When a group of homeowners banded together to spin lifts at a bankrupt Tamarack Resort in 2010, it was a temporarily measure. Eight years later, a consortium of investors has finally agreed to take over operations of the 2,100 acre resort and resume development that abruptly ceased in March 2009. The group, made up of Imperium Companies, MMG Equity Partners and Blue River Family Office Partners, is the same one behind much of the commercial real estate at Blue Mountain, Copper, Mammoth, Snowshoe and Stratton. It expects to close on the mountain November 30th.
Current Tamarack staff including General Manager Brad Larsen will remain with the resort upon closing. Industry veteran Jon Reveal will come on board as President of Tamarack Resort Holdings. “We have been evaluating and working on this agreement for nearly two years to truly understand the history and complexities of the resort,” Reveal said in a news release. “The partnership strongly believes Tamarack has a tremendous opportunity to thrive as a four-season destination of choice for Idahoans and visitors from across North America. Our team looks forward to proving our commitment to Tamarack, Valley County residents, Idahoans and all our guests through investment, completion of unfinished projects and improved resort amenities and offerings.”
Jean-Pierre Boespflug led the investment group that opened Tamarack in 2003, building six lifts over two years along with significant real estate offerings. Mr. Boespflug’s timing was unfortunate and the resort fell behind on payments for a $250 million loan by early 2008. The lifts closed on March 4th, 2009 and Tamarack did not open again for a year and a half. The Tamarack Municipal Association reached an agreement to operate four of six lifts in 2010 and bought assets from lenders for pennies on the dollar in 2016. Amid the mess, Bank of America repossessed the Wildwood Express lift, which ended up at Brian Head, Utah. Homeowners were able to purchase and retain the Buttercup lift, which was also underwater but of significantly less value than Wildwood. At one point four other lifts came close to being sold in a sheriff sale.
Under a lease agreement reached today with the State of Idaho, the new owners commit to either rebuilding or removing the remaining foundations from Wildwood by December 31, 2024 (The Idaho Department of Lands is the landlord in this case rather than the United States Forest Service.) Imperium Co-Founder Kyle Mowitz says the focus this time will be on the mountain rather than real estate a new Wildwood could come as soon as summer 2019. Work should also resume next spring on the incomplete Village Plaza and mid-mountain restaurant. The Osprey Meadows golf course, which was abandoned in 2016 and is partially owned by another party, will take longer to reclaim.
I followed Tamarack’s grand opening with excitement and then watched its downfall with disappointment. What happened was never about the mountain, which is perfect for a ski resort. There’s gorgeous Lake Cascade at the base and boundless recreational opportunities in every season. As a decade went by, I remained hopeful a second chance would come for this remarkable place. Congratulations to Tamarack employees and homeowners for staying the course through some dark times to get to this new day.
The most expensive gondola system ever built in the United States will debut sometime between September and December next year. Bob Chapek, Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Consumer Products made the announcement this morning in a keynote address at the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions Expo, which Doppelmayr and CWA are attending. Competitor Leitner-Poma is also there. “Next fall, Disney Skyliner will not only efficiently move you to your location, it’ll also offer a whole new way to experience Walt Disney World with amazing views only available from the sky,” the resort said in a blog post. Construction began on the three gondola lines in July of 2017.
Crews are working across the resort to complete the network, which will link two of the most visited theme parks in the world with four major hotels and replace a significant number of Disney Transport bus routes. A mural was recently added to the gateway station at Epcot and the second angle station now has its Doppelmayr D-Line enclosure.
At just 15 months old, Alterra Mountain Company finds itself with over 200 chairlifts, gondolas and tramways in two countries. The 13 Alterra mountains mirror the broader ski industry with places like Deer Valley and Crystal Mountain sporting many newer lifts while the average chairlift at June Mountain is 45 years old.
On a Monday last March, the fledgling company based in Denver simultaneously unveiled its very first lift investments at Stratton, Tremblant and Winter Park along with other improvements like snowmaking at Snowshoe and a new restaurant at the base of Steamboat. Importantly, Alterra committed to spending $555 million in total capital over five years. That was before it bought Solitude and Crystal Mountain, which could mean even more money flowing over the next few construction seasons. While last year’s budget only included three new lifts, could we see more in 2019?
With the September approval of major projects by the Forest Service, Steamboat is poised for a comprehensive on-mountain transformation. Although the timing is fluid, a new Rough Rider learning center at mid-mountain will eventually be serviced by a new gondola from the village. Here, skiers and snowboarders will be able to choose from three new carpet lifts, a new and improved Bashor lift and a second fixed-grip chair replacing the Rough Rider surface tow.
A second initiative Steamboat could undertake in 2019 is the Pioneer Ridge expansion, which includes a 7,000 foot detachable quad and a dozen new trails. Other possible upgrades include adding chairs to Pony Express (currently at only 1,200 skiers per hour but designed for 2,400) or new cabins for the Silver Bullet. Wouldn’t it be cool for the new gondola and original one to have similar cabins?
The average lift at Alterra-operated Winter Park Resort is 27 years old. Six are early model detachable quads coming up for replacement. In the case of 32 year old Pioneer Express, an upgrade is overdue and I expect coming in 2019. A new version could add a snowboarder friendly mid loading station above the last section of Big Valley.
A second project I hope to see is a second stage of the new gondola from Sunspot to Lunch Rock, truly uniting Winter Park and Mary Jane. Sunnyside should be a high speed quad or six pack. A high speed replacement of Challenger would be a nice upgrade at Mary Jane. Looking Glass is tied for the oldest operating chairlift in Colorado. After Pioneer, High Lonesome is the next Poma detachable up for replacement if we go solely by age.
The above Intrawest era master plan earmarked Gemini Express to be converted into an eight passenger gondola with a new learning center surrounding its top station. Endeavor could go detachable as part of this project and/or Discovery made into a fixed grip quad. Finally, a lift is envisioned to expand Vasquez Ridge Territory with four new intermediate trails. With all of these ideas on the table, I expect Winter Park to get at least one lift in 2019 and hopefully two.
Following record attendance last winter and its most successful season pass sale ever this fall, Whitefish Mountain Resort is looking to better disperse guests across its 3,000 acres. Under a plan submitted to the Forest Service yesterday, the closest ski area to Glacier National Park would move one lift and add another in Hellroaring Basin. The generally west facing drainage is currently served only at the bottom by a 1985 CTEC triple. It loads at just 4,675 feet above sea level and offers only one trail for direct repeat skiing.
On the heels of the successful Chair 5 realignment, Whitefish would like to move Chair 8 to begin at the junction of Hell Fire and Glory Hole, a spot known as Grand Junction. The upgraded triple would unload near the top of the 1,000 Turns run, approximately 300 vertical feet below the Big Mountain summit. It would be steep – around 2,900′ long by 1,050′ of vertical – with a seven minute ride time. This would be the CTEC’s third home; it was Chair 7 from 1985 to 1997 before moving to Hellroaring. The current lift line and lower portion of Hell Fire would be permanently closed and rehabilitated to a natural state.
A second new chairlift – Whitefish’s 13th overall – would also load at Grand Junction and ascend 1,340 feet to Hellroaring Peak. While the overall permit area wouldn’t grow, Hellroaring Basin would become much better utilized with a dedicated 4,300′ chairlift servicing eight newly-cut runs. Vertical rise of Chair 12 would be 1,350 feet and additional grooming would allow intermediate skiers to enjoy Hellroaring Peak for the first time. A specific lift type is not specified but Whitefish could opt to use Great Northern, a 1978 Stadeli triple (the mountain has quite the history moving lifts, having done ten relocations throughout its history.)
“We are excited to begin the process of possible future improvements in Hellroaring Basin,” Whitefish Mountain Resort CEO Dan Graves said in a press release. “The Hellroaring Basin improvement project will increase access, and add improved slope variety. Additionally, relocating the Hellroaring chairlift would allow riders to access more terrain than its current location therefore creating better flow around the mountain.” The Flathead National Forest is soliciting public comments on the proposal through November 20th. Forest managers will analyze it over the winter and expect to make a decision next June. If approved, implementation could take two or more construction seasons at Whitefish Mountain Resort’s discretion.