Few lifts in the world are as iconic as the Snowbird Tram with its 125 passenger red and blue cabins rising from Little Cottonwood Canyon to Hidden Peak. When it opened in 1971, the tram was one of the longest, largest and most powerful aerial tramways in the world and remains so today. In his 168-page book dedicated to this machine, Walt McConnell said of the tram, “It was loaded with innovative features and immediately became the symbol of Snowbird.” A timeless style combined with recent upgrades mean the tram is sure to remain an icon of the Wasatch for years to come.
Decades after the founding of nearby Alta, Ted Johnson envisioned a carefully-designed, 40-acre resort village with modern American design anchored by a tramway. After a trip over from Vail, Dick Bass agreed to join team Snowbird and provide financial backing. Ted quietly began buying mining claims in Little Cottonwood Canyon while still working at Alta. In Ted’s mind, a tram was the only lift to build and the route to Hidden Peak was clear. “The awesome massiveness of the tramway and its terminal buildings-to-be set the stage for the bold architectural statements of all of Snowbird,” he declared. He went public with the Snowbird development in 1966, forming Snowbird Design Group.
The 2.8 mile 3S gondola Eisgratbahn, believed to be the world’s most expensive lift, debuts today after two long summers of construction. The two-stage system features 49 32-passenger Symphony cabins transporting up to 3,014 passengers per hour 4,000 vertical feet. The goal is to reduce the frequency of wind closures versus the former gondola lift. Congratulations to Leitner Ropeways and Stubaier Glacier on completing this monster project.
Hello readers- for the next two weeks I am floating the Grand Canyon without access to the internet. I’ve scheduled a few posts for my absence, otherwise lift blogging will resume Nov. 5th –Peter from Flagstaff, Arizona.
Just over a year ago, Arizona Snowbowl near Flagstaff hadn’t seen a new lift in 30 years. Now under the ownership of James Coleman, the resort is undergoing a renaissance with two new lifts in the last two years, new snowmaking coverage and expanded terrain. Last fall, Skytrac installed a new quad chair on the lower mountain named Humphrey’s Peak, a nod to Arizona’s highest mountain. This winter, Snowbowl will add the largest new chairlift in the country called the Grand Canyon Express. Built by Leitner-Poma, the six-pack is nearly complete and staff couldn’t be more excited about their mountain’s first detachable lift serving popular intermediate terrain with a six minute ride.
The first six-place lift in the state is large by any measure, not just gauge but also length (5,801 feet) with an impressive vertical of 1,546 feet. The line will have 61 chairs initially, moving up to 1,800 skiers per hour at 1,000 feet per minute. Arizona Snowbowl will be able to add 54 more chairs to reach 3,400 pph in the future. The new lift serves all of the terrain formerly accessible from the Sunset triple chair, which may eventually be removed. The Grand Canyon Express also accesses 90 percent of the acreage off Agassiz, Snowbowl’s workhorse lift that takes 13 minutes to ride.
Robert Redford’s Sundance Resort faced a challenge last fall. How could it find enough time to replace an aging lift that brings skiers to the mountain’s summit but also provides access to a hugely popular zip tour? With ski resorts increasingly becoming hubs for summer recreation, this is becoming a more frequent problem. Building a lift typically takes at least four months although there are exceptions. In 2015, Snow King Mountain replaced the heavily-used in both summer and winter Rafferty lift with a Doppelmayr quad in record time – under three months – between closing day of ski season and Independence Day weekend. This fall, Doppelmayr is making a similar push at Sundance to complete the new Arrowhead Quad.
Sundance’s other triple chair, Flathead, is actually ten years older than Arrowhead, which begs the question of why the latter will be modernized first. Built by Lift Engineering in 1985, the old Arrowhead could only download 240 guests per hour which no longer worked for summer operations. Furthermore, Yan used aluminum sheaves (with hubcaps!) on many of its later-model lifts which became prone to cracking. You’ll notice many Yan lifts of Arrowhead’s vintage sport upgraded line gear from Doppelmayr or Poma. Rather than upgrading piecemeal, Sundance announced last December it would replace the entire lift with a brand new quad chair. “With the amount of use Arrowhead Lift sees year-round, this upgrade is exciting to the skiing, snowboarding, ZipTour and summer programs that our guests love so much at Sundance,” director of mountain operations Czar Johnson said in a release announcing the project.
With work wrapping up on 36 new and four used lifts across North America, 2016 will go down as the best year for lift construction since the Great Recession. With Skytrac now a member of the Leitner-Poma Group, the big two manufacturers each supplied exactly the same number of lifts in North America – 17 – with one each for LST and Partek (although Skytrac provided controls for and installed the LST lift.) Doppelmayr and Leitner-Poma also had their best years individually since 2008 and Skytrac its second best in history with five complete lifts and a retrofit terminal for Keystone. These numbers include four gondolas manufactured in Europe by Leitner and Poma installed in Mexico and the Dominican Republic. If only lifts built by Leitner-Poma of America in Grand Junction are counted, Leitner-Poma had its third best year since 2008 with eight new lifts. I call it a tie.
While everyone knows the East had a horrible season last year, the Pacific states actually showed the softest demand for new lifts in 2016. Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California have steadily declined for more than a decade and just three new lifts went in there, the lowest number since at least 2004. The Mountain region saw 12 installations, virtually the same as last year and the second most since 2008. The Rockies also built the biggest lifts in the country – six-packs at Arizona Snowbowl & Big Sky, high speed quads at Steamboat & Vail and a two-stage gondola at Jackson Hole. The Midwest more than doubled last year’s count, achieving its second best year since 2004 with seven new lifts while the East was well below its ten-year average with six new lifts constructed in 2016. The big shocker: Wisconsin built more new lifts in 2016 than any other state or province with three new Doppelmayr quads at Wilmot Mountain, two Leitner-Poma quads at Cascade Mountain and a Skytrac quad at Christmas Mountain Village.
Canada finished right about average with eight new lifts, all built in the eastern provinces of Ontario and Quebec. Horseshoe Resort and Le Relais both added their first six-place detachables, which are sure to be well-received. Look for Western Canada to rebound next year after struggling since the recession. Perhaps most interesting is the four gondolas built for public transportation and tourism in Mexico and the Dominican Republic. I expect growth in Mexico and the Caribbean to continue as the urban ropeway revolution spreads north from South America (and hopefully to the United States!)
Three years into its ownership of Utah’s second largest ski resort, Summit Powder Mountain is making a statement by adding two Skytrac quad chairs to serve new intermediate terrain in Lefty’s drainage and Mary’s Bowl. The new lifts are called Village and Mary’s and will access runs to the south of the existing boundary beginning this winter. Powder Mountain already sprawls an impressive 7,000 acres but has just five lifts, four of them fixed-grips. Expanded uphill options will be welcome news to skiers although these latest additions are mostly about access to Powder Mountain Village and 150 new home sites. I reached out to Powder Mountain for more details about these lift projects and so far they have not gotten back to me. Luckily public records from Weber County provide some info and pictures tell a thousand words.
Skiing off to the south from the Hidden Lake Express this winter you’ll find the bottom of the new Village lift part way down Lefty’s drainage. The Village quad and its new sister lift will be the first just the third and fourth top drive lifts for Skytrac. Rising 582 vertical feet, Village will sport 16 towers and a capacity of 1,500 pph to start. The chairlift unloads on the ridge between Lefty’s and Mary’s at the heart of the forthoming village. Construction began on the late side for a lift to 9,000 feet in the Wasatch but all concrete work is finished and steel is arriving.
Credit Suisse and Replay Resorts are out at Idaho’s Tamarack Resort. Today the Tamarack Municipal Association (TMA) announced it has entered into an agreement to purchase and operate the troubled resort that debuted in 2004 and filed for bankruptcy four years later. TMA becomes the fifth operator of Tamarack in 12 years and the first unified owner-operator since 2008. News of the sale and tax payment comes just four days before Tamarack’s two high speed quads were scheduled to be auctioned by Valley County. A TMA subsidiary called Tamarack Homeowners Acquisition Company paid $269,075 in back taxes this week for land and assets needed for the ski operation.
This is an exciting moment for all who love #tamarack. It means the people who love the resort, now control its future.
The association of property owners previously operated Tamarack from 2012 to 2015 while it was owned by New Tamarack Acquisition Corporation, an entity led by Credit Suisse. The Zurich-based bank loaned $250 million to the founders of Tamarack and gained control of the resort out of bankruptcy along with other creditors. Eight years later, the homeowners likely paid pennies on the dollar for what was once worth hundreds of millions.
TMA already owned the Buttercup quad chair since purchasing it from Bank of America in 2012. Tamarack at one point operated six lifts but lost its Wildwood Express chair in 2012 after years of failing to make payments to BofA. That lift was sold at auction (reportedly back to Doppelmayr) and ended up at Brian Head in Utah. Ironically, Wildwood now appears as a “Future Lift” on Tamarack’s trail map.
“Today marks the start of a new chapter for Tamarack where homeowners have secured the future ownership and operations of the resort,” TMA said in a release. “This ensures the long-term future of this incredible destination for guests, employees and homeowners as well as the wider community in Valley County and the State of Idaho.” Tamarack plans to open for the season on December 9th and snowmaking is already underway.