Vail Resorts has big plans for Wilmot Mountain, a small ski area with a 200-foot vertical drop that sits about 60 miles north of Chicago, in Wisconsin. The corporation, which acquired Wilmot in January, announced recently that it has finalized a $13 million plan for updates that "re-imagine the entire guest experience."
“We think our guests from Chicago and Milwaukee will be thrilled with the investments we are making at Wilmot for the 2016-2017 ski season, which represents one of the biggest transformations ever undertaken for a Midwestern ski area,” said Rob Katz, chairman and chief executive officer of Vail Resorts, in a press release.
This could be cause for concern for local skiers hoping the old Wilmot experience would be preserved under new ownership. When Vail picked up the self-proclaimed "Matterhorn of the West" at the beginning of the year and promised to "transform both the on-mountain and base area experience," Internet commentary started to split in two very predictable ways. One side cheered the prospect of upgrades for the well-loved, well-worn backyard mountain. The other side wrung their hands, nostalgic and fearful of the Vail-ification of Wilmot, which had been run by the Stopa family since Walter Sr. founded it in 1938. But some voices representing a middle ground rose above the din.
As Wilmot skier Carley Clegg wrote in an open letter to the mountain's new owners, Wilmot's unique culture had made her who she is, and she could hardly believe that an outside corporation would control its fate. But, she also wrote, she would be open to changes that made Wilmot a better mountain, so long as they didn’t come at the expense of its identity, symbolized by things like the cookie and mozzarella stick recipes, lunch-tray sledding policy, and slow chairs.
There's no word on what Vail officials think about lunch-tray sledding, but changes are coming.
Infrastructure upgrades for the 2016-2017 season include three new four-person chairlifts to replace existing lifts, a new rope tow for an expanded terrain park, and energy-efficient guns and pumps to increase snowmaking capacity. The alpine racing program will get a boost with improvements to the race hill and timing system.
The announcement also detailed a base area transformation—the entire lodge, including the cafeteria and Iron Kettle Restaurant, will be revamped and redesigned, modernized, and then expanded by 400 seats and a bar.
Last week, in response to this announcement, commenters on social media picked up the dialogue right where they left off, some rehashing concerns about "losing character and old cozy ski feeling of Wilmot," while others pushed back, "I'm for rustic, not rusty!"
In any case, "Wilmot is now Epic," as the mountain's website homepage reads. It's a reference to Vail's Epic Pass, which skiers can pick up for $809 to gain access to Wilmot and 13 other resorts, including Vail, Beaver Creek, and Heavenly, as well as two other Midwestern mountains. But the label is also a sign of rebranding, and a token of change barreling down the pipeline.
Vail will host a community meeting March 16 at 5:30 p.m.at the Iron Kettle to discuss these changes.