Vail’s ‘lift line apocalypse’ — and the new ski resort with a radical solution
After pictures of huge crowds went viral, another Colorado ski area is offering an extreme alternative
Vail’s ‘lift-line apocalypse’ © Reddit
Photographs and videos of what skiers in Vail dubbed the “lift line apocalypse” went viral on social media last week. The footage showed hundreds of people queuing at chairlifts over the weekend, with some of the crowds venting their frustration by booing. Denver-based television station 9 News reported some skiers had waited for 75 minutes; Powder magazine said some visitors had stood in line as long as two hours. Car parks at the resort overflowed on Saturday, with 456 cars forced to park at the roadside. The queues were the result of a storm that dumped more than three feet of snow in 48 hours, drawing large numbers of skiers while also forcing the closure of much of the area while patrollers carried out safety work. While such a big storm is relatively rare, the images of the resulting chaos were so widely shared in part because they tie-in to wider concerns about overcrowding at resorts across the US.
Many outlets described Vail’s “epic lift lines”, an oblique reference to the Epic Pass, the season-long pass introduced by Vail Resorts in 2008 which has revolutionised the US ski industry. Rather than buy an individual day ticket (currently $209 at Vail), for $969 the Epic Pass allows skiers unlimited visits all winter to the 37 ski areas owned by Vail Resorts, as well as up to a week at 41 affiliates worldwide. Its success, and that of a rival, Alterra Mountain Company’s Ikon Pass, has led to a wave of consolidation, with small, independent resorts stuggling to compete and so either selling up or entering partnerships to feature on one of the big passes. They have also led to growing visitor numbers — and queues. Washington’s Crystal Mountain Resort, for example, was sold to Alterra in 2018 and now features on the Ikon Pass. This season local skiers have repeatedly complained about overcrowding, with some driving up from Seattle only to find what the resort calls “a total park-out”, and so having to drive home.
This weekend, however, brings the launch of a new Colorado resort that can guarantee zero lift queues at all times. Bluebird Backcountry, which will operate without ski lifts This weekend, however, brings the launch of a new Colorado resort that can guarantee zero lift queues at all times. Bluebird Backcountry, a 1,200-acre area an hour’s drive north of Silverthorne, claims to be “the world’s first ski resort without any form of motorised transport”. It has a rental shop, restaurant, ski patrollers and parking areas but no lifts of any kind. Instead visitors will have to earn their turns by ski-touring up the flanks of Whiteley Peak before skiing down. The “world first” claim is wide of the mark — the Hankin-Evelyn Backcountry Recreation Area in British Columbia already functions with the same model — but if US lift lines keep growing, it could be followed by many more.