A Lost Ski Area with a 3S Gondola

Abandoned towers for a Doppelmayr detachable quad at the Vall Fosca Mountain Resort in Spain.   Photo Credit:  Alfonso Pedrero Muñoz on Panoramio.
Abandoned towers for a Doppelmayr detachable quad at the Vall Fosca Mountain Resort in Spain. Photo Credit: Alfonso Pedrero Muñoz on Panoramio.

There are closed ski resorts with old, abandoned lifts rotting away all over the world.  But a remote mountain in Spain takes the lost ski area to a new level with tens of millions of dollars of half-completed lifts (including a 3S gondola) that never opened.  Doppelmayr partially built three lifts at the Vall Fosca Mountain Resort and abandoned them after the developer went bankrupt at the height of the 2008 financial crisis.  It’s a fascinating story of boom and bust all too common in the ski industry.

An abandoned 3S gondola terminal on the side of the road at the Vall Fosca Mountain Resort in Spain.  Photo source: http://monaxmontagne.blogspot.fr/2012/08/du-tourmalet-la-vall-fosca.html
An abandoned 3S gondola terminal on the side of a road at the Vall Fosca Mountain Resort in Spain. Photo credit.

Construction began back in 2006 and the resort was scheduled to open for the 2008-09 ski season.  The plan included a €230 million pedestrian village with 965 homes at 4,000 feet.  A 3S gondola was to connect the village to a new ski resort with four chairlifts.  At the time, only Val d’Isere and Kitzbuhel had Doppelmayr’s tri-cable gondola technology and Vall Fosca was destined to have the first 3S outside of the Alps.  That title ended up going to Whistler-Blackcomb.

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Snow King’s New Lift Opens This Weekend

Snow King Mountain is a busy place.
Snow King Mountain is a busy place with crews simultaneously building a chairlift, mountain coaster, base lodge and alpine slide.

Snow King Mountain and Doppelmayr load tested the new Rafferty quad chairlift last week.  It will open along with a revamped alpine slide this weekend.  The opening is about 15 days behind schedule – not bad considering the scope of Snow King’s transformation.  This marks the debut of Doppelmayr’s new Alpin-Star drive-tension terminal and their new, simplified control system.  The lift has mid-station unloading and will operate year-round.  A mountain coaster and treetop adventure park will follow in August with a new base lodge debuting this winter.  Meanwhile, the Doppelmayr crew has moved across the valley to build the new Teton Lift.

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Instagram Tuesday: Flying High

#flying #siberia #towers @squawalpine #skycrane #siller #helicopter #sillerhelicopters #squawvalley

A photo posted by Mike (@mltahoe) on

The sunsets have been unreal lately, and last night was no different. (📷: @stevegoffphoto)

A photo posted by Aspen Snowmass (@aspensnowmass) on

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Counterfeit Lifts in North Korea

In July 2011, South Korea won the 2018 Winter Olympics, beating out cities in France and Germany.  Almost immediately, North Korea announced plans to build its own ski resort called Masik Pass.  The plan required at least five lifts despite the lack of any lift manufacturers in Asia.

Masik Pass Trail Map
Masik Pass Trail Map.  All Photos from Uri Tours on Flickr.

Kim Jong Un’s government turned to the usual players, Doppelmayr and Poma.  Both refused to build the lifts, citing the international ban on selling luxury goods to the North.  Switzerland’s BMF agreed to a $7.7 million order but the Swiss government killed the deal.  Ironically, Switzerland is where Kim Jong Un went to private school in the early 1990s and where he learned to ski.

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News Roundup: Paragliding Into a Tram Car

  • Okemo Mountain Resort announces new fixed-grip quad and conversion of the Jackson Gore Express into a bubble quad called Quantum 4.  Their press release (falsely) claims Okemo will be the first resort in North America with two bubble lifts.
  • The last two victims of a 2010 de-ropement at Sugarloaf settle their lawsuit with Boyne Resorts, or more likely their insurance company.  Next up: claims from the victims of this year’s rollback.
  • Mont Cascades’ new TC quad lift will be a Doppelmayr Eco-Drive.
  • Adanac Ski Hill in Ontario wants $1.8 million from taxpayers to replace their T-Bar.
  • Lutsen Mountains breaks ground on the most expensive lift project ever at a Midwest ski area.
  • Marshall Mountain, Montana is for sale for $2.95 million.  Its lifts – a Thiokol triple and Poma T-Bar – haven’t spun since the 2002-03 season.
  • The British Columbia Safety Authority releases its incident report on Crystal Mountain’s de-ropement and it’s not pretty.  The ski area has been closed ever since the March 1, 2014 incident.
  • Add San Diego to the growing list of cities that want to build a gondola.  This one would have 8-passenger cabins and two mid-stations.

Sugarloaf Announces Lift Safety Upgrades and Website

Yesterday Sugarloaf Mountain Resort, the site of two of the worst lift accidents in recent memory, announced $1.3 million in lift safety upgrades including a new Doppelmayr drive terminal for the lift that rolled back in March.  The mountain will also launch a new website devoted solely to lift safety and maintenance with a tip line for anyone to submit questions and concerns about lifts.  All of this is moving forward despite Sugarloaf’s looming sale.

The King Pine Quad's bottom drive terminal will be replaced with a new Doppelmayr one.
The King Pine Quad’s bottom drive terminal will be replaced with a new Doppelmayr one.
In December 2010, the Spillway East double, built by Borvig in 1975, experienced a de-ropement that caused numerous chairs to hit the ground and drag approximately 40 feet.  Eight skiers were injured and the last legal claim was settled just last week.  The State of Maine’s investigation found inadequate maintenance records, poor training, high winds, and component failure as probable contributing factors.  The full report is here.  Spillway was replaced by a Doppelmayr quad the following summer and renamed Skyline.

The King Pine Quad, a 1988 Borvig, rolled-back approximately 460 feet on March 21, 2015, resulting in numerous injuries.  Skiers went around the bottom bullwheel at high speed and many others jumped off.  Sugarloaf’s internal investigation found that the drive bullwheel’s drop dog failed to deploy due to a faulty switch and the lift was eventually stopped by an operator who manually activated the lift’s emergency brake.  The state has not yet released its investigation into this incident.  King Pine and its sister quad called Timberline were both closed for the remainder of last season.

King Pine's new drive terminal will be similar to Skyline's.
King Pine’s new drive terminal will be similar to Skyline’s.
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North America’s Declining Lift Industry

I thought it would be interesting to do a statistical analysis of the types of lifts built over time in the US and Canada and see what lifts tend to still be operating today.  I previously looked at the average age of lifts in different regions of the US and Canada and found that most lifts operating today are more than 25 years old.  The statistics below will show why.

Fixed Grip Chairlifts Built by Type, 1958-2014
Fixed Grip Chairlifts Built by Type, 1958-2014

First I looked at fixed-grip chairlifts.  I was surprised just how long ago double chairlift construction peaked – way back in 1971, when 146 double lifts were built in a single summer.  That’s equal to all lifts built in North America over the past five years.  Triple chairlift construction peaked in 1984 at 58.  Just four years later, the most quad chairlifts were built – 36 in 1988.  I would have guessed this to be much later.  Since 1988, quad and triple chair construction has remained relatively constant and equal with almost no double chairs built.

Detachable Lifts Built by Type, 1963-2014
Detachable Lifts Built by Type, 1963-2014

On the detachable side, the number of gondolas built each year remains fairly steady, usually under five per year.  Of the 473 high speed quads built to date, most went in between 1986 and 2007.  Detach quads peaked in 1998, when 32 were built in one summer.  Six packs peaked two years later but have always been less popular than quads.  Last summer was the worst year for detachable construction since the technology was invented; just eight were built in all of the US and Canada.  2015 will be better with at least 16 being built right now.

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Instagram Tuesday: Getting it Done

Change is in the air! #oneparkcity

A photo posted by Park City Mountain Resort (@pcski) on

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Work Begins on Jackson Hole’s Teton Lift

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The view into Grand Teton National Park from the top of Jackson Hole’s new Teton lift.

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is celebrating its 50th anniversary in December which will coincide with the opening of new terrain and a shiny high speed quad called Teton.  JHMR’s first Doppelmayr detachable will serve three new runs in the area formerly known as the Crags.  This project is part of a major lift upgrade that included the new Casper detachable quad and will also include a second gondola.

Ready for a base terminal.
Ready for a Uni-G terminal next to the Lower Werner run.

The new lift will serve approximately 1,800 vertical feet of terrain between the Casper and Apres Vous lifts.  With a steep profile, Teton’s ride time will be under six minutes.  Having four detachable quads on the north side of the mountain will hopefully take some pressure off the aerial tram.

Funny to see Doppelmayr staging next to a new Leitner-Poma terminal.
Funny to see Doppelmayr staging next to a new Leitner-Poma terminal.

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News Roundup: New Controls

Doppelmayr USA has redesigned all of their controls for 2015.
Doppelmayr USA has redesigned all of their controls for 2015.
  • Apparently Doppelmayr has redesigned their controls for 2015.  A new pedestal pictured above looks like an improvement, especially the speed selector replacing slow/medium/fast buttons.
  • Willard Mountain, NY files for bankruptcy, proving once again it is best to control all of the land your ski resort sits on.  The area has a Borvig and Partek doubles.
  • Saddleback Maine has put the drive terminal for its main lift up for sale on Resort Boneyard for $200k.  Hopefully a new lift is on the way.
  • Vail Resorts voluntarily raises the minimum wage it pays lift operators and other workers to $10 an hour.
  • Lots of improvements coming to Powderhorn in addition to their first detachable lift.
  • Whistler-Blackcomb to test snowmaking as a means to preserve summer skiing on Horstman Glacier, home to the only glacier-anchored lifts in North America.
  • West Mountain, NY is moving forward with making one old lift into two new ones.
  • Singapore opens its second Doppelmayr gondola line with three stations and 8-passenger cabins.