Three of the highest capacity lifts America has ever seen continue to take shape this spring at Walt Disney World in preparation for a 2019 opening. With steel coming together for the first two megastations announced almost a year ago, the Hollywood Studios gondola seems on track to be completed first.
To keep things consistent, I’ll start this month’s update at Epcot, where the longest of three Disney World lifts will terminate. This zigzagging line will feature two intermediate stations between Epcot’s International Gateway and the south end of the Caribbean Beach Resort. Foundation work is in progress at all four stations and the second to last tower (number 25 I think) was recently set near the park entrance. You can see in the bottom left of the above photo that it might be finished in a green shade to blend into its surroundings.
More towers are either standing or soon will be between Epcot and the first turn station near the parking lot for Disney’s BoardWalk Inn. This section appears to have around seven towers total. The ride will be very cool with one water crossing, a forest section and Eiffel Tower views.
Aerial view of a leg of the Disney Skyliner's Epcot line, across the Boardwalk Resort. Arrows at cable support tower locations. pic.twitter.com/ByswFoo5IY
Those interested in reading only about ski lifts can skip this post. For everyone else, the Disney Skyliner is poised to become among the world’s highest profile ropeways a bit over a year from now and one worth following. I plan on scrambling to Walt Disney World as soon as the three Skyliner gondolas open, but for now, we can rely on Twitter user bioreconstruct, a relentless documentarian of everything Disney.
The Skyliner will bring Epcot within just a few minutes’ reach for guests staying at four Disney World Resort hotels. At the storied park’s International Gateway, what will likely be the second busiest gondola station is in the early phases of construction near the current boat dock. This one will be mostly open air with a few unique Disney touches on an otherwise dark gray Doppelmayr terminal.
A few tower foundations are going in for the stage from Epcot to the BoardWalk Inn parking lot, where an angle station is also beginning to form. Cabins will turn sharply here but doors will stay closed in both directions.
Walt Disney World is currently building America’s inaugural Doppelmayr D-Line gondola, actually three gondolas. Although Orlando is a long way from the mountains of Wyoming, the world’s most visited resort is also one of Earth’s most photographed places. So, through the magic of the internet, I am able to give a construction tour of the Disney Skyliner from afar.
Let’s start at Epcot. Foundations for this key station are taking shape but the bulk of work still lies ahead. Though they look like lift terminals, the dark green roofs are actually related to ferry boats the Skyliner will partially replace.
Next up is an angle station that Disney says will showcase the inner workings of the Skyliner as riders pass. No loading or unloading will take place here but the line will deflect around 110 degrees (double grooved bullwheel, maybe?) This one is also just beginning to be formed in what used to be a pond.
Aerial view of the turn in the Disney Skyliner route between Riviera Resort and Epcot. Located south of Boardwalk Resort. pic.twitter.com/6EGqXpHbB7
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.