North American lift construction reached a 23 year high in 2023 with 66 installations from California to Maine and British Columbia to Nova Scotia. Not only did 2022 see the largest number of projects since 1999, it was likely the biggest lift investment year ever in dollars. While there’s no way to know exactly how much all the lifts cost, it’s safe to say the new gondolas, bubble chairs and fixed grip quads built this year total hundreds of millions. Amazingly, this feat was accomplished amid immense supply chain and labor challenges and without three large projects postponed at Park City and Keystone. A few lifts remain in final stages of construction this New Year’s Eve but will be completed in the first weeks of 2023 and spin for decades to come.
Vail Resorts realized an incredible 18 new lifts at 12 resorts for the 2022-23 season, the largest-ever investment by the firm and probably any company in North American ski history. Boyne Resorts also went big with multiple eight place installations and a half dozen projects total as it continued renewing lift fleets across its ten resort portfolio. Five year old Alterra Mountain Company launched giant new gondolas at Palisades Tahoe and Steamboat with more big projects in the pipeline for 2023.
While this year’s class spans coast to coast, a few geographic hot spots accounted for the bulk of new lifts. I have already travelled to Lake Tahoe four times this season thanks to new lift openings at five different resorts (and plentiful snow!) Five different resorts in the Wasatch also added new lifts, a number lower than originally planned due to the unfortunate cancellation of Park City’s two projects. As always, Colorado was an epicenter with not one but two new lifts at both Steamboat and Vail plus one offs at Arapahoe Basin, Loveland and Telluride.
In the Midwest, the big story was Michigan where Boyne Mountain debuted the region’s first eight place detachable, Caberfae expanded onto South Peak and Bittersweet debuted a second high speed quad. In the east, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania nearly matched Colorado’s number of new lifts, a whopping five of which went in at Vail-owned Jack Frost and Big Boulder. Camelback Resort and Blue Mountain nearly doubled the state’s number of six packs overnight. Four of six New England states saw new construction with three new lifts each in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Canada had a relatively quiet year aside from Whistler, where Vail Resorts and Doppelmayr built the two largest lifts of the year by vertical transport feet per hour.
There weren’t just a lot of lifts this year but a lot of big lifts. 2022 saw the highest percentage of detachable equipment since at least 1999, when four different companies competed in the space. After decades with only Doppelmayr and Leitner-Poma in the North American detachable market, MND Ropeways completed its first North American detachable at Waterville Valley this year in partnership with Bartholet. With a capacity of 3,000 skiers per hour and 1,600 foot vertical rise, the Tecumseh Express is one of the largest installations of the year by any manufacturer.
Fixed grip triples and quads remained popular this year with a solid 26 installations. Gondolas also reached a Covid-era high while surface lifts and trams took a back seat.
Exciting lift-served expansions opened across the West as 2022 came to a close. A D-Line six pack at Grand Targhee unlocked 500 new acres on Peaked Mountain and a quad chair at Lookout Pass opened another 500 acres on Eagle Peak. A new quad at Mt. Shasta services 250 new acres on Gray Butte and another fixed quad accesses 40 acres of new terrain at at Sundance Resort. Utah Olympic Park also completed a major expansion to its training facilities with a high speed quad on West Peak.
Despite the entrance of MND and niche installations by Partek and SkyTrans, the HTI Group and Doppelmayr remain locked in a fierce duopoly in North America, mirroring their positions globally. HTI’s Leitner-Poma and Skytrac constructed a combined 26 lifts in this corner of the world while Doppelmayr managed 30. Together those represent 95 percent market share.
Interestingly HTI continues to offer two different fixed grip product lines (Skytrac Monarch and Leitner-Poma Alpha) while Doppelmayr has two detachable families with D-Line and UNI G. This was the largest year ever for D-Line with five installations and more planned for next year.
Covid turned into a boon for the ski industry and 65 of 66 projects were at ski resorts. For all the talk of urban gondolas and point of interest projects, skiing remains nearly synonymous with the lift business. An outfit called SkyLand Ranch near Gatlinburg, Tennessee saw the lone non-skiing installation for 2022. So far only one of next year’s project is non-skiing at a California winery.
Lift Blog also enjoyed a growth year with more than 800,000 unique visitors viewing 4.3 million pages – an average of 12,000 per day. As great as 2022 was, 2023 will be even better. With early orders in hand, manufacturers are ramping up to build at least 60 projects ranging from the first D-Lines in Canada to a large aerial tramway and the longest gondola in North America. Keystone’s Bergman Bowl expansion will finally be realized along with expansions at Aspen Mountain, Schweitzer, Steamboat, Loon Mountain and Sugarloaf. There are also a number of big lifts on order which have not been publicly announced yet. You can bet I will cover them all and hope you will join me. Happy New Year.