We’re somewhere around a year-and-a-half away from the grand opening of Walt Disney World Resort’s innovative Skyliner gondola network and it’s becoming clear this will be North America’s most expensive lift project ever. Yes, much more costly than the $52 million Peak 2 Peak Gondola, way beyond the $57 million Portland Aerial Tram and many times more than the eight-figure Blackcomb Gondola, also set for construction this year.
Disney Skyliner Caribbean station, and large arrow at the DHS station. Smaller arrows at the new DHS main parking entrance, and upcoming shifted North entrance. pic.twitter.com/2kyEQq8isb
I have never been to Florida but luckily there are die-hard Disney fans who charter helicopters on a weekly basis to photograph the goings-on at the world’s most-visited resort. This week, they are beginning to spot tower foundations for the first of five gondola segments.
Current state of the Disney Skyliner station for Art of Animation and Pop Century. Bridge remains open to guests, with a construction fence down the middle. pic.twitter.com/U6OUICumoj
Governor Andrew Cuomo surprised many back in February when he committed $8 million in public money to erect a gondola and make other improvements at Belleayre, the smallest of New York’s three state-owned ski resorts. Reaction was swift with a vocal group of critics questioning the use of funds at a mountain with a modest 135,000 annual skier visits. “Gondola to nowhere,” one user wrote on the NY Ski Blog. “The stupidest lift ever built in the world,” said another passionate New Yorker. Yet another, simply “a waste.” Then came an anti-gondola petition.
The Olympic Regional Development Authority stuck to its guns and Doppelmayr USA won the contract, beginning work on June 21st. Just four and a half months later, a grand new machine stands with 13,615 feet of haul rope, 60 cabins and 16 towers coming together. The new lift rises 1,350 feet from Discovery Lodge to the summit with super views along the way.
Replacing a fixed-grip quad with another fixed-grip quad might not seem like much of a change, but Mt. Baker took a significant step forward this summer building an all-new Chair 7 with loads of upgrades. The only lift out of the White Salmon base area is now a Skytrac, the first for this Pacific Northwest favorite with seven fixed-grip quads.
The Riblet Chair 7 opened in 1990 to serve an eastward expansion along with Chair 8 in 1992. The last of Baker’s seven Riblets went in for the 2001-02, the second to last Riblet lift built anywhere in the world. Beginning the following year, a series of four Doppelmayr CTEC quad chairs replaced lifts 1, 3, 5 and 6. All of these lifts were powered directly with diesel engines.
Mt. Baker Ski Area’s new Chair 7 is the first on the mountain with an electric prime mover.
Many resorts are adding bigger chairlifts this season but Mt. Hood Meadows’ new beginner lift is notable for a couple reasons. The quad follows an all-new route from the double it replaces, opening up more teaching terrain in the base area. Second, it appears to feature Skytrac’s first height-adjustable terminal at its return station. The drive and tensioning systems will now be located at the top. The new Buttecup is 30 percent longer than the Yan version and will move 70 percent more people. It will also spin 30 percent faster thanks to a loading carpet, which is also height adjustable.
When I stopped by Meadows this weekend, Mt. Hood had received nearly six inches of rain on top of early snow in classic Pacific Northwest fashion. Timberline is already open for the season while lift construction continues next door. Concrete work for the new lift is almost finished and the weather looks much better this week as Meadows prepares for its 50th season.
A big new six-pack is coming together on the front face of Bear Valley, site of the only new lift in Northern California for 2017-18. What’s code-named the Love Six replaces a 1967 Riblet double chair named Bear, which ran alongside a Lift Engineering triple. Kuma will stay for now but is unlikely to see much action as a shiny six-pack steals the show next door. As of this weekend, Leitner-Poma is almost finished with concrete foundations and in the process of assembling 11 new towers (the old lift had 18!) Terminal sections are being delivered nameless as Bear Valley weighs a more creative title than Bear Express.
Bear Valley’s first detachable was an LPOA Omega-model built in 2006 on the back side of the mountain. Owner Skyline Development partnered last year with Leitner-Poma to build a similar six-pack at the company’s Horseshoe Resort. This year’s project is one of seven new six-packs that will debut across the U.S. this winter, tied with 2000-01 for the most ever. The new lift slashes the time to ride time up the heart of the mountain in half to just over three minutes and looks to feature 90-degree loading. “This lift investment is a game changer for Bear Valley that will greatly enhance our guests’ experience,” said Andrea Young, general manager at Bear Valley when the new lift was announced in April. “It is a continuation of the many improvements that Skyline Investments is making at Bear Valley on the heels of two strong winters which will elevate the guest experience and further establish the area as a year-round Sierra family destination.”
Back in April, Snow Valley made a big bet, investing millions to build Southern California’s first six-pack. For a resort with a dozen Yan fixed-grips built in the 1970s and ’80s, the new Snow Valley Express is a big deal. In the months since the announcement, new owners have coincidentally taken over SoCal competitors Bear Mountain, Snow Summit and Mountain High, hinting at further capital improvements in a market which hasn’t seen a new chairlift since 1999. Just down the road from two new KSL/Aspen resorts, Snow Valley prides itself on family ownership and is committed to improving the ski experience for its 80th season.
The turnkey Leitner-Poma six-pack project replaces Chair 1, a double serving the mountain’s front side. LPOA is very busy this fall with six new LPA detchables going up across the West and Midwest, the most since the new product debuted in 2010. Snow Valley’s towers have arrived from Grand Junction and crews were finishing up concrete work at the top terminal today. The bottom return terminal showed up last week, joining the seven strand Redaelli haul rope from Italy. The drive terminal, line equipment and chairs will follow soon.
We’ve heard little about the two lift projects surrounding Lone Peak this summer, even though they will bring North America’s largest contiguous ski complex to a record 43 lifts before counting carpets. As I covered before, the biggest development is at the Yellowstone Club, where a new Doppelmayr gondola, high-speed quad and triple chair will create one of the largest beginner skiing facilities in America, though few will be lucky enough to learn to ski there.
Over at Big Sky Resort, anyone with a ticket to the Biggest Skiing in America will be able to ride the new Stagecoach double chair this winter. Stagecoach extends the long tradition of so-called lodging access lifts here, begun with Pony Express in 1995 and followed by White Otter, Cascade, arguably allfiveof theSpanishPeaks lifts, and most recently Little Thunder. Amazingly, almost half of the 43 lifts on Lone Peak and the surrounding mountains exist to create ski-in, ski-out real estate. At Big Sky Resort, most of these machines are seconds from other Boyne mountains and they have their own color on the trail map: purple.
In the five years prior to the real estate bubble bursting nationwide in 2008, a crazy 18 lifts were built in Big Sky at four separate ski operations. One of those, Moonlight Basin, opened in December 2003 as Lone Peak’s second public ski resort. The development’s first two lifts had simply connected to neighboring Big Sky Resort in 1994 and 1995. Between 2003 and 2006, founder Lee Poole and his partners went it alone, adding four more lifts including Montana’s first six-pack. Three of these were among the last CTECs off the line following the Doppelmayr merger.
Leitner-Poma is building a big new lift in Little Cottonwood Canyon this summer, the company’s first in the Beehive State since 1997. Alta Ski Area created a brand around being old school but the new Supreme high-speed quad will showcase the latest technology from Grand Junction and beyond. The new lift will bring detachable access to nearly all of Alta’s terrain and will be Leitner-Poma’s first lift to make a turn using canted sheaves rather than an angle station (there must be something in Utah’s water because Supreme will be the state’s fourth lift to make such turns of varying degrees for various reasons.) Alta Ski Area worked with LPOA and the Forest Service on an alignment that effectively replaces both the Cecret and Supreme lifts while reducing impacts to wetlands and surrounding forests in exchange for expedited approval. As I saw yesterday, it’s all coming together nicely.
The rugged Point Supreme is abuzz with construction. The new lift’s first few towers follow a direct path from the future drive station near Alf’s Restaurant to the former Supreme bottom terminal. Just above the old station site, a series of three closely-spaced towers achieve the necessary line turn. From here, the lift jogs steeply up, mirroring the former triple chair. Two Yan tower tubes near the summit still stand and might be re-used with new tower heads.Update 9/14/17: All 16 towers will be new.
Revealed in a surprise March announcement, Snowbasin Resort will debut its fifth detachable lift this winter on a slope rich with history. As chronicled in an awesome blog post, the upcoming Wildcat Express replaces a 1973 Thiokol, which itself replaced parallel Constam single and American Cableways double chairs. When the Holding family invested massively to build a new base area, two gondolas, a high-speed quad and aerial tramway in the 1998 run up to the Olympics, all of Snowbasin’s old lifts were left in place. Ten years later, Littlecat was swapped for a Doppelmayr detachable quad and now it’s Wildcat’s turn.
Like the Littlecat Express next door, Wildcat Express will be a green and white Doppelmayr Uni-G with torsion grips. The six-place chairs will feature slats rather than backrests for wind resistance along the relatively exposed profile. The new haul rope is manufactured by Redaelli and the lift will whisk 2,400 skiers an hour to Middle Bowl in just six minutes. Most components have arrived at Snowbasin and the Doppelmayr crew is working six days a week towards completion.
If all goes according to plan, Montana Snowbowl will add up to 1,088 acres of ski terrain next winter in a homecoming of sorts. Expanding onto neighboring TV Mountain, Snowbowl will nearly double in size, going from a modest two Riblet doubles and a Doppelmayr T-Bar to a major Montana player with seven lifts and 2,243 acres. Construction is underway and legendary artist James Niehues is currently painting the trail map for North America’s biggest expansion of the year.
The Forest Service finally approved Snowbowl’s TV Mountain expansion in May 2014 after ten years studying a connection to the long-lost Snow Park Ski Area. Owner Brad Morris acquired the Burlingame and High Alpine doubles from Snowmass (for free) in 2015 and the first of four new lifts will open this season. Work started last fall, but early storms forced crews to pause over the winter.
Montana Snowbowl does not have a true beginner or low-intermediate lift, in part because most Missoulians learned to ski at Marshall Mountain until 2003. Facing a need to broaden its appeal beyond advanced skiers, Morris worked with the Forest Service on the expansion plan which he submitted for approval in 2004. Thirteen years later, the beginnings of a new lift dubbed ‘B’ stretch 4,900 feet from the original Snow Park base area to the summit of TV Mountain with 23 towers under construction. In contrast with the Grizzly chair that rises steeply from the current base area, the new lift will ascend a modest 1,440′ vertical west of TV Mountain’s namesake towers. Ride time will be 11 minutes with a capacity of 1,200 skiers per hour. Burlingame’s tension-return station is already standing while the drive station up top will likely be High Alpine’s.