News Roundup: Conquer the Mountain

Child Falls, Father Self Lowers After Chair Damaged Hitting Tower at Montana Snowbowl

Nathan McLeod works to lower himself from a damaged chair after it contacted a tower near the loading station of the Snow Park double chair.

A double chair was left mangled and two people were thankfully uninjured after a harrowing incident at Montana Snowbowl last Sunday first reported by the Missoulian. Nathan McLeod was skiing with his two young sons March 19th when the incident happened at the bottom of the Snow Park double chair. In a phone interview this afternoon, McLeod told Lift Blog that his older son Cassidy loaded one chair ahead of him with a stranger, as is common on double chairs when families cannot ride together. McLeod said loading of the first chair did not go perfectly, and even though both Cassidy and the stranger ended up seated, the chair began to swing in a circular motion. That caused the next chair with McLeod and his four year old son Sawyer to also begin swinging.

McLeod self-lowers from the chair after the lift stopped.

The second chair contacted tower 1 with such force to both eject Sawyer and cause the chair’s back and base to bend backward significantly. McLeod said he tried to grab Sawyer to prevent him from falling but that the chair was “falling apart at the same time.” McLeod held on and the lift stopped but he eventually decided to lower himself and jump the rest of the way to help his son. The lift operator also came to Sawyer’s aid and gave the four year old a hug. Because the Snow Park chair is the only way out of the terrain it services and McLeod’s older son Cassidy was still on the lift above, dad and Sawyer eventually rode up in a different chair and reunited at the summit. McLeod says Snowbowl personnel looked at the damaged chair at the top station for about 10 minutes but eventually restarted the lift and continued loading the rest of the chairs for at least the remainder of the day. The McLeod family skied to the base and later saw doctors to get checked out. By Thursday, the Lolo National Forest learned of the mishap and requested Snowbowl to temporarily close Snow Park, which it did.

The lift continued to operate after the incident with flagging tied to the damaged chair.

Snow Park is a Riblet double installed at Montana Snowbowl between 2017 and 2019 but dates back to 1966. It previously operated as Burlingame at Snowmass, Colorado, where it received a used Poma drive terminal in 2005. At Snowbowl, the lift includes 142 center pole chairs with insert clips and no restraining bars. McLeod says Snowbowl instructs small children to load on the inside and adults on the outside of chairs, which can cause them to swing and lean inward toward towers.

Damaged chair seen at the top drive terminal after the loading incident.

Although Montana Snowbowl purchased a brand new Skytrac triple last summer, the mountain’s other chairlifts are all Riblets dating back to the 1960s through ’80s. An empty chair fell from the LaValle chair in 2020, necessitating a rope evacuation. Another empty Riblet chair fell at Snowbowl in 2011.

Lift Blog contacted Montana Snowbowl owner Brad Morris for comment on the incident earlier this week but did not receive a response. In an interview with the Missoulian, Snowbowl employee Andy Morris acknowledged that lightweight Riblet chairs have a tendency to swing after mis-loads but that the lift was designed by a professional engineer and is regularly inspected by the Forest Service and the mountain’s insurance company (Montana’s state Board of Passenger Tramway Safety was dissolved in the 1990s). Thursday Andy Morris met with the Forest Service and the lift’s engineer and agreed to complete a “minor change” to the tower. Morris told the Missoulian he believes the chair Sawyer and Nathan were on missed the tower’s halo and contacted another part of the tower.

McLeod said while he does not fault the lift operator for her actions and wishes the best for Snowbowl, he is disappointed in the mountain’s response to the incident, namely lack of communication and the decision to continue running the lift indefinitely with the damaged chair. “I just want Snowbowl to get their s*** together,” he said.

Brighton Announces Crest 6 Project

Doppelmayr will build the first D-Line lift in Utah this summer, a six pack replacing the aging Crest Express at Brighton Resort. In typical Boyne Resorts fashion, the replacement lift will feature 90 degree loading with a conveyor and video screen. Riders will enjoy a 5.3 minute ride time with an hourly capacity of 2,400 skiers per hour. In the summer, Crest will serve mountain bikers with three Bike Clips on each chair. The lift won’t have bubbles or heated seats.

Brighton also announced construction of a new mid-mountain restaurant and implementation of a parking reservation system for next season.

Crest 6 is the 9th new lift project announced by Brighton owner Boyne Resorts for the 2023/24 ski season. Construction is expected to begin in May.

Alterra Details Plans for Six New Lifts in 2023

The parent company of the Ikon Pass plans to construct half a dozen new lifts for the 2023/24 ski season in addition to numerous other capital investments across 16 owned resorts. All Alterra lift projects for the upcoming 2023 construction season were previously announced but some details have changed slightly. Privately-held Alterra plans to invest a total of $400 million in resort infrastructure, $50 million for employee housing and $40 million toward technology upgrades to better connect and streamline the guest experience in the year ahead.

At Solitude, the previously announced Eagle Express replacement will now be a Doppelmayr six pack rather than a high speed quad. Solitude and the entire Wasatch have seen an extremely busy winter with plentiful snowfall and a growing Ikon passholder base in Utah.

Steamboat’s Full Steam Ahead initiative continues this summer with completion of the second section of the Wild Blue Gondola and debut of the Mahogany Ridge Express. The gondola will become the longest in North America with a 12 minute ride from base to summit. The first section of the D-Line gondola from Steamboat Square to Greenhorn Ranch debuted this winter and Doppelmayr has already completed tower foundations for phase 2 to Sunshine Peak.

Leitner-Poma of America will build Steamboat’s second new lift this summer, previously known as Pioneer Ridge but now dubbed Mahogany Ridge Express. The new detachable quad will service 655 acres of expert terrain in Mahogany Ridge and Fish Creek Canyon, making Steamboat the second largest mountain in Colorado.

Leitner-Poma will also build the new Pioneer Express at Winter Park, a six pack replacing a 1986 detachable quad. The new lift will feature a mid-loading station for easier access to return skiing.

At Snowshoe, Alterra affirmed the fixed grip triple Powder Monkey will be replaced with a fixed grip quad this summer from Skytrac.

At Mammoth Mountain the Canyon Express #16 will be replaced with a Doppelmayr D-Line detachable six place lift. Notably, the previously announced Broadway Express #1 replacement is no longer proceeding this summer. Mammoth and Alterra are currently working through approvals for redevelopment of the Main Lodge portal which may affect the alignment of a future Broadway Express.

“In our first five years, Alterra Mountain Company has established itself as a proven leader in the outdoor industry, and we intend to continue to innovate by investing in large-scale projects that will deliver differentiated guest experiences,” said Jared Smith, President & CEO of Alterra Mountain Company. “These projects, and our investments in the years ahead, demonstrate our unwavering commitment to evolving our destinations to better serve our guests and to improving the experience our employees can expect when living and working in our mountain communities.”

News Roundup: Looking Ahead

News Roundup: 2S

Whistler Blackcomb Postpones Jersey Cream Replacement

As part of its quarterly earnings report, Vail Resorts today announced one of its big ticket capital projects will be delayed due to lift manufacturer installation capacity. While work will begin this month on the planned Fitzsimmons 8 project, the Jersey Cream six passenger lift installation has been postponed to 2024. Both new lifts were slated to replace aging high speed quads. “Doppelmayr Canada has informed Vail Resorts that they cannot install both lifts this summer due to their labor and resource constraints,” said Vail in a statement. While equipment for both Fitzsimmons and Jersey Cream is coming largely from two postponed projects in Park City, the biggest constraint manufacturers face right now is installation capacity. Capital saved from the Jersey Cream postponement will instead be allocated toward accelerating Vail Resorts’ investment in its gear rental business.

The Fitzsimmons 8 project proceeding this summer will become the first eight seat chairlift in Canada along with the recently announced Adventure 8 at Mount St. Louis Moonstone, Ontario. “We are committed to working closely with Doppelmayr to ensure that the construction, installation, and testing of Fitz moves ahead safely as planned,” said Whistler Blackcomb, noting that preliminary work for Jersey Cream would also proceed this year. Vail is also adding new lifts at Attitash, Breckenridge, Keystone and Stevens Pass this offseason.