Instagram Tuesday: Air Support

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

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Sunrise over The Meadows. 🌞

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Landowner Proposes Alternate Little Cottonwood Gondola

When the Utah Department of Transportation unveiled three Little Cottonwood Canyon mobility alternatives, many Utahns were pleased to see a gondola included. However, two criticisms emerged: a lack of on-site parking at the bottom terminal and a low hourly capacity of 1,050 passengers per direction. A new proposal by a private landowner and developer seeks to address both of those issues by requesting UDOT amend the location of the bottom terminal to a 37.5 acre site adjacent to Highway 210. The alternative base station would be located near the LaCaille estate, seven tenths of a mile from the mouth of the canyon. The requested amendment to the current gondola plan would provide enough room for a public parking garage as well as transit center for bus riders to transfer directly to the ropeway.

Chris McCandless is the former Sandy City Councilman behind the proposal along with Wayne Niederhauser, a former Utah State Senator. Their company, CW Management, owns the site and plans to develop it but is willing to preserve the land needed for use as a gondola station if UDOT approves of this new option. If the gondola loads there, a non-loading angle station would be required in lower Little Cottonwood Canyon to avoid the alignment passing over designated wilderness. A second angle station at Tanners Flat, like in UDOT’s alternative, would also be included. Cabins would slow down just enough to make turns at these stations and gondola doors would stay closed.

CW Management consulted with Salt Lake-based Doppelmayr USA, which confirmed such a gondola is feasible. McCandless envisions an up to 4,000 passenger per hour 3S travelling at a speed of 8.5 meters a second. The Department of Transportation planned cabins arriving only once every two minutes, diverting only 30 percent of skiers out of private cars. Under the LaCaille vision, cabins would arrive every 30 seconds and divert up to 10,000 people off the highway during a peak three hour period. Ride time would be 27 minutes to the Snowbird Center with no need to ride a shuttle bus. The four 3S segments would range in length from 6,700 feet to 17,550 feet with cabins transferring seamlessly between multiple haul rope loops. As an alternative to the larger 3S gondola travelling to Alta, a second gondola, probably a monocable or 2S design, could connect Snowbird to Alta.

Some big players have already expressed support for a Little Cottonwood gondola and further study of the alternate CW Management proposal, including Alta Ski Area, Snowbird Resort and Doppelmayr. Snowbird notes that if a gondola is successfully designed and implemented, the company would consider placing additional private land it owns in the canyon under permanent conservation.

If you have opinions regarding one or both of the gondola/bus options, UDOT would like to hear from you. The agency continues to accept public comments through July 10th.

Under Alterra, Steamboat Considers More Big Projects

The new Steamboat Gondola transports 3,600 guests per hour and was one of the first major investments by new owner Alterra.

A 17,000 foot gondola. Two boundary expansions. Three six place chairlifts. Those are among the items on Alterra Mountain Company’s new wish list for its flagship Colorado resort. The two year-old operator acquired Steamboat in 2018 from Canadian developer Intrawest, which struggled to complete the volume of sustained improvements needed at this premier destination resort. The same was true for prior owner American Skiing Company.

Nonetheless, Ski Town USA grew to become Colorado’s fifth largest resort, hosting nearly 1.1 million skier visits in 2018/19. A new master plan amendment seeks to build on Steamboat’s success by boosting out-of-base capacity, enhancing experiences for varying ability levels and more efficiently moving guests around the mountain.

Perhaps most exciting is the prospect of a base-to-summit lift called Wild Blue. This would be the longest gondola on the continent, rising an impressive 3,465 vertical feet. Intrawest and Alterra spent millions to transform the existing Steamboat Gondola into a modern 3,600 per hour machine, but it’s still not enough to handle the more than 16,000 skiers who show up on peak days. Wild Blue would carry 3,200 riders per hour to a learning center in Bashor Bowl before ascending Sunshine Peak. The two stage gondola would pass over a total of four other lifts.

News Roundup: Modernizing

Instagram Tuesday: Big Boxes

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

News Roundup: Mask Up

US Skier Visits Declined 13.9 Percent Last Season

American ski resorts were on track for their fourth best season in history before coronavirus forced closures, according to data released today by the National Ski Areas Association. Spring traditionally accounts for about 20 percent of total visitation and the shortened season yielded a total of 51.1 million skier days. On the heels of 59.3 million skiers in 2018/19, 2019/20 will go down as the worst season since 2011/12 and second worst since 1991/92.

Despite visitation declining in all six NSAA regions, there is reason for optimism. “To have two years in a row potentially rank in the top five seasons ever shows the strength of the industry,” said NSAA President and CEO Kelly Pawlak, referring to the 2018/19 winter and truncated 2019/20 season. “That being said, it is astounding how quickly this season went from promising to a complete disappointment.” The impact of snowfall, traditionally a major factor in visitation, was difficult to assess this year due to many resorts ending reporting in mid-March.

The Kottke National End of Season Survey also revealed six fewer operational areas in 2019/20 with a total of 470. Each resort was open an average of only 99 days, down from 121 in the 2018/19 season. That means each resort averaged about 108,000 visits. A skier visit is defined as a skiing or snowboarding guest visiting a resort for any part of a day.

The industry group estimates COVID-19 will cost resorts at least $2 billion and as much as $5 billion depending on continued impacts during the 2020/21 season. Within weeks of closing early, many resorts opted to delay capital projects such as new lifts planned for next winter. At least nine major projects were postponed in the month of April. As of today, new lift orders are pacing almost 30 percent below last year.

Instagram Tuesday: Ferrying

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

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Assembly zip line. #liftmaintenance

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Searchmont to Install Two New Lifts

Ontario’s Searchmont Resort will add two Skytrac triple chairs this summer as part of a major modernization. US-based Wisconsin Resorts purchased Searchmont in 2018 from a public economic development agency and promised to make significant capital investments. The longer of the two lifts will replace the mountain’s original double chairlift, built in 1972. The double ran up the center of the mountain and was one of the last remaining Borvig lifts in Canada (only eight remain now.) Chairs from the lift are being sold tomorrow on a first come, first served basis for CA$200 apiece.

A second new triple chair will service a dedicated beginner area, which Searchmont lacks currently. This lift will be 2,000 feet long and open new terrain west of current trails. Combined, the lifts will cost US$2.6 million and will be installed by local contractors. An existing Doppelmayr quad chair and a Blue Mountain triple chair will remain in service as well.

Searchmont is one of four mid-sized ski areas in North America installing more than one new chairlift this summer. The others building two are Arapahoe Basin, Colorado, Gore Mountain, New York and Timberline Mountain, West Virginia.

News Roundup: Workers