News Roundup: Gunstock & More

Park City Mountain Appeals Lift Approval Revocation

Park City Mountain on Wednesday appealed the Park City Planning Commission’s decision to revoke approval of the permit to upgrade the Silverlode and Eagle chairlifts, which were scheduled to be built this summer. “The City Planning Director made the right decision to issue this permit, supported by her extensive, four-month-long analysis and the advice of three outside experts,” said Sara Huey, Vail Resorts Senior Manager of Communications in a statement. “There is no evidence that she made a mistake, and we believe her decision will be upheld in this next step in the process.” Silverlode was scheduled to become Vail Resorts’ first eight passenger and first D-Line chairlift in North America and Eagle was to be a detachable six with a mid unloading station. The appeal was filed in District Court.

Four citizens appealed the initial approval, arguing the project should not have been approved by administratively by city staff. They also questioned the degree to which the new lifts would increase traffic and said the mountain’s parking mitigation plan was insufficient. The residents’ appeal was granted by a vote of 3 to 1 at a June Planning Commission meeting. “While we disagreed with the outcome, we respect the right of four residents to appeal the Planning Director’s decision and likewise we have the right to appeal the Planning Commission’s decision,” continued Vail’s statement today. “In parallel with this appeal, we, of course, remain committed to working with the City to explore options to ensure that the resort moves forward with these important replacements of equipment that was installed many decades ago.”

While the process plays out, Doppelmayr and Park City are placing lift equipment which has already been delivered into storage. When I stopped by last week, parts were being sorted and loaded onto trailers.

Error Pauses Bergman Bowl Construction at Keystone

Keystone Resort has apologized and halted some work on the Bergman Bowl expansion due to a mistake made by the construction team. “An area that was supposed to have a minimal construction route was instead approached as a temporary construction route. This was due to a misunderstanding by our construction team, for which we take full responsibility,” read a statement from Keystone Vice President and General Manager Chris Sorensen released this afternoon. “Keystone Resort has a long history of successful partnership with the U.S. Forest Service on projects that provide guests the opportunity to enjoy outdoor recreation within our National Forest. We take this mistake seriously, and at their direction have paused some work at the site while the USFS conducts an assessment to determine next steps,” he continued.

The expansion encompasses 555 acres with 16 new trails and is one of the largest capital projects in the United States ski industry this season. Leitner-Poma was in the process of building the six passenger Bergman Express, set to top out at 12,282 feet in elevation. Keystone’s statement did not specify whether it was resort employees or a contractor that made the mistake. “We deeply regret the impact this unauthorized construction activity has had on the environment that our team works carefully to protect every day. At this time, we do not yet know if this will impact the opening of lift-served terrain at Bergman Bowl this season,” said Sorensen, who promised to keep the public informed.

The Bergman project is part of the Epic Lift Upgrade, a push to build or replace 21 lifts across 14 Vail resorts in 2022. Two large lift projects at Park City were already dropped from this year’s program due to a successful appeal by local residents.

Brundage Announces Centennial Express Project

New owners of Idaho’s Brundage Mountain Resort will complete their first major capital project next year, installation of a detachable quad replacing the Centennial triple. The soon-to-be-retired CTEC was built in 1990 and takes 14 minutes to ride. The new lift, which will be called the Centennial Express, will cut ride time to six minutes and increase uphill capacity from 1,300 people per hour to 1,800 people per hour. All of Brundage’s lifts are Doppelmayr and the new lift will be as well.

“Having two high-speed quads in the base area gives us more flexibility and redundancy for moving people up the mountain, which is especially important on busy days and holidays and during challenging weather conditions,” said Brundage General Manager Ken Rider. “The loading experience will be so much smoother – especially for families – which will make some of our best terrain infinitely more accessible,” he continued. The lift will service 1,616 vertical feet of intermediate and advanced terrain.

Brundage was acquired by a small group of Idaho-based investors two years ago and the Centennial Express is their first lift upgrade. “When the new ownership group formed in November 2020, we took a long, hard look at the immediate and future needs of our beloved Brundage Mountain,” said mountain President Bob Looper. “Our priority is to maintain the low-key character of Brundage, while building toward a sustainable future. Keeping lift lines to a minimum and keeping slopes uncrowded is a top priority, and upgrading the Centennial lift is a key first step in improving and expanding our lift infrastructure.”

The ownership group plans to invest between $25 and $30 million dollars over the next 2-3 years with more projects to be announced in the coming months. Centennial Express is scheduled to debut for the 2023-24 winter season.

Wild Mountain to Add First New Chairlift in 40 Years

Skytrac will construct a fixed grip quad at Wild Mountain, Minnesota next summer replacing a nearly 50 year old lift. The new quad will run parallel with the current Chair 2 and replace Chair 3, a Borvig center pole quad dating back to 1972-73. “The new chairlift will become the primary chairlift used for access from the base lodge, but Chair 2 will remain in use for summer operations and high visitation days during the winter,” said Wild Mountain.

Tree clearing has already begun and the lift will be manufactured over the winter. The new Chair 3 is expected to be complete by the start of the 2023-24 ski season. Once the Skytrac is installed, Wild Mountain will remove Chair 3, freeing the South Wild trail from from tower obstructions. Chairs from the old lift will be sold to the public next summer.

Wild Mountain’s announcement follows the recent trend of lifts being ordered well in advance of installation. High demand for new equipment and supply chain delays are driving longer manufacturer lead times. North American resorts have already announced an impressive 42 new installations for next year.

News Roundup: Contract Awards

Gunstock Shuts Down Following Management Resignations

New Hampshire ski area Gunstock ceased most operations today following a contentious public meeting last night. The county-owned resort’s management resigned en masse, citing treatment by a group of citizens appointed to oversee the ski area. Tom Day, Gunstock’s President and General Manager, tendered his resignation along with other managers including the Chief Financial Officer, Director of Human Resources, Director of Marketing, Director of Resort Services, Director of Snow Sports and Director of Facilities. One of five Gunstock Area Commissioners also resigned. The Laconia Daily Sun reported employees’ exits from the property were overseen by the Belknap County Sheriff’s Department this morning.

The five Gunstock Area Commissioners are appointed by Belknap County’s State Representatives. The Commission has become increasingly involved in day-to-day operations of the ski area in recent years. “Obviously there’s been a lot of change and a lot of you think you can do the job to be able to run the resort,” said Day at the beginning of the meeting. “I know there’s been some discussion about what my role is as far as who runs the ski area and who doesn’t. I feel that my role here is diminished and you probably don’t need me,” he said, offering to stay for two weeks to facilitate a transition.

The ski area, which features five chairlifts and a 1,600 foot vertical drop, has not required taxpayer funds for operations the last 12 years and remits 1.75 percent of its revenue to the county. Just last year Gunstock reported record revenue and season pass sales and announced a major expansion project including new terrain and lifts.

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, himself a former ski resort general manager, criticized the commission and offered support to employees. “Gunstock is truly one of the jewels of the lakes region, but what has been happening over the last year surrounding the Gunstock Area Commission’s inability and unwillingness to work collaboratively with the management team at Gunstock is deeply concerning,” the Governor wrote. He went on to offer employees jobs at state-owned Cannon Mountain or the Parks Department should a resolution not be reached at Gunstock.

The mountain’s summer activities, which include lift rides on the Panorama Express, a mountain coaster and zip line, are closed until further notice. “We truly apologize for any inconvenience this may cause our guests,” said a notice posted on Gunstock’s social channels and signed by Gunstock Mountain Resort Employees.

Update: Thursday afternoon the Gunstock Area Commission issued a statement condemning staff members for resigning and pledging to reopen as soon as possible. “At the Gunstock Area Commission’s monthly meeting last night, the GAC planned discussions with management about ongoing expansion plans. Instead of discussing those plans, the GAC was met with an unsolicited and spontaneous resignation by senior managers and a commissioner,” the statement read. “In light of last night’s unprecedented actions, the GAC is developing plans to ensure Gunstock’s continued operations as seamlessly as possible. Gunstock has an important legacy in the ski industry’s history and the GAC intends to maintain that legacy,” the Commission wrote.

News Roundup: Moving Steel