Years of hard work and dedication were celebrated on Vail Mountain this week as alpine ski racers closed out 2019 with expanded terrain on Golden Peak.

The original cut for a chair lift to the top of Golden Peak was done in the early 60s, but the lift was never installed and the cut was out of place for the last 50 years. Ski & Snowboard Club Vail (SSCV) has made numerous attempts over the years to take the original lift cut and expand training to the top of Golden Peak.

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As the oldest nonprofit in the Vail Valley, SSCV has had a fruitful relationship with Vail Resorts and the US Forest Service, founded on mutual respect and the love for skiing and the outdoors. In spite of the excellent relationship, the expansion was always two years away.

This fall, in what is believed to be the largest capital project ever undertaken globally by a ski club, SSVC embarked on two major projects. The long-desired expansion to the top of Golden Peak with a dedicated T-Bar and two trails with state-of-the art snowmaking was completed. At the same time, a new 24,000 square foot club house was developed. Remarkably, the club was able to complete these capital projects entirely with donated funds, resulting in a debt-free club going forward.

Supporters of the project, athletes and staff, along with key partners from Vail Resorts and the US Forest Service, gathered on December 30 to commemorate the event with an official ribbon cutting and inaugural ski-down on the Golden Peak Expansion, which has doubled the alpine training and racing space for SSCV.

In terms of alpine terrain, The Expansion provides approximately 30 acres of additional trail space, a brand-new surface lift, and improved snowmaking infrastructure. With these enhancements, 600 vertical feet have been added to the alpine venue, providing more than 1,700 vertical feet of total racing terrain, enough to accommodate full-length speed. The project creates two new alpine trails, plus a connector that feeds into the preexisting giant slalom start — a section of the hill known as BooBoo. 

The new T-bar has only a four minute turnaround. Photo: Brian Ogawa/SSCV

All told, the new terrain has the capacity accommodate as many as 18 slalom lanes or nine GS lanes per session. And the new Golden Peak T-Bar features a four-minute turnaround, which will optimize training sessions and increase productivity. The expanded terrain alone can host slalom racing and training with up to 60 gates.

With the current enhancements in place, SSCV expects the venue to be homologated up to men’s NorAm downhill and women’s World Cup downhill.

In addition to its use by SSCV, the new terrain will be accessible to the public at select times throughout Vail Mountain’s regular winter season.  

The project had been dreamed about in one form or another for decades, and this week’s grand opening was the culmination of tremendous collaboration between SSCV staff, board members, supporters, Vail Resorts and the US Forest Service. 

“In completing the Golden Peak Expansion, Vail Resorts and Ski & Snowboard Club Vail will create the single-best training environment in the United States,” said SSCV Executive Director Kirk Dwyer. “The expanded terrain will provide a higher-quality, safer and more-productive training arena for our athletes. We couldn’t have done it without the support from the SSCV community and the years-long dedication of Vail Resorts to this project and development of young snowsport athletes.”

In addition to the improved acreage and vertical drop, the project is designed to access higher elevations earlier and later in the season, which SSCV anticipates will make the venue an even more attractive early season training destination for visiting clubs and teams.  

“The 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,” said SSCV’s Chief Operating Officer John Hale. “It’s also the time of year when high-quality training can be most scarce.”

Whereas in the past Vail’s operating team had to make snow all the way to the base of the mountain to open the venue for early season training, now it will be possible for racers to lap the new surface lift and download Chair 6. SSCV expects to get the venue up and running several critical weeks earlier with an entirely new early season configuration.

Vail’s Vice President of Mountain Operations Greg Johnson — perhaps better known in racing circles as the long-time Birds of Prey Chief of Race and architect of the Raptor World Championship race trail at Beaver Creek Resort, among other design projects — was intimately involved in the development and design of the Golden Peak Expansion from earliest stages of the project.

“Both of the trails that come back down to the bottom of the new surface lift will work really well from a training standpoint, with the skier’s left trail (Slalom Alley) probably being a little easier than the skier’s right trail (Fall Line),” Johnson said. “It’s good to have some variety in the ability level of the trails, as it lets different athletes train at the right level. … A significant snowmaking system with up to 35 fan guns and a new pump station will allow us to get this terrain open quickly each fall once favorable temperatures arrive, leading to earlier training opportunities as well.”

Johnson said The Expansion alone (independent of the lower sections of the venue) will have the capability to host full-length slalom events at the NorAm level, with roughly 185 meters of vertical drop leading back to the base of the surface lift.

“There will also be options to run full-length speed events at a variety of levels from the top of Golden Peak all the way down to the existing base area with a vertical drop of approximately 550 meters through a third trail that connects into the existing terrain,” Johnson added. “There’s really nice terrain variety in the trail that links back to the bottom of Golden Peak, which is always important for speed events, and it’s exciting to know that the club and our sport will have these enhanced training and event opportunities moving forward … With all the traveling I have done to events around the world, I know it will quite simply be a superb venue from a club and athletic viewpoint.”

At the base of the hill, SSCV is nearing completion of a new landmark clubhouse facility, which has also been in the works for decades. The new structure will host 24,000 square feet of SSCV facilities, such as enhanced equipment storage, coaches’ workstations, administrative offices, conference rooms, athlete lounges, video rooms, warm-up/warm-down rooms, a state-of-the-art tuning facility, a gym and medical treatment center.

“The Expansion and clubhouse represent incredible progress that is happening at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail,” said SSCV Chief Operating Officer John Hale. “These are projects that have long been dreamed about at SSCV, and it’s been a thrill to watch them become reality before our eyes. But none of it matters without great coaching, so we’ve taken substantial steps over the last few years to hire and retain top-tier coaches at all levels of the program, and it’s been exciting to see the progress happen for our athletes in real time.”

Portions of this article were provided by Ski & Snowboard Club Vail.