First tracks: round-up of the season’s developments

A new US mega-resort

Work will begin next year to create the biggest resort in the US, the first stage of a project that could see seven existing resorts linked into a vast complex to rival those in Europe. The move focuses on a cluster of celebrated resorts in northern Utah, which until now have remained distinct commercial entities – despite in some cases being separated by only a fence.

Last month, Vail Resorts, the Colorado-based company that operates 11 resorts across the US, announced that it had acquired Park City Mountain Resort at a cost of $182.5m. Vail said it would upgrade lifts and restaurants, develop 687,000 sq ft of residential and commercial space, and include Park City on its “Epic Pass”, a season-long lift pass covering all its resorts as well as several in Europe and one in Japan.

More significant, however, is the fact that the previous year the company also took on a 350-year lease of the neighbouring resort, Canyons. Now it plans to connect the two to create a “seamless” area with a total of 7,300 skiable acres of terrain – at least 1,800 acres more than any other US resort.

“The chance to own both these resorts and connect them – something that’s never been achieved in all these years despite it being relatively easy – that was a transformational opportunity,” Rob Katz, chief executive of Vail Resorts, told the FT.

In fact, the link-up requires just one lift, which will sit on land already controlled by the company and will travel over a ridge and down the other side. Construction is due to start next summer, subject to local government approval, but the Park City-Canyons link-up could be just the start. Plans have already been drawn up to connect the new resort with Deer Valley, Solitude, Brighton, Alta and Snowbird, a feat that could be achieved with the construction of just four new lifts. Together the resorts would comprise around 18,000 acres, with 100 lifts (still far fewer than France’s Trois Vallées but with a much better chance of the deep powder for which Utah is famous). The resorts all stress that what’s being called the “ONE Wasatch” project remains a concept dependent on a series of government approvals, but Nathan Rafferty, president of the Ski Utah marketing body, says that Vail’s acquisition of Park City will “turbocharge” the process. “That’s something that obviously entails many more complications but we’re very supportive of it,” says Katz.

News of a second major shake-up in the area broke earlier this month, when Deer Valley announced that it was buying Solitude. Though Deer Valley denied that the purchase was in response to Vail’s acquisition of Park City, it will clearly give the company more bargaining power as ONE Wasatch moves forward.

onewasatch.com

The ski skirt

The Ortovox Lavarella Skirt

An item of skiwear last fashionable in Victorian days is set to make a comeback: the ski skirt. Short, lightweight skirts, insulated with down or synthetic fibre, have suddenly appeared in shops across the Alps, alongside padded shorts for men. “We saw some coming on to the scene last year, and they were big sellers – we couldn’t get enough from our suppliers,” says Hans Conrad, chief executive of Sport Conrad, a leading German retailer. “This year all the brands are making them.”

It’s a trend that stems from ski touring racers, who often wear thin Lycra suits but slip on insulated skirts or shorts while they wait on the start line. Other back-country skiers have adopted the idea, putting skirts or shorts over their trousers while having lunch or carrying out rope-work.

Now the look is crossing into the mainstream. “Women are even wearing the skirts over jeans when it’s cold downtown,” says Conrad. “It’s pretty much become a fashion item.”

The Ortovox Lavarella Skirt, €149; sport-conrad.com

Magic maps

Piste maps are notoriously unreliable and difficult to follow but a new smartphone app, which goes on sale in December, may have the answer. Fatmap, a new company set up by a group of tech entrepreneurs and Chamonix-based mountain guides, uses satellite imagery and aerial photography to build three-dimensional terrain models of ski resorts. As well as being easier to interpret than conventional maps, these will enable users to pinpoint their location using GPS. More unusually, in addition to showing pistes, the maps will also mark off-piste routes and allow users to make “3D fly-throughs” of the descent before they set out. Seven French and Swiss resorts will be available at launch, with more to be added over the winter. The app costs £2.99 per resort for the piste version, £9.99 for off-piste.

Fatmap.com

A retro reboot

In the early 1970s, the ski resort to be seen at was neither St Moritz, Gstaad nor Verbier but funky, futuristic Avoriaz. Built from scratch in the late 1960s on a high-mountain plateau in France’s Haute-Savoie, this was the car-free ski resort of tomorrow, a cluster of tall buildings whose sloping sides, clad in red cedar shingles, blended in with the surrounding rock faces.

The Hôtel des Dromonts in Haute-savoie, which reopens in December

At the resort’s heart was the louche Hôtel des Dromonts, the work of a young architect called Jacques Labro, which featured a sunken bar, porthole windows, sloping roofs and organic-shaped arches. In 1973 the scene was completed by the arrival of the annual International Fantasy Film Festival, which brought a host of stars to the Dromonts.

By the 1990s, however, Avoriaz had morphed from jet-set to family destination, dominated by affordable apartments, and the Dromonts had lost its sparkle. Now, though, the hotel has been taken over by Maisons & Hôtels Sibuet, the family-owned group that runs nine properties, including the five-star Les Fermes de Marie in Megève and the Altapura in Val Thorens. It promises a “radical reconfiguration” to incorporate state-of-the-art facilities while retaining a 1960s-inspired style. Reopening on December 12, it will have 35 rooms, two restaurants and a new terrace for après-ski.

Doubles from €200; maisons-hotels-sibuet.com

Photographs: Fred Hayes/Getty Images; Michael Müller/KME Studios

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