Like many industries, much of the ski business is controlled by a handful of large companies. There are six such businesses in the Americas that operate more than 50 lifts each. Their combined 589 lifts account for one fifth of all the lifts in North America and almost a third of the VTFH (vertical transport feet per hour.) The top three operators are, as you would expect, Vail Resorts, Boyne Resorts and Intrawest. But there are others including Mammoth Mountain, LLC which operates 55 lifts at four different ski areas in California and Powdr Corporation which has 68 lifts in five states.
Vail Resorts doesn’t just own lots of lifts; the lifts they operate are bigger, newer and faster than average. This winter, the company will operate 15 gondolas and tramways, 75 detachable chairlifts and 83 fixed grip chairlifts. These numbers for Vail Resorts do not even include the lifts at Perisher, the company’s newest acquisition in Australia. If you put each lift at each of Vail’s resorts end to end, the total length would be 115 miles. The average lift owned by Vail Resorts is 21.5 years old, six years newer than the national average. 56 percent of Vail’s lifts were built by Doppelmayr and CTEC, 14 percent by Leitner-Poma. Vail accounts for 11.4% of all the vertical transport capacity on the continent, with a total VTFH of 353 million!
The second biggest resort operator is privately-owned Boyne Resorts, which has 126 lifts at 11 mountains. Boyne doesn’t actually own most of the properties it operates; instead holding long-term leases through CNL Lifestyle Properties. The lifts Boyne operates are older and smaller than Vail’s. They include 30 detachable chairlifts and 85 fixed-grip chairs. Doppelmayr and CTEC built 45 percent of Boyne’s lifts, followed by Riblet at 20 percent. Boyne accounts for 5.3 percent of the total VTFH in North America or 162 million.
Intrawest has 80 lifts in its fleet spread across the US and Canada, with a total length of 52 miles and VTFH of 146 million. Its resorts have seven gondolas, 29 high speed chairlifts and 40 fixed-grip chairs. Intrawest’s resorts are split about evenly between Doppelmayr and Poma, with Yan making up most of the rest. Intrawest’s lifts are mostly newer like Vail’s, averaging 24.7 years.
Peak Resorts, the new kid on the block and a publicly-traded company, has a lot of lifts but they aren’t very big. Only seven of its 74 lifts are detachables. Most of the lifts at Peak Resorts were built by defunct companies like Hall and Borvig. Total VTFH at Peak Resorts’ 11 mountains is 56 million, a small fraction compared to the big three.
The 68 lifts at Powdr Corporation’s resorts are bigger and older than average. Powdr operates 24 detachable chairs/gondolas and 67 fixed-grip lifts, accounting for 3.6% of North America’s total VTFH. Powdr is the only one of the top six operators that has more Leitner-Poma lifts than Doppelmayr. Powdr is fourth in total lift length at 43 miles.
I included Mammoth Mountain, LLC because the company operates more than 50 lifts, even though its reach is limited to California. Mammoth operates three other mountains besides its namesake, bringing its total to 55 lifts. Mammoth’s mountains have 32 fixed-grip chairlifts and 21 detachables totaling 33.4 miles. It accounts for 2.6% of the VTFH in the US and Canada with 82 million. 38% of the lifts at Mammoth, June, Snow Summit and Bear Mountain were built by Doppelmayr, followed by Yan at 27%.
There are other large operators of ski lifts that don’t quite have 50 lifts, including Alpine Valley Holdings (45 lifts,) Aspen Skiing Company (37 lifts,) Resorts of the Canadian Rockies (35 lifts) and Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows (35 lifts.)