Vail Resorts details blueprints for ‘centerpiece’ gondola | ParkRecord.com

Vail Resorts details blueprints for ‘centerpiece’ gondola

Vail Resorts on Monday said it plans to build a gondola linking Park City Mountain Resort and Canyons Resort prior to the 2015-2016 ski season, publicly outlining details of the much-anticipated connection for the first time as part of a broader announcement involving more than $50 million in upgrades.

In a release, Vail Resorts said the link will be an eight-person gondola that will travel between the base of the Silverlode lift at PCMR and the Flatiron lift at Canyons Resort. It will also offer an unloading point at Pine Cone Ridge, Vail Resorts said.

Planning for the link has been a priority since Vail Resorts acquired PCMR in the fall. The Colorado firm operates Canyons Resort as part of a long-term agreement with the Talisker corporate family. The release says the linked resort will offer more than 7,300 acres of skiing terrain. It would be the largest mountain resort in the U.S.

According to the release, the unloading point, which will be at the top of Pine Cone Ridge, will provide skier and snowboarder access into terrain at Thaynes Canyon through a gate and into Canyons Resort’s Iron Mountain terrain. New trails are planned between Pine Cone Ridge and Iron Mountain.

A connection has drawn widespread interest in the time since Vail Resorts acquired PCMR. The tourism industry, rank-and-file Parkites and Wall Street analysts who cover the publicly traded Vail Resorts have been intrigued by the prospects of a combined resort. Vail Resorts earlier provided a closed-door preview of the proposed connection to a task force made of City Hall and County Courthouse leaders. Many see a combined resort quickly becoming one of the top properties in the global ski industry.

Vail Resorts, meanwhile, said in the release it intends to upgrade the King Con and Motherlode lifts prior to the next ski season. King Con, now a four-person lift, will be turned into a six-person one. It will be a high-speed, detachable lift. The Motherlode lift, a fixed-grip, three-person lift, will be made into a high-speed, detachable lift for four people. The release says the upgrades will cut lift lines.

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Vail Resorts also said it wants to build a new Snow Hut restaurant with 500 inside seats at the bottom of the Silverlode lift. It will be situated at the terminal of the gondola. The firm also said snowmaking will be expanded on two Iron Mountain-area trails at Canyons Resort that will become more central as a result of the connection. The Red Pine Restaurant at Canyons Resort will be renovated.

Vail Resorts said the upgrades and improvements are expected to cost more than $50 million. It will be "one of the most ambitious and impactful capital programs in U.S. ski industry history and will transform the guest experience at Park City Mountain Resort," Vail Resorts said.

The firm said the combined resort will operate under the Park City Mountain Resort moniker, ending speculation about the resort’s name. The base area at what is now Canyons Resort will be called Canyons at Park City, Vail Resorts said.

In a Monday telephone call with Wall Street analysts, Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz spoke excitedly about the connection.

"I’m thrilled to announce that the centerpiece of those efforts will be our plan to transform Park City and Canyons into the single largest resort in the United States, along with numerous other high-impact upgrades that will only further elevate the combined resort to be one of the top resorts found anywhere in the world," he said.

Katz said Vail Resorts will create "one of only a handful of top destination resorts in the world, both in terms of the experience, but also in terms of the financial performance, and, obviously, you know, a very unique situation."

He said Vail Resorts has been in discussions in Park City about the connection and is taking input. Katz said the approval processes involving City Hall and the County Courthouse are not as complex as those required by the United States Forest Service. Other Vail Resorts properties operate on Forest Service lands.

"We started early, we started very quickly, to try and get out and make sure everybody understood where we were trying to head, so we would have enough time to put this . . . the entire plan together. Is there any risk? There’s always risk, obviously, that’s why we always say that it is subject to those approvals, but at the moment we feel pretty good."