On the Slopes by Sam Bauman: Heavenly boss leads writers' tour of the mountains

Blaise Carrig

Blaise Carrig

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When you have the chance to ski with the boss of a mountain resort, you jump on at it, even if the Olympics beckon.

Olympics aside, Blaise Carrig, chief operating officer at Heavenly and co-president of Vail Resorts mountain operations, recently led a group of local ski writers on a tour starting at 7:45 a.m. and winding up at the Gunbarrel Grill at about 11:30.

Also leading the charge was Russ Pecoraro, communications director at Heavenly along with his assistant Aimi Xistra, plus a couple of Heavenly ski instructors.

The early morning skiing (we were up before the Gondola was open for business) on freshly groomed runs was an exceptionally pleasurable experience not enjoyed since the days of teaching at Boulder base when we would make an early morning run from the top of Olympic to the Boulder base.

Bliss! No crowds, the snow untouched by skis or boards, the sun bright and the winds light. We set a good pace from run one, down Big Dipper and then over to Comet. And we skied or rode everything except the Galaxy trail, deemed a little slow for the crowd.

We switched to the California side and rolled on Holy Roller, a nice blue that works the quads nicely (or at least it did mine) before taking Sky Express to the Ridge trail, by now well skied or boarded. I got a couple of tips about my so-so skiing from the accompanying instructors ("carve that uphill ski from the start of the turn").

We then retired to the Gunbarrel Grill a lunch the likes of which I haven't enjoyed ever at any mountain resort, not even Utah's posh Deer Valley.

Then Carrig cranked up the laptop and gave us a run through of what's ahead for Heavenly and what effect the resort has on the local economy. It was an education for someone who thought of the resort only in terms of how's the snow and what chairs are running.

In a response to a query about the lift ticket prices, Carrig pointed out that "We are Vail Resorts aim to offer the 'experience of a lifetime' with constantly expanded facilities even for those who are not ready to ski."

The million-dollar tubing facility at the top of the Gondola lift is an example of that. "People who come up the Gondola are often tourists without any skills in skiing or riding. The tubing facility gives them an idea of life on the snow."

He also noted that Vail wants the same for its employees - "the experience of a lifetime." He noted that Heavenly employs 158 people full-time all year, 325 in the summer and 1,500 in the winter.

Last season due to the economic hard times compensation was reduced by 2 percent to staffers but compensation was balanced with a stock opportunity in Vail Resorts.

As part of its commitment to Tahoe, Carrig said the resort offers four full-time scholarships annually with 35 students currently enjoying the benefits, with a total of $140,000 thus far.

Heavenly also participates in local charities by donating lift tickets as raffle prizes and funds a Heavenly ski and rider programs for local kids.

On the horizon for Heavenly, Carrig said, is a new lodge at the top of the Gondola serving both winter and summer visitors. And the creation of a new J lift at Gondola will allow winter sports folk to make the trip to Nevada even when wind conditions put the Sky Express lift on hold.

Further in the future will be the replacement of the current fixed two-seat Galaxy lift with a quad detachable high-speed chair. This will open a largely underused section of the mountain to more guests; the old two-seater discourages skiing Galaxy now.

Heavenly is currently rated No. 1 in guest services, said Carrig, and "we constantly seek to make mountain sport safe as part of the 'experience of a lifetime.'" He cited the corporation rule that all employees must wear a helmet on the slopes while working.

And those of us who have skied Vail resorts in Colorado, he cleared up one point about Arapaho Basin, highest ski resort in the lower 48 as it sits on the Continental Divide (and it's where I learned during military service with lift tickets $4).

"We had to give up on buying A-Basin because of local laws when we bought Breckenridge and the other Colorado resorts, but we help promoted A-Basin as part of our operations."

Not many resort executives would take time out during the busiest season to entertain a group of ski and board writers. Guess it's part of Vails's "experience of a lifetime."

Learn to Ski & Ride Week March 8-12

After watching the Winter Olympics are you ready to learn a new snow sport? How about skiing or snowboarding? Diamond Peak is offering an amazing deal March 8-12. Learn to ski and ride for only $29! First timers and novices get a beginner lift ticket, a lesson and rentals for only $29.

Diamond Peak is a great place to learn with wide, easy to navigate slopes and professionally trained ski and snowboard instructors.

Diamond Peak's lack of crowds, non-intimidating environment and friendly staff will make a first experience unforgettable and a solid foundation for a new sport addiction. The first-time beginner package costs $69 for a one hour 45-minute lesson, rental equipment and a lift ticket, but during March 8-12th you get all of this for only $29, a $40 savings.

There's plenty of room for everyone. This special is available for ages 7 and up; lessons start at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Best to arrive at Diamond Peak one hour before lesson time. Learn to Ski and Burton Learn to Ride Week offer is not transferable to any other dates.

• Contact Sam Bauman at sambauman@att.net or 841-7818.


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