TAHOE/TRUCKEE — Vail Resorts’ plans to transform the summer experience at Heavenly Mountain Resort and Northstar California Resort could be a game-changer to bolster tourism on the north and south shores of Lake Tahoe.
The Colorado-based company plans to spend $25 million to add zip lines, ropes courses, summer tubing, climbing walls, expanded hiking and mountain biking trails, interpretive centers and the Forest Flyer, an alpine slide that winds through the forest on raised rails much like a roller coaster, at six of its large mountain resorts.
The company expects to generate an additional $7 million in earnings by creating a slate of summertime adventure activities among its six major resort properties, which stretch from the mountains of Colorado to the shores of Lake Tahoe.
Bill Cottrill, director of sales and marketing for Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel near the base of the gondola that services Heavenly Mountain Resort, says that reinvestment in summertime activities by Vail could provide a windfall for much of South Lake Tahoe.
“Heavenly is very important for South Lake Tahoe businesses; their investment is critical to the overall success of the area,” he says. “We have millions of people within a three- to five-hour drive, and having those extra activities creates additional excitement and buzz, which in turn earns more visitors. We need those extra amenities.”
The newly renovated Basecamp Hotel on the California side of South Lake Tahoe also is ideally positioned to capitalize on Vail’s push to create a summertime adventure destination at Heavenly. Brian Hunt, general manager of the 50-room property, which opened in June 2012, says summer bookings already far outpace winter bookings, and having even more people in town can increase the economic health of retailers, hoteliers and eateries throughout the south shore.
“There are way more activities for families in the summer than in the winter, and depending on what they (Vail Resorts) are actually doing on the mountain, it certainly could make a difference,” Hunt says. “We certainly will be the benefactors of more bodies coming to South Shore. The busier they are the busier we will be.”
Basecamp Hotel, which was gutted to the studs and remodeled in a “baselodge” theme, caters to adventure travelers and Lake Tahoe explorers — the exact clientele Vail Resorts seeks to draw to its resorts in the summertime.
“The more people that find themselves in this neck of the woods and are like-minded in that regard, the better off we will be,” Hunt says. “Any company looking to pump money into town, we certainly could use a little love to help bolster the economy and community.”
Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel also has a significant capital expenditure plan in place for the third quarter. The property will undergo a $5 million to $7 million renovation to upgrade each of its rooms with new carpets, wall treatments, bathrooms, televisions and other amenities. Cottrill expects work to begin in mid August or September. The property currently is in the midst of a rebranding after announcing it will drop the Embassy Suites flag in early March.
Cottrill says it’s crucial that properties throughout the Lake Tahoe Basin keep their look fresh.
“There is an expectation that the customer needs to see,” he said. “I love it when I look around town and see various businesses reinvesting in themselves or offering something unique. It helps the entire area. We have to reinvest in our product — it keeps guests looking at us and keeps them here.”
And though Lake Tahoe is world-renown for its crystal-clear water, pristine alpine beaches and hiking and biking trails, vacationers are always seeking new and exciting ways to spend vacation dollars, says Andy Chapman, chief marketing officer for the Northern Lake Tahoe Chamber CVB Resort Association.
Vail’s investment plans add to the excitement and interest of a booking summer vacations at the lake, he says, and helps put north Lake Tahoe on the frontline of summertime vacation plans.
Tourism along the North Shore received a huge boost with the addition of the Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe at Northstar, Chapman says, and it continues to gather steam with additional multi-million-dollar investment plans, such as Vail’s adventure-themed efforts or JMA Ventures’ master-planned resort at Homewood, the latter of which is on hold due to a federal court ruling asking JMA to submit a different plan.
“The traveling consumer wants the dollars spent to go in the right direction for their families, and it’s almost like Lake Tahoe is a new and undiscovered gem,” Chapman said. “When people look at us, the winter product has been put in place, and now the summertime as well. We are really seeing that core drive-in market in the Bay Area rediscovering Lake Tahoe, and now they can come up here for an extended vacation and have a good time.”