The Olympics have become a boon for ski lift companies, which often supply tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars in new lifts in the run up to each Games. Most recently for Sochi’s 2014 venues, Doppelmayr built a staggering 40 ropeways including multiple tricable gondolas that could even carry cars in the event of road closures. Poma built another $137 million worth – 16 lifts – the most concurrently at a single area in company history. Even summer host cities often feature ropeways that I’d like to think contributed to them being chosen as hosts in the first place. Transport for London and Doppelmayr launched the Emirates Air Line just in time for the 2012 games and Rio de Janeiro debuted multiple urban gondolas in the run up to 2016.
The 2018 games kick off February 9th in and around PyeongChang, South Korea. Three ski resorts will host alpine events just 125 miles from where North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un opened his own new ski resort with a gondola and four chairlifts in 2013. The South’s democratic government has constructed a similar facility from scratch to host the downhill and super-G events, called Jeongseon Alpine Centre. Doppelmayr supplied a unique two-section gondola in 2015 and added additional two high-speed quad lifts in 2016. This is notable because there are really only two runs! One of the chairlifts is very similar to the temporary Timing Flats high-speed quad at Whistler, which simply ferried foot passengers from the base area to finish plaza during the 2010 Games and was moved to Sunshine Village after just two weeks of public use.
The two-section Jeongseon Downhill Gondola is powered by a single 857 horsepower motor and services the entire 2,707 vertical-foot men’s downhill course. A stacked bullwheel at the lift’s angle station has two grooves for the two different haul ropes. After some delays with site prep, the gondola was built by multiple crews in just three months from November 2015 to February 2016, just before an IOC deadline. The finish line at Jeongseon sits at only 1,788 feet above sea level and a 4,500 gallon-per-minute snowmaking system was also built here. The venue receives little natural snowfall and has been criticized for its ecological impact and questionable future as a public facility.
For the first time since their journey across the Atlantic, Jackson Hole’s newest gondola cabins slept inside last night. With a parking and storage facility officially commissioned at Sweetwater‘s Solitude Station, 48 luxury vehicles that cost tens of thousands of dollars each now have a world-class home that brings together the latest lift technology with proven principles.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort opened its Bridger Gondola barn in 1998 and 84 cabins have been going inside for twenty years there. The CWA X models are in incredible shape for their age and number of hours, a testament to their quality construction, dedicated maintenance staff and indoor storage.
JHMR launched gondola number two in December 2016 and its CWA Omega IV cabins remained on the line continuously until yesterday. The winter of 2016-17 proved to be a monster in the Tetons and while the cabins performed well, fifty feet of snow often turned to ice on flat roofs. Frozen chunks would bounce up and down, making sounds that mimicked falling metal. Jackson Hole sometimes goes weeks or even months without a thaw and ice would also accumulate on the cabin floors and in ski racks (other fun liquids would freeze too!) Ice storms that can cripple door mechanisms and plague detachable grips thankfully never materialized last year and the days of worrying that storm would come are now over.
Alterra Mountain Company dropped a bomb at the Outdoor Retailer/SIA show this morning, announcing the forthcoming Ikon Pass will bring together its dozen North American resorts along with eleven other major mountains. Aspen Skiing Company, Boyne Resorts, Powdr Co. and more have partnered with Alterra to add destinations such as Aspen Snowmass, Alta, Snowbird, Big Sky, Killington and Jackson Hole. “The Ikon Pass is a collaboration of like-minded mountain destinations across North America where incredible terrain, unique character and local traditions are celebrated,” said Erik Forsell, Chief Marketing Officer for Alterra Mountain Company. “We’ve curated a community of iconic destinations. We believe this new pass offers tremendous opportunity and appeal to mountain enthusiasts who have a passion for outdoor adventure.”
Pass options will range from a set number of days at varying destinations to an ultimate, unlimited season pass. I can’t stress enough how much this changes big mountain skiing in North America. For years now, Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass has been the largest and most successful season pass product in the world, now offering access to 272 lifts and 44,000 acres at 15 mountains in North America and Australia to some 750,000 passholders. Ikon will one-up Vail’s terrain offering with access to 23 top-tier North American resorts, a ridiculous 363 lifts and 48,840 acres (for both passes, I am counting gondolas, chairlifts and surface lifts with towers. If carpets and rope tows are included, the Epic Pass offers 340 lifts while Ikon has 434.)
Ikon Pass resorts for 2018-19 will be:
Alpine Meadows, California
Aspen Highlands, Colorado
Aspen Mountain, Colorado
Bear Mountain, California
Blue Mountain, Ontario
Big Sky, Montana
Copper Mountain, Colorado
Deer Valley, Utah
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
June Mountain, California
Loon Mountain, New Hampshire
Mammoth Mountain, California
Snowshoe, West Virginia
Snow Summit, California
Squaw Valley, California
Sunday River, Maine
Winter Park, Colorado
Ikon passholders will also receive discounts and special offers at CMH heli-skiing in British Columbia. Epic holders already enjoy limited access to 30 European resorts. The Liftopia-powered Mountain Collective Pass, which allows destination skiers to sample many large resorts, will remain an option in its current form and also go on sale in March. The M.A.X. Pass, founded by Intrawest, Powdr and Boyne, will sunset. Specific Ikon tiers and prices will be released in the coming weeks.
Colorado’s growing Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park will make a major lift upgrade in 2019, swapping its pulse gondola system for a detachable one. The Iron Mountain Tramway is a 2002 Poma Alpha model with 16 6-passenger Omega cabins that currently moves up to 300 guests per hour. From early 2019, a new Leitner-Poma detachable gondola is planned to more than triple capacity to 1,000 per hour with 44 six passenger cabins. Ride time will plunge from 12-15 minutes down to just seven. “This will help us enhance our guests’ experience by reducing wait times to board the tram and reducing the frequency of weather-related tram closures,” noted the park’s general manager, Nancy Heard in a press release. “It will be more stable in high-wind conditions, and will eliminate 80 percent of the shutdowns caused by wind and lightning.”
Sixteen years after Steve and Jeanne Beckley opened the adventure park in Glenwood, it now averages 205,000 visitors annually and the tramway sometimes experiences 60 to 90 minute wait times. New tropical model Sigma Diamond cabins will feature additional ventilation and lightning arresters will be added to the towers in hopes of achieving more up time. Pending local approval, construction will begin November 1st and continue for four months, during which the park will be closed. Existing towers will be reused while the terminals will be completely replaced (the new drive system will shift to the top terminal.) The unique tower-mounted utility lines that have been in service since opening day will also be buried and a new two-story administration building constructed in time for the park’s 17th season.
With over 100 detachable chairlifts, 22 gondolas and some 150 fixed-grip lifts, the Colorado lift fleet represents a total investment somewhere in the neighborhood of $700 million. The Centennial State has more ski lifts than any other state or province and on each visit I’m amazed by the caliber of ski infrastructure here. More than half of Colorado’s lifts are detachable models, a feat which no other North American region comes close to achieving. This winter, six more high-speed chairlifts came on scene, and while none open up new terrain, each one serves an important purpose. I was lucky enough to ride the new machines at Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Copper, Eldora, Keystone and Vail over three days this week, testament to the remarkable amount of skiing available within a few hours’ drive here. This year’s class includes two Doppelmayr high-speed quads, a Doppelmayr six-pack and three Leitner-Poma six-place chairs representing half of all new detachable chairlifts built in North America for 2017-18.
Red Buffalo Express – Beaver Creek Mountain
The last lift from Beaver Creek’s 1980 inaugural season, Drink of Water, was replaced with a new lift with a new name over the summer. The quad’s namesake, Red Buffalo Park, is now a dedicated learning zone with awe-inspring views of the Gore Range from 11,400 feet. While lift 5’s terminals, hangers, grips and operator houses are new, most of the tower components and chairs are from the former Montezuma lift at Keystone. Like its sister Vail, Beaver Creek now has just one fixed-grip lift of appreciable length remaining alongside an amazing 14 detachable chairlifts and gondolas.
Falcon SuperChair – Breckenridge
Breckenridge debuted its third next-gen Leitner-Poma LPA six-pack on December 28th. The new Falcon SuperChair replaces a Poma high-speed quad that opened along with Peak 10 itself in 1985. The new ride lifts capacity by 25 percent to 3,000 guests per hour in this popular advanced-intermediate pod. The Falcon has the same sweet plush chairs as the new Colorado and Kensho SuperChairs.
Whiteface is the largest resort in the East by vertical and played host to the 1980 Olympic Downhill. The New York State-owned Olympic Regional Development Authority continues to operate Whiteface along with nearby Gore Mountain and Belleayre in the Catskills. This week, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed an impressive $62.5 million for capital improvements at ORDA facilities for 2018-19. While the budget proposal is not yet law and does not identify specific items, it is likely to fund projects from Whiteface and Gore‘s management plans which, probably not coincidentally, were updated this month to include up to ten new lifts.
The biggest project in Whiteface’s future is the replacement of the Freeway double (a 1978 Hall) in a completely new and much longer alignment. A new high-speed quad would start at in the base area and cross over the Little Whiteface double-double, topping out on the Upper Mackenzie trail. Two new trails would be cut from the top, making this lift ideal for intermediate skiers and riders. A second project would replace the 1984 VonRoll double named Bear with a fixed-grip quad. An offload opportunity would be included near the current top terminal and the new lift would continue to the Mid-station lodge area parallel with the Face Lift detachable quad.
Significant improvements are planned for the Bear Den beginner complex. A relocated Riblet double-turned-triple currently services this zone and would be replaced with a fixed-grip quad. “The new quad and magic carpet at Bear Den will serve the extensive trail work we are planning in that area,” Whiteface General Manager Aaron Kellett tells NY Ski Blog. “We want to extend the lift top terminal higher to create better flow in and out of the area.” Last year, Whiteface proposed a new lift from Bear Den all the way to the Mid-station but that plan has morphed into a conceptual transfer lift between the two base areas. A second transfer lift (think gondola, pulse gondola or cabriolet) could link the main parking lot to the base lodge.
Copper Mountain is moving forward with plans for lift service on Tucker Mountain, the 12,337 foot peak that forms the backside of Copper Bowl. A Tucker lift was first approved in 2006 under Intrawest ownership but free cat skiing is as close as it got to being implemented. Eight years into new management, Powdr Co. has proposed a new alignment that begins at the current Blackjack return terminal and ascends 1,150′ to the Tucker summit. The fixed-grip triple chair would be only around 3,000 feet long and move up to 1,200 skiers per hour. Blackjack’s return terminal would be moved slightly uphill to make room for the new machine.
The project would improve access to underutilized advanced terrain within Copper’s existing permit area and is undergoing expedited review as a result of the previous approval. The White River National Forest opened public comment yesterday (running through February 9th) and a decision is expected in March. According the the forest’s schedule of proposed actions, construction could begin as early as this June with an opening next winter.