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Resort Report: ski visits, avalanches, investments and a roller coaster

This week's SNEWS Resort Report looks at more signs pointing to a record year at ski resorts, the continuing threat of in-bounds avalanche, yet another chairlift evacuation and much more.

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It’s not quite time to predict a record season, but several resorts set records over the Martin Luther King weekend, while others did their best in the face of hiccups provided by Mother Nature, including rain in the Northwest. “It’s still too early to make a call about setting or breaking records,” says Jennifer Rudolph of Colorado Ski Country USA. “All the holidays have been busy from Thanksgiving to MLK. There is still a lot of season left, but it appears we are on a good pace.”

Heavy skier traffic leaving the mountains on Monday, combined with snow and poor visibility, led to a six-hour commute from Summit County resorts and Winter Park to Denver. Monarch reported having its best MLK weekend on record.

“Winter 2010-11 is thankfully acting like a real winter,” reports Michael Colbourn, vice president for marketing, sales and communications for Stowe Mountain Resort. “Midweek snowstorms all over the East and clear roads for Friday travel made for a very busy MLK Holiday weekend. Powder snow and all lifts open equaled big happy crowds.”

Deadly avalanche in British Columbia

On Saturday, January 15th, 2011, just as Fernie’s Avalanche Awareness Days had begun, an avalanche cut loose by skiers rocketed into a popular groomed run, striking seven skiers and leaving one injured. According to a brief statement released by the ski area, none of the seven skiers were buried by the slide.

It was one of several reported slides over the weekend in the mountains of B.C. and Alberta where recent weather activity had avalanche forecasters raising a red flag for backcountry travel. According to Canada’s Globe & Mail, one man was killed on January 16th in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park when an avalanche struck a group of 15 skiers.

Big Powderhorn Lodge burns to the ground

Just prior to the holiday weekend, on the evening of Thursday, January 13th, 2011, the Big Powderhorn Mountain Lodge in Upper Michigan burned to the ground. According to an AP report, firefighters had a difficult time fighting the blaze because the nearest fire hydrant was nearly one mile from the fire.

Josh Ludtke, a firefighter for the Ironwood Township Fire Department told the AP, “It was hot. I parked the engine a thousand feet away. I thought it was going to melt the paint on the truck.” The ski area remained open through the weekend despite the total loss of the lodge.

Sunday River, Sugarloaf looks to finance upgrades

Maine’s Portland Press Herald is reporting that the real estate investment trust that owns Maine’s Sugarloaf Mountain Resort and Sunday River Ski Resort, is considering how much money to allocate for improvements at the ski area. The news has become especially relevant in the wake of a chairlift accident at Sugarloaf that occurred over the Christmas holiday.

“We’re in the review process,” Stephen Rice, vice president and managing director of CNL Lifestyle Properties, Inc. of Orlando, Fla. “In February, we’ll be specific and reveal our commitment to both resorts for the coming year.”

The Herald reports that Sugarloaf and Sunday River account for more than 60 percent of all skier visits in Maine, where skiing is a $300 million-a-year industry. CNL does not disclose financial information, but the Sugarloaf accident has increased public pressure in Maine for the company to do so.

Yet another lift evacuation for North America’s ski areas

Nearly 100 skiers and snowboarders were stranded for several hours after a chairlift broke down on January 15th, 2011 at Ohio’s Alpine Valley.

No one was seriously injured according to Amanda Garrett of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, though several local rescue departments had to come and assist the ski area with the evacuations.

Sugarloaf opens Bracket Basin

Sugarloaf opened the new Brackett Basin area to skiers and riders on January 19th for the first time. Brackett Basin is the first of a three-phase terrain expansion onto neighboring Burnt Mountain that will make Sugarloaf the largest ski area in the East. 

Sugarloaf ski patrollers dropped the ropes on the four upper glades of Brackett Basin: Birler, Sweeper, Edger, and Cant Dog. Together these glades encompass 60 acres of glade skiing.

“When we announced the Sugarloaf 2020 plan over the summer, we said that the end goal was a rejuvenated, revitalized Sugarloaf,” says John Diller, Sugarloaf General Manager. “The opening of Brackett Basin today marks a significant step toward achieving that goal.”

Brackett Basin is the first phase of a massive 655-acre terrain expansion onto Burnt Mountain, which was announced this summer as part of the ‘Sugarloaf 2020’ ten-year road map. The expansion doubles Sugarloaf’s in-bounds terrain, making it the largest ski area in the East. 

Snowbird proposes to install a summer mountain coaster

Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort wants to build a roller coaster to increase its summer business. As can be imagined, that proposal is stirring up a lot of controversy.

“It (would be) kind of an eyesore in the canyons,” Carl Fisher, executive director of Save Our Canyons, told local television station KSL.

According to documents Snowbird filed with Salt Lake County, the track would be raised off the ground on a trestle-like structure varying from 2 to 13 feet high. The base of the thrill-ride would be near the Snowbird Center and the Cliff Lodge in the vicinity of the ski resort’s Chickadee bunny slope. Riders would speed down a curving 3,300 foot track that drops nearly 400 feet in elevation as it winds its way back to the valley.

Ski Butlers expands in Park City

Ski Butlers has purchased the Nacho Mama’s commercial space in Prospector Square and will begin operating from this location for the 2011-12 ski season.

“This is an exciting time to be a part of Ski Butlers,” says Bryn Carey, President of Ski Butlers. “This will give our customers the option to visit our physical location while our company continues to grow and support the high demand that we are currently experiencing with our delivery service.”

Ski Butlers storefront will be opening in the fall of 2011.

— Peter Kray

On Oct. 6, 2010, veteran journalist Peter Kray joined the SNEWS team and is now editor of the new SNEWS WinterSports channel. We trust you are enjoying the full offering of WinterSports news. Be sure to email your friends and let them know the best WinterSports news has arrived — just in time for the winter season. Got WinterSports news? Send your WinterSports news to Kray at Subscribers can also post WinterSports news releases directly to the SNEWS website. Email us at to learn about posting your own news releases, or for any other questions or comments. We love to hear from our readers!