Buttercup Update from Mt. Hood Meadows

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.

 

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Excitement Builds as Bear Valley Adds Second Detachable

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A foundation awaits steel at the top of Bear Valley, where a new six-person chairlift will open this 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.”

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In a Changing Market, Snow Valley Adds a Six-Pack

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Crossarms staged for the new Snow Valley Express lift being built by Leitner-Poma at Snow Valley this fall.

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.

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Big Sky Quietly Adds 27th Lift

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The Stagecoach lift stands partially completed with Lone Peak looming in June 2016. After two owners, two bankruptcies, two names, two installers and almost a decade, it will open this winter at Moonlight Basin.

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.

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Most of the towers for Big Sky’s Stagecoach lift flew October 10, 2008. Skytrac recently installed the rest and a lot happened in between.

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 all five of the Spanish Peaks 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.

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Can you find it?  The approximate location of the new Stagecoach lift on the expansive Big Sky trail map is marked in red.

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.

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Alta’s New Supreme will be Just That

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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.
altasuprememap

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Snowbasin’s First Six-Pack Rises

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The bottom terminal for Snowbasin Resort’s new Wildcat six-pack sits just below the Becker load station and will improve access to intermediate terrain on the lower mountain.

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.

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1983 Snowbasin trail map shows two Wildcat lifts above from what used to be the base area.  Technically the new Doppelmayr is Wildcat IV!

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.

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Montana Snowbowl Readies TV Mountain Expansion

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A 1,088-acre expansion onto TV Mountain will include six new ski runs and a used double chairlift at Montana Snowbowl for 2017-18.

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.

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Mt. Bachelor Releases Stunning Cloudchaser Short Film

A new lift changes a mountain.  In this story, the mountain is a volcano and the actors are Mt. Bachelor, Doppelmayr, Highlander Lift Services & Construction, Timberline Helicopters and the Forest Service. Cloudchaser: The Story Behind Building a New Lift is one of the best videos you’ll see in awhile.

Congratulations to the team on a job well done.  Thanks to their efforts, Mt. Bachelor is now the sixth largest ski resort in the United States!

“We don’t fly the helicopter and we don’t tie the knot.” – Paul Johnston, Highlander Ski Lift Services & Construction.

Checking Out Grand Targhee’s New Blackfoot Quad

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Tower 6 of Grand Targhee’s new Blackfoot lift above Teton Valley, Idaho.

More than sixty inches of snow buried the Tetons since I last visited Grand Targhee, but that didn’t stop team Doppelmayr from making a ton of progress on the new Blackfoot lift. Timberline Helicopters assisted flying towers on October 20th and the haul rope was spliced November 12th.  With comm-line installation last week, the new quad chair is almost finished.

New Blackfoot marks a huge change from the center pole chairs and wooden ramps of the classic Riblet.  Both the load and unload areas were re-worked over the summer and are way more spacious.  The new quad will move 840 more skiers per hour (to 1,800 from 960) with a minute faster ride time.  A Tristar-model drive station features an auxiliary engine capable of running the lift at nearly full capacity during a power outage.  Although it’s a bummer Targhee had to delay opening last week, the recent nice weather no doubt helped crews finishing the new lift.  This week’s forecast looks solid so hopefully we’ll be lapping Blackfoot soon!

Jackson Hole Nears Launch of Game-Changing Sweetwater Gondola

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The new Sweetwater Gondola at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort awaits its first passengers November 13, 2016.
This story begins in the mid-1930s, when Paul Petzoldt went skiing with two friends, thinking about the future. “Below Buck Mountain, north of Wilson, there was one mountain that stood out,” he wrote in his autobiography, Teton Tales.  “It was difficult, and we knew it would be difficult for beginners unless there were places lower on the mountain that would be level enough to teach skiing.  We had no money, and we had no connections.  We just knew that some day there was going to be a big ski area there.”

That mountain was Peak 10,450, today known as Rendezvous Mountain.  Eight decades later, when you board the Jackson Hole Aerial Tram and again upon exiting, a safety message reads, “our mountain is like nothing you have ever skied before…it is huge…with dangerous cliff areas and dangerously variable weather.  You could make a mistake and suffer personal injury or death.”

As David Gonzales remarked in his 2002 book, Jackson Hole: On a Grand Scale, “Missing are the hallmarks of a typical American ski area – the wide, artificial swaths of snow streaming down a forested hillside…Instead, Jackson Hole’s trails blend seamlessly with the avalanche paths and scree fields that abound in the Tetons.” In fact, a group of Salt Lake City investors who surveyed the area in the late 1950s regarded the Cache Creek drainage in the Gros Ventre Mountains as the only suitable site for a ski resort in Northwestern Wyoming.  They recruited University of Denver ski coach Willy Schaeffler to come to Jackson and survey.  He came and went, unimpressed with the mellow terrain in the Gros Ventres.  According to Pete Seibert, Schaeffler said the same about about a yet-to-be-developed Vail Mountain.

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The Sweetwater Gondola begins a new era in the shadow of Big Red for 2016-17.
Retiree Paul McCollister, general contractor Alex Morley, John Gramlich and Ernie Hirsch of the U.S. Forest Service carved their first turns on Rendezvous Mountain on Christmas Day 1962.  Three years later, they presided over the opening of three double chairs (two Hall, one Murray-Latta) followed by an aerial tramway in July 1966.  “The very ruggedness that attracted Morley and McCollister to the Tetons proved a hurdle,” notes Gonzales.  “The mountain was steep, remote and cold.  Convincing skiers that these were actually positive attributes would require reserves of determination that the construction of the ski resort had only begun to tap.”  Investors came and went over a tumultuous first thirty years of the Jackson Hole Ski Corporation.  Mr. Golzales wrote, “Morley suspected the resort would not last more than a couple years.  But McCollister endured, recruiting Pepi Stiegler to accompany him to ski shows in order to drum up interest.  It was a hard sell.  Though many skiers had heard about Jackson Hole, they’s also heard that the Wyoming resort was too remote, too steep and too cold.  ‘Everybody told you this,’ Stiegler recalls.  ‘It was discouraging.'”

Harry Baxter, marketing director from 1974 to 1995, at one point tried to re-brand The Big One as the Gentle Giant, with trail maps noting, “there is more intermediate skiing on the small mountain, Apres Vous, than 90 percent of America’s best.”  When the new Casper high-speed-quad launched, it was marketed as “All new, all blue.”  Even today, the summer tram announcement reads, “the aerial tram, together with the Bridger Gondola and a variety of other lifts, offers more expert, intermediate and beginner terrain than most resorts in the United States.  Yet many still regard the home of Corbet’s Couloir, Teton Gravity Research, Doug Coombs and the Tram as the wild west of skiing.

From opening in 1965 until the mid-1990s, Jackson Hole added just four new chairlifts.  In the same period, Vail built 31 new ones, as the Ski Corp. struggled to even stay afloat.  That all changed in 1992, when Jay Kemmerer and his family bought out not only Paul McCollister, but other investors he had taken on in tough times.  The Kemmerer Family wanted to reinvest in Wyoming, and they’ve done so to the tune of $130 million.  The Thunder Quad in 1994.  Wyoming’s first detachable lift, Teewinot, in 1996.  Bridger Gondola in 1997.  A new Apres Vous in 1999.  Moose Creek and Union Pass in 2000.  Sweetwater in 2005 and a $32 million aerial tram opening at the height of the Great Recession in 2008.  Followed by three new lifts in five years – Marmot, Casper and Teton.

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