Sierra at Tahoe Aims to Open with Limited Terrain

As a winter storm heads for California, significant work remains before Sierra at Tahoe can open for the 2021/22 season. It was seven weeks ago the Caldor Fire tore through the majority of the resort’s drought-stricken terrain, damaging lifts and destroying millions of dollars of equipment. Most buildings were saved but Sierra now says extensive damage and supply chain challenges could mean a later than normal start to the season with limited terrain. Parts of the ski area won’t open at all this winter, including the entirety of West Bowl and its two chairlifts.

The season will likely include the Easy Rider Express, Tahoe King, Short Stuff and El Dorado. These lifts are currently undergoing repairs along with normal annual maintenance and inspections. Short Stuff’s fire-damaged haul rope has already been replaced with a spare rope from Mammoth Mountain installed with assistance from Palisades Tahoe. Another lift which needs a new rope, the Grandview Express, will remain out of service until a replacement arrives from Switzerland. “We are focused on making repairs and restoring Sierra to optimal condition, while simultaneously navigating global supply chain and shipping challenges for essential equipment and components,” read an update posted yesterday.

In addition to the West Bowl closure, many tree skiing areas will be off limits the 2021/22 season due to dangerous conditions. Sierra at Tahoe is offering passholders next season on top of this one should they choose to stick it out. This deal also includes a $50 rebate, which can optionally be donated to a fund for Sierra employees impacted by the fire. Resort owners will match $50 donations to make them $100. Passholders who choose not to take the two year season pass options can request a full refund.

“Our opening timeframe for the 2021/22 season is still unknown, as there is a tremendous amount of work to be done in order to offer you the quality ski experience you have come to expect from Sierra,” the resort told passholders. “We are hopeful to have more clarity on an estimated timeframe for opening the resort in the coming weeks.”

Another Chondola Coming to the Smoky Mountains

Developers Mark and Lisa Williford today announced construction of SkyLand Ranch, an entertainment and shopping complex in Sevierville, Tennessee. The $40 million project includes an aerial lift with both chairs and gondolas, a mountain coaster, suspension bridge, zip lines, and shopping. The park will be set on a 100 acre ranch across the street from one of the South’s largest outlet malls. “SkyLand Ranch has been a dream of our family for over 10 years,” said Lisa Williford, owner of SkyLand Ranch and two nearby Rowdy Bear Adventure Parks. “The idea is to form a destination that tells a story of life on the ranch with a spark of amusement, festivals, shopping, dining, and leisure. The Five Oaks area already has outstanding lodging, dining and shopping with the Tanger Outlets — and amusement and recreation is the only thing missing from this area of Sevierville.”

Those who’ve visited eastern Tennessee know the Gatlinburg region’s seemingly limitless entertainment and recreation demand. Boyne Resorts opened Gatlinburg’s original chairlift attraction back in 1954 and the Smoky Mountains’ first ski area/amusement park followed with a tram and four chairlifts in the decades after. Anakeesta came on scene with the region’s first gondola in 2017 and The Hawk Skylift opened on Harper Brothers Mountain just this past summer. A ninth lift was set to open at Pigeon Forge Snow in 2020, although that project was shelved due to the coronavirus pandemic.

SkyLand Ranch construction is already underway and the park is set to open in Spring 2022. A manufacturer for the new combination lift was not announced.

News Roundup: Race to Open

Leitner-Poma to Expand in Utah

Utah’s Office of Economic Opportunity will support Leitner-Poma of America as it establishes a new base in the Beehive State. Leitner-Poma plans to bring up to 118 jobs over the next 10 years in manufacturing, service, parts, sales and administration with an estimated $30 million capital investment. “Utah has a fantastic pro-business environment and the ropeway market in Utah is growing exponentially,” said Daren Cole, president of Leitner-Poma of America in a press release. “We’re excited to expand our operations to have a more permanent home in the state.”

Since 2016, LPOA has owned fixed-grip specialist Skytrac, operating out of a former Komatsu dealership in Salt Lake City. The balance of Leitner-Poma’s US manufacturing currently takes place in Grand Junction, Colorado, where the French company Poma established an outpost in 1981. Today, LPOA and Skytrac plus groomer manufacturer Prinoth and snowmaking supplier DemacLenko all operate under the High Technology Industries (HTI) umbrella. The new facility will house several HTI brands, providing customers with a wide range of services. The State of Utah will refund a portion of Leitner-Poma’s state taxes for the next decade if certain economic targets are met.

“We’re excited that a global company like Leitner-Poma is bringing the manufacturing and distribution of chairlifts and other transportation systems to the home of The Greatest Snow on Earth,” said Theresa Foxley, president and CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah. “Like other companies in our Outdoor Products industry, they will find our state to have committed and talented workers.”

Current LPOA projects in the Utah market include a set of bubble chairs for Wasatch Peaks Ranch and a six place lift at Snowbasin Resort.

News Roundup: Formal Proposal

  • Sierra at Tahoe reports more fire damage than initially thought with a large amount of vegetation burned, six lifts damaged and a vehicle maintenance shop lost.
  • A GoFundMe has been established to support Sierra at Tahoe employees who lost personal property in the Caldor Fire.
  • Jay Peak is “actively engaged” with multiple potential buyers and reports improving finances, though both Jay and Burke Mountain both still operate in the red.
  • Sunday River will spin the new Merrill Hill triple select days this season with a full opening pushed to winter 2022-23.
  • With a new lift on the way, Kelly Canyon begins disassembling the Stony Mountain double.
  • A vaccine requirement for indoor entertainment venues in British Columbia won’t apply to gondolas.
  • Also in BC, the Zincton formal proposal is out and includes five chairlifts plus a gondola.
  • The New York Times does a feature story on green urban transportation including gondolas.
  • James Niehues announces his retirement from trail maps though he will continue painting.
  • Catamount continues construction on two new quad chairs, one of which will start out as a triple.
  • Skytrac flies towers at Howelsen Hill.
  • Snow King Mountain enters the home stretch on a $20 million summer and looks for public help to name new lifts.
  • Speaking of Snow King, towers went up last weekend for both lifts.

Eight Seater Coming to Sunday River’s Jordan Bowl

Doppelmayr will build the fastest eight place chairlift in North America for the 2022-23 season, a Sunday River Red bubble chair in Jordan Bowl. Dubbed Jordan 8, the lift will feature the world’s first red-colored bubbles along with heated seats, a loading conveyor and direct drive. Jordan 8 will spin a blazing 6 meters a second, shaving a minute off the ride time of the current Jordan Bowl Express and transporting 3,200 skiers per hour. “We are proud as a team and so excited to bring the latest Doppelmayr technology to Sunday River,” said Stephen Kircher, CEO of Boyne Resorts. “With each milestone in the Sunday River 2030 plan, Boyne Resorts is enhancing the experience across the board with major investments in infrastructure.”

The current Jordan high speed quad will be refurbished to replace the Barker Mountain Express for winter 2023-24. Some may wonder why Jordan for a D-Line lift rather than Sunday River’s original peak with an older detachable quad. The answer lies in Jordan Bowl’s popularity with guests, the amount of wind and snow it sees as well as the fact Sunday River owns thousands of acres next door. The Jordan/Oz peaks and future terrain beyond will be known henceforth as the Western Reserve. “The Jordan 8 is a significant jumping off point for the Western Reserve, creating a portal that could double our skiable terrain in the coming decades,” said Dana Bullen, President of Sunday River. “This lift also acts as an immediate catalyst for upcoming renovations to the Jordan Hotel, new activities and amenities.” Both Jordan 8 terminals will feature glass weather protection, allowing all 60 chairs to be parked without a separate storage building. Each chair weighs 2,262 pounds, making the lift wind resistant during storms.

Jordan 8 is the third major lift project announced by Boyne Resorts for 2022. Also in New England, the company is relocating the former Kancamagus detachable quad at Loon Mountain to replace Seven Brothers. Last week, Boyne Mountain unveiled plans for Disciples 8, the Midwest’s first eight passenger chairlift. When Disciples 8 and Jordan 8 open next winter, Boyne Resorts will operate eight seat chairlifts at four of its nine mountains and 80 percent of all the eight seaters in the United States.

Telluride Outlines Four Planned Lift Projects

Telluride Ski & Golf owners Chuck and Chad Horning hosted a community meeting tonight, outlining a nine figure capital plan for the next five to ten years. While no lift contracts have been signed, Telski officials revealed they are close to a deal with Doppelmayr for a new detachable quad and are working on three additional projects to be built in seasons to come. Telluride also outlined new employee housing and hotel initiatives which are key to supporting future growth.

The first new chairlift in 14 years will likely be a detachable quad replacing Plunge, Lift 9. The triple chair’s ride time exceeds 13 minutes and the $8 million quad would carry 1,800 skiers per hour, up from 1,200. The Hornings said they would like to ink a deal with Doppelmayr in the next few weeks but that plan may depend on community support for tourism in two November 2nd ballot questions regarding short term rentals.

The second project Telski officials discussed was an up-gauge of the Village Express to a six place. This out-of-base workhorse would likely feature wider chair spacing than the current detachable quad, allowing for fewer stops and more efficient loading. Also on the roadmap for replacement is Sunshine Express, once the longest high speed quad in the world. A modernized chairlift would run $9 or 10 million but the resort is considering building an even more costly multi-stage gondola. Like many of its competitors, Telluride wants to shift ski school operations to the upper mountain, which would require a beginner-friendly gondola. If built as a gondola, Lift 10 would likely include an intermediate station at The Market and Mountain Village parking garage. The lower section of the gondola could run independently in the summer to complement the existing three section gondola operated by the town of Mountain Village. Discussions are ongoing about that project and the future of the aging Telluride-Mountain Village gondola system in general. Finally, Lift 7 is on the radar to be replaced with a higher capacity fixed grip lift at a cost of around $3 million.

All told, the Hornings are looking at spending $35 million on lifts. Ownership said Telluride will remain a Doppelmayr mountain with fixed grip, UNI-G and D-Line options all under consideration. They noted global steel and copper demands are impacting lift prices but both parties are eager to make a deal.