Two of the five biggest American ski areas without detachable lifts will leave the club this year. They are Loveland and Taos, both coincidentally adding bright blue Leitner-Poma high speed quads to serve as out-of-base workhorses. Along the Continental Divide at Loveland, the newly-named Chet’s Dream is the third chairlift to follow the Lift 1 line, carrying on the legacy of a Heron double and later a Lift Engineering triple. Family-owned Loveland ordered this lift early as 1 is usually among the first in the country to open for skiing in October. “It’s a big deal for both us and our guests,” Marketing & Communications Director John Sellers told me when I visited last week. “This lift will be in operation for the next few decades and we are excited to offer the increased speed and reliability to our customers for years to come.” With towers all flown and the rope going up shortly, the project is right on schedule.
Chester “Chet” Upham, Jr. joined Loveland in the 1950s and was instrumental in building the original Lift One, the third chairlift in Colorado. He bought out his partners in 1972 and the Upham family continues to own Loveland today. Chet’s Dream is the work of former Loveland ski patroller Terry Henningson, who submitted the name as part of a contest this spring that received nearly 3,000 entries. “Chet’s Dream stood out immediately as a way for us to honor a ski industry pioneer and the patriarch of Loveland Ski Area,” said John. I’m told the most popular entry was Lift 1 followed closely by Lifty McLiftface.
Ride time will fall from eight minutes to three and the number of towers is down by four. 49 quad chairs will circulate on the bottom drive lift. “Lift 1 was our workhorse and it had served us well for over 30 years. It was time for an upgrade and it was exciting to learn that our owners were considering a high-speed lift for its replacement,” John told me. Will it be the only high speed ride at Loveland? “Lift 6 will be our next upgrade and that will remain a fixed grip. As for future upgrades and any new potential lifts, we will have to wait and see what happens.”
A third detachable quad is poised to please beginners and experts alike this season at Wolf Creek Ski Area. The Forest Service approved the Meadow lift as part of a 55 acre project in late 2017 and construction commenced in June. This learning playground will feature almost a dozen new trails through low angle forests near Alberta Lake. But the lift will also appeal to expert skiers coming from the Knife Ridge Chutes, Horsehoe Bowl and Spooner Hill areas, who won’t need to hike after their powder lines anymore.
The 2,100′ Doppelmayr has eight towers and will deposit riders near tower nine of the much longer Alberta fixed-grip quad. (that’s right, Wolf Creek’s longest chairlift is still fixed-grip but its second shortest will be high speed.) There are now three lifts in the Alberta zone, which could be a ski area all itself at 900 acres.
The new 30 chair quad will be named Charity after late Wolf Creek owner Charity Jane Pitcher. This growing ski area, which sees the most natural snow in Colorado, is up to seven chairlifts and ten lifts overall. The mountain’s total lift-served vertical will increase slightly with the addition of Charity.
Steep chutes, natural glades, a couple cruiser trails and wide open faces. When Arapahoe Basin drops the ropes on The Beavers this year, there will be something for everyone. Just under 350 new acres make it the largest lift-served terrain expansion on the continent for 2018-19, ahead of Mt. Spokane’s backside development and Hunter North. The Beavers debuted for an earn-your-turns preview last season along with the Steep Gullies, totaling 468 acres of new terrain. Installation of a Leitner-Poma fixed-grip quad chair, the Basin’s sixth chairlift, was in high gear when I stopped by yesterday.
Topping out at 12,475′, The Beavers drainage is beyond beautiful and A Basin is taking great care to implement the project with as little disturbance as possible. The quad drive terminal is the closest you can get by road and dozens of workers are readying the expansion by foot, helicopter and spider excavator. Arapahoe Basin opted to do the development carefully over two years rather than rushing it in one, and it shows. The two blue trails were traditionally cut while the rest of the new stuff is either above tree line or was thinned by hand.
When holiday crowds catch a Cabriolet to The Village at Winter Park Resort this year, the second lift they’ll see is the resort’s first true gondola. Capable of hauling 3,600 skiers per hour out of the base area, the new Zephyr lift replaces a 1990 high-speed quad that could do only 2,600 in a perfect hour. Announced in March, the Leitner-Poma system will be similar to Vail’s Gondola One but with something totally new to the North American market: DirectDrive.
Sigma is fabricating 79 ten passenger Diamond cabins with the fresh Winter Park logo unveiled on Monday. The $16 million gondola and new brand are just part of a $28.2 million capital drive this year in cooperation with Winter Park’s operator, Alterra Mountain Company. Amazingly for a resort of WP’s size, this is the first new lift in ten years. Snowmaking is also seeing mega upgrades and a new heated village plaza will lead seamlessly to the bottom gondola terminal. The old Zephyr had 20 four passenger cabins used for restaurant access at night but the new version will be fully ADA accessible and operate day and night.
Eight is the magic number of gondola terminals now vertical in Florida. Three haul ropes will soon connect these stations at two iconic theme parks and four distinct resorts to create the Disney Skyliner network. With innovative loading capabilities and huge capacity, the Skyliner is poised to become a world showcase of gondola technology in 2019.
The gateway of Walt Disney World’s gondola system is being assembled this month at Epcot. Like most of the Skyliner stations, cabins will likely transit two separate loading zones to accommodate throngs of passengers of all ages. Each Skyliner building features a different theme and the outside of this one is going to be dark gray.
Utah ski resorts will debut three new chairlifts for the 2018-19 season and although none of them service new terrain, each will make lives better for skiers and snowboarders. One of my stops this weekend was Park City Mountain, where Vail Resorts announced the creation of a reimagined High Meadow Family Fun Zone back in December. A new Doppelmayr detachable quad, opened up runs, upgraded snowmaking and candy cabin are coming together above the Red Pine Gondola. The new lift will have 8 towers, down from 11 on the old CTEC quad, which is sitting under the Cabriolet for now.
Across old town Park City at Deer Valley, another Doppelmayr detachable quad is replacing another CTEC fixed-grip quad. Highlander Lift Services & Construction is assembling Homestake Express in the existing alignment but again with fewer towers. I think the new number is eight, down from a dozen in this high traffic area above Silver Lake Lodge. For its second winter under Alterra, Deer Valley will operate an impressive 13 high speed quads this season. The 1999 version of Homestake is bound for Utah Olympic Park.
The big Disney Skyliner story last month came from a Twitter user stuck in traffic within Walt Disney World. He or she (the account belongs to a golden retriever) happened to get behind a gondola cabin on a trailer which looks to be a CWA Omega IV 10 passenger D-Line model with extra ventilation and reflective windows. It’s our first real glimpse of what the hundreds of cabins for the Disney Skyliner system might look like.
Before I get into a construction rundown, the video below shows a new Doppelmayr gondola in Turkey that appears to allow carriers to come to complete stops for loading and unloading while the haul rope keeps moving. In this installation, many of the carriers are buckets carrying ore that must be stopped to fill and dump while others carry workers and go through a standard turnaround. With double turnarounds at both ends, the setup appears to be similar to the six double loading stations going up at Walt Disney World.
The Epcot International Gateway Skyliner station is progressing with the concrete masts in place and steel beginning to go on top. The first tower next to the station isn’t up yet but the next one is painted green to blend into its surroundings.
Aerial view of Disney Skyliner Epcot station. Top arrow at the inner turnaround. Bottom arrow at curve staged for outer turnaround. pic.twitter.com/f8YF87vzXk
Four American ski resorts will launch major terrain expansions next winter and I got to check out one of them this weekend in Washington State. New west facing trails at Mt. Spokane Ski & Snowboard Park will be serviced by a new Skytrac triple chair topping out at 5,850′. The nonprofit that runs the resort initially planned to use Bridger Bowl’s retired Alpine lift but wisely axed that plan last winter and solicited bids for a brand new machine. At this area once owned by Riblet Tramway Company itself, the last new lift was a double chair that opened back in 1977. Mt. Spokane’s Chair 1 dates even further to 1956, making it the oldest operating chairlift in the country. With five Riblet doubles still spinning, a modern galvanized triple is sure to stand out along with the new runs.
A growing demand for skiing has led to many new lifts at competing resorts in the Selkirk Mountains during the 14 years it took for Mt. Spokane’s expansion to be approved. In the nearby Idaho panhandle, Schweitzer Mountain Resort plans to build two new lifts on its backside next summer, Lookout Pass is eyeing another two and so is 49 Degrees North in northeast Washington. Just across the Canadian border, Spokane favorite Red Mountain hopes to complete the Topping Creek T-Bar this fall.
Crystal Mountain, Washington. Lutsen Mountains, Minnesota. Belleayre, New York and Ski Apache, New Mexico. Mountains from north to south, east to west and now in Canada are proving there’s no need to be a mega resort to build a great gondola. SilverStar Mountain Resort joined the club today with the Schumann Summit Express, manufactured by Doppelmayr Canada, which carried its first riders just after 11:00.
We can't thank you all enough for such an INCREDIBLE Gondola Grand Opening! Today was one of the biggest days in resort, to date, and we couldn’t have done it without your support. Thank you to everyone for coming out & making the day. #BikeSilverStar#PlayYourWaypic.twitter.com/h8tAhqqt1r
The new flagship lift is named after the late Desmond Schumann, an Australian visionary who came to grow both Big White and SilverStar into two of British Columbia’s top ski resorts. Daughter Jane Cann now presides over SilverStar and rode in the very first cabin, one painted silver in honor of the resort’s 60th anniversary (Jane’s brother, Peter Schumann, heads up nearby Big White, which is also building a new lift this summer). Doppelmayr’s Jim Anderson presented the customary Austrian-forged bell and spoke along with other dignitaries. They noted how far SilverStar has come from a local ski hill with one Poma lift and two rope tows into a significant regional and destination resort.
Cabins in a rainbow of six different colors lift riders from SilverStar’s mid-mountain village to the summit in just 4.4 minutes. A restaurant will eventually rise where the gondola and two other lifts converge. The 961′ vertical Summit Express replaces the last of SilverStar’s Mueller lifts, the Summit Double, which faithfully carried riders along a similar route from 1970 until this spring. The new gondola completes SilverStar’s impressive lift transformation undertaken entirely since Mr. Schumann’s 2001 arrival, when the last of three Lift Engineering quad chairs was replaced. It is a tale of “build it and they will come.”
Announced 13 months ago, the gondola was uniquely built over two construction seasons. Concrete foundations and the top drive terminal were installed last fall with construction pausing in November for what turned out to be a very deep winter. Doppelmayr was back at it as soon as the ski season ended with a tight timeline toward a July 1 opening. Very late season snow pushed that back a few weeks but no one seemed to care on this perfect July Saturday. In addition to free gondola rides for the thousands gathered, there was a free community barbecue, dunk tank, bungee trampoline and even a $1,000 cash giveaway. The celebration proved gondolas are for everybody – from young kids to people with disabilities, the elderly and even pets – to enjoy together.
June is an important time for the Disney Skyliner gondola project as we’re a year from when the system would need to open to transport guests during the park’s busiest months of 2019. A late spring opening seems like an attainable timeline as construction of many of the system’s towers is complete with terminal steel now spotted at four of eight station locations.