps, hips and features to recognize the contributions of Okemo’s first Snowboarding Program Director Gordon Robbins.

Okemo’s Penguin Playground Day Care accommodates kids from six months to four years old, and also offers Kids Night Out and Kids Night out with evening child care. Okemo, which was one of the early pioneers of cleverly themed children’s learning and activity programs (Snow Stars!), accommodates children as young as 3.

Sweet Solitude, Okemo Mountain, Vermont © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Sweet Solitude, Okemo Mountain, Vermont © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Okemo is as big as you would want a mountain to be – 667 skiable acres (46 miles worth) across five mountain areas, a vertical drop of 2,200 feet (the highest in Southern Vermont), plenty terrain parks scattered around the mountains, accommodating all levels of ability, a learning area served by magic carpet and superb ski and ride schools – and yet feels so homey. Okemo skiers are passionate about the place.

It also offers the Okemo Valley Nordic Center on its golf course, with 22 km of Nordic track and skating lanes, plus 13 km of dedicated snowshoe trails, plus tree skiing and terrain that winds through meadows and hillsides, rental equipment and lessons (802-228-1396 for info).

Okemo Mountain Resort, Vermont
Okemo Mountain Resort, Vermont

The town of Ludlow, while remaining sweetly unpretentious, now has several wonderful restaurants: Harry’s Cafe, an Okemo tradition for 27 years (but recently relocated just across Rte 103 from the Jackson Gore access road), boasts “everything from scratch – handcut and homemade” and a “fusion” menu of various ethnic culinary traditions, and one of the few restaurants serving until 10 pm (reservations recommended, 802-228-2996, 68 Rte 100 North, www.harryscafe.com); The Downtown Grocery, for “casual fine dining” housed in a repurposed Victorian house and serving eclectic (even eccentric) creations (the Bangs Island Mussels and Baby Arugula salad were outstanding) by Chef Rogan Lechthaler “as creative in the kitchen as he is adept on skis”, who prides himself on homemade pastas (even ketchup), fresh sourced and sustainable seafood and cures (41 South Depot, 802-228-7566, www.thedowntowngrocery.com); and MoJo Cafe, a combination Tex-Mex-New Orleans hip cafe with a distinct “Austin weird” vibe (106 Main Street, 802-228-6656, www.mojocafevt.com).

Okemo Mountain Resort, 77 Okemo Ridge Road, Ludlow, VT 05149, 800-78-OKEMO, 24-Hour SnowPhone, 802-228-5222, www.okemo.com (see deals, like 4th Night Free).

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© 2016 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com , www.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin,www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/karen-rubin and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures