By Jason Smith
There is a brisk chill in the air as the anticipation of the crowd is growing. The line has almost stretched back to the parking lot. People have been lined up all morning patiently waiting for this moment. Everyone eagerly watches as the lift operators talk on their radios. The lift operator gets the go ahead and opens the gates for the cheering masses. It is opening day at Snowbird.
This year marks Snowbird’s 44th year of operation and they have some new additions in store for skiers and snowboarders visiting the resort this year. The first is a new radio frequency identification (RFID) pass that can be scanned just by skiing through the scanner gates. This means no more searching through jackets to find your passes in the lift line. The second is a brand new, 23,000 square foot, two-story facility located at the summit of Hidden Peak. The first level will house a cafeteria-style restaurant with interior seating for up to 400 guests and a 10,000 square foot heated exterior deck for extra seating on the sunny days. The second level will be space available for private functions, weddings and group meetings.
As the massive crowd works its way to the Aerial Tram through the new RFID ticket scanning gates another roar can be heard in the distance from the Gadzoom chairlift as it opens for skiers and snowboarders. Once through the scanning gates, everyone packs into the Tram like happy little Arc’Teryx-clad sardines. The Tram door closes and the Tram operator gets a little “woo” of excitement from the Tram riders.
The new RFID pass system is an attempt to ease the lift lines on those busy days. Snowbird legend and snow condition expert, Guru Dave Powers, was excited about the new system and said, “The new pass scanners were super-fast,” and had the added bonus of not having to dig a pass out of a jacket which he added, “Was a very nice touch.”
The telltale beep of the Tram sounds and the Tramcar starts its way up the mountain. The Tram glides over the Peruvian Gulch ski area, which unfortunately is not open just yet as it has not received enough snow. However, there seems to be a solid coverage meaning the opening of Peruvian is not too far off. The Tram lurches over the third tram tower aptly nicknamed “Tower 3” and there it is, the crown jewel of Snowbird’s 2015-2016 improvements: a brand new lodge and meeting area residing at the top of Hidden Peak.
The Tram pulls into the summit station where the Tram operator quiets down the excited crowd to tell them the open runs and lifts. As the Tram operator finishes his speech the packed Tramcar explodes in a loud roar and the crowd rushes out the door to get to the slopes. Once outside of the Tram skiers can get a better view the massive new building as it towers over the Tram summit station and the ski-patrol warming hut. The building has an incredible majesty about it with the sun gleaming off the massive glass windows. One almost forgets that this building was built at 11,000 feet of altitude and is the highest chairlift served guest facility in North America.
Local skier Maddy Kidd was less impressed. “The new lodge is great, but it is kind of a bummer when you get off the Tram and the view of the back side of the mountain is blocked by a giant building.” Although the view of the backside is blocked Kidd says she cannot really judge the new facility until it is open and she can see it once it is completed.
Finally being able to click into a pair of skis or strap into a snowboard is something skiers and snowboarders dream of during the summer nights and opening day is the day they can finally experience it once again. The view from the summit of Hidden Peak offers a great place to click in or strap in as well as granting access to nearly all of Snowbird’s available terrain. For now, only Gadzoom, the Tram and Chickadee are available for skiing and riding but more lifts are scheduled to begin opening around the beginning of December. All of the base lifts are equipped with the new RFID scanning system and the new lodge is scheduled to open December 15th just in time for the holiday season. It is shaping up to be a big year for Snowbird and all of its customers. So get up there and shred!
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