Heavenly goals as high as its mountain | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Heavenly goals as high as its mountain

Kathryn Reed, Tahoe Daily Tribune

A diamond in the rough. That is how Heavenly Ski Resort sees itself.

With an infusion of cash available now that it comes under the umbrella of Vail Resorts, the South Shore resort is ready to rid itself of the image of being a destination resort with day-use facilities.

“Next year we want to do the mother of all mother lodges. We want three world-class eating facilities,” said Chief Operating Officer Blaise Carrig as he addressed Leadership Lake Tahoe earlier this month.

He is on a quest to make Heavenly a true destination resort, which he hopes will also propel it into the top 10 of North America’s best ski resorts. The latest poll had it No. 13, up four spots from last year.

The California Lodge is targeted to be replaced with updated facilities, perhaps with a village concept.

The ski area is in the process of updating its master plan with the cooperation of the U.S. Forest Service and Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

“We would like the tram to stay until we know where the resort is going,” Carrig said.

The current plan on the books is to replace the tram with a major detachable lift. The tram can carry 600 people an hour.

With the California buildings likely to get a complete makeover, that is another reason for rethinking what lifts are going where. There might be a need for a lift to serve this new village instead of having one where the tram is.

Vail invested about $16 million in its newest acquisition in the past two years and intends to keep funneling money this way.

One fast lift will replace two slower ones to serve skiers and boarders as soon as the snow flies. The tram restaurant will be remodeled and better food will be served throughout the mountain as well as improved service, according to Carrig.

He knows the mountain has naturally wonderful views and terrain, but admits the focus needs to be on the whole ski experience. This means Heavenly turning its attention to people — employees and guests.

“We need to work harder on the people side to get where we are going,” Carrig said.

Heavenly employs about 250 people in summer and 1,500 in winter. They often deal with about 10,000 guests a day.

Between 25 to 28 percent of them were riding the gondola midweek last year, peaking at about 37 percent during the busiest times. Carrig hopes to increase those numbers to 40 to 50 percent.

One complaint the resort received was the lack of ski school availability at the top of the gondola. That will change this season with people able to book reservations in the Heavenly Village.

One thing Heavenly is doing to get the destination visitors here is to enter a partnership of sorts with East Coast resorts. Carrig said research shows 28 percent of the people on the other coast come west for a vacation. Even though Vail Resorts has no intentions of buying a resort in the east, there are privately held areas that it can partner with to attract those skiers.

To keep its workers happy, Heavenly is working with Tahoe Tomorrow to see if employee housing could be obtained.

— Kathryn Reed may be reached at kreed@tahoedailytribune.com or (530) 541-3880, ext. 251.

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