Citing continued losses and economic uncertainty, the owner of Ski Blandford is pulling the plug on one of the oldest ski areas in Massachusetts. Owner Jef Murdock, who also operates Ski Butternut, purchased the closed Blandford in 2017 and invested significant dollars to upgrade the mountain’s lift and snowmaking systems in advance of the 2018-19 season. Prior to that, the nonprofit Springfield Ski Club ran the area for 80 years. “Our goal was to keep the ski area operational and to grow the sport of skiing and riding,” reads a letter to passholders from Murdock and general manager Ronald Crozier. “However, after all of this hard work, we are still losing money. Unfortunately, Butternut cannot continue to support the losses we have experienced at Blandford. When you add present economic uncertainties to the mix, we are forced to make a very hard business decision. With much disappointment, we are announcing the closure of Ski Blandford.”
Ski Blandford featured three Hall chairlifts built in 1969, 1971 and 1978. Two of them recently received new control systems and other upgrades.
West Virginia’s first six passenger chairlift is coming to Timberline Mountain. Despite the coronavirus situation and surrounding uncertainty, Chip Perfect and his team today announced a $10+ million commitment to reopen the mountain by the end of this year. Timberline closed in the middle of the the 2018-19 season following years of financial challenges. Perfect purchased Timberline out of bankruptcy last November and his ownership group brings four decades of experience running Perfect North Slopes, Indiana. The West Virginia mountain is a hidden gem, featuring one of the highest natural snow totals and largest vertical rises in the mid-Atlantic.
The thousand vertical foot six pack will travel from base-to-summit with a ride time under six minutes. A Doppelmayr fixed grip quad will service lower mountain beginner runs, a terrain park and slopeside lodging. Other improvements will include a re-graded learning area with a conveyor carpet lift, extensive upgrades to the snowmaking system, a fully remodeled rental shop, consolidated food service facilities and an updated outdoor arrival area. “We look forward to participating in the economic development of Tucker County and we’re excited to announce the significant investment in Timberline Mountain’s infrastructure that will take place this summer,” said Perfect, who is both President of Perfect North Slopes and CEO of Timberline Mountain. “I believe skiers and snowboarders next season are going to really enjoy the new experience on this very special mountain.”
One positive of the mid-Atlantic’s low-snow winter was the ability for Perfect’s team to get to work quickly. The mountain’s three Borvig and Heron-Poma lifts are already gone with many of the chairs in the hands of loyal Timberline guests. All three new lifts are expected to be complete in time for the mountain’s grand re-opening.
The operator of Canada’s oldest aerial tramway is looking to the future in the form of a major redevelopment and eight passenger gondola. The Jasper SkyTram opened in 1964 and currently carries 30 riders at a time up Whistlers Mountain from March through October. Built by Pohlig-Heckel-Bleichert of Germany, the tram is approaching the end of its operational and economical life with facilities that no longer meet visitor expectations.
A replacement gondola could run in a more environmentally and geologically sound alignment with all new terminal and tower locations. The bottom station would sit along the Icefields Parkway at significantly lower elevation than the current base. Shortly after departing the valley, gondolas would make a sweeping turn and eventually reach a top terminal with a modern interpretive center, restaurants, trails and barrier-free views. The lift would become one of Canada’s largest, rising nearly 4,000 vertical feet over 2.75 miles. The retired access road, stations and tower locations would be allowed to return to a natural state. New terminals would be accessible for visitors of all abilities and the project would include additional parking, transit and bicycle facilities.
I know first hand the limitations of aerial tramways for today’s visitors and Jasper is not the first location to consider alternatives. Heavenly’s scenic aerial tram was effectively replaced by a gondola in 2000 and Grouse Mountain is considering making a similar move. Gondolas are both comfortable and efficient, offering guests their own cabins and secure seating. Under the proposal, lift capacity would increase from 200 per hour to 950 with less waiting and no need for standing in crowded cars. Gondola technology would also enable year round operation.
The concept is just that and no decisions have been made. The SkyTram Partnership and Parks Canada are seeking public feedback, which can be sent to email@example.com.
Skyline Investments, owner of two ski resorts and many other hospitality businesses, reports record revenue but warns Coronavirus will have significant impacts including the possible closure of resorts through summer.
Vail Resorts has made the difficult decision to suspend operations of all its North American mountain resorts beginning March 15 through March 22. Please read this letter from our CEO Rob Katz. https://t.co/8082XVtCFr
North America’s ski industry is following in the unfortunate footsteps of its counterparts in Asia and Europe, forced to end winter operations early to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Among the first to pull the plug the past two days were Berkshire East, Jay Peak, Taos and Nub’s Nob.
What started as a trickle became a deluge Saturday. In Colorado, Governor Jared Polis issued an executive order compelling all resorts to close following outbreaks in Eagle, Pitkin, and Summit counties. Even before the order, the continent’s two largest resort companies almost simultaneously announced complete shutdowns effective tomorrow. The 37 Vail facilities will remain closed until at least March 22nd and will continue to pay scheduled employees. Many independent mountains are staying open for now.
Alta Ski Area will be suspending operations starting Sunday morning, March 15, until further notice to limit the spread of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus). Lift operations, food service and retail and rental services will be closed.
This is uncharted territory but I’m certain the ski business will be okay. Unlike other industries, we are used to doing this between seasons, albeit under very different circumstances. The United States government has promised help to small and mid-sized businesses along with hourly employees who are missing work and pay. Canada and governments around the world will likely do the same. Hopefully many full time, year rounders can keep working and get important maintenance done.
We are skiers at heart and understand the therapeutic nature of our shared passion. But, by order of the Governor of the State of CO, we are closing all ski operations immediately and ancillary businesses over the next week. Please view full details here: https://t.co/xj2Diz5rmg
Normally March on this blog features announcement after announcement of exciting new projects from lift manufacturers and their customers. At this point, already formalized projects are pacing about the same as last year and none have been publicly canceled. Hopefully production can continue and this mess abates in time for construction to get going as snow melts. There are many unknowns, however.
Those of you on Instagram know I’m in one of the world’s most amazing places right now: Alaska. Operations at resorts were normal across the board the past few days and the weather was perfect in a state with only one confirmed case of COVID-19. Tomorrow I will attempt to fly home and reassess. As of this writing, Jackson Hole intends to stay open and I will be in on Monday if there is work to go to.
With so many resorts shut down and the global economy struggling, there may not be much lift news to report for awhile. When there is, I’ll write, and will get back to exploring as soon as I can.
Vail Resorts reports financial results: skier visits are down 5.3 percent percent this season through March 1st but lift revenue is up 0.8 percent. On a conference call, CEO Rob Katz addresses coronavirus, lift lines at Vail and possible future acquisitions.
Timberline Mountain promises to make multiple big announcements at a media event Tuesday. All three existing lifts are in poor condition and being dismantled.
Arctaris Impact Fund doesn’t expect to realize a profit on its Saddleback investment until it sells the resort in 7-10 years.
An enterprising family is building the first Australian-designed and manufactured chairlift in 30 years for private use only.
Alterra Mountain Company CEO Rusty Gregory will deliver a keynote address on Monday in Park City covering the rise of Alterra, industry consolidation and multi-resort pass products.
For the second time in three weeks, a sudden stop on the Mont-Sainte-Anne gondola elicits an emergency response and the lift is once again closed indefinitely.