Heavenly improvements could come with higher costs

Next season, Vail Resorts Inc. has continued high hopes for Heavenly Ski Resort, with a pledge of $10 million in capital improvements that may include two high-speed quad chairlifts.

But the improvements will probably come with higher ticket prices, perhaps as much as 15 percent.

Heavenly has applied to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency for permits to install two high-speed quads to replace the Canyon and Ridge chairlifts on the California side of the ski operation.

If approved, the quads may reduce long lift lines that sometimes form at peak times at the Sky Express chairlift to the top of the mountain.

After releasing the quarterly earnings report to investors Thursday, Vail Resorts Chief Executive Officer Adam Aron told the Tahoe Daily Tribune he would also be interested in changing the grades of some catwalks, but he declined to say where.

The catwalk that crosses from California to Nevada has a slight uphill slope.

Heavenly has applied to the U.S. Forst Service for other components of improvements planned for next season. Last year, Heavenly completed $6 million in improvements to its California Base, Boulder and Stagecoach lodges.

Aron also declined to say where the proposed chairlifts are going, in addition to the restaurant Heavenly hopes to build this summer.

The Evans Construction Group of Avon, Colo., placed an advertisement in the Tribune promoting requests for proposals for subcontractors to build a 2,850-square-foot restaurant at the deck near the Sky Express quad. Heavenly currently has a snack concession stand and barbecue area there.

Aron said the construction firm was premature in its calls for proposals, adding the restaurant may or may not be built this summer or next.

Heavenly President Blaise Carrig was unavailable for comment Thursday.

Improvements may come at a price for Heavenly -- especially given last year's 12.5 percent increase in skier and snowboarder visits, for a total of 935,000.

Aron said he expects the resort to raise ticket prices.

"Heavenly is considered underpriced by as much as 15 percent. There should be a lot of room at Heavenly for healthy price increases," Aron told investors.

He commended Heavenly's marketing staff for last winter's season-pass sales, which tripled from the previous year. Vail does not break down the number of passes by individual resorts.

Aron told investors that Heavenly -- which Vail Resorts bought a year ago -- has been fully integrated into the company.

Vail also plans to make companywide cuts of $25 million to reduce expenses.


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