93 percent of the 3.8 million people who visited Banff National Park last year arrived in a personal car. Across North America in places like Yosemite, Glacier and Banff, resource managers are struggling to find transportation solutions amid record visitation and constrained capacity. Banff National Park is unique – a very popular town of the same name with 7,500 residents that lies in the middle of a 2,500-square mile park. In 2015, the Town of Banff saw the most visitors in at least the last 15 years, continuing its average growth rate of 1.8 percent per year. So far in 2016, the daily vehicle count in town exceeded its 24,000-car comfortable capacity on at least 48 occasions. More troubling, vehicle volume increased eight percent this summer and is projected to exceed 24,000 on 270 days a year by 2045, with a crush load of 40,000 vehicles on peak days. This is in a town smaller than two square miles surrounded by mountains.
Challenging problems demand innovative solutions. This spring, the Town of Banff embarked on a long-term transportation study to examine parking, road improvements, traditional transit and a possible gondola to connect key points surrounding downtown. The Edmonton-based consulting company Stantec identified and studied three possible gondola alignments in addition to two intercept parking lots and increased bus service. The firm’s draft report notes, “without new interventions, congestion delays are expected to increase in both severity and frequency; Banff’s road system is finite and actions must be taken to solve the issues caused by the volume of vehicles on the road system.”
The Banff community knows gondolas. The Sulphur Mountain Gondola, a bi-cable Garaventa system operated by Brewster Travel Canada sits just south of town and will likely anchor the southern end of any new gondola. Sunshine Village ski resort also lies within Banff National Park and its huge gondola connects an offsite parking lot to the slopes and village with two mid-stations along the way.
Austin’s NPR station dedicates more than seven minutes to a discussion about urban cable. “Once we went to La Paz, we were up and running within 12 months,” Doppelmayr’s Randy Woolwine tells listeners.
Whistler-Blackcomb releases Conflicted Obsessions documentary about climate change. “The gorilla in the room is the long-distance travel required to get to these special places,” admits W-B’s environmental resource manager.
With construction underway on a new lift for the ninth time in ten years, Vail Mountain will have only three fixed-grip chairlifts this winter. Adding to what is already the largest detachable lift fleet in the world outside of Europe, Vail and Leitner-Poma are now building the mountain’s 19th high-speed lift in the famous Back Bowls to replace the Sun Up #17 triple. This is a major milestone for a mountain that in 1984 operated a whopping 19 fixed-grip chairlifts. Following on the heels of two new six-packs from Doppelmayr USA in 2013 and 2015, Vail switched back to Leitner-Poma for its newest high speed quad, which will be designated Lift #9. With its production facility down I-70 in Grand Junction, Leitner-Poma also supplied Vail’s Gondola One in 2012 and seven high speed quads in a row before that. Vail regulars will note that number 9 used to belong to the Minnie’s lift from 1972 until it was removed without being replaced in 2008.
The Sun Up Express will achieve 65 percent higher capacity than the 1992 triple version it replaces, which was actually one of the original lifts Doppelmayr built at Beaver Creek in 1980. Fun fact: B.C.’s Centennial was originally two separate triple chairs. What became Sun Up at Vail was the upper lift called Horseshoe. The triple chair is now history and will probably find a third home somewhere in the Vail Resorts empire or beyond.
Sun Up Express’ uphill capacity will be 2,400 skiers per hour which should help alleviate crowding on lifts 5 and 9. The Back Bowls and Blue Sky Basin will now have a combined seven high speed quads. Lift 9 will feature 82 quad chairs and 14 towers, most of which were set last week by helicopter. The lift will have a vertical rise of 1,115 feet and will be 3,865 feet long with a 670 HP AC top drive located near Two Elk Lodge. Sun Up Express will be Vail’s third lift with the new LPA (Leitner Poma Automatic) grips and terminals.
New York City’s iconic Roosevelt Island Tramway could soon be joined by a gondola linking Staten Island to Bayonne, New Jersey serving commuters and tourists alike. Staten Island has all the ingredients for a successful urban gondola: a dense (and growing) population, a geographic barrier surmountable by cable, and connections to other transit modes at both ends. This week, the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation (SIEDC) crowned Leitner-Poma of America the winner of a design competition it launched in January to promote a ropeway solution. A jury of engineers, architects and business leaders selected Leitner-Poma’s 10-passenger gondola proposal that would cross the Kill Van Kull tidal strait to New Jersey.
According to the development group’s request for proposals, subway-less Staten Islanders suffer from some of the longest commutes in the country, averaging 90 minutes to Manhattan by ferry. A new rail tunnel under New York Harbor is estimated to cost $400 million per mile and would not be completed for a generation, if ever. Despite mobility challenges, $1 billion of redevelopment is currently underway in this suburban borough. The SIEDC’s competition encompassed 4-6 possible routes, the most ambitious of which would connect Staten Island’s northeast tip with Battery Park in Manhattan over five miles of water.
Leitner-Poma recognized the technical and political challenges of 10,000-foot spans skirting the Statue of Liberty over New York Harbor and instead settled on a shorter connection to New Jersey and its rail network. Other entrants chose routes from Staten Island to Brooklyn, where the East River Skyway is separately proposed to connect to Manhattan.
Things were looking up Aug. 18th, when Sunday River proclaimed “Make Spruce Great Again,” announcing a brand new Spruce Peak triple would be installed as soon as possible to replace the Borvig triple that was heavily damaged in a July foundation failure. I was optimistic that the announced $2.1 million Doppelmayr triple could be built this fall and open sometime after Christmas. Unfortunately, yesterday Sunday River revealed that a new lift will not be built until at least next summer, leaving the top portion of Spruce Peak without lift service for the coming winter.
A number of factors led to the setback. Doppelmayr already had a busy construction season building 17 lifts in the US and Canada this year. The old lift could not be torn down until the accident could be investigated and MountainGuard could complete its claims process. Complicating things further, CNL Lifestyle Properties wants out of the ski business, has listed Sunday River for sale and is unlikely to want to invest in capital improvements. In a letter to pass holders, Sunday River said engineering for the new lift is complete and manufacturing could begin soon but, “decisions from our insurance carrier and commitment from our financial partners” are holding things up. As NewEnglandSkiIndustry.com reported this weekend, the old Spruce lift is still standing two and a half months after the incident, minus the last tower and top terminal that fell over.
In addition to Spruce, Sunday River will replace the top terminal of the Locke Mountain triple which is of similar design. The upper portion of Locke Mountain typically opens around Halloween with the first lift-served skiing in the East. Unfortunately the terminal replacement project means that Locke Mountain will not open until at least Thanksgiving. Instead, Sunday River will attempt to open the much longer Aurora quad as soon as possible. Even though there will be no lift to the summit of Spruce Peak this year, the trails will remain open for those want to hike and may even get snowmaking and grooming. Chairs have been removed from the Locke Mountain triple in preparation for the new terminal installation. A contractor (likely SkyTrans of nearby Contoocook,New Hampshire) will remove the Spruce equipment before the start of the season so it is not a hazard to skiers.
While these developments are disappointing, Sunday River’s release notes, “We remain committed to a new Spruce Peak Triple and will keep you updated on when construction for this new lift will start.” As the saying goes, it’s always better to be safe than sorry and Boyne Resorts cannot risk another Borvig lift failure in Maine.
As Snowbird plans for construction in Mary Ellen Gulch beginning in 2018, environmental group takes the media on a tour of abandoned mines there. The 500-acre expansion will likely include a two-stage gondola, Sunday Saddle lift and a new, longer Mineral Basin six-pack.
Commuters in a Mexico City suburb will take their first flights on a two-stage, $26 million gondola system called Mexicable in a few short weeks on Monday, October 3rd. State of Mexico Governor Eruvio Ávila announced the city of Ecatepec will join the growing list of cities in the Americas building ropeways over congested neighborhoods. The Governor’s Facebook Live test run video has been watched more than 461,000 times. Mexico joins Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela that operate (or will soon open) gondolas for urban commuters.
In Ecatepec, two loops will combine to serve seven stations and up to 3,000 passengers per hour in each direction. The State of Mexico and its private operators Grupo IUSA and ALFA Group awarded Leitner Ropeways a contract to build the two gondolas in January 2014 and construction began later that year. The lifts were largely completed in 2015 but station build-out and testing took longer than expected and the opening comes a few months late.
The new lifts will transit three miles over 32 towers in 17 minutes, replacing a bus line that takes 45 minutes. 185 10-passenger Sigma Diamond cabins painted in Mexico’s national colors will move up to 26,000 commuters each weekday. Line speed is 5 m/s and the span of service will be 17 hours per day. A ticket will cost eight pesos (43 cents) and the line will complement the Mexibus line 4, a 20-mile Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line currently under construction.
Peak Resorts loses $7.9 million in the first quarter (it owns Alpine Valley, Attitash, Big Boulder, Boston Mills, Brandywine, Crotched Mountain, Hidden Valley, Hunter Mountain, Jack Frost, Mad River Mountain, Mt. Snow, Paoli Peaks, Snow Creek and Wildcat.)
The deropement and evacuation of the pulse gondola between the Aiguille du Midi and Pointe Helbronner makes CNN.
Austria’s Foreign Minister meets with former London Mayor Boris Johnson to talk Brexit. The mayor says the Doppelmayr cowbell that came with the Emirates Air Line is one of his most prized possessions.