Summit County ski areas make small changes

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Most improvements to local ski areas this season will be behind the scenes - but easier access and more affordable food are among several modest changes guests may notice in 2009-10.

In place of preceding years' chiefs breakfast, a ski season preview occurred Wednesday night with leaders from Loveland Ski Area and the four resorts in Summit County.

While new lifts or terrain expansions were absent from discussion, ski area chiefs said they learned from last year's economic downturn. Many are hiring their workers this season from within the country.

Keystone

Keystone Resort vice president of mountain operations Doug Lovell said the final "capstone" to the River Run Gondola project is ready for the 2009-10 season: a skier bridge connecting the slopes with the gondola for a shorter walk.

The resort purchased five new snowcats this year, and a variety of parking improvements have been made.

Lovell said grooming will be improved with more black and advanced-intermediate terrain included.

The Keystone Scratch Game occurring Nov. 6 to Dec. 20 includes a chance to win a two-bedroom condominium overlooking the gondola for the entire season.

"With every purchase of a lift ticket, night of lodging, Ski and Ride School lesson and $25 or more at an on-mountain restaurant" guests receive a scratch ticket with chances to win the condo as well as lift tickets, gear, food and more.

Across Vail Resorts, on-mountain dining establishments are to offer lunches including an entree, side and drink for $9.95.

A-Basin

Arapahoe Basin Ski Area kicked off the ski year with its earliest day on the books - two days after Loveland Ski Area opened Oct. 7.

A-Basin improvements include an overhaul to the front of the Black Mountain Lodge with better flow for food service. The A-Frame got a new menu and a facelift - with repainted walls and a new floor in the bar.

A-Basin CEO Alan Henceroth said the ski area now has a more vibrant online presence, with employee recruiting "virtually 100 percent online" through sites such as facebook.com and twitter.com.

"We get so many people coming through with electronic applications," Henceroth said, adding that the retention rate (returning customers) last season was the highest ever.

He said the growth of the ski area's Facebook friends has been impressive (2,332 as of Thursday).

Breckenridge, Copper

Breckenridge Ski Resort began making snow Wednesday in preparation for opening Nov. 12.

Opening festivities include the annual free pancakes at the Bergenhof as well as a performance Nov. 13 by comedian Craig Robinson (of "Pineapple Express" and "The Office") at the Breckenridge Riverwalk Center.

Gary Shimanowitz, Breckenridge Ski Resort director of mountain operations, said the skier drop-off area will return to Peak 8 after it was closed last season for nearby construction. About 20 drop-off spots are to be available.

On-mountain improvements this year include relocation of the Trygve's pipe on Peak 8 to Country Boy on Peak 9. Dirt work this summer for the Freeway Terrain Park superpipe is to require less snowmaking this winter.

Other improvements include a Chair 7 re-grade for easier access from the Peak 8 base area. The chair is renamed RIP's ride.

Copper Mountain Ski Area this year will boost its park pipe height from 18 to 22 feet in time for the U.S. Grand Prix events starting Dec. 10.

A new night club, La Fee Verte (The Green Fairy) is to open in the Copper Mountain Center Village on Dec. 18. The bar is to offer authentic absinthe, among other beverages.

Loveland

Loveland Ski Area director of operations Rob Goodell said 2008-09 was "the best season Loveland had ever had."

"It was one of those perfect storms," he said. "Economic pressures played into our price point."

Goodell said all operations had revenue increases, though retail sales had the most modest increase.

Though the ski area's capital improvements include "not much to see and touch" this year, Goodell said events from last year including the fire hose race are to continue in 2009-10.

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