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PARK CITY, Utah (AP) -- Utah's largest ski resort compressed tens of millions of dollars of new development into six months and opened Friday with North America's first heated chair lift.
The Canyons Resort at Park City began running what it calls the Orange Bubble Express, with seats that can warm up to about 55 degrees.
A bubble shield keeps the wind off skiers zipping three-quarters of the way up the mountain in nine minutes.
Other changes also make the village base more welcoming for skiers, said Mike Goar, managing director at The Canyons.
The resort expanded snowmaking coverage and plans to open an eighth peak, Iron Mountain, for skiing around Christmas.
The Canyons' main lift, an eight-passenger gondola, was moved closer to an open-air lift with room for eight that picks up skiers from a parking lot.
The new development is the biggest for a Utah ski area this year.
"We've been pretty darn busy," Goar said. "It was about solving some of the challenges" getting skiers on the mountain more quickly.
The four-seat bubble chair increases lift capacity from the resort's base by about 50 percent, he said.
The manufacturer, Doppelmayr CTEC Inc. of Salt Lake City, calls it the first chair lift with heated seats.
When fully opened, The Canyons will offer 4,000 acres of lift-serviced terrain for skiers, the most of any of Utah's 14 ski areas.
Powder Mountain, with 7,000 acres about 20 miles northeast of Ogden, is bigger than The Canyons. But skiers there have to climb, shuffle along mountain ridges or ride snowcats to reach much of the terrain.
Powder says it is expanding its popular snowcat-assisted backcountry service.
Eagle Point in southern Utah will be the state's last resort to open, Dec. 15.
All other resorts have opened for the season.
Among other Utah resorts sprucing up their mountains:
- Park City Mountain Resort added snowmaking on the lower mountain and brighter lights for more night skiing terrain. The resort spent $4.5 million on those and other improvements, and is saving on more efficient night lighting.
- Deer Valley invested $4.5 million in mountain amenities this year. It updated the interiors of ski lodges and replaced equipment including snowmaking machines with more energy-efficient models.
- Brighton Resort says it has invested $5 million in ski lifts in recent years.
- Alta, Utah's legendary powder palace, planted more trees, shrubs, mountain flowers and grasses over summer. It upgraded snowmaking capacity and overhauled a quaint rope tow that pulls skiers between base areas.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)