Five Mountains Readying Terrain Expansions for 2021-22

Despite an 18 month pandemic, supply chain challenges and continued uncertainty, a handful of US and Canadian ski resorts are putting finishing touches on expansion projects set to debut this winter. Two of these were delayed in 2020 and resumed construction this year while others were actually accelerated during Covid. Many of this year’s projects focus on learning terrain enhancements following the pandemic winter when new and lapsed skiers gravitated toward the mountains.

McCoy Park – Beaver Creek Mountain, Colorado

The lone expansion this year featuring two new chairlifts is Beaver Creek’s McCoy Park, encompassing 250 acres of new high alpine terrain. This beginner zone follows in the footsteps of Haymeadow Park and Red Buffalo Park, which both offer dedicated terrain for new skiers and snowboarders with detachable lifts. The new McCoy Park Express will service 17 trails and the Reunion Quad will provide easy exit from McCoy Park to the Upper Beaver Creek Mountain and Strawberry Park Express lifts.

Lower Juniper – Lake Louise, Alberta

Another beginner-focused expansion featuring a detachable quad is underway at Lake Louise. The new Lower Juniper Express is the second new chairlift here in two years. It will access four new low intermediate trails and provide an alternate out-of-base option to access the upper mountain.

Sunny Side – Snow King Mountain, Wyoming

Shadowed somewhat by construction of a new 8 passenger gondola on the front side of the mountain, Sunny Side at Snow King Mountain will also open this winter. This new backside bowl features extensive snowmaking and a Skytrac fixed grip quad.

Buzzsaw – Searchmont, Ontario

Searchmont hasn’t hosted a single day of skiing since March 2020, which makes its terrain expansion even more remarkable. New owner Wisconsin Resorts took delivery of two Skytrac triples last year, one of which replaced an existing Borvig double. The second lift sat in storage last winter and is now being installed to service two brand new beginner trails.

Merrill Hill – Sunday River, Maine

2021’s only New England expansion is a ninth peak at Sunday River. Merrill Hill features four ski trails and 23 new home sites near the South Ridge base area. This low angle zone will be serviced by a new Doppelmayr fixed grip triple, the mountain’s 15th chairlift.

News Roundup: Government Proceedings

Grouse Mountain to Replace Blue Tram with a Gondola

Northland Properties has announced a CA$30+ million investment to transform the arrival experience at Grouse Mountain. If approved, a modern eight passenger gondola would replace the 1966 jig back affectionately known as the Blue Skyride. The state-of-the-art gondola will provide continuous loading and a more comfortable experience for up to 2,000 guests per hour (1,000 per direction). The lift is planned to cross under the Red Skyride, which today provides the only public access from the parking lot to the mountain. The 100 passenger Garaventa-built tramway will remain in service for additional capacity and redundancy.

Northland, which also owns Revelstoke Mountain Resort, has partnered with Leitner-Poma to supply the gondola. The 27 cabin, 13 tower machine would travel at 5.1 meters per second, achieving a ride time under six minutes. Gondola cabins would be parked when not in use beneath the upper terminal. The estimated CA$30-35 million project also includes a reconfigured drop off area and 193 new parking spaces. Visitors would see reduced wait times and Grouse would be able to operate year round with no maintenance closures.

“Grouse Mountain is proud to be an integral pillar of the North Vancouver community since 1926 and we look forward to upgrading our facilities leading up to our 100-year anniversary,” notes the project website. The public is invited to learn more about the plan via a virtual public meeting taking place now through September 27th. The District of North Vancouver welcomes public comments as it considers approval. If given the green light, construction on the gondola is expected to last 18 months with an opening targeted for December 2023.

So Long Squaw Valley, Hello Palisades Tahoe

This is the last time you will see Lake Tahoe’s largest ski resort referred to as Squaw Valley on the blog. Today Alterra Mountain Company announced Palisades Tahoe will replace the Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows brand. After extensive research into the etymology and history of the term squaw, the company determined last year it was widely considered a racist and sexist slur that needed to be retired. Palisades references craggy terrain located near the top of the Siberia Express and Tahoe needs no explanation.

“It is inspiring that after seven decades in operation, a company as storied and established as this resort can still reflect and adjust when it is the necessary and right thing to do,” said Palisades President and COO Dee Byrne. “This name change reflects who we are as a ski resort and community—we have a reputation for being progressive and boundary-breaking when it comes to feats of skiing and snowboarding. We have proven that those values go beyond the snow for us. It’s an incredibly exciting time to be part of Palisades Tahoe and after more than 10 years at the resort, I’m honored to be leading our team into this new era.”

Two chairlifts are in the process of being renamed and elements across the resort will feature a new orange and dark blue color scheme. Nearly 5,000 locations where the existing logo and/or name appear will be swapped out by signage teams and more than 32,000 uniform pieces will be replaced. Finalists for the renamed Squaw Creek triple are Eagle Eye, Highline, Resort, Snow King, Storm Rider and Valley View while Squaw One Express‘s updated name is still pending.

The two historically separate sections of Palisades will be referred to as Alpine Meadows and Olympic Valley going forward. A high speed, three stage gondola is under construction to connect the two sides, though the exact completion timeline remains unannounced. You can bet the new gondola will sport the Palisades brand when it opens.

News Roundup: Skytrac Upgrades

  • New Zealand and Victoria, Australia resorts reopen after extended Covid closures (New South Wales remains locked down.)
  • Mt. Spokane will replace the drive terminal of Chair 2 with a new one from Skytrac.
  • Skytrac is completing similar mods to Tumbelina at Monarch Mountain.
  • The fate of the Pandora’s expansion on Aspen Mountain will be decided October 13th.
  • Sierra at Tahoe still doesn’t know the full extent of lift damage from the Caldor Fire but remains optimistic.
  • Users get stuck on one of Mexico City’s new gondola lines following an earthquake.
  • The Holding family agrees to sell most of Sinclair Oil Corporation’s assets, though Sun Valley and Snowbasin aren’t included.
  • The Forest Service issues a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Lutsen Mountains’ proposed expansion with public comments being solicited through October 25th. A new alternative would see the addition of five new chairlifts on Moose and Eagle Mountains rather than the initially planned seven.
  • The only lift in Oklahoma won’t open for the second year in a row and is in danger of removal.
  • Schweitzer adds 14 chairs to Stella.
  • A quick update from Snow King Mountain:

Towers Take Flight for Big Sky’s Swift Current 6

North America’s fastest six passenger chairlift is on track to open this Thanksgiving at Big Sky Resort. For the past three days, teams from Big Sky, Timberline Helicopters and Doppelmayr placed 23 towers and removed another set from the previous Swift Current quad. The new, conical towers are so burly it took nearly 200 heli trips to complete installation.

Swift Current ranks among North America’s largest new lifts this year and will complement Ramcharger 8, the trailblazing eight place bubble chair on neighboring Andesite Mountain. Swifty 2.0 features the same three ring Doppelmayr Direct Drive motor and 125 Big Sky Blue bubble chairs with heated seats. The previous Swift Current detachable quad will be placed in storage for re-installation somewhere within the Boyne Resorts portfolio.

The nearly complete bottom terminal sits just uphill of the old loading point, freeing up space the base area. The bottom is also no longer the drive station, increasing efficiency and reducing noise in the village. Together with Ramcharger, two D-Line lifts will lift up to 6,600 skiers per hour out of Big Sky’s Mountain Village.

Like at Ramcharger, an indoor parking facility is taking shape adjacent to Swifty’s top terminal, which will will feature 90 degree unloading and totally reimagined flow. Skiers and snowboarders coming from Shedhorn will enjoy a wider skiway around the top terminal instead of dodging unloaders from Swift Current. Snowmaking will reach the top of Swifty for the first time ever this season, a welcome addition to a high traffic spot subject to sun and wind. Come summer, 38 bike carriers will come out of the parking facility and carry four mountain bikes apiece.

Big Sky will now feature four distinct bubble chairlifts on Andesite Mountain, Lone Peak and Spirit Mountain. Along with the Swift Current project, the Lewis & Clark high speed quad is in the process of receiving new blue bubbles and a capacity increase to coincide with the planned Christmas opening of Montage Big Sky.

With seven new lifts in five years, there’s always something exciting going on at Big Sky. As Swift Current 6 nears completion, I can’t help but wonder what this mecca for modern lifts will build next.

News Roundup: First Load Test