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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.