Heavenly Aims For Skiing's Peak

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Buoyed by a hefty infusion of cash from its new owner, Heavenly Ski Resort wants to climb into the top 10 of the nation's ski areas, becoming a destination resort instead of a day-use facility.

"We know we've got a winner on our hands," Vail Resorts Inc. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Adam Aron told a gathering at Harrah's Lake Tahoe on Wednesday night.

"There are 700 ski resorts in North America and 500 in the United States," he said. "All five of ours are in the top 15."

This month's issue of SKI magazine ranks Heavenly 13th, up four spots from last year's list.

Vail Resorts, based in Vail, Colo., bought Heavenly in May 2002 from financially struggling American Skiing Co., now of Park City, Utah.

Vail since has spent more than $16 million to add and upgrade restaurants, improve snowmaking and build a high-speed detachable quad chairlift. When it bought the resort, Vail said it would spend some $25 million over five years to improve Heavenly.

"This year, we'll continue improving our food and beverage operations, the on-mountain infrastructure and our guest service, all of which should help to continue propelling us to a higher level in the eyes of our guests," Heavenly Chief Operating Officer Blaise Carrig said.

"We need to work harder on the people side to get where we are going," he said.

Heavenly's partnership with the exclusive Marriott Grand Residence Club time shares in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., and the upscale shops and restaurants in the nearby Heavenly Village were helping solidify its goal of becoming a destination resort, Aron said.

Next on the improvements list is the aging California Lodge, which is scheduled to be replaced with upgraded facilities, possibly in a village concept mirroring the Marriott property.

Eating areas also are targeted for improvement.

"Some of the restaurants were a little bit tired and we're giving three of them a facelift," Aron said.

Heavenly, which straddles the Nevada-California line, is the only bistate ski resort in the country and soars some 3,000 feet above Lake Tahoe.

Heavenly operates 29 lifts and a year-round $25 million, eight-passenger gondola. It is Vail's first resort outside Colorado. The other are Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone.


On the Net: Heavenly Ski Resort's Web site: http://www.skiheavenly.com

Vail Resorts Inc.'s Web site: http://www.vailresorts.com