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The Rise of the Mega-Resort: Is This the Future of Skiing?

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The winter of 2014-2015 was big: huge snow for the East Coast, big moves by veteran industry player Vail Resorts, and an historic drought on the West Coast. With the latest announcement out of California that Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, LLC plans to connect Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows with a gondola, it looks like skiing is going to get even bigger. A combined Squaw Alpine resort would clock in at a whopping 6,000 skiable acres, making it one of the largest ski areas in North America. Squaw's announcement comes on the heels of another blockbuster plan released earlier this year by Vail Resorts to combine Park City Mountain Resort and Canyons Resort into a single, 7,300-acre ski resort. Indeed, since the late 1990s the ski industry has lived and died by a single maxim: bigger is better. A single season pass now provides skiing at more mountains than ever, skiers and snowboarders can access more terrain in a single day than ever imagined, and the long-proposed idea for a European-inspired, 18,000-acre ski resort in Utah doesn't seem that far-fetched. Welcome to the era of the mega-resort.

Historically, America's biggest ski areas were no slouches; with thousands of acres and an ever-growing number of lifts, the industry's biggest players knew that skiers loved the idea of wide-open runs and fewer lift lines. Vail Mountain was long known as the biggest ski area in America and the resort further cemented the title by adding additional areas like Blue Sky Basin in 1999. Today, Vail Mountain remains one of the largest single ski areas in the world with more than 5,200 skiable acres available.

In March 1997, Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation (which owned Whistler) and Intrawest (which owned Blackcomb), merged to create the biggest ski area in North America at 8,171 acres. In 2008, the resort built the world record-breaking PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola, linking the two mountains with a 4.4-kilometre engineering marvel.

The race to combine individual ski areas into giant mega-resorts continued in 2013, when Boyne USA and CrossHarbor Financial acquired Moonlight Basin. Together with Spanish Peaks, Moonlight Basin and Big Sky Resort merged to create the largest ski area in the United States at the time. Operating under the Big Sky brand, the unified ski area now boasts 5,750 skiable acres and a 4,350 vertical drop.

Vail Resorts aims to reclaim the title of "Biggest Skiing in America" with their $50 million investment to combine Utah's Park City Mountain Resort and Canyons Resort. With construction starting soon on an eight-passenger, high-speed gondola to connect the two ski areas, the new Park City Mountain Resort and "Canyons at Park City" will debut in fall 2015 and clock in at more than 7,300 acres.

More on Vail Resorts:
10 Fast Facts On The Ski Industry's Biggest Player: Vail Resorts
Colorado Boosts Vail Resorts' Profits, Tahoe Lags Behind
Vail Resorts Goes International With Purchase of Australia's Perisher Ski Resort
What It Means To Ski in a Vail-Dominated World
CEO Admits that Vail Resorts Wants to Take Over World

To be sure, there are huge obstacles before the Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows plan comes to fruition. And while a combined Squaw Alpine ski area may not be able to rival Park City in terms of acreage, it shows how much weight ski industry competitors place on size. No matter the snow conditions, more skiable acres can be a boon to marketers.

No one understands this better than the ski industry veterans at Ski Utah, promoters of the ONE Wasatch plan to combine 7 Utah ski areas into a connected resort encompassing 18,000 acres and 100 chairlifts. The individual resorts within ONE Wasatch will still retain their own identities and personalities, but there's no doubt attracting visitors is a key element of ONE Wasatch. Just ask Les 3 Vallées in France, the biggest ski area in the world, how important size is to their marketing campaigns.

But does a bigger ski area always result in better skiing? The jury's still out. While more acreage does spread people around the hill and offer an infinite array of potential powder stashes, these mega-resorts aren't immune to massive lift lines, bottlenecks, or poor snow conditions. Curbed Ski has had epic days at Vail, Big Sky, or Whistler, to be sure. Endless powder turns, tree runs that no one knows about, and an insane amount of vertical make the mega-resort a pleasure to ski. But we've also had all-time ski days at resorts like Jackson Hole, Telluride, Crested Butte or Solitude, where the terrain is top notch but the skiable acreage measures but a fraction of 2015's new class of mega-resorts.

So tell us Curbediverse, who's next on the mega-resort watch list? Do you think the trend to combine ski areas into 6,000, 8,000, or even 18,000-acre behemoths will continue? Let us know in the comments.

· The Ultimate Guide to Buying the Best Season Pass [Curbed Ski]
· Industry Expert Says 31% of Ski Areas Are Dying [Curbed Ski]
· Just How Big is Utah's Plan for a Mega Ski Resort? [Curbed Ski]
· 14 Ways to Say Goodbye To Winter [Curbed Ski]
· The Snow Lover's Bucket List [Curbed Ski]