News Roundup: Stories

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Public Comment Opens for Three Lift Crested Butte Expansion

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Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s vision to add three lifts and 500 acres of intermediate and advanced terrain moved forward last Friday with the release of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement by the Gunnison National Forest.  Operated by Triple Peaks, LLC along with New England’s Okemo and Mt. Sunapee resorts, Crested Butte currently has a fleet of 12 lifts serving mostly beginner and expert terrain.  The 58 year-old mountain seeks to provide guests more intermediate and advanced options and improve skier circulation.  Triple Peaks owners Tim and Diane Mueller were previously blocked from building a five-lift, 2,000-acre expansion on neighboring Snodgrass Mountain in 2009.

Under the new plan, first proposed in 2015, one current lift would be replaced with two more added in an area called Teocalli 2 – far from Snodgrass and nearer current resort infrastructure.  The North Face lift, a Leitner T-Bar installed in 2004, would be removed and replaced with a much longer chairlift.  This fixed-grip quad would stretch around 5,000 feet with a capacity nearly twice that of the current surface lift.  The new lift was orignally envisioned to start between the East River and Paradise lifts but is now slated to load directly adjacent to Paradise.

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Current Crested Butte trail map; the expansion would be mostly behind the expert terrain in the upper left corner.

A second new lift with the working name Teo Park would similarly top out at the summit of the North Face but rise from the Teo 2 drainage behind.  This fixed-grip triple would move 1,200 guests per hour with a slope length of 3,050′ and create a link between the proposed expansion area and the already-developed ski area front side.

The heart of the expansion lies lower in the west-facing Teo watershed, where a new high-speed or fixed-grip triple would span approximately 6,000 linear feet.  Capacity would be limited to 1,200 skiers per hour and only a handful of new intermediate runs cut, totaling 89 acres.  Most of the terrain – 434 acres – would be left as gladed skiing with select trees removed by helicopter.  This expansive zone would supplement the popular and sometimes overcrowded intermediate runs serviced by Paradise and East River.

Public comments for this major project will be accepted here until May 10th and the Forest Supervisor is expected to make a decision around October.  Implementation of approved elements could begin as early as 2019 and the Mueller family would likely sign with Leitner-Poma for any new lifts as they have for decades at Crested Butte, Okemo and Sunapee.

Instagram Tuesday: Hammered

Every Tuesday, I feature my favorite Instagram photos from around the lift world.

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Alberta’s Castle Mountain Looks to Grow

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Known for its steep terrain, lack of crowds and plentiful powder, Castle Mountain is poised to expand significantly while staying true to its roots.

Something interesting happened in Western Canada over the past few decades.  Just as many struggling small- and mid-sized American ski areas looked toward government ownership or nonprofit charity as solutions, private investors up north did the opposite, convincing communities to sell their publicly-owned ski areas for a brighter future.  Residents in the town of Golden, British Columbia voted by a 97 percent margin in 2000 to give up control of a one-Riblet ski area called Whitetooth to a Dutch construction company.  After debuting one of the world’s greatest gondolas and two new quad chairs, the renamed Kicking Horse Mountain Resort was sold to the Resorts of the Canadian Rockies conglomerate in 2011.

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Golden, BC sits along the Trans-Canada Highway and saw significant development in the early 2000s with the creation of Kicking Horse Mountain Resort.

Seven years after Golden’s experiment, a Denver-based developer bought the Powder Springs ski area from the City of Revelstoke and announced a $22 million contract with Leitner-Poma Canada to create North America’s first resort with a vertical greater than 5,500 feet.  One more lift out of a planned 30 was built in 2008 before a mountain of debt and the global financial crisis nearly forced Revelstoke Mountain Resort to close.  Now controlled by giant hotelier Northland Properties of Vancouver, the jury is still out on Revelstoke’s viability as a billion dollar destination.

Meanwhile in Alberta

Another public to private transaction took place in 1996, when a group of 150 skiers purchased Castle Mountain from a nearby municipality to form Castle Mountain Resort, Inc.  Castle was privately developed with two Mueller T-Bars in 1965 but became insolvent after a 1976 fire and was rescued by Pincher Creek taxpayers.  Just across the continental divide from Fernie, BC, the mountain shares the same dramatic scenery as other Canadian Rockies destinations but without the fancy hotels and high-speed lifts.  With a local population only around 35,000 and a three hour drive from Calgary, Castle currently averages only 90,000 skier visits despite its terrific snow and terrain.  Some 3,200 acres are serviced by five main lifts and a nearly 3,000′ vertical drop exceeds those found at places like Squaw Valley and Alta.  Averaging zero winter rain days at mid mountain (a perennial problem in much of British Columbia) and 350 inches of snow, there’s a lot to love for those willing to make the trek.

When the current investors took over, they inherited the two T-Bars, one of which is among the longest remaining in the world at 4,518 feet.  Designed to be turned into a chairlift but never actually converted, the dinosaur was named T-Rex in 1996 and these days only rarely drags guests up its 1,670′ vertical.  Castle Mountain has installed four new chairlifts since ’96, all of which came used from mountains like Sunshine Village and Beaver Creek.  The ski area continues to generate all of its own power with diesel fuel.

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The famed T-Rex, a beastly Mueller that cost only $67,000 to build in 1965.

In 2016, Castle Mountain Resort partnered with Whistler-based Brent Harley and Associates to develop a road map for the next decades of growth with input from the mountain’s shareholders, the local community and other stakeholders.  The new master development plan was completed in May of last year and envisions the replacement of most of the current lifts, construction of up to nine new ones and expanded year-round recreational opportunities.

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News Roundup: On the Block

  • Alterra’s David Perry says significant capital is likely be spent at Steamboat in 2018 and 2019 with phase two of the gondola rebuild and other big projects on the table.
  • A Denver TV reporter heads to Texas for a two-part interview with the husband of Kelly Huber, the woman killed during a lift malfunction last year at Granby Ranch.
  • Two loaded chairs collide at Owl’s Head, Quebec after the Green Chair was pressed into rare operation amid downtime on a neighboring high-speed quad.  The 1972 Heron-Poma is the former Big Hitch lift from Stagecoach, Colorado.
  • China Peak’s owner wishes he still had the $900,000 he spent to build a new lift last summer that can’t open with no snow.
  • The new Peak triple was rope evac’d at Pats Peak last Monday, apparently due to a gearbox issue.
  • Poma dedicates its newest factory in France.
  • Disney Skyliner’s first tower is up and it’s tapered in the cool Wolfurt style.
  • Ian Cumming, founder of Powdr and majority owner of Snowbird, dies at age 77.
  • Granite Gorge’s chairlift opens for the season after a gearbox issue and other problems.
  • Ariel Quiros officially settles with the Securities and Exchange Commission for $82 million, paving the way for the sale of Jay Peak and Burke Mountain.
  • The world’s longest lift is open!
  • Killington formally applies to replace the South Ridge triple with a quad chair, manufacturer unknown. The sample profile confusingly shows a Poma Alpha drive and Doppelmayr Eclipse return terminal.
  • Teton Pass, Montana won’t reopen under current ownership and is up for sale.
  • Skier visits have declined 30 percent in South Korea over the last five years and there are several lost ski resorts in the Olympic region.
  • The Sawtooth National Forest tentatively approves Sun Valley’s project to replace the Cold Springs lift with a longer high-speed quad as soon as this summer.
  • A chairlift will be studied studied for one of Alabama’s most popular state parks.
  • Alterra names Mammoth veteran Rusty Gregory as the company’s first CEO.

Instagram Tuesday: Bliss

Every Tuesday, I feature my favorite Instagram photos from around the lift world.

#6-SBK/B#Schaffürggli#Madrisa #Klosters#beautifull#Prättigau #sun

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News Roundup: Firsts

Instagram Tuesday: Reversible

Every Tuesday, I feature my favorite Instagram photos from around the lift world.

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Lifts to Look for in PyeongChang

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A new gondola at South Korea’s Jeongseon Alpine Centre glides over a Wold Cup race in 2017.  Photo credit: Doppelmayr

The Olympics have become a boon for ski lift companies, which often supply tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars in new lifts in the run up to each Games.  Most recently for Sochi’s 2014 venues, Doppelmayr built a staggering 40 ropeways including multiple tricable gondolas that could even carry cars in the event of road closures.  Poma built another $137 million worth – 16 lifts – the most concurrently at a single area in company history.  Even summer host cities often feature ropeways that I’d like to think contributed to them being chosen as hosts in the first place.  Transport for London and Doppelmayr launched the Emirates Air Line just in time for the 2012 games and Rio de Janeiro debuted multiple urban gondolas in the run up to 2016.

Jeongseon

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Jeongseon Alpine Centre is a purpose-built Olympic downhill facility with 100 percent automated snowmaking coverage.

The 2018 games kick off February 9th in and around PyeongChang, South Korea.  Three ski resorts will host alpine events just 125 miles from where North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un opened his own new ski resort with a gondola and four chairlifts in 2013.  The South’s democratic government has constructed a similar facility from scratch to host the downhill and super-G events, called Jeongseon Alpine Centre.  Doppelmayr supplied a unique two-section gondola in 2015 and added additional two high-speed quad lifts in 2016.  This is notable because there are really only two runs!  One of the chairlifts is very similar to the temporary Timing Flats high-speed quad at Whistler, which simply ferried foot passengers from the base area to finish plaza during the 2010 Games and was moved to Sunshine Village after just two weeks of public use.

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Spectators for the downhill, super G and combined will ride this lift to access a 6,500 seat stadium finish.  Photo credit: Doppelmayr

The two-section Jeongseon Downhill Gondola is powered by a single 857 horsepower motor and services the entire 2,707 vertical-foot  men’s downhill course.  A stacked bullwheel at the lift’s angle station has two grooves for the two different haul ropes.  After some delays with site prep, the gondola was built by multiple crews in just three months from November 2015 to February 2016, just before an IOC deadline.  The finish line at Jeongseon sits at only 1,788 feet above sea level and a 4,500 gallon-per-minute snowmaking system was also built here.  The venue receives little natural snowfall and has been criticized for its ecological impact and questionable future as a public facility.

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Inside the Sweetest Parking Around

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For the first time since their journey across the Atlantic, Jackson Hole’s newest gondola cabins slept inside last night.  With a parking and storage facility officially commissioned at Sweetwater‘s Solitude Station, 48 luxury vehicles that cost tens of thousands of dollars each now have a world-class home that brings together the latest lift technology with proven principles.

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort opened its Bridger Gondola barn in 1998 and 84 cabins have been going inside for twenty years there.  The CWA X models are in incredible shape for their age and number of hours, a testament to their quality construction, dedicated maintenance staff and indoor storage.

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Sweetwater’s new cabin storage building is located in an underutilized area adjacent to the middle station.

JHMR launched gondola number two in December 2016 and its CWA Omega IV cabins remained on the line continuously until yesterday.  The winter of 2016-17 proved to be a monster in the Tetons and while the cabins performed well, fifty feet of snow often turned to ice on flat roofs.  Frozen chunks would bounce up and down, making sounds that mimicked falling metal.  Jackson Hole sometimes goes weeks or even months without a thaw and ice would also accumulate on the cabin floors and in ski racks (other fun liquids would freeze too!)  Ice storms that can cripple door mechanisms and plague detachable grips thankfully never materialized last year and the days of worrying that storm would come are now over.

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