Reflecting on a Year Like No Other

At this time last year, 2020 was destined to be busy in North America with more than 30 ropeways already scheduled for construction. As the 2019/20 winter went on, more announcements came seemingly each week. Vail Resorts, Alterra and Boyne all unveiled ambitious plans including multi-lift projects at Beaver Creek, Mammoth and Okemo. Yet in the background, the Coronavirus was advancing around the world. The situation came to a head the weekend of March 14th, when hundreds of North American resorts closed in order to protect public health. Facing uncertainty about summer and beyond, many businesses decided to postpone expansion capital entirely.

Despite immense challenges, US and Canadian resorts did add a total of 28 new lifts in 2020. Most companies which went ahead were small- to medium-sized, ones often forgotten in this era of consolidation. In Maine and West Virginia, mountains which had sat idle for years revved back to life with brand new lifts to welcome back guests.

Saddleback, Maine’s new Rangeley quad replaced a Mueller double which was no longer operable.

Almost all this year’s lifts directly replaced older machines. The average age of a lift retired in 2020 was 40 years as resorts said goodbye to Halls, Riblets, Borvigs and more. Some replacement projects simply couldn’t wait for the pandemic to be over.

Expansion lifts make up about 40 percent of the total most years but in 2020 they were just 20 percent. Sun Valley forged ahead with Sunrise, a 380 acre addition near Seattle Ridge. After skiing the new terrain, guests will enjoy a high speed ride back to the Roundhouse on a new Doppelmayr quad. Other expansions include Lake Louise’s West Bowl project and Nordic Valley’s yet-to-be-named southward expansion.

Broadway at Sun Valley, a mile long detachable quad in a new alignment.

Arapahoe Basin replaced not one but two Yan fixed grips with modern Alpha models, including the legendary Pallavicini double with a new double. Aspen Skiing Company purchased its first direct drive lift from Leitner-Poma, a replacement for Big Burn at Snowmass. The State of New York committed millions to upgrade three fixed grip chairlifts at two mountains.

Pallavicini 2.0 at Arapahoe Basin.

9 thoughts on “Reflecting on a Year Like No Other

  1. Thomas Jett December 31, 2020 / 2:49 pm

    Personally, I’m expecting 2021 to be mostly carry-over projects from 2020 like with Vail’s announcement. It’ll take a while to get everything back up and running (we won’t see resorts at full capacity this season) and I’d imagine that most businesses would want to be on surer footing before committing to new capital projects. I’m looking for that pent-up demand for travel and cheap credit that you mentioned to manifest itself in the 2022 build season, similar to the uptick in 2018 after the TCJA passed the previous fall.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Owen Mitchem December 31, 2020 / 4:57 pm

      On top of cheap credit and pent-up travel demand, the incoming Biden administration has signaled support for a infrastructure stimulus package that could help to further bolster ski related construction projects over the next few years. Additionally many states may be interested in their own infrastructure spending packages that could help fund more transit related projects such as the proposed Little Cottonwood Canyon gondola or Timberline’s proposed connection to Summit.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Thomas Jett December 31, 2020 / 6:31 pm

        Infrastructure stimulus might help in certain cases where ski areas want to build gondola transit to downhill parking lots (Like Timberline or the Cottonwoods as you mentioned), but the stimulus program that’d actually help most ski areas is another one of those universal checks, which also have the most ambiguous political calculus.

        Liked by 3 people

      • HoodRacer January 1, 2021 / 1:23 pm

        If you are talking about Timberline, OR, I expect that gondola to the Summit ski area / base area to be at least 10 years out. A rest stop needs to be moved, lodges need to be built, a major highway intersection needs to be redesigned, and permits need to be issued. If nothing else, the environmental groups in OR will make sure that portion of this project takes years. I am sure it will happen eventually, but closer to 2030 seems most likely.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Owen Mitchem January 1, 2021 / 7:24 pm

          The gondola is definitely a long ways off but the East Govy redesign will almost assuredly require state funding and the sooner that is completed, the sooner work on the gondola can begin in earnest.


  2. squawvalleychief December 31, 2020 / 4:49 pm

    2020 has definitely been a year unlike any other and it’s remarkable that, given the pandemic, so many lifts were constructed at all this year. Although resorts will be far from operating at capacity this season, let’s hope that by the end of 2021 we start seeing a return to normalcy.

    Happy New Year to everyone!

    Pete Bansen
    Reno, Nevada

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Jeff Crowley December 31, 2020 / 4:52 pm

    Peter Happy New Year! Jeff

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Ryan December 31, 2020 / 5:11 pm

    I think the success of 2021 is going to be based highly on how well the mountains do for January, February, and March. If we see more tighter restrictions put in place due to surging COVID cases, we’ll likely see a slow 2021, but I do predict 2022 to be a great busy year. Just remember that most of these mountain resorts (where people can actually stay overnight at hotels, condos, and rentals) are located in areas with little to no health care facilities to treat those who end up with COVID which is why state leaders impose such tough regulations/restrictions in the first place for these areas.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Myles Svec December 31, 2020 / 5:49 pm

    Happy new year everyone! Happy new year to you to Peter and thanks for running this wonderful blog!

    Liked by 5 people

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