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Skiing / Bob Lochner : New Owner in Vail Claims That Bigger Is Definitely Better at Resort

January 22, 1986|BOB LOCHNER

According to the official propaganda brochure for Vail, Colo., "bigger is definitely better." Well, maybe yes, maybe no.

But you won't get George N. Gillett Jr., the resort's new full-time owner and part-time traveling salesman, to say anything negative about his current $40-million expansion program.

Not after he had already spent $55.2 million last summer to acquire the place (along with nearby Beaver Creek) from Goliad Oil and Gas Co. The money, he says, is being spent to provide a more enjoyable skiing experience at a complex that becomes Colorado's fourth-largest city in the winter.

"Everything is concentrated on the customer," Gillett said in Los Angeles the other day. Borrowing from computer lexicon, he called his four new detachable quad chairlifts "user friendly," meaning that they slow down to about one-third speed to let four skiers board and unload from each chair.

The longest of the four quads, called Vista Bahn Express, has a bubble that protects skiers on the ride to Mid-Vail, from where another quad connects to the top of Vail Mountain. Total time in the air: 14 minutes, contrasted with 40 minutes on the old lifts they replaced.

"This has cut lift lines and the waiting time between runs dramatically," Gillett said.

Vail's new boss heads the Gillett Group, which also owns five television stations, the 21-paper Sun Newspaper Group in Ohio, three commercial printing companies and the Packerland meat-packing firm in Wisconsin. His principal residence has been in Nashville, but he is now spending most of his time in Vail, taking personal charge of his latest acquisition, Vail Associates.

Gillett came to California, he said, "because we need help," which translates into skiers.

The four new lifts added 30% to Vail's uphill capacity, and so Gillett is seeking more bodies from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas and Houston--the resort's main markets--to fill those extra seats.

He also faces competition from other ski complexes in Colorado, which last summer spent a total of $128.5 million on assorted improvements. Vail's share of that was about $17 million, leaving another $23 million for the remainder of its five-year expansion program.

A portion of this sum will be used to develop new terrain in China Bowl and Siberia Bowl, and another chunk will go toward preparations for the 1989 World Alpine Ski Championships, which Vail was awarded last spring.

To facilitate getting skiers into Vail without having them drive the 110 miles from Denver (past the tempting closer resorts of Summit County), the runway at Eagle County Airport, just west of Beaver Creek, is being expanded from 5,000 to 7,000 feet, and Gillett said, "A major airline is planning to provide nonstop jet service there from both California and Texas next season."

This should also help Gillett make the rounds on his sales trips and get back in time to keep everyone at Vail as "user friendly" as possible.

Skiing Notes

The three Southland resorts still in operation this week--Goldmine, Sierra Summit and Mountain High--report 8 to 20 inches of "spring" snow on their slopes. . . . In the Sierra, where the surface is a combination of packed powder and hardpack, Mammoth Mountain has 71 inches, June Mountain 36 inches, Badger Pass at Yosemite 26 inches and Sierra Summit 27 to 37 inches. . . .The Peugeot Grand Prix men's pro ski tour will make its fourth stop of the season at Heavenly Valley, Calif., for races Saturday and Sunday. . . . The four-day South Lake Tahoe Winter Carnival will get under way next Tuesday at Sierra Ski Ranch with various races, parties and contests planned. . . . Taos Ski Valley, N.M., will be the scene next Monday and Tuesday of the Vintage giant slalom and reunion, bringing together former Olympic skiers, veterans of the 10th Mountain Division and other pioneers in the sport, including Dick Durrance, Bob Parker, Otto Lang and of course, Taos owner Ernie Blake. . . . Mountain High will play host to the third annual Steve Kanaly Invitational celebrity ski races Feb. 2, with all proceeds benefiting the March of Dimes.

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