News Roundup: Big Numbers

Alterra Buys Schweitzer

Alterrra Mountain Company today announced an agreement to acquire Schweitzer Mountain Resort, the largest ski mountain in Idaho. Already an Ikon Pass partner, Schweitzer features a fleet of nine chairlifts on 2,900 acres of private land near Sandpoint. The mountain will become the 17th owned destination for Alterra across the United States and Canada. “With an incredible mountain in one of the most beautiful settings in the country and a world-class operating team, Schweitzer has everything we look for in a destination,” said Jared Smith, President and CEO of Alterra Mountain Company. “The mountain has been a valued partner on the Ikon Pass for several seasons, so we’ve been able to see the exceptional team, community, and opportunities for continued investment up close.”

Tom Chasse, who has been with Schweitzer since 2006, will stay on as President and CEO under Alterra. He will oversee Schweitzer’s continued growth, which includes development of a new base area called Schweitzer Creek Village. A new Leitner-Poma high speed quad is already under construction and will debut on that part of the mountain next winter.

MKM Trust, which has been the owner and developer of Schweitzer for the past 18 years, will retain non-ski operations and will continue to lead future real estate development. The transaction is expected to close later this year.

Smugglers’ Notch and Stowe Propose Interconnect Gondola

Two of Vermont’s largest ski resorts could be connected by gondola under a plan uncovered by the Morrisville News and Citizen. Stowe Mountain Resort parent Vail Resorts and longtime Smugglers’ Notch owner Bill Stritzler have reportedly been in talks for several years but sought to keep initial work on the project confidential. Lawyers for the State of Vermont recently determined that documents could be released under public records law.

Under the proposal, a 9 tower gondola would link Spruce Peak at Stowe to Sterling Mountain at Smugglers’ Notch along a relatively flat area home to an alpine pond and the Long Trail. A ride across the 2,600 foot connector lift would take just over five minutes and link two very different mountains. Vail-owned Stowe currently operates a fleet of six high speed lifts while Hall doubles service narrow New England-style trails at Smuggs. One mountain accepts the hugely popular Epic Pass while the other shuns multi-mountain passes entirely and charges $85 for a peak day ticket. If connected, the two resorts would encompass six peaks, 17 lifts and 194 trails with 5.5 miles of distance separating Toll House at Stowe from Morse Highlands at Smuggs.

The gondola would only rise about 280 vertical feet and no new ski trails would be cut between the two mountains. The lift would be designed with only 26 cabins and a modest hourly capacity of 1,200 skiers per direction. As part of the project, Smugglers’ Notch would place 72 acres of private land under conservation easement and Stowe would protect another 92 acres to offset development of the gondola. A portion of the Long Trail could also be rerouted to reduce visual impacts. If approved by state regulators, the project would take two years to implement.

News Roundup: Stop and Go

Mt. Southington to Install New Triple Chair

Construction has already begun on the only lift project in the state of Connecticut this year at Mt. Southington. The new Northstar triple, built by Partek Ski Lifts, will replace a Hall double of the same name and improve access to beginner terrain. Partek, based in Pine Island, New York, supplies economical fixed grip chairlifts exclusively to small and mid sized mountains. Mt. Southington already operates two Partek lifts called Avalanche and Thunderbolt. Partek is also building a new chairlift for Trollhaugen, Wisconsin this year.

Mt. Southington’s outgoing Hall double has been sold to another New England ski area and may be re-installed for the 2024-25 ski season. That mountain would be the lift’s third home following stints at Craigmeur, New Jersey from 1976 to 1997 and Mt. Southington from 2001 to 2023.

Park City Fined Following Employee Lift Fall Death

The Utah Division of Occupational Safety and Health (UOSH) issued a $2,500 violation to Park City Mountain for the January death of an employee after a tree fell on the Short Cut triple chair. The fine was assessed in March but first reported by Fox 13 Utah reporter Nate Carlisle over the weekend. The state found that Park City and parent company Vail Resorts should have known of the hazard of falling trees because two trees had to be removed from the same lift line the day before the accident. The state also found that lift operators were not trained or knowledgeable enough to assess trees for hazard along lift lines during morning line rides.

Park City Mountain received 25 inches of heavy, wet snow in the days leading up to the January 2nd incident. The day prior, Short Cut opened late due to a tree leaning on the lift that had to be removed. The Yan triple chair was closed later that day at 1:19 pm to remove another hazard tree identified by a lift mechanic. Less than 24 hours later, another tree fell on the heavy side of the line between towers 6 and 7. That time a patroller, 29 year old Christian Helger, was riding a chair nearby. The lift de-roped off a tower with the heavy side coming to rest in a rope catcher as designed. Helger was thrown from the chair, fell approximately 50 feet and landed head first in deep snow. Due to his location in a ravine and snow safety concerns, it took time for additional patrollers to reach the scene and dig Helger out. Despite lifesaving rescue efforts, Helger could not be revived and was later found to have died by asphyxiation. Other riders on the lift, including guests, were later evacuated by rope. The report does not address whether Helger had his lap bar down as required by Vail Resorts company policy.

The state interviewed numerous employees after the accident. One patroller identified only as “employee #4” said “Lift Operators are usually newer, younger employees, and have ‘no idea’ what to look for on a Line Ride.” Another patroller, who had previously worked as a lift operator, said “there is pressure to get lifts open in the morning, and there was ‘no time’ to ski the runs and check the lifts.” A Short Cut lift operator on duty the day of the accident reported that “he was told during the morning Line Ride to look for the cable being centered on the sheaves, and to look for trees leaning on the line but that he did not know what an unstable tree would look like.”

“Based on documents and photos received from all sources, the heavy snow received on January 1, and overnight into January 2, and the fact that two trees had to be removed from the Shortcut Lift line on January 1, 2023, VR-CPC Holdings (Vail Park City Resort management) should have been aware of the hazard of possible falling trees around the Shortcut Lift,” wrote the state, issuing a “serious” violation with a fine of $2,500. Vail Resorts has contested the citation and the fine could be reduced or eliminated in the future. In a statement, Park City Mountain vice president and chief operating officer Deirdra Walsh said “The Park City Mountain team is deeply saddened by the tragic death of our team member, Christian Helger. We extend our deepest sympathy to his family and friends.”

Short Cut never reopened during the season and requires significant repairs this summer.

News Roundup: Birds of Prey