Utah ski resorts are proving this season that lifts need not be giant to positively impact guest experiences. I got to visit the state’s three newest chairlifts this week, which are all short but sweet with beginner skiers in mind.
High Meadow Express – Park City Mountain
The High Meadow Express is the centerpiece of re-imagined teaching terrain above Park City’s Canyons Village. With mellow loading and unloading speeds, quick ride time and improved alignment, the high speed quad marks a significant step up from the fixed quad it replaces. High Meadow Park is now wide open with perfectly pitched beginner trails. Expanded snowmaking and a candy cabin round out the freshened up beginner zone.
Homestake Express – Deer Valley Resort
Homestake Express launched this morning at Alterra-owned Deer Valley, becoming the resort’s 13th detachable quad. Ride time is now under two minutes between Silver Lake Lodge and Bald Eagle Mountain. There are only eight towers now, down from 12, freeing up space on the busy Silver Link ski run. The new Homestake also features slatted backrests for wind resistance.
Snowpine – Alta Ski Area
In Little Cottonwood Canyon, the new Snowpine Quad carried its first skiers yesterday. The Skytrac Monarch was manufactured just 30 miles away in Salt Lake. While it only has two towers and a dozen chairs, the new lift serves dual functions. It will provide ski-in, ski-out access to the new Snowpine Lodge, which opens January 30th. Alta’s first fixed grip quad also provides a beginner-friendly alternative to the surface tow it replaces. The return terminal is height adjustable for the big snow years.
After spending approximately $150 million on capital improvements in 2018, Vail Resorts revealed early this morning its capital plan for 2019. First, a recap. The company went big on lifts this year, building a total of seven including the game-changing Blackcomb Gondola, Catskinner Express and Emerald 6 Express at Whistler Blackcomb, High Meadow Express at Park City and new Galaxy triple at Heavenly. Contracts for projects in all three countries Vail operates were awarded to Doppelmayr this round. With Stevens Pass joining Vail Resorts in August and Crested Butte, Mt. Sunapee and Okemo following in September, next year’s focus will skew towards snowmaking, ticketing infrastructure and restaurants.
Vail will build two lifts at Stevens in 2019. “We plan to replace and upgrade the Daisy and Brooks lifts, both of which serve critical terrain for beginner and intermediate skiers and snowboarders,” says the company. The lift replacements will reduce lift line wait times and increase total lift capacity at Stevens Pass by more than nine percent. Brooks is slated to become a high speed, detachable quad and Daisy a fixed grip quad pending Forest Service approval. Other projects include snowmaking expansions at Keystone, Vail and Beaver Creek, a new Tombstone restaurant at Park City and new skier services facility at Breckenridge. “We remain committed to reinvesting in our resorts, creating an experience of a lifetime for our guests and generating strong returns for our shareholders,” notes CEO Rob Katz.
Christmas has come early! This morning, Vail Resorts announced 2 modern chairlifts will replace the Brooks & Daisy lifts for 2019-20, subject to US Forest Service approval. It’s all part of a $35 million investment in its newest resorts. Details: https://t.co/mCp7yXpHQzpic.twitter.com/Pm6qTD1HiG
At a champagne toast tonight in Gondola Square, Steamboat President and Chief Operating Officer Rob Perlman announced the world’s first 8 passenger monocable gondola will be upgraded in time for the 2019/20 season. The news comes as a bit of a surprise given last month’s approvals of other lift projects including a second gondola to Bashor Bowl and the Pioneer Ridge Expansion. The current gondola received major upgrades just last year and phase two will include new cabins, towers, drives, top bullwheel and brakes. “Everyone knows the gondola is the main lift out of the base area, and having a new, high speed, state of the art transportation system will be a noticeable improvement not only in the winter on Champagne Powder snow mornings, but also during the summer with our popular sunset happy hours,” said Perlman.
The Doppelmayr machine will transport 38 percent more guests per hour with a ride time under 10 minutes. Capacity will surge from 2,600 per hour to 3,600 with 137 cabins moving at six meters per second, up from five. “From day one, Alterra Mountain Company has emphasized our commitment to enhancing the guest experience across our family of 14 North American destinations,” noted David Perry, CEO at Alterra. “We are focused on improving every aspect of a guest’s visit, while preserving each destination’s unique character and traditions. Steamboat’s new gondola fits seamlessly within our plans. We are excited to invest in infrastructure, and proud of the positive impact it will make on the community, our guests, and the future of Steamboat.” Construction on the $15 million project is set to begin April 15th. Alterra has pledged to spend more than $550 million at its resorts over five years and hopefully Steamboat’s gondola is the first of many new lifts for the company in 2019.
Earlier today, I posted pictures from a weather forum which purported to show a damaged Timberline Quad at Bolton Valley following this week’s major snowstorm. I reached out to Bolton Valley for a statement but posted the story before hearing back. It turns out the lift was simply rigged for a bullwheel change and what I posted was inaccurate. I apologize to Bolton Valley and my readers for the misinformation. Enjoy the new snow this weekend.
Update: The bullwheel replacement is almost complete despite the crazy weather!
When a group of homeowners banded together to spin lifts at a bankrupt Tamarack Resort in 2010, it was a temporarily measure. Eight years later, a consortium of investors has finally agreed to take over operations of the 2,100 acre resort and resume development that abruptly ceased in March 2009. The group, made up of Imperium Companies, MMG Equity Partners and Blue River Family Office Partners, is the same one behind much of the commercial real estate at Blue Mountain, Copper, Mammoth, Snowshoe and Stratton. It expects to close on the mountain November 30th.
Current Tamarack staff including General Manager Brad Larsen will remain with the resort upon closing. Industry veteran Jon Reveal will come on board as President of Tamarack Resort Holdings. “We have been evaluating and working on this agreement for nearly two years to truly understand the history and complexities of the resort,” Reveal said in a news release. “The partnership strongly believes Tamarack has a tremendous opportunity to thrive as a four-season destination of choice for Idahoans and visitors from across North America. Our team looks forward to proving our commitment to Tamarack, Valley County residents, Idahoans and all our guests through investment, completion of unfinished projects and improved resort amenities and offerings.”
Jean-Pierre Boespflug led the investment group that opened Tamarack in 2003, building six lifts over two years along with significant real estate offerings. Mr. Boespflug’s timing was unfortunate and the resort fell behind on payments for a $250 million loan by early 2008. The lifts closed on March 4th, 2009 and Tamarack did not open again for a year and a half. The Tamarack Municipal Association reached an agreement to operate four of six lifts in 2010 and bought assets from lenders for pennies on the dollar in 2016. Amid the mess, Bank of America repossessed the Wildwood Express lift, which ended up at Brian Head, Utah. Homeowners were able to purchase and retain the Buttercup lift, which was also underwater but of significantly less value than Wildwood. At one point four other lifts came close to being sold in a sheriff sale.
Under a lease agreement reached today with the State of Idaho, the new owners commit to either rebuilding or removing the remaining foundations from Wildwood by December 31, 2024 (The Idaho Department of Lands is the landlord in this case rather than the United States Forest Service.) Imperium Co-Founder Kyle Mowitz says the focus this time will be on the mountain rather than real estate a new Wildwood could come as soon as summer 2019. Work should also resume next spring on the incomplete Village Plaza and mid-mountain restaurant. The Osprey Meadows golf course, which was abandoned in 2016 and is partially owned by another party, will take longer to reclaim.
I followed Tamarack’s grand opening with excitement and then watched its downfall with disappointment. What happened was never about the mountain, which is perfect for a ski resort. There’s gorgeous Lake Cascade at the base and boundless recreational opportunities in every season. As a decade went by, I remained hopeful a second chance would come for this remarkable place. Congratulations to Tamarack employees and homeowners for staying the course through some dark times to get to this new day.