Lutsen Looks to Public Land for a Bright Future

Photo credit: Lutsen Mountains

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.

Lutsen Mountains currently includes seven lifts on Moose, Mystery, Ullr and Eagle Mountains. Two are brand new and three older chairs were recently retired.

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.

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As Colorado Booms, Cooper Eyes a Fourth Lift

Colorado’s Cooper sits along Tennessee Pass at over 11,000 feet.

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.

Government: Human Error Caused Gudauri Rollback

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.

Doppelmayr Takes Ropeway Configurator to the Next Level


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!

Smokey Mountain to Replace Entire Lift Fleet

One of Atlantic Canada’s best kept secrets is Smokey Mountain, which will soon sport three new lifts.

A community ski area surrounded by iron ore mines near the Quebec-Labrador border will build as many new lifts as Whistler Blackcomb this summer, though they will be of quite a different variety.  Smokey Mountain Ski Club is set to debut Canada’s first Skytrac, a quad chair where a 1972 Poma double with a floating bullwheel stands today.  The mountain’s Blue lift, a detachable Poma in operation since the 1960s, will be swapped for a brand new Leitner-Poma version.  Another new LPOA platter lift will serve an area known as coaches’ corner and supplement a carpet lift built last year.  Smokey has also retired its Red and Green Poma lifts meaning the entire lift fleet will be renewed by next winter.


This revitalization has been in the works since at least 2016 but was put on hold due to a downturn in the iron ore market.  The Iron Ore Company of Canada will fund the not-for-profit ski club’s modern and more reliable lift system as part of mitigation for a new site nearby.  Below are some photos from Smokey’s website to memorialize the truly classic Poma lifts which will be missed.

This ambitious project brings the North America new lift count to a potential 48 for 2018.  That number includes at least five Skytrac Monarchs, a dozen Leitner-Poma installations and 21 Doppelmayr machines.

News Roundup: Available

  • The latest Doppelmayr Wir highlights Yellowstone Club’s expansion and more.
  • The Gondola Project updates us on the Leitner-Poma tram project at San Francisco’s Salesforce Tower transit center.
  • Aspen Skiing Co. eyes opening the Pandora quad chairlift on Aspen Mountain in 2020.
  • Majella Group CEO Sebastian Monsour tells the Bangor Daily News his Australian company is still working to close on the purchase of Saddleback Mountain while a former employee is suing for unpaid wages.
  • A Montana community grapples with options for Teton Pass, a closed ski resort listed for $650,000 with one SLI double.
  • In advance of its new gondola, Silver Star’s 1970 Mueller is listed for sale on SAM.
  • CWA launches a slick new website and refreshed logo.
  • Val Neigette, Quebec will close for good on April 1st and its 1990 Doppelmayr quad is on the market.
  • An editorial in the Park Record floats the cool idea of a gondola from offsite parking at Kimball Junction to Park City’s Sun Peak zone with a possible mid-station at Utah Olympic Park.
  • Big White’s Powder Chair will soon be available for $150,000 CAD.
  • Alpine Media Technology raises $1 million to bring digital screens to more lifts including Winter Park’s new gondola.
  • SkyTrans hopes to build and operate a $2 million gondola at an Illinois winery.
  • A lawsuit against Sugar Mountain filed by the family of a child who jumped from a lift after closing has been settled.
  • Leitner’s fifth 3S gondola will be a spectacular one with Symphony cabins and a combination gondola/railway/transit station.
  • A Jacksonville, Florida developer proposes a river crossing gondola.
  • What appears to be Walt Disney World’s gondola cabin maintenance facility is taking shape.
  • Instagram suggests the Hermitage Club may have reached a deal to open this weekend following a state-ordered closure.

Instagram Tuesday: Cabriolet

Every Tuesday, I feature my favorite Instagram photos from around the lift world.

State of Vermont Shuts Down The Hermitage Club

A former employee of the Hermitage Club sent this picture to the local newspaper showing a notice from the state and letter from management.

Notices posted on buildings at America’s second largest private ski resort are clear.  “Please take notice that Hermitage Club LLC failed to post the bond required by the Vermont Commissioner of Taxes…and may not conduct any business at this location.”  News of the closure comes less than a month after a Massachusetts bank filed a $16.6 million foreclosure complaint related to three separate loans allegedly now in default.

The Hermitage Club features one of only five bubble chairlifts with heated seats in the United States.  It opened just over two years ago.

Vermont Public Radio reports The Hermitage owes the State of Vermont more than $1 million in rooms, sales and meals taxes.  The two parties had been operating under a payment plan that allowed the ski resort to open on weekends this winter.  A $112,000 payment wired to the state on Friday was enough to keep the lifts spinning until Sunday.  A note to members posted at the club yesterday says, “We are working diligently to secure the funds to allow us to open for this coming weekend and will keep you posted.”  The local newspaper references some employees who said they were escorted from the property by police.  I can only imagine the frustration they must feel losing their jobs after months of uncertainty.

Opened in 2011 on the site of the defunct Haystack Mountain ski area, the Hermitage Club currently owns a 2015 Doppelmayr bubble high-speed six place lift, two recent Skytrac quads, a 1985 Poma triple and a 1987 CTEC triple.  As I wrote a few weeks ago, lots of legal maneuvering likely lies ahead and many of these lifts could find new homes in the event of a liquidation.

Whistler Blackcomb Hosts Summer Projects Open House

The new two stage Blackcomb Gondola will feature 184 Omega IV 10 LWI cabins from CWA.

Monster Doppelmayr UNI-G XXL terminals are headed to British Columbia for the first time.  Whistler Blackcomb and Vail Resorts held a community open house last night to detail plans for what will be a packed summer building four new lifts on both iconic mountains.  The largest component of the $52 million project is a new Blackcomb Gondola announced in December.

The beastly gondola will load where the current Wizard lift does before continuing to a very large mid-station located below the current Solar Coaster base.  An even larger cabin parking facility will be built in the trees to the west of the dual terminal.  The second stage of the gondola (separate haul ropes and drives) will continue after a slight angle change to Rendezvous just below the current Solar Coaster unload.  10-passenger cabins will depart every nine seconds yielding a 4,000 passenger hourly capacity – second highest ever in North America.


Also on Blackcomb, a new, longer Catskinner four place detachable will start to the southwest of the existing Yan triple chair.  This lift will have 97 chairs reused from Emerald Express and 14 new towers.  Emerald’s Spacejet-style terminals will also come over from Whistler.

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High-Speed Rollback in Georgia Injures Eight

While we in North America were sleeping, a serious lift incident unfolded in the Caucasus Mountains, where Europe and Asia meet.  Videos posted to YouTube and Facebook show a Doppelmayr fixed-grip quad picking up speed in reverse and chaos ensuing on an already crowded powder day.  Any riders who didn’t jump were thrown from the lift at the drive bullwheel or pinned between mangled chairs.  Georgia’s Ministry of Economy says eight people sustained non life-threatening injuries.

Another picture shows chairs piled up after the lift came to a stop on what would normally be the arrival side of the drive station.  Some grips held on while others were ripped from the haul rope after going around the bullwheel.

From looking through Doppelmayr Worldbooks, I believe the lift in question is called Sadzele, built in 2007 as one of six lifts at the Gudauri ski resort.  Note that fixed-grip lift models Doppelmayr sells in the U.S. and Canada differ significantly from those found in Europe and elsewhere.

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