Vail Resorts’ Back Bowls ‘entering the future’ |

Vail Resorts’ Back Bowls ‘entering the future’

Special to the Daily | Paul Van Dyke

VAIL, Colorado – The new Chair 5, which opens at 9 a.m. today, means nearly all of Vail Mountain will now be accessible via high-speed chair lifts. Just a few slower, fixed-grip lifts remain.

Vail Resorts has been planning the new chairlift for nearly a decade. The old lift was installed in 1979, and the popularity of Vail Back Bowl’s meant that people often found themselves in a traffic jam at the bottom of the Sun Up and Sun Down bowls.

Vail Mountain Chief Operating Officer Chris Jarnot said the lift is one of the mountain’s signature chairlifts because it serves the Back Bowls, so the upgrade is significant when talking about the guest experience on Vail Mountain.

“We felt it was time, past time, to make this change and improvement,” Jarnot said. “The experience on a powder day in the Back Bowls truly is a priceless one, and to have that and then get to the bottom and wait in a lift line is not something we wanted.”

The new lift will cut the ride time in half, to six minutes.

There has been debate over whether a faster chair serving the Sun Up and Sun Down bowls would mean the powder back there gets tracked out faster, a concern some powder enthusiasts brought up during public comments to the U.S. Forest Service about the then-proposed project in 2008.

Those in favor said the reality is that crowds form so quickly back there that a faster lift could only help reduce the lines at the lift’s base.

“An upgrade of Chair 5 would be of benefit to skiers,” wrote Kate Cocchiarella to the Forest Service. “While we support preserving the unique experience that is skiing in Vail’s Back Bowls, a faster Chair 5 would help with the extraordinary lines that form at times.”

The Forest Service gathered 20 comments supporting the new lift, and 13 opposing it in 2008. The Forest Service approved the new chairlift in December 2008.

Jarnot said Vail Resorts is always looking for ways to upgrade and improve the guest experience, and this project was one of the highest priorities in terms of doing that.

Vail’s Back Bowls are what distinguish the resort from every other resort, Jarnot said, and the history of the Back Bowls dates back to the earliest days in Vail.

Bob Parker, one of Vail’s pioneers, remembers how the Forever run at Vail, which runs right underneath Chair 5, got its name, as he described it in fellow Vail pioneer Pete Seibert’s book, “Vail: Triumph of a Dream.”

Parker said that he and Seibert had been talking to Austrian racer Pepi Gramshammer about coming to Vail from Sun Valley, Idaho, and brought him to the resort to try to make their case. They brought Gramshammer up to the summit and eventually over to the long, open slope on the southwest side.

“The snow was perfect spring corn, so Pepi, Morrie Shepard and Pete launched themselves down the slope in huge sweeping christies,” Parker recalls in the book. “When the tired but elated trio finally trudged up to us, Pepi was ecstatic. ‘By Gott,’ he exclaimed. ‘Dot’s a super slope!’ Then, catching his breath, he admitted, ‘but it takes foreffer to climb out!'”

Jarnot said it’s one of the truly classic stories about Vail’s history, and there are many of them.

Vail Resorts invited Pepi Gramshammer and his wife, Sheika, to take the inaugural ride up the new Chair 5 this morning to honor that history.

“It’s a pretty cool legend,” Jarnot said. “That’s why we chose Pepi – he represents the original past of the Back Bowls, and now we’re entering the future.”

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