Sierra Resorts Sport New & Improved Features

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Diamond Peak cranked up its brand new, high-speed chair lift on Thursday.

To the south, four new lifts went in over the summer at Heavenly.

They're further improvements industry officials hope will help energize the area's reputation as a world-class ski destination.

"It's critical," said John Wagnon, Heavenly's vice president of marketing and president of Ski Lake Tahoe, a coalition of Tahoe resorts.

"When you look at our competitors nationwide - Colorado, Utah, Whistler - you see the kind of commitment and investment that's been made at those resorts, and we need to do the same thing to compete in that arena."

At other Tahoe-area resorts, Sugar Bowl has a new parking structure; Kirkwood boasts a new skier services center, and Squaw Valley is opening the second phase of its condominium-shopping complex.

When he first started work at Diamond Peak in 1996, resort manager Ed Youmans recognized the need to replace the old lift that took 11 minutes to haul skiers to the top of Crystal Peak.

"It's nice to see it happen," Youmans said as the new lift whisked skiers up the mountain on the resort's opening day. "I wasn't sure I was ever going to see that."

A $2.8 million expenditure by the Incline Village General Improvement District, which owns Diamond Peak, ensured he would.

The new lift can haul skiers and snowboarders from its base to the top of the mountain in about 5 minutes, less than half the time it took the old one.

Youmans said he's confident the new lift will give Diamond Peak some business lost to other resorts with faster lifts already in operation.

"It should be a bit of a draw, I would think," Youmans said.

At Heavenly, Wagnon says such selling points are needed.

His resort added four lifts over the summer as part of some $9.5 million in improvements at the property purchased by Vail Resorts in 2002.

Three of the lifts are for beginners and near the top of the gondola that links Heavenly's slopes to the Stateline casino strip.

The fourth is a high-speed detachable much like the new one at Diamond Peak.

Detachable lifts separate from the cable in the terminals to allow passengers time to get on and off while providing a fast ride on line.

"The destination skiers in particular have very high expectations, and their expectations go up every year," Wagnon said. "The detachable, high-speed lift has become the expectation of experienced and discriminating skiers."