By Bob Ecker,special to Tribune Newspapers
7:55 PM EST, November 13, 2012
Many Western ski resorts have had stronger-than-expected early snowstorms, meaning many will open soon. That's good news.
And here's more from the Western slopes:
If you've never been to Jackson Hole, Wyo., maybe this is your year. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has vastly improved its intermediate runs, and today about 40 percent are blue. This year the old Casper Triple Chair has been replaced by a new, fast quad lift, which reaches the top of the mountain in 31/2 minutes. This quad allows intermediates, in particular, easier access to blue runs, such as Sundog, a new blue trail running below the lift.
For lodging, the very cool and very green Hotel Terra is capitalizing on this blue trend by offering a new ski school program designed just for intermediates. And after skiing, try the new Handle Bar, a gastropub from Michael Mina at the Four Seasons Jackson Hole. Or for amazing Thai cuisine in an intimate atmosphere, check out Teton Thai, the best little Thai restaurant for at least 500 miles.
Lake Tahoe's Squaw Valley (squaw.com) and its sister resort, Alpine Meadows, are in the midst of a $70 million, five-year renaissance. This season both resorts have invested heavily in state-of-the art snow-making equipment, and another major development at Squaw Valley is the Big Blue Express, a new high-speed six-pack chairlift that replaces the High Camp chair.
The base terminal of Big Blue starts at the former base of the High Camp but extends up to the top of the Shirley Lake ridgeline, providing easy access to the Shirley Lake, Solitude and Granite Chief chairlifts. This lift offers intermediates access to a wide variety of blue runs (hence the name) and provides quicker and easier contact with Shirley Lake and other areas.
Neighboring Alpine Meadows (skialpine.com) has enhanced its terrain parks, partnering with Snow Park Technologies to expand the medium and large parks. The combined parks, from Terry's Return to Dance Floor, offer an entire milelong park run, making it the longest terrain park run in the Lake Tahoe region. There also is a free shuttle that runs between Squaw Valley and Alpine.
Building on the $30 million recently invested by new owners Vail Resorts, Northstar-at-Tahoe (northstarattahoe.com) celebrates its 40th anniversary this winter. The resort (other Vail properties in the Tahoe region are Heavenly and Kirkwood) is truly becoming a world-class facility. The first snowcat and backcountry tours debut this year on Sawtooth Ridge, as does Burton Riglet Park, which introduces snowboarding to ages 3-6.
For accommodations, the midmountain Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe is one of the premier hotels in Northern California.
Popular Copper Mountain, celebrating its 40th year (coppercolorado.com), has replaced the old High Point Lift with the new Union Creek High Speed Quad. This lift speeds movement to and from the West Village area. Copper Mountain also has implemented a new automated snow-making system in conjunction with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association to develop an on-snow training center at the resort. This training center greatly enhances the U.S. teams' speed-training abilities as well as providing the public with better snow conditions. Copper Mountain also is offering its Alpine Rush zip line for the first time in winter. This family-friendly ride features a dueling design that allows two guests to fly side by side 30 feet above the West Lake ice rink.
Famed Aspen/Snowmass (aspensnowmass.com) leads the country in chi-chi-osity, with upscale dining, lodging and superlative skiing. Some major projects have upped the ante. These include the completion of a $13 million Restaurant at Elk Camp on Snowmass and a $2.5 million reinvention of the Little Nell hotel's restaurant, now named Element 47, at the base of Aspen Mountain. Also new this season is a pop-up mobile champagne bar called The Oasis. Visitors will have to locate the bar atop Aspen Mountain via Twitter or Facebook. The Oasis will serve Veuve Clicquot, caviar and other upscale nibbles. Sounds fun.
Nearby Snowmass (snowmass.com) will add 230 acres of new terrain on Burnt Mountain this season, bringing total skiable acreage to 3,362 acres. That makes it the second-largest ski area in Colorado.
The new Restaurant at Elk Camp invested $13 million to provide upscale on-mountain dining accessible via the Elk Camp gondola.
The Westin Snowmass (westinsnowmass.com) made big news over the summer with a $40 million overhaul, completed just in time for ski season. The hotel rebuilt all guest rooms, event spaces and dining facilities and built a new lobby, kids center, workout facility and spa.
Snowbird, in Little Cottonwood Canyon (snowbird.com), finally replaced its older Little Cloud lift with a high-speed detachable quad. The new Little Cloud takes riders to the top of South Ridge in just 31/2 minutes, about half the time of the old lift. Snowbird also has doubled its snow-making capabilities this year, hopefully allowing a slightly longer season.
Park City's Deer Valley (deervalley.com) is consistently rated as one of the top ski resorts in North America for its amenities and pre-eminent service. This season it has spent more than $8 million for improvements, including replacing the old Deer Crest chairlift with a high-speed detachable quad chair named Mountaineer Express.
Also, the incomparable Stein Eriksen Lodge Deer Valley (steinlodge.com), celebrating its 30th anniversary, is constructing a 6,000-square-foot event center, which will be the largest in Park City.
Now in its 77th year, Sun Valley (sunvalley.com) and its Dollar Mountain Terrain Parks, a huge hit with younger enthusiasts, have been expanded. Sun Valley should be particularly proud of its new 22-foot super pipe (Olympic-size), one of only a few in North America. Besides the super pipe, Sun Valley boasts 76 rails, two cross courses and three parks.
At 8,171 acres, Whistler/Blackcomb (whistlerblackcomb.com) is the largest ski area in North America and remains one of the premier ski resorts in the world. It offers 16 alpine bowls, three glaciers and more than 200 marked trails. This year, Extremely Canadian (extremelycanadian.com), Whistler's renowned steep skiing clinic, is going backcountry. Coaches will train skiers for big-mountain backcountry terrain on Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. The resort also has christened the Wonder Routes this season, a series of six tours, trails, way points and stops that were created to help guests discover the "wonder" of the Whistler/Blackcomb. Still thriving after more than 20 years, Araxi is a perfect apres ski or dinner destination in the heart of the Whistler Village (araxi.com).
Banff National Park covers more than 2,500 square miles of mountains, glaciers, forests, natural hot springs and the Lake Louise Ski Area and Sunshine Village (enjoybanff.com). The three ski resorts there collectively offer almost 8,000 acres of gorgeous ski terrain. A Tri-Area Pass, starting at $266 for an adult, offers unlimited skiing and free transportation between resorts.
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