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.

39 thoughts on “Under Alterra, Steamboat Considers More Big Projects

  1. Alex June 28, 2020 / 10:19 pm

    The base to summit gondola is really interesting but i wonder why they did not just do that with the Silver Bullet with a mid station at Thunderhead Lodge?

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    • Donald Reif June 29, 2020 / 6:47 am

      Perhaps they weren’t up for modifying the gondola terminal at Thunderhead,

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  2. Donald Reif June 28, 2020 / 10:46 pm

    To summarize the new lift upgrade proposals:

    High speed quads for Pioneer Ridge northern expansion and Sunshine II.

    Bashor becomes a fixed grip quad.

    Preview is removed to make way for Wild Blue.

    Wild Blue Gondola is built, running from the base area directly to the summit of Sunshine Peak via a midstation at the bottom of Bashor.

    South Peak gets replaced with either a fixed grip or high speed quad.

    The Storm Peak Express and Sunshine Express lifts stay as high speed quads (p62), but are “replaced with newer technology in the same alignment and with the same capacity of 2,400 pph”. I think there’s either an error in table 8 on p64 or something, because the data there makes it sound like only the Sunshine Express lift gets an infrastructure upgrade and the Storm Peak Express lift is not touched at all (unless Storm Peak is only getting a Shedhorn 4 style makeover).

    The Sundown Express, Elkhead Express and Thunderhead Express lifts all become high speed six packs. Given the Elkhead Express is the newest of these (built in 2016), I could see it being used to replace South Peak.

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  3. Somebody June 29, 2020 / 2:31 am

    I really hope some of these HSQs get re-used at other Alterra mountains. Thunderhead would work great at Stratton on Kidderbrook or at Sugarbush to replace the unreliable GMX.

    I really don’t want Alterra to do what intrawest to did in the 2000s and throw all their money at their western resorts. Stratton went 17 years without a new lift. Snowshoe is at 14 right now.

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    • skitheeast June 29, 2020 / 10:07 am

      I do think Alterra is doing a pretty good job of spreading the wealth to their east coast resorts. Snowshoe is projected to get a new Powder Monkey lift, Tremblant got a Lowell Thomas upgrade and will be getting a lift/terrain expansion with Timber Ridge, and Stratton got a Snow Bowl upgrade and has a Tamarack upgrade in the works. Win Smith previously said Sugarbush does not need any major lift upgrades at the moment, so perhaps they will be the lone northeast mountain without new lifts. Regardless, the company has shown a willingness to invest in the east.

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  4. Kevin Ratcliffe June 29, 2020 / 7:07 am

    I really agree with somebody Why was the flying mile not relocated to the Lowel Thomas and upgraded to a 6pack? Or again relocated to the future Versant Soleil expansion?
    How about the Versant Soleil HSQ which was originally built in 89 and relocated with a present capacity of 1800pph needs to be retired
    The Versant Soleil could become a great mt. bike serviced area and would help out with the huge summer and fall pedestrian traffic we get
    Then we have the Duncan on the North side that has had electronic issues for many years now

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    • Andy June 29, 2020 / 9:17 am

      It would be really useful when piping in to talk about a specific resort, that you name the resort you are talking about instead of making readers guess. In this case i know the person chatting above is talking about Tremblant , Quebec when he talks about Lowel Thomas, Versant Soleil, and Duncan but lots of times I haven’t got a clue what ski resort people are talking about because i have no interest in memorizing the names of every lift on every ski hill in North America. Thanks for trying to communicate in an easier to understand manner in the future.

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      • Kevin June 29, 2020 / 9:22 am

        You are absolutely right…

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  5. skitheeast June 29, 2020 / 9:45 am

    There are lots of things to be excited about in this master plan. Personally, I am most happy with the Thunderhead D6C proposal, as those lines get super long. Wild Blue also looks to be a crazy lift going that far. It will definitely be nice to have a gondola going that high up on the mountain, but it does make me wonder if it would have been cheaper/more convenient to simply extend the Gondola when they upgraded it last year. The Sundown upgrade is welcome and I am not surprised that Priest Creek will be removed in tandem given its infrequent use. Honestly, I am shocked they are not doing the same thing with Storm Peak/Four Points. I really want to applaud the Elkhead upgrade proposal, as most operators would accept the long lift lines because the lift is so new. It does seem likely that some equipment will be moved over to South Peak for its detachable upgrade. The biggest head-scratcher for me is the Sunshine upgrade. It was only built in 1997 (although it did move from Canyons to Steamboat in 2006) and they are not boosting its capacity at all. I think this could be a Stowe FourRunner situation where they replace a detachable quad with another detachable quad instead of a six-pack and have capacity issues almost immediately. The Bashor learning center, Pioneer Ridge expansion, and Sunshine II holdovers from earlier plans all remain exciting as well.

    Separately, congrats to Steamboat on getting above the 1 million skier visit threshold. I know they had been sitting right below that mark for years, and it looks like the Ikon boost and a good snow year pushed them over in 2018/19.

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    • Myles Svec June 29, 2020 / 3:45 pm

      “Honestly, I am shocked they are not doing the same thing with Storm Peak/Four points” They would never do this because if storm peak went down because of mechanical/ wind issues the only way to access Four Points would be from sundown which gets very busy and could face hour plus lift lines even with a six pack.

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      • skitheeast June 30, 2020 / 12:14 am

        I would argue it is more problematic to have Priest Creek removed compared to Four Points. If Sundown goes down once Priest Creek is gone, the only way to lap Sundown would be Elkhead to Storm Peak plus a traverse. Additionally, accessing Sunshine at all would require a traverse from Storm Peak. In a scenario without Four Points and Storm Peak down, Lapping Storm Peak or accessing Four Points would only require Pony Express to Bar-UE without any traversing.

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  6. Boardski June 29, 2020 / 12:17 pm

    It will be interesting how much the installation of the Wild Blue gondola will have on the other lifts. Traffic at Sundown will likely increase dramatically. Hopefully that HSS upgrade might be able to be installed at the same time as the gondola. South Peak will do well as a HSQ since stops and slows on the current lift seem excessive. Thunder head will likely be improved by the gondola since one will be able to load at the mid station to ride to top of Sundown. I have always found it annoying to reach the bottom of Sundown and have its lines backed up out the corrals and Priest creek not running so this will definitely be a nice improvement. The only area which gets congested which was not part of the plan is Morningside. Maybe the new terrain will disperse everyone a little better. I also think it is a good call removing Preview. This current beginner area is overcrowded and has advanced skiers and riders cutting through at high speeds to get to the base often getting angry at beginners for skiing or riding slowly in the beginner area. Lifts such as Bar UE, 4 points will get really old as they date back to the 70s and 80s. I imagine they might be mothballed for awhile while new traffic patterns are assessed and eventually removed but then again, Christie 3 is still there so who knows? Overall some exciting years ahead for Steamboat.

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    • Donald Reif June 29, 2020 / 3:49 pm

      Preview has had a lot of its usefulness taken out of it with the alpine coaster now taking up a substantial amount of the learning hill’s terrain.

      Like

    • Donald Reif June 29, 2020 / 3:54 pm

      Bar UE really primarily serves as a means of getting directly from Pioneer Ridge to the top of Storm Peak and other points on the mountain without going down to the Storm Peak Express or Burgess Creek, as well as a backup for the Storm Peak Express. It would probably have more purpose if it were replaced with a high speed quad running to the top of Morningside, as that would make it a much more convenient way into Morningside Park than via Cowboy Coffee.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Myles Svec June 29, 2020 / 4:59 pm

        The only problem I see with a bar UE high speed quad is wind issues. It would probably need slatted back rests and protected sheaves.

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        • Alex June 29, 2020 / 5:25 pm

          I do think a Bar-UE HSQ, ideally realigned to either the top of Mt Werner or to the top of Morningside lift could be really interesting.

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        • Myles Svec July 12, 2020 / 10:31 am

          It could probably be realigned to the top of morningside but not to the top of mt werner because it would have to either go on the edge of over a huge cliff area between chute 2 and 3. Those cliffs are anywhere between 30 and 60 feet high. The only lift I can think of going over a cliff that big is peak express at whistler. Plus it would be going kind of diagonal/ horizontal to the cliff so it would not work.

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  7. Myles Svec June 29, 2020 / 1:22 pm

    They might need a 3s for wild blue because of wind issues on storm peak. I think they are not just extending the gondola becaude of this. Also because they need a new beginner area at rough rider. I am most excited about the thunder head and sundown upgrades. They really need more capacity.

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  8. Myles Svec June 29, 2020 / 1:43 pm

    Ski lift idea for steamboat

    – would either be a fixed triple or quad

    – have a capacity of 1200

    – serve advanced/expert terrain

    – Location in between morning side and East face on the backside of Mt Werner

    A few questions I have

    1. Who owns the land? If forest service does would it be possible for steamboat to get a permit boundary extension?

    2. Is the terrain suitable for skiing and ski runs?

    Like

    • skitheeast June 30, 2020 / 12:02 am

      The land is a part of Routt National Forest (like much of Steamboat’s terrain). I cannot tell exactly where your proposed liftline is, but the land directly west of the summit has some pretty good runs while the land directly north of the summit has a few cliff areas.

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      • Myles Svec June 30, 2020 / 7:56 am

        The top terminal would be around where the radio towers are. The run going from the top slightly going down (second one down) and to the right would be East face.

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        • skitheeast June 30, 2020 / 8:13 am

          I should clarify that I misspoke and meant to say that the land directly east (not west) of the summit has some pretty good runs.

          Like

  9. New England Chairlifts & Skiing June 29, 2020 / 4:25 pm

    Surprised they’re planning to keep Christie III… will they really need all that capacity?? Seems like it’ll never run once the gondolas are done.

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    • Myles Svec June 30, 2020 / 5:07 pm

      Probably only for the race team and they barely use that now. Probably will be used only once or twice a year.

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      • New England Chairlifts & Skiing July 1, 2020 / 12:10 pm

        If they would use it that little after the upgrades, why not just remove it?

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      • New England Chairlifts & Skiing July 1, 2020 / 12:10 pm

        You’re right, would be good for the race team tho. Would they allow public on it?

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        • Myles Svec July 1, 2020 / 2:55 pm

          Almost never do. Have only been on it once.

          Like

  10. Machski July 1, 2020 / 9:25 am

    If they do Big Blue, Morningside needs an upgrade as well. This February when I was there on the weekend after the big dump, Morningside had some of the longest lines I had ever seen at a lift. A FGT is just insufficient there as is now, let alone with a 3200 PPH Gondola dropping off above it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Donald Reif July 1, 2020 / 10:19 am

      A high speed quad would certainly suffice in that area.

      Like

      • Myles Svec July 1, 2020 / 11:57 am

        True on a powder day it has 30 to 45 min lift lines now. Imagine how long they could be after the upgrade sundown and sunshine and build both lifts. Prob hour or 2. They need either a 2400 pph HSQ or even something more.

        Like

    • skitheeast July 2, 2020 / 7:15 pm

      I agree Morningside can get absolutely packed on a powder day and could probably use a detachable quad. I think a second lift on the backside from Morningside’s bottom terminal up to Sunshine Peak would be another great capacity addition that would also better disperse skiers.

      Like

      • Donald Reif July 2, 2020 / 7:34 pm

        That might make more sense, since as the mountain is laid out, going from Morningside Park back to Sunshine Peak requires you to travel down Buddy’s Run and take the Storm Peak Express lift; or take Calf Roper to Rainbow to Moonlight and take the Sundown Express lift.

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        • Myles Svec July 2, 2020 / 8:53 pm

          Some morning side lift ideas i have

          Red (Option 1) – Current triple upgraded to HSQ in existing alignment

          Orange (Option 2) – A longer alternative alignment that would be a HSQ. Would need a boundary extension for this to be possible.

          Sunshine Egress Lifts

          Blue (Option 1) – Fixed Grip triple or quad from the base of the existing lift to the top of Sunshine Express

          Pink (Option 2) – Fixed Grip quad or HSQ from the base of my proposed lift in orange to the top of Sunshine Express

          Green (Option 3) – Fixed grip triple or quad from the bottom of my proposed orange lift to the top of future Sunshine II lift

          Runs In Hot Pink – 2 runs to access orange lift from top of Sunshine II

          Like

      • Erik July 8, 2020 / 9:36 pm

        A second lift is a good idea. A fixed grip quad or six up to Sunshine would do a lot to disperse crowds.

        I don’t think detachables are really necessary back there; Morningside is a short lift, and the new one, if built, would be even shorter.

        Like

  11. Ryan July 2, 2020 / 3:40 am

    Christy III was being used heavily this past year right up to the COVID-19 shut down. It still has it’s use, They can help keep hours off of the Christy Express by running Christy III in the summer. Christy III overall in in excellent condition. They have done a great job on upkeep of her.

    Like

    • Myles Svec July 2, 2020 / 7:41 am

      This year is has been used more but barely in the past. Really only for race team or when christy was down.

      Like

  12. Mike B July 2, 2020 / 2:15 pm

    I’m kind of surprised that we are 30+ comments deep on this article, and no one has mentioned one of the most exciting aspects of the MDP Amendment. Namely, for the first time the Fish Creek drainage will be brought into the operating boundary (it had always been in the SUP boundary) with selective glading and a proper egress route to collect skiers at the bottom. This is the first true, proper expert pod Steamboat has to offer and I think could help transform the image of the hill just as the North Face terrain at Crested Butte did for that mountain. Only so many people can handle that terrain, but combined with the terrain improvements on Pony Express pod plus the new offerings on Pioneer and Sunshine 2, this will REALLY help to spread traffic out. It seems like 80% of upper mtn traffic confines itself to the space between Quickdraw on Sunshine and Buddy’s Run. That’s probably an understatement. These improvements will dramatically reshape skier traffic for the better IMO.

    Like

    • Myles Svec July 2, 2020 / 6:54 pm

      The fish creek drainage being brung into the boundary will be a big improvement. There was some good backcountry there but with that being brought in there will be some real expert terrain. I’m tired of just going down chute 2 or 3 where it feels not steep compared to double black at other ski areas and if you’re experienced it takes like 20 seconds to get down the exciting part then it feels mostly flat after that. It’s just long cat tracks if you’re skiing from north st pats and East face. How steep is this new terrain in the drainage basin? Also some selective grading in there sounds good and it probably won’t be tracked very fast. Probably will be some fun terrain.

      Like

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