News Roundup: Big Game

Waterville Valley Eyes Terrain Expansion and a Gondola

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A gondola may finally link the Town of Waterville Valley with its ski area in the coming years, just one of many exciting projects outlined in the new Waterville Valley Master Development Plan.  Recently accepted by the United States Forest Service, the MDP will guide upgrades at the mountain over the next decade.  It’s the first such comprehensive plan for Waterville since 1999, when Booth Creek owned the resort.

Waterville is seeking a 140 acre boundary expansion and 15 new trails on Green Peak, which saw its first lift installed in 2016.  The resort now features two summits accessed from one base area.  A proposed new portal would separate different user groups and improve the guest experience.  A two stage gondola or chondola is planned to link the Waterville Town Square to the new base area and on to Green Peak.  Two sections would be capable of operating independently with an angled mid-terminal.  The exact alignment of the first stage, which would be located on private land, has not yet been determined.

“The most remarkable element of the plan is that it includes the eventual installation of a gondola that will start in the Town of Waterville Valley near Town Square and transport guests to the summit of Green Peak,” said Waterville Valley CEO John Sununu.  “Connecting our pedestrian village to the ski resort will be incredibly exciting for our resort and community.”  The gondola would be a major undertaking, spanning some 9,000 linear feet with 1,400 feet of vertical and eight passenger cabins.  It would operate in both winter and summer.

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Green Peak would also see a second triple chair servicing 500 vertical feet of beginner and low intermediate terrain.  Two conveyor lifts in the existing base area would be relocated to a new ski school facility at the gondola mid-station.

Two lift upgrades are planned, which Waterville filed to construct back in October.  The White Peaks Express, nearing the end of its useful life, would become a six place detachable in the existing alignment.  Sunnyside is targeted to be replaced with a fixed grip quad.  Two other lift modifications are included: removal of Northside and lengthening of the World Cup T-Bar.  Outside of the scope of the new development plan but on the horizon is further expansion onto Green Peak’s South Ridge.

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“We’re thrilled to continue Waterville Valley’s development and look forward to fulfilling our team’s vision,” said President and General Manager Tim Smith in a statement announcing the Forest Service acceptance. “This is just the first step in a long process, but it marks an exciting milestone towards progressing Waterville Valley into the future.”

Chairlift-Winch Cat Accident Injures Four in Switzerland

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Four people were injured when their chair fell approximately 30 feet from the upper section of the Stoos-Fronalpstock chairlift in central Switzerland last night.  It is believed the chair came in contact with a snow cat’s winch cable before falling.  Such cables are commonly used to assist with grooming steep slopes.  The lift involved is a Garaventa detachable quad with bubbles.

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The accident occurred around 10:00 pm when employees of the Lindt chocolate company were descending from an evening private event.  Two of the four victims sustained life-threatening injuries.  “We are in close contact with the medical team and family members and wish our employees to heal as quickly as possible,” said a spokesperson for the chocolatier.  Six people in two other chairs were rescued uninjured.  The lift will remain closed while an investigation and repairs are completed.

Sunday River Unveils Ten Year Plan for New Lifts & More

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With ambitious improvement plans recently crafted for Big Sky and Loon Mountain, Boyne Resorts has turned to updating its capital spending vision for Sunday River, Maine.  Spanning eight peaks in the beautiful Mahoosuc Mountains, Sunday River offers more than 50 miles of trails and a beast of a snowmaking system.  Though the terrain and scenery are top notch, many lifts were installed during the American Skiing Company boom years and are showing their age.  The plan prescribes replacing at least six lifts and building a lift-served real estate development on a ninth mountain called Merrill Hill over the next ten years.

Lift wise in the short term, the two biggest priorities are Barker Mountain and Jordan Bowl.  The former is no surprise as the Barker Mountain Express was originally built by Lift Engineering and converted to a quasi-Poma high speed quad decades ago.  While no specific model was specified, I expect the replacement will be a six or eight place signature lift.  The Jordan Bowl Express is newer, built by Doppelmayr in 1994, but also ripe for up-gauging given the vast amount of terrain it services.  Another near term project is the Merrill Hill lift, providing access to a new ski-in, ski-out neighborhood near North Peak.  During this phase, the White Cap quad is slated to gain a loading conveyor to increase speed and efficiency.

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After those projects, Sunday River is targeting the White Cap and North Peak lifts for replacement.  The former is a 1987 Yan fixed grip quad with a ride time in excess of 10 minutes.  North Peak is a 1997 Doppelmayr detachable quad.

Near the end of the 2030 plan, the Aurora Peak and South Ridge lifts would be addressed.  Aurora is another Yan fixed grip that moves very slowly.  It’s newer than White Cap, having been installed in 1991 as one of Yan’s last-ever installations.  South Ridge is one year newer and was built by Poma.  Not all of these installations will necessarily be brand new machines.  Boyne plans to shuffle lifts within and between resorts in the coming years, including the outgoing Swift Current from Big Sky and Kancamagus at Loon Mountain.  The company also wants to purchase the bubble six place lift from the Hermitage Club, which would go to one of Boyne’s three northeast mountains.

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The workhorse Barker Mountain Express services six of Sunday River’s most popular trails and is planned to be replaced early in the 2030 vision.

The Sunday River 2030 vision includes more than just lifts.  RFID ticketing technology will be implemented resort-wide.  An observation deck on North Peak and mountain coaster are planned.  At the top of the already spectacular Jordan Bowl pod, a signature summit restaurant is envisioned.

Looking at the history of Sunday River, it’s quite remarkable how many lifts and terrain expansions Les Otten was able to complete before American Skiing Company ran out of cash.  Otten purchased 18 different chairlifts and grew the resort from 40,000 skier visits to more than a half million annually.  Boyne’s plan will build on that success, replacing up to six lifts and adding another peak. “We are incredibly grateful for our guests, our team, and the Boyne Resorts family for helping to guide and determine our future,” noted Sunday River President and General Manager Dana Bullen.  “The next decade will be one of the most transformational in our 60-year history, assuring that Sunday River will remain one of the top resorts in the Northeast.”

Agreement Paves the Way for Squaw-Alpine Gondola Construction

Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows today announced a comprehensive agreement with the Granite Chief Wilderness Protection League regarding the proposed California Express gondola.  The environmental advocacy group will drop its lawsuit contesting approval of the project in exchange for new conservation efforts by the ski resort.  The Forest Service issued its Final Record of Decision approving the gondola on January 31st.  With these developments, all major hurdles have been overcome.

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“We are very happy to have worked collaboratively with the League to address their concerns so that resources could be directed to environmentally beneficial purposes, rather than funding an extended lawsuit,” said Ron Cohen, president and chief operating officer of Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows.  “We are eager to get going on this game-changing transportation project.  We thank the League for its productive approach to resolving the dispute.”

The current Squaw-Alpine connection is a long and tedious shuttle ride. The bus stops are nice though!

Squaw Alpine will set aside approximately 27 acres of private property for conservation.  These lands, which include pristine wetlands and natural ponds, have the potential to serve as habitat for the endangered Sierra Nevada Yellow Legged Frog.  Additionally, the resort agreed to provide funding to study recovery of this endangered species.  Squaw will also grant money for the Truckee Donner Land Trust to acquire parcels elsewhere in the vicinity of the Granite Chief Wilderness.

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Instagram Tuesday: Midwinter

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

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Tram laps.

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West Virginia’s Timberline to Relaunch as Timberline Mountain

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When the State of West Virginia regains a fifth ski area next season, a lot will be new.  The folks behind Perfect North Slopes in Indiana acquired the resort formerly known as Timberline Four Seasons in November and are already busy preparing for a 2020-21 rebirth under the name Timberline Mountain.  Being closed this season has a silver lining: there’s been little natural snow to speak of in the mid-Atlantic, allowing work to begin.  This week, a crew started removing the Thunderstruck triple, one of two Borvig lifts on the mountain.  The retirement is significant as this key lift suffered a major structural failure near the end of the prior owners’ run.

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A new logo, new signage and new website all debuted recently.  The resort announced a partnership with Doppelmayr to bring a brand new, top-to-bottom lift to Timberline Mountain this summer.  The lift will traverse more than 4,000 feet with a thousand foot vertical rise. “Details of the size and scope of the new lift are still developing,” a posting reads.  “We will be excited to share updates on this new addition to the West Virginia ski and snowboarding community as they become available!”

Thunderstruck’s 165-plus Leitner triple chairs will be sold to the public at the price of $250 (or $200 apiece for multiple) in the coming weeks.  The mountain’s two other chairlifts will remain in place for now.

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Stevens Pass Evacuates Seventh Heaven Following Tower Incident

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A malfunction occurred on the Seventh Heaven double this morning at Stevens Pass, necessitating a rope evacuation.  Photos appear to show sheaves missing from the light side of tower 1 and the rope caught by the bottom terminal.

“At approximately 9:45 a.m. this morning, Seventh Heaven chairlift stopped operating,” read a statement from the mountain, which is operated by Vail Resorts.  “Ski patrol evacuated 26 guests, with no reported injuries.  The evacuation was safely completed at approximately 12:15 p.m.,” the statement continued.  “Stevens Pass extends its apologies to the guests who were inconvenienced by this event.  The safety of our guests and employees is our top priority.”

Seventh Heaven is one of three remaining Riblet chairlifts at Stevens.  It first opened in 1960 but many components including the bottom terminal and tower 1 are newer than that.  The lift services expert terrain on Cowboy Mountain and reaches an elevation of 5,640 feet.  There was no immediate word on when the summit would reopen.

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Tower 1 is heavily loaded with 12 sheaves on each side.