Reflecting on a Year Like No Other

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.

This Yan-Riblet-Doppelmayr combo lift moved from Sun Valley to Dodge Ridge with upgrades along the way.

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.

Mission Ridge works to complete the Wenatchee Express in December 2020.

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.

Upgraded Chute double at Snowy Range.

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.

Timberline Mountain’s new fixed grip quad.

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.

Camelback Resort replaced two Borvig doubles with a realigned and modern fixed quad from Doppelmayr.

Canada was also down this year and only one new lift got built in the Midwest, a Skytrac at Hyland Hills, Minnesota.

The new South quad at Hyland.

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.

Guests of Timberline Lodge now have six high speed quads to choose from following the replacement of the Pucci triple.

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.

The newest MND T-Bar in Idaho.

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.

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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