A Solid Year Caps a Decade of Construction Growth

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The mostly new Steamboat Gondola features 137 cabins travelling at a brisk six meters per second.

This year saw installation of 43 new and 7 used lifts across North America, numbers similar to the last two seasons.  43 may seem like a modest number for newly-manufactured lifts on an entire continent but that number is a 54 percent increase from the start of the decade and the highest single year total since 2004.  Only seven resorts opted to install used lifts, mostly late model fixed grip chairlifts but also a detachable quad and one T-Bar.

While 2018 saw a record number of gondolas, multiple bubble chairs and a Telemix, 2019’s projects trended smaller with 22 fixed grip chairlifts and five surface lifts.  That’s the most platters and T-Bars built in the last 15 years.  Two of them anchor terrain expansions while another two service youth racing programs.  Loading carpets were included on five new fixed quad lifts, allowing them to run at slightly faster speeds.

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The Yeti Cruiser at Sasquatch Mountain Resort was one of three new Leitner-Poma Alpha fixed grips constructed across Canada in 2019.

After two huge years, gondola construction fell to two new installations in Colorado, one in New Hampshire and pulse versions in New York and Florida.  Detachable chairlift construction was just above the decade average of ten per year.  Only one of this year’s high speed chairlifts included bubbles and another heated seats.

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Vail Resorts completed the largest-ever lift investment at Stevens Pass, purchasing two Doppelmayr quads to replace aging Riblet and Thiokol lifts.

Over 40 percent of this year’s lifts were in new alignments rather than direct replacements for aging machines.  That indicates a confidence in the overall economy and demand for travel following a great winter in 2018-19.  On top of the expansions and additions, 29 lifts were replaced at an average age of 40 years.

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Boyne Resorts invested in the beginner experience at The Summit at Snoqualmie, replacing a 1975 Riblet double with a carpet loaded Doppelmayr fixed grip quad.

The lift companies continued to sell to other businesses besides ski resorts in 2019.  The stadium the Miami Dolphins call home now sports a pulse gondola with glass floors set to open just before the Super Bowl.  A pulse gondola from Colorado reopened as the Grafton SkyTour, a combination lift along the Mississippi River.  There were also some non-traditional but still snow related projects, ranging from a surface lift at a military training site to a quad chair at a terrain park-only mountain and gondola to the ski jump in Lake Placid.

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Jackson Hole made it only a few years without a version of Eagle’s Rest, the resort’s very first chairlift in 1965. Skytrac constructed version 2.0.

As usual, the Rocky Mountain states racked up the most new lifts, led by Colorado with seven and Idaho at a surprise five.  Schweitzer in the panhandle region completed a major realignment in Outback Bowl with a new Leitner-Poma detachable quad and Skytrac fixed grip triple.  Bogus Basin, Lookout Pass and Tamarack Resort also undertook significant projects in the Gem State.

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The new gondola at Bretton Woods crosses over an older detachable quad and was completed over two construction seasons.

A dozen lifts were added in the East with four each in New York and Vermont.  New Hampshire got its first eight passenger gondola, the Bretton Woods Skyway.

Midwest ski areas sat completely out for new lifts, focusing on other projects in 2019.  The Pacific region wasn’t far behind with three new lifts in Washington and only one apiece for California and Oregon.  By contrast, Canadian resorts invested heavily coast to coast, with four additions in British Columbia, four more in Quebec and three in Ontario.  In keeping with this year’s theme, all but two of Canada’s projects were fixed grip designs.

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Skytrac completed two projects for Vail Resorts including this fixed quad at Crested Butte Mountain Resort.

Four manufacturers completed brand new lifts while a fifth, SkyTrans, moved and modified the Glenwood Caverns gondola for Grafton.  Partek’s lone lift went to West Mountain, a repeat customer.  Otherwise 2019 was a story of the big two if you count Skytrac and Leitner-Poma as one company.  Many of this year’s Skytrac lifts utilized Leitner-Poma sheaves and projects at Schweitzer, Ski Cooper and Copper Mountain were team efforts between the two branches.  Of the Leitner-Poma Group’s fixed grip chairlifts built in 2019, five were Leitner-Poma Alpha models while five were Skytrac Monarchs.  On the detachable side, the company completed its first LPA angle station with an innovative double-grooved bullwheel design at Alpine Meadows.

Doppelmayr is on a roll with nearly 50 lifts delivered in North America over the last two years.  The company utilized the new Doppelmayr Connect control system on almost all its 2019 projects and introduced a modern operator house design this year.  While no North American detachable customers opted for D-Line lifts in 2019, Boyne Resorts recently signed for a second such lift.  More projects in Mexico are slated for D-Line technology next year and hopefully US and Canadian customers will follow.

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Leitner-Poma delivered five LPA detachable gondolas and chairlifts in 2019.

LST Ropeways didn’t build any overhead lifts in North America this year but is slated for at least one next year.  SkyTrans has a 2020 project lined up in Alaska.

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Alterra Mountain Company added Leitner-Poma detachable lifts at both Alpine Meadows and Winter Park.

2020 is just two days away and there’s reason for optimism.  Vail and Boyne already announced signature projects while Alterra, Powdr and others are likely to follow in the coming months. Some innovative point of interest projects are in the pipeline including a two gondola system at Icy Strait Point, Alaska and another at Argo Mill, Colorado.  Race programs at Sugarbush and Aspen Highlands plan to build new surface lifts for training.  Overall, announced projects are pacing slightly above last year at this time.

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The Doppelmayr Alpen Star has proven to be a popular solution for North American resorts such as Manning Park in British Columbia.

2019 was another record year for Lift Blog with 629 posts read more than 2.2 million times.  I was able to visit almost 150 different resorts, something I couldn’t do without the support of readers and sponsors.  The way things are shaping up, I may have even more lifts to hit in 2020!

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13 thoughts on “A Solid Year Caps a Decade of Construction Growth

  1. kavwebdev December 30, 2019 / 9:56 am

    hey Peter – huge fan of the lift blog, and stoked to see great results- for the blog and the industry as a whole.

    Can you explain why you group together skytrac and leitner poma in the market share graphic?

    Like

    • Peter Landsman December 30, 2019 / 10:33 am

      Leitner-Poma acquired Skytrac in 2016. They still maintain separate production facilities and staff but work closely together.

      Like

      • che guevara December 30, 2019 / 11:00 am

        how do they divide up the fixed grip market? Or do they bid against each other in that market?

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        • Ryan Murphy December 30, 2019 / 2:38 pm

          Different industry, but in my field, if that sort if thing exists they either match what you already have, or present the better of the two offers.

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        • V3 December 30, 2019 / 3:47 pm

          They don’t bid against each other as the different designs tend to lend themselves to different customers and applications, ie resorts with large ctec fleets tend for the Skytrac and vice versa for Poma. Many of this seasons Skytrac lifts were sold by LPOA’s sales department and Skytrac’s sales brought a customer or two to LPOA, so they pretty much act like one team.

          Like

  2. Kevin Ratcliffe December 30, 2019 / 11:08 am

    Great site Peter Any thoughts on what may happen to the left overs from the Steamboat gondola? Curious about the 3 year upgrade they did then the fourth year they went for a brand new higher capacity one?

    Like

    • Ryan December 30, 2019 / 9:08 pm

      The cabins from the old Steamboat gondola ended up being sold to an outfit in Grand Junction which retrofits them and sells them privately. A few cabins were donated to charity for sale.

      Like

      • Sam Altavilla December 31, 2019 / 6:48 pm

        Somehow Vermont Barns received four cabins. I assume they bought them; I don’t know how.

        Like

        • Sam Altavilla December 31, 2019 / 6:57 pm

          disregard the last part, they were probably purchased form that company

          Like

  3. Mark Bergman December 30, 2019 / 3:11 pm

    What is a pulse gondola? Great blog!

    Like

    • Erik December 30, 2019 / 8:06 pm

      It’s a fixed-grip gondola where the cabins are clustered together into groups, rather than spaced out evenly along the line. They group them so that the gondola doesn’t have to slow down as often to allow passengers to get on/off.

      They’re cheaper to build & maintain than a detachable, but they’re (obviously) slower and often have a smaller capacity. They make sense over shorter distances or low-capacity routes, like the private Kadenwood gondola at Whistler. That said, one of the most interesting lifts in the world, the Meije gondola in La Grave, is a pulse gondola.

      Like

  4. Chris Diamond December 30, 2019 / 8:27 pm

    Thanks Peter keep up the great work. Glad to hear readership is growing. Look forward watching the blog in 2020!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Justin January 9, 2020 / 4:41 pm

    Interesting to see all the different breakdowns that you have here. Great read, thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

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