With 52 new ropeways servicing ski slopes, fairgrounds and theme parks, 2018 marks the fifth straight year of lift construction growth that began in 2014. All manufacturers did well this year and numbers were particularly strong in the Eastern United States and Canada. With North America’s first eight passenger chairlift, pioneering double loading gondolas, the first direct drives from two manufacturers and the first D-Line detachables, 2018 will be remembered as a pivotal year for North American lift building.
Forty three lifts were brand new this year while nine were relocated. Killington moved two lifts to new spots on the mountain, Doppelmayr relocated high speed quads at Whistler Blackcomb and Big Sky while Skytrac reinstalled Poma fixed grips at Catamount, New York and Spider Mountain, Texas.
Months ago I nicknamed 2018 the year of the gondola with a record ten new installations including combination chair/gondola lifts at Bromont, Quebec and Copper, Colorado. New gondolas sprouted coast to coast in both the United States and Canada in a year that won’t soon be repeated.
Bubble chairlift construction also surged with big installations this winter at Big Sky, Copper Mountain and Killington. The new American Flyer is the longest bubble lift in the world with 182 six place chairs set to carry skiers and snowboarders very soon. Copper, Winter Park and Big Sky’s new lifts are the first in North America with direct drives that cut gearboxes out of the equation for increased reliability.
A metric I like to track is the number of lifts in completely new locations versus those which directly replace older lifts. This year, expansion installs were almost 40 percent of the total, a sure sign of a strong economy. Lift-served terrain expansions included The Beavers at Arapahoe Basin, Hunter North at Hunter Mountain, Meadow at Wolf Creek and Northwoods on the backside of Mt. Spokane. The massive Skyliner project undertaken by the Walt Disney Company is in an investment category all its own.
2018 was the third year in a row non-snow lifts represented more than ten percent of the lift total. Leitner-Poma completed an urban tramway in San Francisco and Skytrac realized a triple chair nearby at the Alameda County Fairgrounds. Skytrac also added the first lift for mountain biking in the state of Texas, a used Poma quad from Taos. The ski business remains the lift industry’s bread and butter and winter resorts added a total of 44 new lifts this year, the most since 2008.
There are more new lifts in the East this winter than at any time in the past two decades. Powdr Co. went all in at Killington with three different lift projects and Beech Mountain, North Carolina undertook two. While there were some very large new machines in the Rockies in 2018, the overall number is down from last year to 15 lifts (still second best since the recession.) Key states Colorado and Utah accounted for six and three new lifts, respectively. The Midwest was well down from its ten year average of five new lifts with only two this year. The Pacific states were right where they normally are with six new machines this season. Five of those were built in Northern California, meaning Southern California and the Pacific Northwest saw below average construction.
Canada got back in the game in a big way with the most installations since the year 2000. Whistler Blackcomb spent a transformative CAD$66 million on four lifts and SilverStar took the gondola plunge in July. In the East, Bromont’s chondola is a game changer as is the new Lowell Thomas Express at Alterra-owned Tremblant. Five additional Canadian resorts added fixed grip quad chairs this year.
There were zero new lifts in Mexico and the Caribbean in 2018, the first time that’s happened since 2014.
Doppelmayr took the market lead with an impressive 23 lifts in 2018. All of the fixed grips were Alpen Star models and most of the detachables utilized popular UNI-G terminals. Doppelmayr’s premium detachable product, D-Line, came across the pond simultaneously at Big Sky and Walt Disney World, though the latter project won’t open until next fall.
Sister companies Leitner-Poma and Skytrac completed 18 projects, four fewer than last year. But on average they were very big lifts and 2018 was the best year ever for LPOA in terms of sales dollars. In addition to its new chairlift and gondola projects, Leitner-Poma supplied new Sigma cabins for the K-1 Gondola at Killington and completed a bunch of other upgrades to existing lifts.
Skytrac built its first lift in Canada this year alongside two Leitner-Poma detachable surface lifts at a ski area in Labrador. The company built the longest Monarch to date at Mt. Spokane, Washington. Salt Lake-based Skytrac also installed a fixed grip triple and added a new enclosure to an existing CTEC at Tahoe Donner. The Skytrac Monarch has proven even more popular than Poma’s longtime Alpha model in the fixed-grip market, although some of each were built in 2018. Both models will continue to be offered side by side.
MND Group’s LST Ropeways finished its second North American lift, a T-Bar at Waterville Valley, and Partek supplied a new quad at West Mountain, New York. SkyTrans Manufacturing didn’t build a complete lift in 2018 but will do at least two next year.
Despite all the construction, more lifts were retired this year than commissioned. At least 58 lifts were retired and/or removed in 2018. It’s appearing increasingly likely that North America reached “peak lift” in 2013-14 with 2,987 operating ropeways. The industry will be down to around 2,935 in 2019.
Likely new lifts are pacing even higher than a year ago with the number standing at 39 by my count on this last day of 2019. With a slow start snow wise across many regions last year and tax law changes, some lifts weren’t ordered until February and March. The way things are trending, I am optimistic 2019 will be even bigger for lift construction than 2018 was (hopefully not just the case of resorts committing to lift projects earlier.)
Some lifts which began construction in 2018 will end up be completed well into next year, including the Bretton Woods Skyway Gondola, the Ascutney Mountain T-Bar and the Montana Snowbowl TV Mountain chair. The Pacific Northwest is headed toward a particularly busy 2019 with two new lifts already slated for construction in Washington State, four in Idaho and one in Montana (plus three across the border in southern British Columbia.)
With a lot of detachable lifts about to turn thirty, even more older fixed grip lifts, recent industry consolidation and a strong economy, I see 2019 pushing 60 new lifts. As I say every year in this post, think snow as we near prime season for lift announcements.