North America’s Declining Lift Industry

I thought it would be interesting to do a statistical analysis of the types of lifts built over time in the US and Canada and see what lifts tend to still be operating today.  I previously looked at the average age of lifts in different regions of the US and Canada and found that most lifts operating today are more than 25 years old.  The statistics below will show why.

Fixed Grip Chairlifts Built by Type, 1958-2014
Fixed Grip Chairlifts Built by Type, 1958-2014

First I looked at fixed-grip chairlifts.  I was surprised just how long ago double chairlift construction peaked – way back in 1971, when 146 double lifts were built in a single summer.  That’s equal to all lifts built in North America over the past five years.  Triple chairlift construction peaked in 1984 at 58.  Just four years later, the most quad chairlifts were built – 36 in 1988.  I would have guessed this to be much later.  Since 1988, quad and triple chair construction has remained relatively constant and equal with almost no double chairs built.

Detachable Lifts Built by Type, 1963-2014
Detachable Lifts Built by Type, 1963-2014

On the detachable side, the number of gondolas built each year remains fairly steady, usually under five per year.  Of the 473 high speed quads built to date, most went in between 1986 and 2007.  Detach quads peaked in 1998, when 32 were built in one summer.  Six packs peaked two years later but have always been less popular than quads.  Last summer was the worst year for detachable construction since the technology was invented; just eight were built in all of the US and Canada.  2015 will be better with at least 16 being built right now.

Surface Lifts Built by Type, 1958-2014
Surface Lifts Built by Type, 1958-2014

Surface lifts followed an interesting pattern with all three major types (T-Bar, J-Bar, Platter) peaking very early, around 1964.  T-Bars remained somewhat popular into the 1970s but were virtually done being built by 1980.  Platter lifts remained a bit more common throughout the 1980s and 1990s but are all but extinct thanks to the invention of carpets.

Total Lifts Built by Type
Total Number of Lifts Built by Type

It gets even more interesting to look at how many of these lifts are still operating versus just when they were built.  Not surprisingly, we find that 100 percent of six packs are still spinning while only 13 percent of single chairs are.  More interestingly, 44 percent of doubles, 73 percent of triples and 86 percent of fixed-grip quads are still running.  Nine percent of detachable quads have already been retired along with a third of detachable gondolas.  The majority of surface lifts are long gone with only 28 percent of T-bars, 17 percent of J-Bars and 30 percent of platters remaining in operation.  Because of the sheer number built, the double chair remains the most popular type of lift operating today at North American ski areas followed by triples, quads and detachable quads.  I suspect these numbers would be very different over in Europe, where lifts are replaced every twenty years or so.

Number of Lifts Built per Year
Total Number of Lifts Built per year

Last I looked at the total number of lifts built over time.  The above graph shows what the lift manufacturers are up against – a ski industry in decline since 1972.  This is why Doppelmayr, Leitner and Poma are looking to urban governments and non-ski private business for new projects.  At least in North America, there are fewer ski resorts buying even fewer new lifts each year.

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One thought on “North America’s Declining Lift Industry

  1. Chris July 11, 2019 / 3:04 pm

    Loves this kind of analysis! But saying lifts get replaced every 20 years in Europe is not correct. While such cycles exist for highly used lift in big and rich resorts there are plenty lifts around here that are 30 or 40 years old as well.

    Liked by 1 person

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