Instagram Tuesday: Scenic World

Every Tuesday, I feature my favorite Instagram photos from around the lift world.

What a moment this afternoon . . #mtbuller 📷 @kayla_hoefer 😍

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All Systems Go for Mt. Spokane’s Backside Expansion

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Mt. Spokane will debut 279 acres of new terrain and a new lift next winter.  The top bullwheel will spin above this spot in a few short months.

Four American ski resorts will launch major terrain expansions next winter and I got to check out one of them this weekend in Washington State.  New west facing trails at Mt. Spokane Ski & Snowboard Park will be serviced by a new Skytrac triple chair topping out at 5,850′.  The nonprofit that runs the resort initially planned to use Bridger Bowl’s retired Alpine lift but wisely axed that plan last winter and solicited bids for a brand new machine.  At this area once owned by Riblet Tramway Company itself, the last new lift was a double chair that opened back in 1977.  Mt. Spokane’s Chair 1 dates even further to 1956, making it the oldest operating chairlift in the country.  With five Riblet doubles still spinning, a modern galvanized triple is sure to stand out along with the new runs.

A growing demand for skiing has led to many new lifts at competing resorts in the Selkirk Mountains during the 14 years it took for Mt. Spokane’s expansion to be approved.  In the nearby Idaho panhandle, Schweitzer Mountain Resort plans to build two new lifts on its backside next summer, Lookout Pass is eyeing another two and so is 49 Degrees North in northeast Washington.  Just across the Canadian border, Spokane favorite Red Mountain hopes to complete the Topping Creek T-Bar this fall.

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SilverStar Christens New Gondola with a Party

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Crystal Mountain, Washington.  Lutsen Mountains, Minnesota.  Belleayre, New York and Ski Apache, New Mexico.  Mountains from north to south, east to west and now in Canada are proving there’s no need to be a mega resort to build a great gondola.  SilverStar Mountain Resort joined the club today with the Schumann Summit Express, manufactured by Doppelmayr Canada, which carried its first riders just after 11:00.

The new flagship lift is named after the late Desmond Schumann, an Australian visionary who came to grow both Big White and SilverStar into two of British Columbia’s top ski resorts.  Daughter Jane Cann now presides over SilverStar and rode in the very first cabin, one painted silver in honor of the resort’s 60th anniversary (Jane’s brother, Peter Schumann, heads up nearby Big White, which is also building a new lift this summer).  Doppelmayr’s Jim Anderson presented the customary Austrian-forged bell and spoke along with other dignitaries.  They noted how far SilverStar has come from a local ski hill with one Poma lift and two rope tows into a significant regional and destination resort.

A few missing puzzle pieces.

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Cabins in a rainbow of six different colors lift riders from SilverStar’s mid-mountain village to the summit in just 4.4 minutes.  A restaurant will eventually rise where the gondola and two other lifts converge.  The 961′ vertical Summit Express replaces the last of SilverStar’s Mueller lifts, the Summit Double, which faithfully carried riders along a similar route from 1970 until this spring.  The new gondola completes SilverStar’s impressive lift transformation undertaken entirely since Mr. Schumann’s 2001 arrival, when the last of three Lift Engineering quad chairs was replaced.  It is a tale of “build it and they will come.”

Announced 13 months ago, the gondola was uniquely built over two construction seasons.  Concrete foundations and the top drive terminal were installed last fall with construction pausing in November for what turned out to be a very deep winter.  Doppelmayr was back at it as soon as the ski season ended with a tight timeline toward a July 1 opening.  Very late season snow pushed that back a few weeks but no one seemed to care on this perfect July Saturday.  In addition to free gondola rides for the thousands gathered, there was a free community barbecue, dunk tank, bungee trampoline and even a $1,000 cash giveaway.  The celebration proved gondolas are for everybody – from young kids to people with disabilities, the elderly and even pets – to enjoy together.

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News Roundup: Public vs. Private

  • After a tower shifted downhill this spring, the City of Steamboat will again fix Howelsen Hill’s chairlift rather than replacing it.
  • In the Jay Peak fraud case, former resort owner Ariel Quiros and executive Bill Stenger settle with the State of Vermont for $2.1 million without admitting wrongdoing.
  • In a separate class action lawsuit, a group of Jay Peak investors allege more than 100 immigration lawyers received $5 million in kickbacks from the resort, creating undisclosed conflicts of interest.
  • The federal government orders an immediate shutdown of the Vermont EB-5 Regional Center, which allowed foreigners to invest in ski resorts such as Jay Peak and other businesses in exchange for green cards.
  • No big deal: a Chinese theme park might build three 3S gondolas.
  • A lawsuit by the State of Maine seeks to finally right the tragedy that followed the sale of a public ski resort to a private company which ran it into the ground.
  • Mt. Snow confirms its next logical lift upgrades will be in Sunbrook and Carinthia.
  • Hermitage Club members could lease Haystack Mountain to reopen next season but Berkshire Bank will not.  Homeowners may have a senior lien on the Barnstormer six-pack but would need to pay for $300,000 of lift maintenance to reopen.
  • Even though his purchase of Saddleback never closed, Australian businessman Sebastian Monsour did spend $400,000 on the closed Maine ski resort last year.  Hopefully some went to lift maintenance!
  • Peak Resorts reports record fourth quarter revenue, up 9.3 percent over last year to $56 million with EBITDA up 3.9 percent to $21.5 million.
  • Arizona Snowbowl reopens tomorrow after a month-and-a-half fire danger closure.
  • Parks Canada seeks public comments on possible Sunshine Village lift and terrain expansions into Goat’s Eye II, Lower Meadow Park and Hayes Hill. Another new lift could eventually parallel the gondola.
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Overview of proposed Sunshine Village expansion areas.  Other acreage would be removed from Sunshine’s area of occupation to compensate for environmental impacts of expansion.

Timberline Purchases Summit Ski Area

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The Homestead lift replaced a T-Bar at Summit in 1980 and will now be operated by nearby Timberline Lodge.

The Pacific Northwest’s oldest ski resort has a new owner from just up the road – Timberline Lodge.  With its purchase of Summit Ski Area, Timberline parent RLK and Company brings together two of the five ski resorts that surround Oregon’s Mt. Hood.  Family-owned Mt. Hood Meadows bought Cooper Spur Mountain Resort back in 2001 and Mt. Hood Ski Bowl is operated by a third local entity.  Situated in Government Camp directly below Timberline’s Jeff Flood Express, Summit operates a 1980 Riblet double chair and sells lift tickets for just $35.  “We are very pleased with the acquisition and plan to operate Summit Ski Area as a family oriented, affordable, friendly mountain resort,” noted Jeff Kohnstamm, President of Timberline in an afternoon press release.

The long term possibilities of two ski resorts in such close proximity are intriguing.  From bullwheel to bullwheel is just under a mile and there is already an unofficial ski trail between the two areas.  Total vertical could theoretically reach 4,540 feet – far and away the longest in the Pacific Northwest.  But even if the ski resorts never link by ski runs, they could by gondola.  Timberline’s news release notes, “With Portland’s population growing rapidly and more people visiting Mt. Hood, Timberline also views Summit Ski Area as an opportunity to help address public transportation and parking needs while having a greater connectivity to Government Camp.”  A gondola from Government Camp to Timberline would make a lot of sense because of challenges maintaining a road and parking lots above treeline.  There was a gondola lift of sorts way back in the 1950s and RLK has in the past proposed a two stage version along a similar route.

“We look forward to an open-minded approach and discussing opportunities with the community,” says Kohnstamm.  “It will be exciting to see what the future holds for Summit, Timberline, Government Camp and all who visit.”

Instagram Tuesday: Canada

Every Tuesday, I feature my favorite Instagram photos from around the lift world.

Happy Canada Day! 🇨🇦 #canadaday #rcmp #grousemountain

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Warner Bros. Unveils Hollywood Skyway Concept

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The Hollywood Skyway would bring visitors to one of LA’s most popular but hard to reach landmarks.  Photo credit: Warner Brothers Entertainment

The Los Angeles Times reports this morning that Warner Bros. Entertainment is seeking to build a $100 million aerial tramway in California’s largest metropolis.  The one mile, $100 million project would improve public access to the famed Hollywood sign atop Mt. Lee and include a new visitor center, viewing platform and walking paths.  The company already operates a popular studio tour on the site of the proposed lower terminal.

The Hollywood Skyway would be entirely funded by Warner Bros. but occupy some public land in Griffith Park, home to the iconic sign since 1923.  Therefore, operating revenue would be shared with the City of Los Angeles.  Nearby neighborhoods have struggled to cope with the flood of tourists seeking to get a glimpse from every possible direction with no formal viewing area.  A ride on the Skyway would take six minutes from a parking garage to the northwest that Warner Bros. owns in Burbank.  “This requires a bold solution,” the firm’s facilities chief Jon Gilbert said to the Times. “If we really want to make a difference … it’s got to be something compelling. Partial solutions are not going to do the trick, and people will continue to inundate the neighborhoods.”

Warner Bros. is owned by WarnerMedia, which became part of AT&T less than a month ago.  A similar gondola floated a year ago would load at Comcast-owned Universal Studios Hollywood.  More than 90 chairlifts, gondolas and tramways now operate at non-skiing venues such as parks and zoos in North America.  Powerhouse competitor Walt Disney Co. is currently building a series of gondolas at its flagship theme park in Florida.  A statement from Warner Bros. argues the Skyway is the best option in Hollywood:

Given our close proximity to the north side of the Hollywood sign, we believe we offer a solution that has the least impact on the environment — protecting and preserving Griffith Park — and the surrounding residential neighborhoods.  We understand there are a number of possible solutions being considered, but we are confident the City’s feasibility study will show our proposal to be the best option — an option that can be built and operated at no cost to the taxpayer and that will provide public benefit to the City of Los Angeles and its residents.

The Hollywood Skyway project could take around five years to complete.  The chosen technology appears to be a reversible aerial tramway rather than a continuous movement gondola system.  This surprises me given the large volume of potential visitors.  The need for air conditioning could be a factor as well as a desire to build as few towers as possible in an urban park.  In my view, a 3S gondola would be the best of both worlds and one Warner Bros. could likely afford.

News Roundup: Wyoming

  • The Province that owns Atlantic Canada’s largest ski resort grows tired of losing money and looks for a private operator for Marble Mountain.
  • Doppelmayr will build the largest vertical six-pack in the world this year at Ischgl, Austria with over 3,000 feet of elevation gain in a single section.
  • Boyne Resorts President and CEO Stephen Kircher says a recent bond sale and tax cuts should yield increased capital investment at his resorts over the next five years.  Boyne doesn’t plan to buy new mountains any time soon, however.
  • Fire update: Purgatory reopens summer operations, Arizona Snowbowl is still closed while Taos, Red River, Sipapu, Ski Santa Fe and Sandia Peak are under partial closures due to extreme fire danger.
  • Antelope Butte, Wyoming has raised the $360,000 it needs to complete lift work and reopen next winter.
  • Beartooth Basin ends its summer season early due to problems with the upper platter lift.
  • Alterra CEO Rusty Gregory says of committing $555 million to mountain improvements: “We went to each resort and said, ‘Tell us, as resort operators, what will make the biggest positive impact on the guest experience.’ They had long lists.”
  • Leitner is pulling ropes at 12,740′ for the highest-ever 3S gondola.
  • Big Sky posts sweet photos from the Austrian factory where America’s first eight passenger chairlift and D-Line stations are being prepared for shipment. Chairs will have some unique designs on the back too.
  • The Portland Aerial Tram returns to service 5:30 am Monday, three weeks early, thanks to crews slipping track ropes much faster than expected.

Instagram Tuesday: Tubes

Every Tuesday, I feature my favorite Instagram photos from around the lift world.

Work on the new lift @skiheavenly continues, digging towers now. @doppelmayr_usa #dyercorp

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News Roundup: Fighting

  • The first of many Omega 10 passenger gondola cabins is spotted at Walt Disney World.
  • Saddleback Mountain Foundation plans to make a second offer for Maine’s third largest ski area, which has been closed for nearly three years.
  • Santiago, Chile awards the contract for an $80 million, four station urban gondola to Doppelmayr.
  • The first indoor ski area in the Western Hemisphere plans to open March 1, 2019 with a Doppelmayr CTEC quad chair and platter that were installed back in 2008.
  • A gondola is one option being considered to improve mobility in Little Cottonwood Canyon, home to Alta, Snowbird and lots of traffic.
  • A Basin’s Al Henceroth updates us on Norway’s removal and hints more lift changes may be in store for Lenawee Mountain.
  • Members of Congress from four states pen a letter to the Forest Service asking for Arizona Snowbowl to be reopened or further explanation given as to why its extended closure is necessary.
  • Doppelmayr scores another project in Canada – a $1.8 million fixed-grip quad with loading carpet at Sugarloaf, New Brunswick.
  • Rope evacuating 20-25 mountain bikers turns into a four hour affair at Marquette Mountain.
  • Ikon Pass destination number 27 is Thredbo, Australia.
  • Jumbo Glacier Resort is fighting to reinstate its construction permit.
  • A spokesman for the new owners of Maple Valley, Vermont says reopening for skiing is a long term goal that could take many years to accomplish.
  • Loveland seeks a good name for the new Lift 1.
  • Loon Mountain is buying brand new CWA Omega cabins for its gondola this fall.
  • Tremblant says goodbye to the Lowell Thomas triple, making way for a detachable quad.
  • The first Hermitage Club property auction yields a $1.2 million winning bid. “There will be more of these coming up,” says the Windham County Sheriff.
  • A breakdown at the Jasper SkyTram leads to an 18 hour helicopter evacuation of 160 guests.