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.
Kokomo Express – Copper Mountain
Copper proves this season that a new lift doesn’t have to be big to make a big difference for skiers and snowboarders. The old Kokomo, a 1981 Poma triple, was well-maintained with adequate capacity but its fast-moving chairs proved an operational challenge. The new Kokomo Express is set back from the Union Creek lodge, allowing for better flow and a larger maze area (Copper also added Axess RFID gates this year, requiring more space.) A new building at the top called Koko’s Hut will open soon alongside a new carpet lift, giving beginners a world-class teaching experience away from the base hustle and bustle.
Montezuma Express – Keystone
Leitner-Poma also won the contract to replace the 1990 vintage Montezuma Express with a six-place version at Keystone. Four chairlifts and two gondolas with a combined hourly capacity of 15,800 skiers now converge on the summit of Dercum Mountain. Even taken alone, the new Montezuma is a beast at over 7,000 feet long, 1,000 horsepower and moving up to 3,000 Keystone guests per hour.
Alpenglow – Eldora
With new ownership, a new brand, remodeled lodge and new lift, Eldora feels like an entirely different resort from the one I visited last season. The mountain’s new identity prominently features a tree logo, the color orange and tagline “Closer to You.” Challenge and Cannonball are out, a six-pack is in. Originally slated to be called Eldo Express, Alpenglow is the crown jewel of Powdr’s newest mountain, providing a 4.1 minute ride up the popular terrain on the front side. While the Forest Service normally frowns upon brightly-colored lifts, the sunset orange and black Alpenglow terminals feel at home at the new Eldora and prove the right lift in the right place can change everything.
Northwoods Express – Vail
Vail Mountain is up to ten new lifts in eleven years with the addition of a six-pack at Northwoods, an accomplishment unmatched in North America. New #11 is the mountain’s fourth Leitner-Poma LPA detachable and first non-Doppelmayr six-pack (the very first LPA lift, the High Noon Express, unloads right next door.) Only three of Vail’s first-generation detachable lifts remain – Born Free, Game Creek and Orient.
What’s does Colorado have in store for next year? We know Vail Resorts is flexing its capital improvement muscle mostly outside the state. Arapahoe Basin will add a Leitner-Poma fixed-grip quad in The Beavers and Wolf Creek is likely to move forward with the Meadow project, a short detachable quad below Alberta. Alterra could make a splash at Winter Park or Steamboat. Vail and Aspen Highlands may see new race venue surface lifts and Purgatory is seeking approval for the Gelande lift. While this season’s slow start could affect lift sales, I can attest that the skiing in Eagle, Summit, and Boulder counties is excellent right now and there’s a whole lot of winter left.