The Lift Business Jumped Forward in 2018

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Vail Resorts undertook a historic $52 million lift investment on Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, adding a two stage gondola, six pack and high speed quad for 2018-19.

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.

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A UH-60 “Black Hawk” from Timberline Helicopters delivers lift towers at Big Sky Resort in October.

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.

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I was lucky to attend the SilverStar gondola launch on a perfect day in July.

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.

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Leitner-Poma bubble chairs destined for Killington stored safely at Pico back in October.

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.

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A second high speed six person lift opened along with new trails at Hunter Mountain, owned by Peak Resorts.

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.

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Skytrac constructed its longest lift to date in Washington State.

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.

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Windham Mountain’s Westside Six is one of three new detachable lifts in the Catskill Mountains over the last two seasons.

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Alterra Mountain Company dropped more than $16 million to build a flagship gondola at Winter Park.

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.

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A Doppelmayr detachable at Wolf Creek is one of six new lifts in Colorado for 2018-19.

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.

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There were zero new lifts in Mexico and the Caribbean in 2018, the first time that’s happened since 2014.

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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.

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Skytrac completed two fixed grip triples in California this year including this one at a county fairgrounds.

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.

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LST of France completed its second North American lift in 2018 – a T-Bar at the summit of Waterville Valley.

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.

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A $25 million summer stretched into the fall and winter as Killington packed many overdue projects together.

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.

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In an example of what is occurring industry-wide, Taos Ski Valley replaced two fixed grip chairlifts with a single detachable quad this year.

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.)

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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.)

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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.

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Deer Valley’s Homestake Express on opening day earlier this month.
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23 thoughts on “The Lift Business Jumped Forward in 2018

  1. Joe Gmuender December 31, 2018 / 7:40 am

    Excellent roundup and analysis Peter. Thanks for your work.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Kevin R December 31, 2018 / 7:52 am

    Excellent report Were are the three lifts going in BC?

    Like

    • Peter Landsman December 31, 2018 / 7:56 am

      Manning Park, Red Mountain and Revelstoke. Hopefully more to come!

      Like

      • Paul Mathews January 7, 2019 / 12:02 pm

        Hi Peter, Did not see installation of the Orient fixed quad at Sun Peaks Resort by Doppelmayr.

        Paul Mathews Ecosign.

        Like

        • Peter Landsman January 9, 2019 / 10:12 am

          Hi Paul, Orient is included on the list and map of 2018 new lifts. At the end of the article I was referring to lifts for next summer – 2019. Hopefully Sun Peaks makes it on that list too!

          Like

        • Paul Mathews January 9, 2019 / 11:48 am

          Hi Peter, Oh, did not see the mention. Think we will take a year off but perhaps new Crystal detachable quad in 2020.

          Like

  3. Gavin December 31, 2018 / 10:29 am

    Epic post Peter!

    Like

  4. alex December 31, 2018 / 11:08 am

    Peter when you said “pioneering double loading gondolas” can you elaborate on which lift(s) you are referring to?

    Like

    • Peter Landsman December 31, 2018 / 11:59 am

      Six of the Disney Skyliner stations have a second turnaround behind the normal one. They are believed to be for loading of wheelchairs, strollers, and people who need extra time. Not sure how they will work but the system is sure to be innovative and super cool. I think the Skyliner will become the model for future urban installations.

      Like

  5. Andrew F. December 31, 2018 / 12:23 pm

    Thanks for another year of great coverage, Peter. Surprised to read that the Midwest has a 10-year average of 5 lifts/year. We certainly haven’t hit that recently. What was the other Midwest lift in 2018 other than Frostfire?

    Like

  6. Muni December 31, 2018 / 1:07 pm

    Awesome stats. The slump between 2012-14 is very interesting … it’s a dynamic that seems independent of the broader business cycle and somehow unique to the ski industry/lifts, but it seems to occur across all regions (US and Canada at least). Any color on what happened in those years?

    Like

    • Ryan Murphy December 31, 2018 / 4:24 pm

      11-12 was the absolutely horrible snow year. I’m wondering if that caused tourist numbers, and therefore dollars, to drop.

      Like

    • David Whitten December 31, 2018 / 4:39 pm

      Not independent of the “business cycle”, just lagging behind it a couple years. Projects in the pipeline were finished and then it takes a couple years to get back up to speed. “Business cycle” is a generous way to put it. I’d call it the biggest transfer of wealth in history. It wern’t no act of God.

      Like

  7. Robb Juliano December 31, 2018 / 6:36 pm

    Fantastic blog post!! Great info and and a great year for the lift Co’s…

    Thank you!

    Like

  8. Eric January 1, 2019 / 1:44 pm

    Having spent the last couple of days skiing at Copper, I have to laugh at the LP technology reducing downtime. For whatever reason I’ve always preferred LP lifts to Doppelmayr, but the continual problems they’ve had with American Eagle and American Flyer (which probably shouldn’t be counted as a 2018 lift as it didn’t open last year) have made me rethink that position.

    Like

    • Peter Landsman January 1, 2019 / 3:25 pm

      It’s always a little tricky which lifts to include when some projects always end up being completed late. I tried to include all the lifts that were substantially constructed in calendar year 2018. Chairs are on the new Flyer and load testing is underway. Stratton’s new high speed quad hopefully also will open within days.

      Other projects that are not close to completion (Ascutney, Bretton Woods, Montana Snowbowl) will be included in my 2019 summary assuming they are completed next year.

      Like

  9. D howe January 1, 2019 / 3:08 pm

    Which lifts were decommissioned without replacement? Other than Taos? Was any terrain taken out of use?

    Like

    • Peter Landsman January 1, 2019 / 11:37 pm

      Attitash – Top Notch
      Bretton Woods – Rosebrook
      Crested Butte – Teocalli
      Frost Fire – Double
      Mt. St. Louis Moonstone – Venture
      Mt. Sunapee – Duckling
      Green – Owl’s Head
      Stratton – SMS
      Sugar Bowl – Pony Express
      Wyler Aerial Tramway
      Val Neigette – Quad

      Like

      • D howe January 2, 2019 / 8:05 am

        Thanks!

        Like

      • Jesse January 3, 2019 / 8:19 am

        You missed A basin’s Norway’s lift removal I think

        Like

  10. Alejandro Valencia Hurtado January 9, 2019 / 8:08 am

    Thanks, this blog is great! You missed a Zacatecas Mexico gondola lift, and Santo Domingo. RD urban lift.

    Like

    • Peter Landsman January 9, 2019 / 8:12 am

      Hi Alejando, I included those projects in my 2017 list as they were largely completed that year.

      Like

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