News Roundup: Adding More

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Disney Skyliner to Open in Fall 2019

The most expensive gondola system ever built in the United States will debut sometime between September and December next year.  Bob Chapek, Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Consumer Products made the announcement this morning in a keynote address at the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions Expo, which Doppelmayr and CWA are attending.  Competitor Leitner-Poma is also there.  “Next fall, Disney Skyliner will not only efficiently move you to your location, it’ll also offer a whole new way to experience Walt Disney World with amazing views only available from the sky,” the resort said in a blog post.  Construction began on the three gondola lines in July of 2017.

Crews are working across the resort to complete the network, which will link two of the most visited theme parks in the world with four major hotels and replace a significant number of Disney Transport bus routes.  A mural was recently added to the gateway station at Epcot and the second angle station now has its Doppelmayr D-Line enclosure.

A second angle station will service the sprawling Riviera Resort, seen below.  Can you spot the lift?  Guests will find themselves just a few minutes from both Hollywood Studios and Epcot by gondola.

In the below photo, you can see the last of more than 50 towers being completed.  Parking rails for hundreds of cabins are also being pieced together at the massive Caribbean Beach hub.

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Instagram Tuesday: Filling In

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

How Many Lifts Might Alterra Buy in 2019?

At just 15 months old, Alterra Mountain Company finds itself with over 200 chairlifts, gondolas and tramways in two countries.  The 13 Alterra mountains mirror the broader ski industry with places like Deer Valley and Crystal Mountain sporting many newer lifts while the average chairlift at June Mountain is 45 years old.

On a Monday last March, the fledgling company based in Denver simultaneously unveiled its very first lift investments at Stratton, Tremblant and Winter Park along with other improvements like snowmaking at Snowshoe and a new restaurant at the base of Steamboat.  Importantly, Alterra committed to spending $555 million in total capital over five years.  That was before it bought Solitude and Crystal Mountain, which could mean even more money flowing over the next few construction seasons.  While last year’s budget only included three new lifts, could we see more in 2019?

Colorado

With the September approval of major projects by the Forest Service, Steamboat is poised for a comprehensive on-mountain transformation.  Although the timing is fluid, a new Rough Rider learning center at mid-mountain will eventually be serviced by a new gondola from the village.  Here, skiers and snowboarders will be able to choose from three new carpet lifts, a new and improved Bashor lift and a second fixed-grip chair replacing the Rough Rider surface tow.

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A second initiative Steamboat could undertake in 2019 is the Pioneer Ridge expansion, which includes a 7,000 foot detachable quad and a dozen new trails.  Other possible upgrades include adding chairs to Pony Express (currently at only 1,200 skiers per hour but designed for 2,400)  or new cabins for the Silver Bullet.  Wouldn’t it be cool for the new gondola and original one to have similar cabins?

The average lift at Alterra-operated Winter Park Resort is 27 years old.  Six are early model detachable quads coming up for replacement.  In the case of 32 year old Pioneer Express, an upgrade is overdue and I expect coming in 2019.  A new version could add a snowboarder friendly mid loading station above the last section of Big Valley.

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Pioneer is one of only four remaining Poma detachables in North America with separate Alpha drive units.

A second project I hope to see is a second stage of the new gondola from Sunspot to Lunch Rock, truly uniting Winter Park and Mary Jane.  Sunnyside should be a high speed quad or six pack.  A high speed replacement of Challenger would be a nice upgrade at Mary Jane.  Looking Glass is tied for the oldest operating chairlift in Colorado.  After Pioneer, High Lonesome is the next Poma detachable up for replacement if we go solely by age.

The above Intrawest era master plan earmarked Gemini Express to be converted into an eight passenger gondola with a new learning center surrounding its top station.  Endeavor could go detachable as part of this project and/or Discovery made into a fixed grip quad.  Finally, a lift is envisioned to expand Vasquez Ridge Territory with four new intermediate trails. With all of these ideas on the table, I expect Winter Park to get at least one lift in 2019 and hopefully two.

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News Roundup: Rope Time

  • Searchmont, Ontario sells to Wisconsin Resorts, the firm behind Pine Knob, Mt. Holly and Ski Bittersweet in Michigan as well as Alpine Valley, Wisconsin.
  • Mike Solimano of Killington reveals what three lifts he would upgrade if given $100 million to spend at The Beast.
  • The new Winter Park gondola is creatively named Gondola.
  • Grand Junction’s NBC affiliate takes viewers inside the factory where Leitner-Poma lifts are created.
  • The two stage Blackcomb Gondola is almost finished; thanks Max for these pictures.
  • Next up for Ramcharger 8 at Big Sky: installation of an in-terminal video wall and the haul rope, which is going up right now.
  • Beech Mountain commissions its twin fixed grip quads.
  • Freeskier looks at Alterra’s whirlwind growth and future trajectory.
  • Rope pulling commences tonight at Walt Disney World, 24 years to the day since the Disneyland Skyway cable was taken down for good.
  • This week’s new trail map comes from Hunter Mountain.
  • In an act of sabotage, someone cuts into three haul ropes at a Pyrenees ski resort.

Whitefish Seeks to Elevate Hellroaring Basin

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Under a new concept, Whitefish Mountain Resort would remove the current Hellroaring triple and build two new lifts at higher elevations.  Lift lines are approximate.

Following record attendance last winter and its most successful season pass sale ever this fall, Whitefish Mountain Resort is looking to better disperse guests across its 3,000 acres.  Under a plan submitted to the Forest Service yesterday, the closest ski area to Glacier National Park would move one lift and add another in Hellroaring Basin.  The generally west facing drainage is currently served only at the bottom by a 1985 CTEC triple.  It loads at just 4,675 feet above sea level and offers only one trail for direct repeat skiing.

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Hellroaring closes annually on April 1st to give waking Grizzly Bears peace and quiet.

On the heels of the successful Chair 5 realignment, Whitefish would like to move Chair 8 to begin at the junction of Hell Fire and Glory Hole, a spot known as Grand Junction.  The upgraded triple would unload near the top of the 1,000 Turns run, approximately 300 vertical feet below the Big Mountain summit.  It would be steep – around 2,900′ long by 1,050′ of vertical – with a seven minute ride time.  This would be the CTEC’s third home; it was Chair 7 from 1985 to 1997 before moving to Hellroaring.  The current lift line and lower portion of Hell Fire would be permanently closed and rehabilitated to a natural state.

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A second new chairlift – Whitefish’s 13th overall – would also load at Grand Junction and ascend 1,340 feet to Hellroaring Peak.  While the overall permit area wouldn’t grow, Hellroaring Basin would become much better utilized with a dedicated 4,300′ chairlift servicing eight newly-cut runs.  Vertical rise of Chair 12 would be 1,350 feet and additional grooming would allow intermediate skiers to enjoy Hellroaring Peak for the first time.  A specific lift type is not specified but Whitefish could opt to use Great Northern, a 1978 Stadeli triple (the mountain has quite the history moving lifts, having done ten relocations throughout its history.)

“We are excited to begin the process of possible future improvements in Hellroaring Basin,” Whitefish Mountain Resort CEO Dan Graves said in a press release.  “The Hellroaring Basin improvement project will increase access, and add improved slope variety.  Additionally, relocating the Hellroaring chairlift would allow riders to access more terrain than its current location therefore creating better flow around the mountain.”   The Flathead National Forest is soliciting public comments on the proposal through November 20th.  Forest managers will analyze it over the winter and expect to make a decision next June.  If approved, implementation could take two or more construction seasons at Whitefish Mountain Resort’s discretion.

Instagram Tuesday: In the Wind

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

News Roundup: A World Away

  • As Vail Resorts shakes up management in the northeast, outgoing Mt. Sunapee GM Jay Gamble reflects on 20 years of growth including four new lifts and 110,000 annual skier visits.
  • Vail also says goodbye to Sunapee’s Duckling double after 55 years.
  • The owner of Mt. Washington, British Columbia; Ragged Mountain, New Hampshire; Wisp, Maryland and Wintergreen, Virginia takes over operations at Powderhorn, Colorado.
  • Propelled by five major projects in Colorado, Leitner-Poma says 2018 is it biggest year ever in the United States.
  • The $2 billion Salesforce Transit Center in San Francisco, which features a short aerial tramway, is mired in problems unrelated to the lift.
  • Construction begins in Switzerland for the world’s second longest 3S with the most towers – seven.
  • With new six and eight passenger lifts, Big Sky Resort shifts away from the double/triple/quad lift lingo.
  • Alterra names KSL veteran Adam Knox Senior Vice President of Strategy and Corporate Development to lead the company’s acquisitions and resort partnership group.
  • Due to the amount of lift work needed after seven shuttered years, Cockaigne, NY won’t reopen this winter after all.
  • One of the longest Riblets retired from Snowmass turns up in the Pakistani town where Osama bin Laden was killed.
  • A freshly cut lift line is spotted in the Spanish Peaks development adjacent to Big Sky Resort, probably for the planned Highlands chair.
  • The Berkshire Eagle looks at Catamount’s $5 million fall.
  • A judge quashes spending for lift maintenance at the Hermitage Club, which remains in foreclosure.  A new lawsuit against the ski area alleges breach of contract and consumer fraud.
  • Another aerial tramway cabin crashes in Europe, this time on the one year old Bartholet jigback Staubernbahn.  No one was hurt as the cabin that hit the ground was empty.
  • The Boston Globe talks with Mainers about a fourth winter without Saddleback.
  • In New Zealand, The Remarkables is set to build the inaugural D-Line in the southern hemisphere and Coronet Peak announces a Leitner Telemix.
  • The new Bretton Woods trail map indicates the gondola may not be called Presidential Bahn after all.
  • As Copper Mountain and Leitner-Poma crews work hard to finish two big lifts, opening weekend shifts to Super Bee.

How Many Lifts Could Vail Resorts Announce Next Month?

With four recent additions, Vail Resorts Inc. now operates just over 10 percent of American and Canadian lifts, more than any other company.  Vail prides itself on investing heavily in its mountains and the average lift at an Epic resort is three years newer than the rest of the industry.  The company’s lifts now number 305 in the United States, Canada and Australia with an average age of 24.6 years.  If we assume the average lift lasts 35 years, Vail would now need to replace an average of about nine lifts per year just to turn over its fleet.

A little less than a year ago, a smaller VR unveiled plans for seven new lifts as part of a $150 million annual capital plan, the largest in the company’s history.  Back in 2016, Vail committed to building three six-packs as part of $103 million in capital spending for 2017 (VR later added a fourth detachable to that year’s class, the Red Buffalo Express at Beaver Creek.)  In December 2015, the Broomfield-based company announced a high-speed quad for Vail Mountain and in 2014, it was $50 million in improvements including three new lifts at Park City plus another six pack at Vail.  Over the last five years, more resorts have consistently led to more revenue and more capital investments.  The company said it will invest $35 million at the four new mountains in the next two years, making it possible this December’s announcement will be the most valuable ever.

Colorado

Going resort by resort, the most obvious projects are ones already in the pipeline, namely the Game Creek Express #7 replacement and Golden Peak race lift at Vail.  But VR could go bigger like it did this summer at Whistler Blackcomb, spending $52 million to package four lift replacements together.  On Vail Mountain, additional aging lifts likely to be up-gauged to six-packs eventually are Orient Express #21, Born Free Express #8 and Wildwood Express #3.  The mothership mountain has the third largest and third newest lift fleet in the company and I expect investment to continue at Vail following this year’s pause.

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Vail’s lift 7 is the only chair in Game Creek Bowl and could use more capacity.

On average, the newest lifts within Vail Resorts are at Beaver Creek, which opened decades later than its peers.  A major expansion was approved in September – McCoy Park – which may be implemented in 2020.  In advance of those two new lifts, the Strawberry Park Express could be updated in 2019 to a higher capacity gondola.  The oldest lift at Beaver Creek is the 1988 Arrow Bahn Express, which eventually will be replaced by a newer detachable.  Probably not this year though.

Sticking in Colorado, Breckenridge is usually the first or second most visited resort in America and did not see a new lift in 2018.  I say a Riblet gets replaced here in 2019 and my vote would be 6-Chair with a high speed quad.  My second guess would be C-Chair followed by 5, A, E and Rip’s Ride.  If Vail decides to continue replacing older high speed quads instead, Beaver Run SuperChair is the logical candidate.

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6 Chair at Breckenridge is wildly popular despite being fixed grip and 40 years old.

Keystone has both expansion possibilities and lifts that could be upgraded.  The project everyone’s been clamoring for is a detachable lift from The Outback to replace WaybackPeru Express is the oldest high speed lift at Keystone and a core workhorse, making it likely to be replaced with a six pack soon.  Outback Express is one year newer and in a similar situation.  Another possible replacement is Argentine, a 1977 Lift Engineering double that the 2009 Keystone Master Development Plan proposed replacing with a two stage detachable.  The new lift would load near Peru, have an angle station above Lower Schoolmarm and continue all the way to the ridge of Dercum Mountain.  The Keystone MDP also outlines major expansions that I expect we will hear more about over the next decade.  They include a Ski Tip gondola, Bergman Bowl lift, Independence Bowl lift, Windows lift and Outback surface lift.  Whatever Vail chooses, I am hopeful for a new lift or two at Keystone in 2019.

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I don’t mind Wayback at Keystone but I also rarely ski in Colorado on weekends or holidays.

Crested Butte is the new kid on the block and Vail may wait a year or more to do anything lift wise.  The mountain’s Teocalli II expansion is still moving through the Forest Service NEPA process.  The Mueller family invested heavily in the Triple Peaks resorts over the years and I don’t see a whole lot needed near-term at CBMR.  Replacing original Teocalli with a high speed quad would be a nice way to burn some of the promised $35 million.

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Instagram Tuesday: Putting it Together