Fewer resorts opted to reinstall used lifts this year than the last three years. In California, Dodge Ridge repurposed Sun Valley’s old Cold Springs lift and a community ski hill in Alberta reinstalled a Mueller T-Bar. In the northeast, both Bousquet Mountain and Magic Mountain installed 1980s Poma Alpha lifts with plenty of life left in them.
The largest used lift project was the Wenatchee Express at Mission Ridge. The Washington ski area brought a 1987 high speed quad over from Austria and expects to open the lift in mid-January. It will feature refurbished bubble chairs and all new controls.
Skytrac completed numerous retrofits to older lifts, including a new drive terminal at Snowy Range, Wyoming, a new return terminal at Beaver Mountain, Utah and new tower heads on a Thiokol triple at Homewood, California. Doppelmayr supplied new CWA cabins for Whiteface’s Cloudsplitter Gondola as part of a major upgrade project there.
Ski resorts remained the lift companies’ bread and butter as other sectors of the travel industry took a pause. Doppelmayr realized a high capacity transport gondola at an Alaskan cruise port known as Icy Strait Point, which was contracted before the pandemic hit. The other 27 lifts were built at ski mountains.
As far as lift types, Doppelmayr completed an aerial tramway at the Yellowstone Club utilizing gondola size cabins in a jig-back configuration. After three growth years for gondolas, chairlifts took center stage in 2020. Perhaps enclosed lifts just weren’t as appealing this year. Twice as many fixed grip chairlifts were completed as detachable, the same ratio as last year. Ski areas in Vermont and Idaho added new T-Bars.
The largest new lift of the year was the Arizona Gondola, a Leitner-Poma Telemix with a direct drive. The cabin to chair ratio is quite high with two six passenger chairs between each eight passenger gondola. North America now has a total of ten combination lifts and six direct drives with hopefully more to come next year.
Doppelmayr’s largest project of the year was building two modern lifts for Timberline Mountain, West Virginia. The entire mountain is now serviced by a UNI-G six place detachable with beginner guests riding a new fixed-grip quad. The lifts mark a massive improvement from the three Borvig and Heron-Poma fixed grips which stood before.
Regionally, the East Coast saw the most new lifts installed with additions in six states. The Rocky Mountains, typically the largest region for lifts, saw installations fall more than 60 percent with eight lifts erected.
Canada was also down this year and only one new lift got built in the Midwest, a Skytrac at Hyland Hills, Minnesota.
West Coast lift building was about on par with recent years. Two new machines were constructed in Alaska and one each in Washington, Oregon and California.
2020 was a huge year in Mexico with seven new gondolas installed but both Doppelmayr and Leitner supplied these lifts from Europe instead of manufacturing them in the United States or Canada. Therefore these projects are excluded from the charts.
On the manufacturer front, sister companies Leitner-Poma and Skytrac realized 11 complete lifts and rival Doppelmayr installed 10. MND Ropeways, formerly known as LST, completed its third US T-Bar at a community ski hill in Idaho. SkyTrans fabricated a short triple chair for a nonprofit Alaskan ski area in its first year of operations. New York-based Partek did not build any lifts for the first time in nine years.
On the eve of 2021 there’s reason for optimism. Not only did resort groups already make payments for lifts not completed this year, a whole new set of projects are approved and ready to move forward. 2021 is pacing similarly to 2018, a year when 43 lifts were built.
I foresee 2021 as full of coronavirus vaccinations with a pent up demand for travel and low interest rates for borrowing. These factors could converge to yield many exciting lift projects next year. As we say goodbye to 2020, I look forward to following the ski lift business in 2021 and wish everyone a Happy New Year.