Flurry of resort upgrades marks 2014-15 ski season

Okemo Mountain Resort in Vermont has a new bubble chair lift with heated seats.
Okemo Mountain Resort in Vermont has a new bubble chair lift with heated seats. Okemo Mountain Resort

The ski season is off to a good start. A lot of snow has already blanketed most ski areas, and some opened early. Now, most of them are welcoming skiers.

In addition to a promising start to the season, ski fans are in for a treat. The 2015 FIS-Alpine World Ski Championships, which are usually held in Europe, will take place Feb. 2-15 at Vail and Beaver Creek. The championships are the world’s biggest ski event outside the Olympics.

Beaver Creek will be the site of most competitions, which are free to spectators, while Vail will host ceremonies and nightly festival events. About 700 athletes from 70 nations will compete, including such top stars as Americans Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller. More information:

As usual, ski resorts have spent the warmer months making improvements — adding lodgings and restaurants, upgrading or replacing lifts and snow-making equipment, and creating new trails and other facilities. Vail Resorts, for instance, is spending $85 million this year on improvements at its 12 resorts.

The big news is that Vail Resorts has bought Park City Mountain Resort and plans to build a chair lift by the 2015-16 season that will connect it with the Canyons resort, which it purchased last year. That will make the combined resort the biggest ski operation in the country. That also means that Vail’s Epic Pass is good at both of its new Utah resorts.

A sampling of what’s new:

Chief among Vail’s upgrades are a new combination chairlift and gondola at Beaver Creek and a major facelift to The Lodge at Vail.

Beaver Creek’s new lift alternates 10-person gondola cabins with six-person chairs and lets skiers choose which s type of seat makes them more comfortable. The high-speed lift replaces the Centennial Express Lift and increases its capacity by 35 percent.

The Lodge at Vail, which opened in 1962 at the base of Vail Mountain, compelted the last phase of a multi-year renovation. The newest work included 56 hotel rooms, corridors, main stairways and lobby.

Two new children’s centers are opening in Colorado. Arapahoe’s 7,000-square-foot Kids Center will open this spring. Aspen’s Children’s Center, which will be the headquarters for a kids’ ski school for ages 2 to 12, will be located at the base of Buttermilk, and is scheduled to open in December.

Also new at Aspen are four lanes of lift-served snow tubing at Elk Camp.

Colorado’s Winter Park Resort — which marks its 75th anniversary in 2015 — is opening a new Lunch Rock Restaurant more than five times larger than the previous one. At 11,200 feet up, the year-round facility will have 250 seats inside, 150 on its heated deck, and great views.

Also in Colorado, new on-mountain cabins are opening at Loveland and Beaver Creek.

Skiers in the Lake Tahoe area will have a new hotel to play or stay at, the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Lake Tahoe in Stateline, Nevada, down the street from the Heavenly ski resort. The hotel, which opened in the mid-1960s as Del Webb’s Sahara Tahoe and has changed ownership several times, will reopen at the end of January after a $60 million renovation.

For the first time, Taos in New Mexico will have lift access to Kachina Peak with the opening of a new chair that will summit at 12,450 feet, one of the highest in North America.

Sugar Mountain in North Carolina has added a new intermediate ski slope called Gunter’s Way — 2,900 feet long and with a 700-foot vertical drop.

Utah has a brand new ski resort, Cherry Peak, in northeast Utah near the Idaho border. It is the first new resort in that state in decades. It has three triple chairlifts. a new tubing park and plans for future expansion.

Also in Utah, in addition to Vail Resorts’ buying Park City Mountain Resort, Deer Valley has purchased the Solitude resort, and Nordic Valley, formerly known as Wolf Mountain, has been bought by an investor group.

Deer Valley will not take over Solitude until next May, and is still formulating its plans. Nordic Valley Resort is being significantly upgraded with the addition of new trails, and has plans for expansion beyond that.

In New England, New Hampshire’s Loon Mountain is expanding its terrain park for kids. Okemo Mountain Resort in Vermont will give skiers and riders a more comfortable trip up the mountain on chilly days with its new six-person bubble chair lift with heated seats, which it says is the first of its kind in North America.

In Canada, Red Mountain has added 198 acres of cat skiing, Mont Tremblant has a new Kids Zone, and Whistler has installed new gondola cabins and added the new-concept Terrain Based Learning program for beginners. Vermont’s Killington also has added the Terrain Based Learning program.

Europe is looking forward to an excellent season. “Ski conditions [in the Alps] will be fantastic for the 2014-15 ski season, especially when compared to last year,” reports Tyler Roys, an AccuWeather meteorologist.

In Italy, Courmayeur will operate a new cable car on Mont Blanc. Les Trois Vallees in France has installed what is said to be the world’s highest zipline, a 1.8-mile cable at 10,597 feet.

Every ski resort offers package deals, and so do travel agencies. Best deals usually are offered for early-season stays before Christmas or in January, but there are some attractive bargains even in the high-season periods of the Yule holidays and February/March. For details, visit resort websites or travel agencies that specialize in skiing.

Substantial bargains also are available to members of ski clubs, which every season organize trips at group rates. Florida has 16 ski clubs under the umbrella of the Florida Ski Council, which also sponsors trips, including some to Europe. Clubs in Southeast Florida include Miami Ski Club, Fort Lauderdale Ski Club, Gators Snow Ski Club of the Palm Beaches and Boca Raton Ski Club.

This season, Miami Ski Club has trips to Keystone, Crested Butte and Beaver Creek, Colorado. Fort Lauderdale has trips to Telluride, Colorado, and Taos, New Mexico.

For information about membership, trips and Web access to the clubs, click on

This report was supplemented with information from the Associated Press.

Ski deals

Here are some examples of ski vacation packages. Deals usually do not include taxes, gratuities or other fees, nor meals, airfare or airport transfers, unless otherwise specified. All prices are starting rates; they might be higher depending on availability and dates chosen. They are also might be subject to blackout dates and to change without notice.

Snowmass, Colorado: Five nights in a Holiday Inn Express room and four days of skiing for two adults between Dec. 12 and Dec. 22. Prices start at $244 per night per person. Book by Dec. 22.

Whistler Blackcomb, Canada: Early-season (to Dec. 19) four-night packages, including lodging and three-day lift ticket, start at $109 Canadian (about $99 U.S.) per person per night.

Park City Mountain, Utah: Wide range of packages available. Early Season packages (to Dec. 12) start at $59 per person per night, Happy Holidays packages (Dec. 20-Jan. 4) at $175, Stay and Ski packages (Jan. 4-April 13) start at $89.

Winter Park, Colorado: Four nights in the Zephyr Mountain Lodge between Jan. 18 and Feb. 8, with three days of skiing, for two adults. $317 per night per person. Book by Dec. 8.

Heavenly, California: To celebrate the opening of the new Hard Rock Hotel Lake Tahoe, this package provides three hotel nights and three nights skiing, plus a swag bag valued at $300. Packages start at $149 per person, per night. Offer valid Jan. 28-March 31.

Sun Valley, Idaho: Mid-Winter Package, valid Jan. 4-March 28, provides stay and ski deals starting at $162 per person per night, double. Some blackout dates.

Sugar Mountain, North Carolina: Weekend Winter Value Packages (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) are offered early or late season only (early December, all of March). Other Winter Value packages are offered for mid-season Sunday-Thursday and late season (March) seven days a week. All packages include lodging, lift tickets, rental equipment and ski lessons.

Miami Ski Club: Five-night package for club members to Keystone, Colorado, Jan. 22-27, is priced at $899 per person, double occupancy. Price includes round-trip airfare to and from Denver, round-trip ground transfers Denver-Keystone, a room at the Inn at Keystone, resort fee and daily hot breakfast buffet. Lift tickets are extra: $270 for three days, $336 for four days.