Sometime in the mid- to late 1960s, someone (nobody remembers who) clear-cut a line of aspens to the top of Golden Peak for a summit chairlift that was never built. Trying to eke medal-winning speed out of every inch of a truncated training venue on the lower reaches of Golden Peak, generations of young ski racers yearning for extra vert were taunted by the tantalizing promise of that old lift scar.
Over the summer, Vail Resorts, in partnership with Ski & Snowboard Club Vail (SSCV), completed a 68-acre, 700-vertical-foot expansion to the top of Golden Peak, which includes a T-bar surface lift roughly following the line that was cut and abandoned in the 1960s. While the Golden Peak upgrade pales to the resort’s last expansion 19 years ago (Blue Sky Basin added three high-speed chairlifts, 20 named trails, and 525 acres), it represents a milestone for SSCV, alma mater to Olympians like Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin. As SSCV takes occupancy of a $28 million state-of-the-art clubhouse at the mountain’s base this season, it also claims bragging rights to America’s foremost season-long, dedicated ski racing facility.
“By moving forward with the Golden Peak expansion, Vail Resorts and Ski & Snowboard Club Vail will create the single best training environment in the United States,” says SSCV Executive Director Kirk Dwyer, who more than any other coach is credited with the development of Mikaela Shiffrin in the early stages of her career while he was headmaster at Burke Mountain Academy. “The expanded terrain will provide a higher-quality, safer, and more-productive training arena for our athletes.”
The extra vertical, coupled with snowmaking equipment (and the ability to download from the mid-station of Chair 6 early in the season), promises to be a boon not just for SSCV but also for the best professional ski racers from around the world, who flock to the high elevations of Colorado in October and November to jump-start training.
“Fall is the conclusion of the all-important preparation training period for competitive Alpine racers, which serves as a critical building block for the season ahead,” explains SSCV Chief Operating Officer John Hale. “It’s also the time of year when high-quality training can be most scarce.”
In 2010, the US Ski Team developed its own early-season training site at Copper Mountain. Not long after, Loveland Ski Area upgraded its high-elevation training facility. The need to blow significant amounts of skiable snow all the way to the base of the mountain has always put Golden Peak a step behind its higher-elevation competition. With three new trails 700 feet higher on the mountain, Vail’s operating team will now be able to get the venue up and running several weeks earlier than it could in the past.
And they’ll also be offering more racing. With the new terrain, the venue (which had been confined to giant slalom racing due to the limited vertical drop) will be able to host events all the way up to full-length downhill at the highest levels of Alpine ski racing.
“We’re excited to see this project that has been thought about for decades come to fruition [and] know that the club and our sport will have these enhanced training and event opportunities,” says Vail Vice President of Mountain Operations Greg Johnson, who oversaw development of the World Championship race trails at Beaver Creek and serves as chief of race for the annual Birds of Prey World Cup. “With all the traveling I’ve done to events in North America, I know it will quite simply be a superb venue.”
As for the Epic Pass holders and guests wishing to give that venue a try, just after this magazine went to press, Vail Resorts announced that the public will indeed get a chance to experience the new terrain on select times and dates.
Beyond being able to ski this new terrain, consider the bigger-picture impact.
“This isn’t just for a bunch of Ski Club Vail kids … this is a very real economic benefit for the town; it’s how you attract the future Lindseys and Mikaelas,” says Pete Seibert Jr., a former SSCV board member whose father co-founded the resort. “It’s in keeping with what my dad and Sarge Brown and Bob Parker wanted: for Vail to always be the best of what it was.”
Then there’s the other new development on Golden Peak: Ski & Snowboard Club Vail this season moves into its new 20,000-square-foot clubhouse at the mountain’s base area, a five-story mountain-modern masterpiece replacing a 1977-vintage headquarters long derided as an architectural eyesore.
The bottom three floors (some is still being built out) include equipment storage, locker rooms, coaches’ workstations, administrative offices, conference rooms, athlete lounges, video rooms, a gym, and a medical treatment center. In the basement: one of the country’s most advanced ski-tuning facilities, centered around an automated machine that churns out hundreds of high-performance race tunes daily for club members, as well as visiting Olympians and national team athletes (Mikaela Shiffrin has her specs pre-programmed). Paying for it all: a pair of two-story residential penthouses perched atop the building offering a 270-degree panorama of the Gore Range to the east and Vail Mountain to the south. At press time, one had sold for just over $17 million; the larger unit (5,614 square feet, 6 bedrooms, 6.5 bathrooms) was still on the market for $21.5 million, listed by The Stockton Group, Liv Sotheby’s International Realty (even though it ultimately funds a good cause, the transaction isn’t tax deductible).