The Hunt for Vail’s Mega Lift Line: Will The Holiday Weekend Bring It Back?

February 15, 2020
This line at the Mountain Top Express lift at Vail Mountain took about eight minutes to get through on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020.This line at the Mountain Top Express lift at Vail Mountain took about eight minutes to get through on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020.Nathaniel Minor/CPR News
This line at the Mountain Top Express lift at Vail Mountain took about eight minutes to get through on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020.

Last weekend, Peter Fell, a skier from the Denver area, waited for an hour and a half in Vail Ski Resort’s massive lift line. Videos of the multi-hour wait went viral on social media, after something like three feet of snow fell in 24 hours last weekend and attracted a swarm of powder-hungry skiers.

“Three feet of powder -- anybody who’s a skier wants that,” he said.

I met Fell in pursuit of a pressing question: After last weekend’s lift line apocalypse at Vail Mountain, would the megaline make a reappearance? Sure, Vail says the storm was one of the five biggest in the resort’s five-decade history. But Saturday is the start of a three-day weekend, usually among the busiest at ski resorts. Would there be a repeat today? People pay good money to ski, and I needed to witness for myself whether they were going to get their money’s worth. 

I arrived at Vail before 7 a.m., to beat the promised traffic jam CDOT warns will overwhelm I-70 this weekend. I checked out Gondola One, where lift lines stretched well past an hour last Saturday. It’s empty. So were Mountaintop Express, High Noon and Northwoods Express.

When I met Fell in the Chair Five lift line, we waited just a few minutes before we were on our way back up. He noted that this Saturday is a blackout day on the cheaper Epic Local Pass, which also contributed to the quieter feel.

“It’s perfect. Conditions are great,” he said. “Lines are minimal.”

The conditions that produced last weekend’s megaline are elusive. Aside from that dramatic snowfall, Fell, who says he’s skied Vail for 15 years, explains that the structure of the resort meant skiers were trapped. Chair five is at the bottom of a bowl, so it’s your only way back out, unless you hike out.  “I was mad at myself for making the decisions that led me to get to that chair,” he says. 

And nearby terrain was closed for avalanche mitigation work, which he says funneled a lot of people to this lift. I can see now how one could find themselves down here before realizing they’ve made an awful mistake. You can’t really see the bottom from the top. In a blog post this week, Vail Mountain COO Beth Howard said they thought about metering access to this area last week but ultimately decided against it. 

“We also tried to warn guests about the line, but fell way short in our effectiveness – and even when we did, guests tended to ski right past our staff because they wanted to enjoy the untouched powder,” she wrote.

A couple hours later, I returned to the Mountaintop Express Lift line, where the line has ballooned to an eight-minute wait. “It’s pretty typical for what we expect for a holiday,” says John Plack, a Vail Mountain spokesman.

John Mazza, who’s in town from Providence, Rhode Island and also waiting in line, said he walked right onto the gondola too. I asked him if seeing the videos from last week gave him any second thoughts. “It didn’t. I was expecting it to be worse than it is, because it’s a holiday weekend,” he said. “But I knew the video from last weekend was due to pretty crazy, out-of-the-ordinary circumstances.” 

Mazza’s a forgiving guy, but he’s right. My hunt for the megaline came up empty, and all I was left with was some great treelines on a bluebird day. A real shame.

See a wild lift line this weekend? Tell us on Twitter @CPRNews.

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