By Karen Rubin, Eric Leiberman, Dave E Leiberman
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
Each year, Vail Resorts has something sensational to announce and this year is no different: the company, already the largest collection of major mountain resorts, is acquiring the iconic Whistler Blackcomb, in British Columbia. That would give Vail Resorts the largest resort in North America as well as the largest ski resort in the United States, with its acquisition and merger last year of Park City with Canyons in Utah.
“Whistler Blackcomb is one of the most iconic mountain resorts in the world with an incredible history, passionate employees and a strong community. With our combined experience and expertise, together we will build upon the guest experience at Whistler Blackcomb while preserving the unique brand and character of the resort as an iconic Canadian destination for guests around the world. We are delighted to add such a renowned resort to Vail Resorts and look forward to expanding our relationships in the Sea-to-Sky community, British Columbia and Canada,” said Rob Katz, chairman and chief executive officer of Vail Resorts.
Whistler Blackcomb is the largest resort in North America, with 8,100 acres. It is famous for hosting major alpine skiing events like the 2010 Vancouver winter Olympics, and for its Peak 2 Peak Gondola, the longest and highest lift in the world (2.7 miles, it takes 11 minutes to ride).
Dave Brownlie, Whistler Blackcomb’s chief executive officer added, “As the number one ranked and most visited resort in North America, Whistler Blackcomb has enjoyed tremendous success by delivering an exceptional mountain experience for our passionate and loyal guests — both locally and from around the world. That’s going to continue as we work with our new colleagues at Vail Resorts as well as our employees, local businesses, community and government stakeholders to make Whistler Blackcomb better than ever. We will also continue our discussions with the Squamish and Lil’wat First Nations, on whose traditional lands we operate, regarding a business partnership that will benefit our communities, our province and our company for decades to come. Our board of directors has also been monitoring the unique challenges facing the broader ski industry due to the unpredictability of year-to-year regional weather patterns. Whistler Blackcomb, with its unprecedented acreage of high alpine terrain and Glacier bowls, is well positioned, but by no means immune to these challenges. Partnering with the geographically diversified Vail Resorts and extending its successful Epic Pass products to Whistler Blackcomb are customer-focused ways of securing the long-term future of our resort, our industry and our community.”
Whistler Blackcomb won’t be fully integrated into Vail Resorts’ EpicPass until next year, but through acquisitions and collaborations, EpicPass already gives its passholders global reach, with unlimited and unrestricted access to Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin in Colorado; Park City in Utah; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood at Lake Tahoe, Afton Alps near Minneapolis, Mt. Brighton near Detroit, Wilmot Mountain near Chicago and the 2017 Perisher season in Australia. New for the 2016-2017 season, Epic Pass holders can now ski or snowboard for specified number of days in Europe including resorts in Austria, France, Switzerland and Italy (Europe is Epic details at EuropeIsEpic.com). It means that avid skiers can go wherever the snow seems best. The Epic Pass pays for itself in just over four days, while also saving more than 45 percent versus tickets purchased at a resort lift ticket window. The Epic pass also provides other discounts, including 20% off lodging, even off already discounted specials. Multiple pass options are on sale now at EpicPass.com.
Vail Resorts continues to raise the bar for skiers and riders investing $100 million in the guest experience for the upcoming winter across its resorts, bringing its five-year, industry-leading resort investment total to more than $500 million across the company. The most significant improvements include a new restaurant on Peak 7 at Breckenridge, an upgraded high-speed chairlift accessing Vail’s Back Bowls, significant renovations to the guest rooms of The Pines Lodge, A RockResort at Beaver Creek, and $13 million to completely re-imagine the guest experience at Wilmot Mountain, located near Chicago, Ill.
“Guests expect a premium experience when they visit one of our resorts, including the highest levels of guest service as well as the cutting edge in lifts, restaurants, lodging and other elements of their vacation,” said Kirsten Lynch, chief marketing officer of Vail Resorts. “This year’s resort improvement plan reflects our goal to continue to deliver an Experience of a Lifetime for all of our guests.”
Here is a summary of new developments:
EpicMix Time expands to Park City and Lake Tahoe to provide crowd-sourced lift line wait times to guests – EpicMix™ Time – an expansion of the award-winning ski and snowboard app, EpicMix – will debut at Park City in Utah, and Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood at Lake Tahoe during the 2016-17 season, allowing guests to access real-time lift line wait times enabling them to better navigate the mountain and make the most out of their ski and ride experience. EpicMix Time uses proprietary technology to calculate and display up-to-the-minute chairlift and gondola line wait times. This innovative application of crowd-sourcing technology debuted last year at the Company’s four Colorado resorts.
Heavenly Mountain Resort, Lake Tahoe
Vail Resorts is assuming management of Zalanta Resort at the Village, a new luxury condominium property, South Lake Tahoe’s first whole-ownership luxury condominium development in more than 30 years, just steps away from the Heavenly Mountain Gondola, shops, dining, and in close proximity to showrooms, casinos, beaches and world-class golf. The first phase of the project – slated for completion in late-January 2017 – will include 30 luxury whole ownership residences, year-round heated outdoor swimming pool and hot tubs, a fire pit, fitness center and complimentary access for owners and guests to Lake Tahoe’s semi-private Lakeshore Beach. The development will also include more than 19,000-square-feet of retail space, which may include a 6,500-square-foot restaurant.
A second phase of development at Zalanta is proposed to include 60 additional whole ownership residences, cabanas, rooftop terrace and private underground parking garage. If approved, construction would begin as early as mid-2017 with completion following in mid- to late-2018.
Our favorite activities are back at Northstar California: Tost, a 2 pm ritual of a champagne (or apple cider) toast on the mountain, and this year, select dates will feature live music; Mountain Table Dinner series, featuring a mountaintop gourmet meal paired with wines from a local winery on the mountain in the Zephyr Lodge with stunning panoramic views of the sunset behind the Sierra Nevada’s Pacific Crest.
Park City, Utah
Vail Resorts’ EpicMix Time, the ski and snowboard app, is debuting at Park City Mountain, allowing guests to access real-time lift line wait times, better navigate the mountain across 7,300 acres of skiable terrain.
Guests will reap the benefits of Vail Resorts’ $50 million investment in the merger of Park City Mountain Resort with Canyons, including a new eight-passenger Quicksilver Gondola connection, new restaurant (Miners Camp) and new King Con Express six-person chairlife and MOtherlode Express four-person chairlift. The resort, now the largest in the US, offers over 300 trails, 41 lifts, 8 terrain parks, one super pipe and one mini-pipe. “The mountain is as big as you want to make it.”
Special features: Night skiing at Park City base area, free Mining Tour with a mountain host; sleigh rides in the evening, an alpine coaster at Park City base, ice skating rink, snowshoeing, music in the base area, a robust après-ski scene on Main Street (you can ski in/out to Main Street and take a free bus back).
Events are big in Park City: Snowbound Celebration, a 16-day festival with musical acts, entertainers, torchlight parade, visit from Santa; Spring Gruv Celebration, a 16-day fest in March with free concerts and Pond Skimming Contest.
Four-Passenger Sun Up Express opens – Vail Mountain’s ninth new chairlift in the last 10 years will debut this winter, replacing the Sun Up Lift with a four-passenger, high-speed chairlift, now called the Sun Up Express. The new express chairlift will increase capacity of the former lift by 65 percent and reduce the average ride time from eight minutes to four minutes. The new lift will be a primary lift on the Back Bowls of Vail Mountain, serving intermediate and advanced terrain and dispersing skiers and snowboarders into this legendary terrain. More importantly, this makes 19 of Vail’s 22 chairlifts, and all of its core lifts, high speed. “If you haven’t skied Vail in 10 years, it will be a completely different experience.”
In other news, The Arrabelle at Vail Square, a RockResort just steps from The Eagle Bahn Gondola, has gotten a refresh (www.arrabelle.rockresorts.com).
Highlights of winter events include: Vail Snow Daze (Dec. 9-11), Vail Holidaze (Dec. 16-18, 31); CarniVail (Feb. 25-28), and the BurtonUS Open Snowboarding championships (Feb. 27-March 4).
Visit vail.com/lodging to find the best vacation deals.
Beaver Creek, famous for luxury, takes that to an extreme with its white Glove Winter Package – travel in style with first-class airfare into Vail/Beaver Creek’s Eagle Airport (EGE), private helicopter transportation to the base of Beaver Creek Mountain, and private car to the excusive Trappers Cabin. Nestled among aspen groves at 9,500 ft, Trappers Cabin is the ultimate in luxury, with your own gourmet chef and private Ski School Ambassador, Epic Passes, Helly Hansen gear and other lux perks (valued at $50,000, BeaverCreek.com/White Glove).
And that’s not all: Beaver Creek’s White Carpet Club, an exclusive private retreat within Beaver Creek Village, is available for the duration. It hosts spacious lockers, continental service island, on-site concierge, priority access to SaddleRidge Restaurant, preferred parking and slope-side equipment check.
White Glove First Tracks provides exclusive access to the pristine slopes at sunrise, a five-star gourmet breakfast on the mountain at Allie’s Cabin. Gusts board the centennial Express l ift at 7:30 am, enjoy a private guided tour of the mountain and relax over breakfast, all before the resort opens (select dates, reserve 866-250-1679).
Allie’s Cabin is offering special Wine Dinners on select Thursday evenings, organized with celebrated wineries, accompanied by fireworks display over Beaver Creek Village. Guests arrive via open-air sleigh for a gourmet culinary experience in the cabin. New this winter and offered during select weekends, Allie’s Cabin Family Dinners.
Gourmet Snowshoe Adventures and Wine Tasting –Three versions are available, each combining wellness-promoting 90-minute guided snowshoeing tour, scenic gondola ride, followed by gourmet decadence for which Beaver Creek is renowned at the Osprey Fireside Grill. Guests can choose among Women’s Wednesday Walk & Wine, Winter Wine Excursions (Thursdays), and Fonduye + Shoe (Fridays).
The Pines Lodge, A RockResort in Beaver Creek has undergone a significant renovation of its 60 hotel rooms, keeping the unique European charm that the ski-in hotel has always offered while introducing a modern mountain luxury theme, enhancing the guest’s experience and comfort.
Beaver Creek Signature Winter Events include the Audi Birds of Prey Men’s World Cup and EverBank America’s Winter Opening (Nov. 29-Dec. 7), and Beaver Creek Winter Culinary Weekend (Jan. 19-22).
Breckenridge Ski Resort
Breckenridge Ski Resort will open Pioneer Crossing, a new, 490-seat restaurant just steps from Independence SuperChair on Peak 7, one of the resort’s five iconic peaks with dramatic views of Summit County. The restaurant will highlight Breckenridge’s mining history. Also Breckenridge Distrillery, offering farm-to-table experience and new distilled flavors, is being expanded.
Classic Peak 9 Village Base area is getting a face lift, and is the scene for Breckenridge’s signature events which this year includes the Dew Tour (Dec. 8-11), returning for its 10th anniversary, when world-class winter athlete4s compete; Ullr Fest (Jan. 11-14), a 50-year tradition for the Breck community to pay tribute to the Norse god of snow; and 27th annual International Snow Sculpture Championships (Jan. 24-28).
Keystone Mountain Resort
Keystone Mountain Resort, one of the easiest major resorts to reach from Denver International Airport, one of the few that offers night skiing, as well as combined access to Arapahoe Basin with its lift ticket, is famous for its family-oriented programs.
Keystone’s Kids Ski Free Program Turns 5: Keystone has long been the place where kids rule, and this year the resort’s unmatched Kids Ski Free program turns 5 (which just so happens to be the same age that kids can officially become a part of this awesome program). More than 100,000 free kids’ lift tickets have been provided to families since the program began in 2012. This year guests can look forward to free Kidtopia events and parties, including a special weekly birthday bash with Ripperoo, plus free skiing. Every day, all season long, kids 12 and younger ski for free at Keystone with no blackout dates when parents book two or more nights in one of Keystone’s accommodation options, ranging from affordable hotel rooms to family-sized condominiums.
NEW Kidtopia Mountaintop Spectacular – Dec. 16-18, 2016: Keystone’s Kidtopia continues to redefine the family resort experience with free activities and events on and off the snow every day of the week starting Friday, Nov. 25. This winter Keystone presents the inaugural Kidtopia Mountaintop Spectacular, a weekend of festive on-mountain fun for the entire family. This free event will showcase a variety of activities and Kidtopia programs that make the resort a top destination for families, including nightly firework displays, a torchlight ski parade led by Keystone’s Ski & Ride School, and a mountaintop celebration where guests can enjoy free snow tubing, snowcat photo opportunities, live music, hot cocoa and fireside stories with Santa. Kidtopia will animate the mountaintop with Bigfoot adventure walks and a ski patrol-dog meet and greet, plus a special lighting ceremony of the world’s largest Snow Fort to create an unforgettable weekend.
The Kidtopia Experience March 5-11, 2017: With the addition of the Kidtopia Mountaintop Spectacular, this winter season is bookended by two awesome Kidtopia events as the Kidtopia Experience returns for an extended week-long celebration. Start your family spring break early and be a part of all the kid-centric festivities and live outdoor music at the Kidtopia Experience, March 5-11.
Behind-the-Scenes Chocolate Tours with Keystone’s Very Own “Willy Wonka”: Keystone Resort’s executive pastry chef Ned Archibald welcomes guests for a unique behind-the-scenes glimpse into his world of decadent desserts and chocolate making at the resort. Take a break from the slopes one morning to experience these can’t-miss tours designed for kids (and parents), and meet the man himself, tour his chef’s workshop and make delicious treats of your own to take home. No golden ticket required; these Chocolate Tours are free to attend. Offered on select dates throughout the season. Schedule TBD.
On-Mountain Family Adventures: With Keystone’s enclosed River Run Gondola, mountaintop adventures like snowcat tours, snow tubing and fondue dinners are accessible to the whole family regardless of skiing ability. The Mountaintop Snowcat Tour is a popular family activity that brings you to Keystone’s high-alpine bowls for breathtaking views of the Continental Divide and surrounding mountain ranges. Adventure Point, just steps away from the Kidtopia Snow Fort, features up to eight lanes of high-speed tubing action for kids and kids at heart. To cap off an evening of mountaintop adventure, guests can enjoy two gondola rides en route to Keystone’s North Peak, where Der Fondue Chessel offers an exciting and interactive dining experience for the whole family, complete with accordion-wielding musicians in lederhosen, all at 11,640-feet elevation.
Experience the Mountain Together with a Family Private Lesson: Whether your family is new to skiing and snowboarding or you’re seasoned snow veterans, those looking to develop new skills, improve technique or explore the mountain like never before can enjoy the Keystone Ski & Ride School’s Family Private Lesson together. Taking advantage of shared on-snow time, bonding is just an added bonus to these specially designed lessons. Private lessons can be reserved for up to six family members (or friends) of similar ability, and with instructors who specialize in working with the whole family.
Keystone Resort’s more than 3,000 acres of skiable terrain, average of 300 days of sun a year, convenient lodging and variety of on- and off-snow activities all combine to provide the ideal location for winter vacations. As one of the closest ski resorts to Denver, Keystone is the ultimate family resort destination. Convenient touches like free parking, including front-row family parking, and complimentary red wagons to help parents tote gear and kiddos to and from the slopes help make a winter family visit to Keystone easy and hassle-free. For more information visit keystoneresort.com.
For more information or to book trips at any of the Vail Resorts mountains, visit snow.com.
© 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