News Roundup: Ski Train

Waterville Valley’s Green Peak Expansion is a Go

Waterville Valley will open new terrain for the first time in thirty years this winter, CEO Chris Sununu confirmed at a press conference this morning.  With $2 million in financing clearing just recently, SkyTrans Manufacturing will relocate the World Cup Triple this fall to serve the ten new trails on Green Peak.  The U.S. Forest Service approved the 45 acre expansion in 2013. In addition to managing Waterville Valley, Mr. Sununu is running for Governor of New Hampshire which could have something to do with the late-summer timing of the announcement.  He frequently cites his leadership and job creation at Waterville Valley on the campaign trail.


The Green Peak triple chair will rise 1,011 vertical feet and move up to 1,800 skiers per hour over a slope length of 4,380′. SkyTrans, which specializes in refurbishing old lifts and relocating them to smaller ski resorts and amusement parks, has experience at Waterville.  SkyTrans General Manager Rich Combs said in a press release“this project builds on our history, starting when O.D. Hopkins Associates, the predecessor to SkyTrans, installed the very first lifts at Waterville Valley Resort.”  Those lifts were all built by Stadeli and the mountain still operates six of them!

The World Cup Triple in 2012 after being re-built by Doppelmayr following a fire.

The 1985 triple formerly known as World Cup has numerous Doppelmayr components thanks to a June 2000 lightning strike and fire. The bottom station building burned to the ground and the haul rope separated due to the heat.  Doppelmayr came in and replaced both stations and added a mid-station at the same time.  After the installation of the parallel White Peaks Express in 1988, World Cup only ran weekends and holidays and was removed starting in June. The move to Green Peak comes sooner than many expected and the new lift and terrain will open sometime this winter.

Instagram Tuesday: Yellow Iron

Every Tuesday, we pick our favorite Instagram photos from around the lift world.

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Elkhead Express Construction Update from Steamboat

This week’s construction update comes from northern Colorado where Steamboat Resort is in the midst of replacing a fixed-grip quad with a UNI-G detachable.  The Elkhead Express will be Steamboat’s first Doppelmayr lift built since 1997 after three new Leitner-Pomas in a row. Nearby Vail went the other way this year, switching from Doppelmayr back to L-P.  Elkhead Express is the third lift in its location following a 1972 Heron-Poma double and later a Lift Engineering quad.  The not-that-old Yan has been carefully disassembled and will undoubtedly find a new home somewhere down the road.

The new Elkhead will only have around ten towers; the old lift had 13.  The Doppelmayr crew has finished concrete and set the big steel with a crane at both terminals.  Tower footings are ready to go but I couldn’t find any of the towers laying around yet.  The stations will be blue and white with red stripes and are sure to look sharp.  Compared with the UNI-G terminals going up in Jackson and Big Sky, Elkhead’s stations are noticeably smaller.  Like all of Steamboat’s detachables, Elkhead Express will have a deluxe indoor maintenance bay attached to the bottom terminal.  Steamboat’s eighth detachable lift will be ready to go by Thanksgiving.

News Roundup: Co-Op

Big Sky 2025: A $150 Million Vision for the Next Decade on Lone Peak


Big Sky Resort plans to build the most high-speed, high-tech lift network in North America over the next ten years, the company announced at media event this afternoon. Boyne Resorts Principal Stephen Kircher outlined Big Sky 2025, a $150 million road map for capital investment that includes a new North Village gondola, replacement of core lifts with bubble six-packs and additional lifts to serve new terrain. Enhanced snowmaking, new on-mountain dining and improvements to the Mountain Village will complement the massive investment in new lifts.


The rise of Big Sky from Chet Huntley’s four-lift outpost in 1973 to the Biggest Skiing in America with 26 lifts owes in large part to the Matterhorn-like mountain named Lone Peak. Boyne Resorts bought Big Sky in 1976 and slowly grew it into America’s largest ski resort by 2013 with the purchase of Moonlight Basin and the Spanish Peaks Mountain Club.  Mr. Kircher noted none of the three mountains were financially sustainable in the 2000s and the uniting of the three has been transformative.  Now with 5,800 acres of terrain, Boyne seeks to elevate the ski experience to match the grandeur of its mountain that is unmatched in North America.  “We have a unique opportunity with the high alpine terrain here at Big Sky,” he noted.

Phase one underway this summer includes the new Challenger Triple, Lone Peak Six and upgrades to Ramcharger and Lone Tree.

With $13 million of construction underway on the mountain, Big Sky Resort will operate the second third largest lift fleet in North America this winter behind Whistler Blackcomb and Park City.  The sprawling complex already includes two six-packs, five detachable quads and the famous Lone Peak Tram. This summer’s new lifts are just the beginning of a plan that includes the return of a gondola and ten more lifts (eight with bubbles) within existing boundaries and beyond.  Big Sky 2025 will transition the resort from one with nearly the most lifts to one with the best lifts featuring loading carpets, bubble chairs, head rests and heated seats that skiers have become accustomed to in Austria and Switzerland but rarely find in the States.

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Instagram Tuesday: Builders

Every Tuesday, we pick our favorite Instagram photos from around the lift world.

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Crazy Gondola Opens at Wynn Palace Cotai

It seems the lift companies can build just about anything these days, even a gondola that turns six times at the request of a casino magnate.  Steve Wynn opened his $4.2 billion Wynn Palace yesterday in Macau, China along with one of the most complex gondola lifts ever built.  The casino’s SkyCab is monocable detachable that turns six times.  Doppelmayr designed the lift to run slowly enough that cabins can round four different bullwheels at line speed while only detaching at two loading and unloading stations, one of which has a ~110-degree angle on the roof of the main lobby.  An upcoming rail station will be integrated with the second station.  The entire system relies on the same principles Doppelmayr used to build a gondola at a zoo in Sweden that also makes six angle changes.

Look closely, there are two bullwheels, four towers and a terminal in this photo.
Cabins reach nearly 100 feet over Performance Lake, where fountains perform to music every 15 minutes.  “A fanciful dragon lifts you into the sky, affording a spectacular view of our iconic Performance Lake, before gently setting you down in a garden, where a member of our talented Reception team welcomes you,” notes the Palace website. “Our SkyCabs have quickly emerged as one of the most talked-about attractions at Wynn Palace.”

CWA adapted standard 8-passenger Omega cabins into 6-passenger VIP versions with custom audio-visual systems and air conditioning.  Doppelmayr Cable Car will manage operations and maintenance for the system under a long-term contract.  If you are looking to make a career move and like the sound of dragon bullwheels, they are hiring.

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Will North America Build a New Tram Ever Again?

Car 1 of the Jackson Hole Aerial Tram approaches its dock at 10,450′ in June 2016.

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort stunned the ski world June 24, 2005 announcing the iconic aerial tramway up Rendezvous Mountain would carry its final riders in 2006. The Kemmerer Family, owners of the resort since 1992, decided to retire the 40-year old jig-back at the first concerns about safety.  “This decision has been extremely difficult and quite honestly a very sad one,” Jay Kemmerer lamented at the announcement.  “We know this may impact our business, business to Jackson Hole and the State, but we must move on.”

JHMR did move on but not in the way many feared.  After two years of study, the Kemmerers opted to build a new 100-passenger Garaventa tramway at a cost of $31 million.  A bi-cable gondola was cheaper and seriously considered but failed to uphold the tradition set by the original tram in 1966.  National Ski Areas Association President Michael Berry said of the 2006 deal with Garaventa, “This huge investment by JHMR ownership to build a new tram stands alone in our industry.  The tram at Jackson Hole is recognized around the world as a lift that access some of the most spectacular terrain in North America.”  Big Red, as it quickly became known, was the first new tramway built at a U.S. or Canadian ski resort since the Alyeska Tramway in 1992.  The next newest tram was Cannon Mountain’s, dating back to 1979. Almost a decade later, only Jackson Hole and Alyeska have built large new aerial tramways in the last 37 years (for this post I’m talking about multi-cable tramways carrying 25+ passengers.  Arguably the “beer can” trams at Big Sky and Snowbasin are really reversible gondolas.)

Poma of America built the Mt. Roberts Tramway in 1996 not for skiers, but for cruise ship passengers.

Switzerland is home to 97 large aerial tramways.  Italy has 59, Austria 40, France 35 and Germany 18 for a total of 249 in the Alps.  Compare that with 21 tramways operating in all of North America: 14 in the United States, 4 in Canada and 3 in Mexico.  Only a third of those are directly used for skiing with the rest dedicated to sightseeing or public transportation. More than half the trams operating in North America were built in the 1960s and 1970s with varying degrees of upgrades along the way.  As the chart below shows, the aerial tramway staged a slight comeback in the last decade but aside from Jackson Hole and Alyeska, the trend has nothing to do with skiing.

NA Tram Timeline
Aerial Tram openings in North America over the last 50 years.

The Royal Gorge Bridge & Park in Colorado hinted at the future of tramways in 2013 when it lost its tram to a wildfire.  Instead of rebuilding, the park contracted with Leitner-Poma to build a reversible gondola at a fraction of the cost of a new aerial tramway.  Even with just six 8-passenger gondola cabins, the new system can move more passengers than the old tram.

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Challenger & Lone Peak Six Updates from Big Sky



The first of two new Doppelmayr lifts under construction at Big Sky Resort this summer is a fixed-grip triple chair with loading conveyor replacing Challenger.  A 1988 Superior Tramway double to the upper reaches of Lone Peak suffered gearbox damage last February (while I was on it) and never ran again.  The new lift will be 25 percent faster than the old, ascending 1,670 feet in 9.5 minutes.  Concrete for the new triple is finished except for the operator house footers up top. The triple chair will feature Doppelmayr’s Tristar bottom drive/bottom tension station with a simple return bullwheel up top. Interestingly, Boyne Resorts has ended up with four Tristar lifts after recent incidents at Sugarloaf (x2,) Big Sky and Sunday River.

About half of the tower footings were built from scratch while others were kept from the old lift that ran in the exact same alignment.  Challenger will have 18 towers versus 15 on the old double.  Both terminal locations have been completely re-graded with much more room for loading and unloading.  Tower tubes and crossarms are in the parking lot ready to fly any day now.

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