East Update: Work Zones - Ski Mag

East Update: Work Zones

Travel East
Author:
Publish date:

When the construction dust settles in northern New England, three of its ski areas will be almost unrecognizable to the skiers who love them. In Vermont, Stowe and Jay Peak have embarked on ambitious base-area makeovers. In Maine, Saddleback's new owner is planning a series of carefully considered improvements. In each case, skier amenities will be drastically improved, and there'll be new opportunities for slopeside ownership at places better known for challenging terrain than they are for lavish amenities. Here's where their projects stand now—and what to expect in the coming years.

Saddleback, Maine

Previous owners once marketed Saddleback as a potential Vail of the East. They planned massive terrain expansions and real estate development to match, but gave up after long and bitter permit negotiations. The place remains more accurately described as the Mad River of Maine. Under the Berry family, whose purchase of the resort saved Saddleback from going dark three seasons ago, the development philosophy is decidedly skier-oriented and more in tune with the remoteness of its location. "We want to keep the pristine beauty as much as we can and make it affordable for everybody, says family patriarch Bill Berry, a longtime Saddleback regular. "I think we can do these two things and make it viable.

For starters, Berry lowered day-ticket prices (to $35) and scrapped plans to develop the resort's eastern side with detachable quads. High-speed lifts—and the crowding they cause—are anathema to him and will "never be installed, he says. So the only way to Saddleback's summit remains the experts-only Kennebago T-bar. Nor does Berry plan to replace the Rangeley chair—an ancient double serving most of the mountain—although he will add 33 chairs to increase uphill capacity.

Elsewhere, Berry is making significant investments. Saddleback will go west to expand its terrain. Two trails have already been added—one a narrow expert run, the other an intermediate cruiser. Berry envisions a mix of mostly intermediate glades and trails, serviced by a mile-long chairlift. Meanwhile, he's paved the access road, something the regulars consider a huge improvement. He's ramped up snowmaking and grooming. And he's expanded the beginner area and added a new quad. A 60-unit, slopeside hotel is on hold until a suitable site can be settled on, but 24 ski-in/ski-out townhouses are being built.

The base lodge has also been transformed. It's three times bigger than the original, but retains the same homey, well-lighted vibe. It now boasts spacious restrooms, a new childcare facility and a more efficient rental shop, as well as an espresso bar, a big deck with a built-in barbecue and a huge fieldstone fireplace that'll add the nostalgic atmosphere Berry likes.

Starting this season, steeper trails will be groomed, thanks to the addition of winch-cat anchors. And America, a trail rated double-black due to its extreme narrowness (there's not even room to make a hockey stop), has been widened and designated an intermediate trail. But no matter how much he spends on improvements, Berry makes this promise to Saddleback skiers: "We're committed to keeping prices low. [NEXT "Jay Peak"]

Jay Peak, Vermont

For years, Jay Peak skiers have gazed longingly at the undeveloped West Bowl. It wraps around from the mountain's western edge, extending past the Beaver Pond glades and promising 1,200 to 1,400 vertical feet of mostly intermediate terrain. It's a remarkable piece of real estate—sun-drenched, wind-sheltered and buried in more natural snow than any other part of the resort. Jay Peak owns it all, and sees it as an important part of the resort's impending transformation.

Treeskiing has always been part of the Jay experience. That won't change as the resort develops. The trees of West Bowl are naturally well-spaced, and Jay plans to cut as many as 10 new trails among them. Skiable terrain will increase to 800 acres, of which 350 will be ades. The more drastic change, however, will be at the base area, where a new resort village is planned.

Jay president Bill Stenger promises to get it right. "We've had the luxury of watching other New England resorts develop villages, and we've learned from their experiences, he says. Over the next five years, West Bowl will become the commercial core. The village, clustered around a new hotel, will abut the back nine of an 18-hole golf course, which is expected to open in stages beginning in 2006. If permitting allows, the first of two or three high-speed lifts in the bowl will also be installed in 2006. Skiers can get an early taste of the terrain this season: Jay plans to offer guided off-piste tours.

Stenger promises not to alienate the broad base of families who have come to rely on Jay for affordable vacations. But he does want to welcome "families with higher expectations." Recent redevelopment and planned updates at the existing base area will go a long way toward meeting those expectations. Twenty-four ski-in/ski-out condos and townhouses were built in 2004. Another 56 were added in 2005, and 56 more are slated for 2006. The weary Hotel Jay is to be replaced with a $45 million, 200-room hotel with spa, conference center, fitness facilities and a 50,000-square-foot indoor water park. The existing base lodge will be updated, with expanded facilities for skier services. "We hope to start on that next year (2006), Stenger says. And even Stateside, a convenient base for day skiers, will get a face-lift. Next summer, a high-speed quad is scheduled to replace either the fixed quad or triple there.

"Jay is definitely a star that's rising, and our best days are ahead of us, Stenger says. "Every ski area has its moment, and our moment is at hand.[NEXT "Stowe"]

Stowe, Vermont

Stowe is in the early stages of a $350 million upgrade at Spruce Peak, where a village is rising on 35 acres at the base. There's nothing New England-y about designs for the new Spruce Peak at Stowe. The architecture will more closely resemble that found at Beaver Creek, Colo., or Sun Valley, Idaho: big timbers, lots of stone and glass. Stowe promises the kind of luxury that's still rare at New England ski areas.

This season, the Spruce base area will be a construction zone, but two new lifts are already in place, as well as a new beginner slope, Inspiration. Along it, workers are constructing the first of 38 mountain "cabins—3,000 square feet and $1.8 million each. These duplex townhouses are also adjacent to a new golf course. Mixed in are private lots—mostly one-third to half an acre in size, with prices averaging $1.1 million.

Even before Spruce closed last season, demolition crews started tearing down parts of its base lodge. The redesigned version will be the center of a new base village. It'll be topped by 11 sky-view townhouses, fetching $3 to $6 million each. Ownership will include membership to the Alpine Club, a private lodge/country club. Privileges will include a concierge, ski valets, private changing facilities, golf, a lounge and a restaurant. Other village property owners can join for a fee. Just outside, a transfer lift will connect Spruce to the Mansfield base on the other side of the Mountain Road.

A pedestrian plaza will join the lodge with a multi-building condo hotel. There'll be both whole and fractional ownership opportunities, with studios beginning at $350,000 and three-bedroom units starting at $1.2 million. There'll also be retail and conference space, a full-service spa, fitness center, pools, outdoor skating and, eventually, a 200- to 300-seat performing arts center. Underneath it all will be parking for residents.

This season, skiers will find welcome changes on the mountain. They'll park in a new multilevel day-skier lot. A high-speed quad on Big Spruce, which replaced the oh-so-slow 1954 double, will zip them to the top, which is now about 200 vertical feet lower and thus sheltered from summit winds that might otherwise shut the lift down. And now there's 100-percent snowmaking coverage on both Big and Little Spruce, thanks to two new snowmaking ponds that will increase the resort's overall capacity by about 40 percent.

Skier visits are sure to increase at Stowe, so plans call for the cutting of additional trails on both Spruce Peak and Mt. Mansfield. The timeline for it all? At least 10 years. But when you consider that Stowe hasn't changed drastically since the installation of the Gondola in the late 1960s, it's been a long time coming—and should be worth the wait.

December 2005t winds that might otherwise shut the lift down. And now there's 100-percent snowmaking coverage on both Big and Little Spruce, thanks to two new snowmaking ponds that will increase the resort's overall capacity by about 40 percent.

Skier visits are sure to increase at Stowe, so plans call for the cutting of additional trails on both Spruce Peak and Mt. Mansfield. The timeline for it all? At least 10 years. But when you consider that Stowe hasn't changed drastically since the installation of the Gondola in the late 1960s, it's been a long time coming—and should be worth the wait.

December 2005

Related