- Doppelmayr will bring D-Line to France for the first time this fall.
- A child is okay after falling from a Big White chairlift onto a busy road.
- Ski California to host its first Lift Maintenance and Operations Education Conference June 5-7 at Squaw Valley.
- After weathering a challenging season with a narrow profit, Sunlight considers building a truly new lift for the first time in half a century.
- An empty cabin falls from an early model Poma gondola in France, leading to a rope evacuation and significant media attention.
- Fatzer produces a 6.5 mile long, 60 mm wide rope for what may be the new longest monocable gondola, location unknown.
- Mt. Timothy, BC is “flat broke” and will likely close without public funding.
- Leitner delivers the first Symphony cabin for the world’s highest 3S by helicopter.
- The financially-challenged Hermitage Club closes for the season.
- Garaventa names a new CEO.
- A state economic development authority delays consideration of a $28 million loan guarantee for The Balsams.
Canada’s second largest ski resort near Kamloops, British Columbia today unveiled plans for its tenth lift, a $3.1 million fixed-grip quad chair above the East Village. The new lift will complement Sun Peaks’ existing Morrisey Express with its bottom terminal located nearby. It will then cross the Sun Peaks road and climb over existing ski terrain with a top terminal above the East Village Ski Way. “This lift project is especially rewarding to announce today. Better access from the East Village is vital to our overall experience and future success,” said Darcy Alexander, Vice President and General Manager of Sun Peaks in an early morning press release. “The new lift is something we are really pleased to add to the mix for next winter and it will greatly enhance our industry leading ski-in ski-out design”
The specific run layout is currently in development but will see a green trail option to the village from the top of the lift consistent with all other resort lifts and a well-known element of the Sun Peaks ski experience. Additionally, the lift will provide improved access to some of the most underrated and underutilized ski terrain with family-friendly blue runs and pockets of glade skiing. New chairs will also be added this summer to the Sundance Express for a 30 percent increase in capacity as part of an overall $47 million capital plan for 2018. No manufacturer was named for the new quad but Sun Peaks is currently an all-Doppelmayr mountain and a wholly owned subsidiary of Nippon Cable, Doppelmayr’s longtime partner in Japan.
Every Tuesday, I feature my favorite Instagram photos from around the lift world.
Beech Mountain, North Carolina will replace two of its workhorse chairlifts ahead of the 2018/2019 winter season as had been rumored for weeks. Lift 5, which ascends to the 5,506-foot summit and was originally built in 1987, is currently being disassembled in preparation for the installation of a new Doppelymayr fixed-grip quad. The new lift will include a loading conveyor to ensure safe boarding, higher travel speeds and shorter trip times. Lift 5 will now include 144 chairs with a 6.5 minute ride time accommodating 2,400 people per hour.
This marks only the second time in North American history that a fixed-grip chairlift will replace a detachable one, though there could be more in the near future. Sugarbush, Vermont swapped the 1990 Green Mountain Express for a fixed quad in 1995, though the route went detachable again in 2002. Willamette Pass, Oregon’s detachable six-pack is currently up for sale, eyed to be replaced with a fixed-grip lift that would be more affordable to operate. A used T-Bar may also rise this summer at Ascutney, Vermont on the site of a former high-speed quad. If Tamarack, Idaho is ever able to rebuild the Wildwood Express, it could be another detachable-turned-fixed-grip scenario.
Back to Beech, Lift 6, currently a double chair with parts from Goforth Brothers, Hall and Doppelmayr, will be replaced with another Doppelmayr fixed-grip quad. This one will feature 106 chairs and a 6.5 minute travel time with a capacity of 2,000 people per hour. Both quad lifts will feature footrests, upholstered seating and back rests. Guests can now expect to reach the mountain’s 5,506-foot summit with easy on-and-off loading, comfortable seating, and a more efficient layout to eliminate congestion.
Freddie Peyerl, Gerrit VandeKemp, and Jeff Connors are on a roll. Their company, Alpine Media Technology, recently raised a million dollars to bring its digital guest engagement technology to ski resorts, including to chairlifts and gondolas. I’ve been following this project (with a dose of skepticism) since it launched and got the chance to catch up with the founders as LiftDigital’s first winter season wraps up.
Peter: What are your backgrounds and how did you guys come up with the idea for digital screens on chairlifts?
Gerrit: Our backgrounds are in Pharmaceutical & Biotech Consulting (Peyerl), Financial Services (VandeKemp), and Aerospace Engineering (Connors). So, we are definitely newcomers to the ski industry. The three of us were on a ski trip together, and a simple discussion on the growing presence of gas station media systems led to a weekend long brainstorming session surrounding the idea that digital information systems on chairlifts could provide a great number of benefits to maximize guest experiences. Ironically, our idea was hatched while skiing the very same resort we are now wrapping up our beta test on – Winter Park.
Peter: Your trial included displays on some of the Super Gauge Express chairs. How did it go this season?
Gerrit: Our beta test has surpassed all expectations, and a lot of the credit for this has to be given to the entire team at Winter Park. From Executive Management all the way to Lift Operations, we have benefited from an “all hands on deck” approach to making this season a success.
Peter: What do ski area operators like about the technology? What about the skiing public?
Freddie: For operators, it’s all about communication with resort guests. Our digital information system starts with LiftDigital, the restraint bar platform, and extends out onto indoor & outdoor kiosks around the mountain as well as a mobile app catered and branded specifically for each resort. These collective elements provide resort operators the opportunity to communicate real time information to guests including lift open/closed status, emergency notifications, lift line wait times, resort events and more. Our objective goes way beyond providing maps to guests – we want to help resorts provide their guests with as many resources as possible to maximize their time on the mountain. Consumer feedback from our beta test in Winter Park has supported our belief that we are accomplishing this, as resort guests have been very excited about the new access to information.
Peter: Your non-digital competitors are probably on less than 10 percent of American chairlifts. Why do you think that is?
Gerrit: Plastic map systems on chairlifts were definitely a novel breakthrough when they came out, and useful at that. But, advances in digital trends over the last decade have shifted the approach & strategies of marketing teams, ad agencies, and brands to gravitate more towards digital connection with consumers. Map systems would have probably achieved significantly more than 10 percent market share with a better head start over digital advancement. This is where we feel our company is primed to sync with current trends and partner with a high volume of resorts going forward.
Under blue sky at 12,000 feet, the President of Bolivia pressed start at high noon yesterday for Línea Blanca, the newest gondola in the world’s urban ropeway capital. Surprising thousands gathered for the occasion, President Evo Morales then proceeded to inaugurate the first section of the Sky Blue line, initially slated to open later this year.
The day was momentous as seven color-coded gondola lines now stretch contiguously throughout La Paz and El Alto with no significant gaps between them. From this weekend, Mi Teleférico (My Cable Car) includes approximately 140,000 feet of haul rope, 962 gondola cabins, 168 towers and 26 stations. The scale is almost unbelievable and there are still four more lines in development!
Built by Doppelmayr like most of Mi Teleférico, the White line services four stations with 131 10-passenger cabins. It’s capable of transporting 3,000 passengers each hour on a 13 minute trip between the Sky Blue (Celeste) and Orange (Naranja) lines. The initial section of Celeste was once planned to be part of a four-section White line which was later split to serve additional neighborhoods and prevent any one line from becoming too congested. Like most of the world’s largest gondola system, I’m pretty sure the White Line is made up of two separate haul rope loops and vault drive systems with cabins that rotate through both.
The list of new lifts built in the Midwest since I started this website in 2015 is short. In Minnesota, a total of three – two quads at Giants Ridge and an $8 million gondola at Lutsen Mountains. Unlike both of its state-owned regional neighbors, Lutsen is a family business that also happens to be the largest ski resort for 2,000 miles between the Rockies and the Adirondacks. I’ve never been to this corner of Minnesota but it looks totally beautiful, surrounded by National Forest on three sides and Lake Superior on the fourth.
The popular new Doppelmayr gondola is like nothing else in the region and it came just two years after Lutsen owners Charles Skinner and Tom Rider launched a Leitner-Poma six place chairlift on Moose Mountain. With two key lifts upgraded, the brothers-in-law are looking to the future and more lifts servicing the types of terrain discerning skiers seek. Lutsen Mountains is a true destination resort and its competitors aren’t as much Afton Alps and Spirit Mountain as Breckenridge and Steamboat. For many, the Lutsen case is compelling – a couple hour drive, alluring scenery and plentiful natural snow at a reasonable price. “We’re a Midwest destination for families; not everybody can afford the airfare and the travel to go out west,” Mr. Skinner told the Cook County Board of Commissioners in a presentation last week. “We just need to be strong enough and appealing enough with enough terrain to go forward with the next generation.”
The co-owners are on a public outreach tour as they embark on a rigorous approval process with the United States Forest Service. If granted a special use permit for new ski terrain in the Superior National Forest, it would be the first brand new permit for a U.S. ski resort in decades. “The only available land for us to have more runs is federal land,” Skinner pointed out along with the fact that 90 percent of Cook County is publicly-owned. The expansion plan would first add 100 acres of much-needed beginner terrain with skier services on Eagle Mountain serviced by a new chairlift. Depending on the cost of a new lift, Lutsen may use one of a few retired lifts it has in storage. The next phases would add 400 acres of intermediate and advanced terrain on two sides of Moose Mountain including glades and up to six new lifts. “As the ski industry moves forward, we need to be larger in order to survive,” said Skinner, noting the eventual goal of doubling skier visits.
Setting aside new gondolas, bubbles and chondolas at Copper and Winter Park, the biggest stories for Colorado skiers next winter will be Arapahoe Basin’s long-awaited addition of The Beavers, Wolf Creek’s Meadow expansion and Purgatory’s new Gelande pod (the latter pending Forest Service approval.) A year later, Copper Mountain may follow with Tucker Mountain just as Vail plans to add a new lift and trails high on Golden Peak. If all goes according to planned, Beaver Creek will also build two new lifts in McCoy Park a year before Aspen Mountain plans to debut Pandora. Steamboat has Pioneer Ridge and Sunshine II on the horizon, Keystone plans new lifts for Outback, Independence and Bergman Bowls and Crested Butte wants to build Teocalli 2. Right in the middle of all this explosive ski country growth is Leadville’s Cooper, which now seeks an expansion of its own.
Open continuously since 1941, Cooper today operates three fixed-grip lifts and proposes adding a 2,450′ surface lift called Way Back with five advanced-intermediate trails. It’s a modest proposal for a mountain that proudly declares “we’re not like our neighbors” on its homepage. The new platter or T-Bar lift would load on the backside and top out near the Piney triple summit. If approved, construction could take place as early as 2019, which I’m thinking will be a very busy summer for Colorado lift construction. In the meantime, work is about to begin on eight new lifts, the most in Colorado since 2007.
Georgian Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development Dimitry Kumsishvili held a press conference today to announce initial findings of an investigation into the rollback of a 2007 Doppelmayr quad chair at the Gudauri ski resort, which injured 11 people a week ago. French firm Bureau Veritas confirmed the lift’s initial stop was caused by a power outage. “After the chairlift was stopped, the operator had to introduce specific sequence of procedures and after implementation of the certain actions, the operator had to switch the chairlift on to the diesel generator power and bring the tourist to the safe site,” a translated press release reads. “Unfortunately, according to the current conclusion, the operator made a mistake. The combination of the actions that he should have had carried out were not implemented in compliance with the relevant instructions – it was a human error.”
The report notes the chairlift had undergone an inspection in December and was in “perfect technical order.” The operator on duty at the time has been fired and may face criminal charges at the conclusion of the investigation. The Head of Gudauri Mountain Management and Deputy Director of the Mountain Resort Development Company have both resigned in the wake of the incident. Georgia is in active talks to retrain employees from Gudauri and other ski areas, though staff had been to training courses at Doppelmayr headquarters in Austria in 2017 and Poma was on site offering training opportunities as recently as January. The government says there are 15 total chairlifts in the country that are “in line with the world’s advanced standards.” A statement from Doppelmayr linking to the release notes, “We hope that the injured persons are getting well soon. This remains the most important point at the moment.” According to Minister Kumsishvili, all of those injured have been released from hospitals and invited to return to ski next year for free.
What if you could launch a new lift at your favorite mountain? Say, for instance, you owned the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and wanted to upgrade the popular Thunder fixed-grip quad. Guests are seeking a faster ride but wind is an issue and you don’t want to overcrowd the storied Amphitheater and legendary Laramie Bowl. The neighbors to the north are going D-Line but the media facade doesn’t quite fit in with the Teton landscape. With Doppelmayr’s latest generation ropeway configurator, part of Doppelmayr Interactive, anyone with a computer can visualize the lift of their dreams. For Thunder, I came up with a modest capacity D-Line six place in gray and red.
I spent way too much time testing out other hypotheticals on the new version tonight. Another one: Arizona Snowbowl is considering Doppelmayr for its new base-to-summit combination lift. With the configurator, owner James Coleman could customize D-Line and non D-Line versions of six-passenger chairs and 10-passenger gondola cabins from anywhere. My mock up includes galvanized D-Line bubble chairs and and Omega cabins in Snowbowl blue. You can create whatever you like and then take a zoomable 360-degree spin.
Last one: say a group of investors finally fronts the money to purchase the beautiful Saddleback Mountain in Maine and wants to build a signature lift to replace Rangeley up the heart of the mountain. No D-Line this time, simply a modern take on classic green and gray for a new UNI-G six-pack launching in late 2019. If only it was this easy!
Just like a real lift, the possibilities are endless. Models now available to customize are 6E98 & 6DCD chairs, CWA Omega IV-8 LWI & Omega IV-10 SI D cabins, and UNI-G, UNI-G Vision, D-Line R1 & D-Line R2 stations. You can even upload background images and logos to customize your dream lift with any colors in the RAL spectrum. For those with access to the Doppelmayr customer service portal, your existing account works to save and send your creations. Pretty darn cool!