Jasper SkyTram Proposes Gondola Replacement

IMG_3369

The operator of Canada’s oldest aerial tramway is looking to the future in the form of a major redevelopment and eight passenger gondola.  The Jasper SkyTram opened in 1964 and currently carries 30 riders at a time up Whistlers Mountain from March through October.  Built by Pohlig-Heckel-Bleichert of Germany, the tram is approaching the end of its operational and economical life with facilities that no longer meet visitor expectations.

redevelopmentmap

A replacement gondola could run in a more environmentally and geologically sound alignment with all new terminal and tower locations.  The bottom station would sit along the Icefields Parkway at significantly lower elevation than the current base.  Shortly after departing the valley, gondolas would make a sweeping turn and eventually reach a top terminal with a modern interpretive center, restaurants, trails and barrier-free views.  The lift would become one of Canada’s largest, rising nearly 4,000 vertical feet over 2.75 miles.  The retired access road, stations and tower locations would be allowed to return to a natural state.  New terminals would be accessible for visitors of all abilities and the project would include additional parking, transit and bicycle facilities.

IMG_3051
The current stations are neither wheelchair accessible nor capable of handling demand on peak days.

I know first hand the limitations of aerial tramways for today’s visitors and Jasper is not the first location to consider alternatives.  Heavenly’s scenic aerial tram was effectively replaced by a gondola in 2000 and Grouse Mountain is considering making a similar move.  Gondolas are both comfortable and efficient, offering guests their own cabins and secure seating.  Under the proposal, lift capacity would increase from 200 per hour to 950 with less waiting and no need for standing in crowded cars.  Gondola technology would also enable year round operation.

googleearthjasper

The concept is just that and no decisions have been made.  The SkyTram Partnership and Parks Canada are seeking public feedback, which can be sent to redevelopment@jasperskytram.com.

Alterra Capital Plan Includes New Lifts and Expansions for 2020-21

North America’s second largest resort operator today announced the purchase of two lifts for Mammoth Mountain, new terrain at Steamboat Resort and a two year project to build new trails and lifts at Tremblant.  Alterra Mountain Company will complete $223 million worth of capital improvements in total for next season, up from $181 million in 2019-20 and $130 million the year before.  Rival Vail Resorts announced back in December spending of $210 to $215 million across 37 mountain resorts, including construction of six new lifts in 2020.

IMG_3385
Mammoth’s Broadway Express #1 and Canyon Express #16, both built by Yan and upgraded by Doppelmayr, will be replaced this summer.

At Mammoth, one of the most utilized lifts in the Alterra system, Broadway Express, will be replaced with a high-speed six place detachable, increasing uphill capacity by 42 percent to 3,200 skiers per hour.  Sister lift Canyon Express will be replaced with a 3,000 people per hour six pack, increasing uphill capacity out of Canyon Lodge by 66 percent.  Both of these lifts are likely to be supplied by Doppelmayr.

IMG_2612
This will be the last season for the Canyon Express, a workhorse lift above the Village at Mammoth.

In Colorado, Steamboat Resort will expand onto 355 acres of Pioneer Ridge, providing skiers and riders with more terrain to explore.  Pioneer Ridge will feature 1,800 vertical feet of advanced and expert gladed terrain accessible via the Pony Express lift.  Twenty five new chairs will be added to the Garaventa CTEC high speed quad, increasing capacity from 1,200 people per hour to 1,800.  The Steamboat master plan calls for Pioneer Ridge to eventually feature its own detachable chairlift.

img_5339
Steamboat will open up hundreds of acres of new terrain beyond Pony Express and become Colorado’s third largest ski area.

This summer, Tremblant will begin a two-year expansion project called Timber.  Quebec’s most popular mountain will open a new beginner zone with a magic carpet on Versant Soleil for 2020-21 to enhance the learning experience for new skiers and riders.  In late 2021, the Timber summit will open with a new high speed quad and eight trails leading to Versant Soleil and the North side.  “This project, which aims at diversifying the ski area, is part of the continued development of Versant Soleil and reaffirms Tremblant’s leader position as the #1 ski resort in Eastern North America,” said the resort.

“Three years ago, when we formed Alterra Mountain Company, an initial priority was to commit to investing a half a billion dollars by 2023 across our family of North American destinations,” said Rusty Gregory, CEO of Alterra Mountain Company.  “To date, we have invested more than $350 million and are committed to exceeding our original plan, spending $575 million by 2020 on lifts and gondolas, snowmaking, summer activities, real estate development, hospitality and technology, all in the name of creating memories for our guests through an elevated mountain experience.”  Privately-held Alterra owns 14 resorts, having recently completed its acquisition of Sugarbush.

Arizona Snowbowl to Install Combination Lift

c0eb5320-9570-44a5-b178-248d62adc966-7972-000001b23d6ae625

Arizona Snowbowl’s fourth new lift in six years will be the largest yet –  a chair/gondola combo lift rising almost 2,000 vertical feet.  The new base-to-summit workhorse will operate year round for skiers, snowboarders and sightseers beginning next winter.  “Since its inception, Agassiz has been the beating heart of Snowbowl,” notes the resort.  “With the replacement of the lift, we’re ushering in a new era.  More than an upgrade, the new Agassiz lift completely redefines the Snowbowl experience.”

Unlike most combination lifts, Agassiz will feature eight passenger gondolas between every two chairs (usually the ratio is more like one in four or five.)  Agassiz reaches an elevation of 11,500 feet and enclosed cabins will offer guests a comfortable option in inclement weather.  The gondolas will also provide improved access for guests with disabilities and ride time will decrease from 15 minutes to seven.  Capacity will remain a modest 1,200 skiers per hour so as not to overwhelm expert trails off the summit.

img_5928
In addition to summer and winter, Agassiz operates all fall for scenic rides.

The Leitner-Poma Telemix will be the third lift in the Agassiz alignment over six decades of history.  The existing Agassiz triple opened in 1986 and is currently inoperable due to a mechanical issue.  The CTEC is expected to be repaired this week and will finish out the remainder of the season.  Once removed, it will be stored for eventual re-installation at a location to be determined.

54881817-80c7-4b9d-a6a6-88db92e2d3f6-7972-000001b24ad2c5ce

Mountain Capital Partners has invested heavily in Arizona Snowbowl since purchasing the resort back in 2014.  Improvements to date include a new lodge, two different fixed-grip quads and a six place called the Grand Canyon Express.  2020’s project will be the largest in resort history and one of the most significant lift additions in North America this year.

Timberline Lodge to Build Pucci High Speed Quad

IMG_7508

Timberline’s quest to become an all-detachable mountain will become closer to reality this fall with the replacement of Pucci by a new quad chair.  Already approved by the Mt. Hood National Forest, the project will see the retirement of Timberline’s oldest operating chairlift, a Poma triple dating back to 1987.  Another Poma fixed grip lift built the same year, Bruno’s, is slated to be replaced with a conveyor in the near future.

Timberline’s sixth high speed quad will re-use most of the existing towers and maintain the same 1,800 passenger hourly capacity.  Ride time will decrease to just 4.5 minutes.  The new lift will enhance the beginner and intermediate experience at the next lift guests progress to after Bruno’s.  Timberline did not announce a manufacturer, though Doppelmayr built the area’s last four new lifts.

Sugarloaf Outlines West Mountain Expansion & Future Lift Upgrades

86384575_10156559049556879_3143727309744242688_o

Boyne Resorts will embark on a major investment campaign at Sugarloaf in the coming years called Sugarloaf 2030, similar to plans revealed recently for Big Sky, Loon Mountain and Sunday River.  The central Maine resort will begin work this summer on a 450 acre expansion of West Mountain with a variety of new trails.  The area will eventually feature a big new lift.  As part of the expansion, the current West Mountain double will be shortened to about half its current length.  The expansion includes a modest new base area with expanded parking, tubing and a small lodge.

West Mtn Hero 3

“This development will expand Sugarloaf’s beginner and intermediate terrain, and will greatly alleviate traffic congestion at the SuperQuad by shifting significant numbers of riders to this new area,” says the Sugarloaf 2030 website. “Several options are being considered for size and type of lift for this location, with lift construction expected to begin in the summer of 2021.”  The lift will be designed with foot passengers in mind as Bullwinkle’s will see expanded use for weddings and conferences.  West Mountain will also be home to a future lift-served mountain bike park.  “This will be the most significant project at Sugarloaf since the SuperQuad was built in the mid 1990s,” noted Sugarloaf General Manager Karl Strand. “We’re thankful for leadership of Boyne Resorts, which, over the past 13 years, has helped us get Sugarloaf to a position of growth that allows for development projects like this.”

Lifts across the mountain will be replaced over the next decade.  Timberline, a Borvig quad serving the summit will be replaced with another new lift supporting varied year round experiences.  A third near term priority is the Double Runner double-double, which is approaching 50 years of age.  A new quad would better serve ski school programs and increase out-of-base capacity.  Carrabassett Valley Academy also plans to partner with Sugarloaf on a new alpine training surface lift servicing race trails above Double Runner.

Further out, Boyne plans to replace two more aging quads.  A new King Pine would run in a modified alignment with better wind resistance and improved reliability.  A future SuperQuad replacement is more about increasing capacity with state-of-the-art equipment.

Between this new plan, Sunday River’s vision announced two weeks ago and the rebirth of Saddleback, the 2020s are already proving to be an exciting time in Maine.  The Pine Tree State is well positioned to be a great place to ski in a changing climate and companies are responding with big investment plans.

Nordic Valley Seeks to Add a Fourth Chairlift

snowmakingconcept

Mountain Capital Partners no longer plans to build nine new chairlifts and one of the world’s longest gondolas in Northern Utah but a scaled back expansion of Nordic Valley is moving forward.  The previous vision hinged on use of Forest Service lands and received chilly public reception.

The resort recently applied for a conditional use permit to add a new lift on 347 acres of entirely private land south of the current ski area.  The updated project includes 50 acres of new snowmaking coverage and an approximately 4,400 foot chairlift dubbed Lift 5.  Photos included with the application depict Skytrac lifts, indicating the new lift would be fixed-grip.

expansionconcept

Back in 2018, Mountain Capital Partners forged an agreement to operate Nordic Valley, becoming the firm’s first property in Utah.  MCP specializes in modernizing historically under-capitalized resorts across the Southwest.   “The proposed project will allow for an improved guest experience for the surrounding communities and will compliment and improve the existing ski operations at Nordic Valley,” said the Colorado-based company.  “With the addition of snowmaking, Nordic Valley will be able to minimize the impact of low natural snowfalls and offer a more consistent product to its customers.”

New York State Ski Areas Plan New Lifts for 2020-21

IMG_6269
As part of a proposed budget, three more lifts similar to Belleayre’s new Lightning quad would be built at ORDA ski resorts in 2020 and 2021.

New York’s state-owned Olympic Regional Development Authority plans to spend a whopping $147 million to upgrade its facilities during 2020 and 2021.  Those venues include Belleayre, Gore Mountain, the Olympic Ski Jumping Complex and Whiteface, which together saw three new lifts over the last three years.  On Friday, the agency issued a formal request for proposal for three more fixed-grip quad chairlifts to be built over two years.

This summer, both Gore and Whiteface would see new lifts replacing Riblet models.  Gore proposes replacing the Sunway double with a fixed quad capable of moving 2,400 guests per hour.  The previous lift dates back to 1986.  The new alignment would end slightly higher than the current lift, with a 566 foot vertical rise and 3,102 foot slope length.  This machine would be bottom drive, bottom tension with a loading carpet.

sunway2020

Also in 2020, Whiteface plans to replace the Bunny Hutch triple with a quad.  The current lift opened in 1997 with used Riblet equipment.  The new lift would be about 450 feet longer with a vertical rise of 364 feet.  This quad would also be bottom drive/bottom tension and may include a loading conveyor.

bunnyhutch2020

Following in 2021, Gore would see a replacement for the High Peaks double.  The existing lift is a quirky Riblet-CTEC hybrid that experiences long lines during peak times.  The new lift would be a bottom drive fixed-grip quad with a design capacity of 2,400 skiers per hour.

highpeaks2021

No new lifts are planned for Belleayre, understandable considering the Catskills mountain got two of the last three projects.  There’s no guarantee ORDA will follow through on these specific plans but the RFP gives us a pretty good idea of the authority’s wish list.  Potential suppliers have until March 5th to bid and, if funded and approved, construction would be complete by November 15th of 2020 and 2021.

Waterville Valley Eyes Terrain Expansion and a Gondola

1491161549

A gondola may finally link the Town of Waterville Valley with its ski area in the coming years, just one of many exciting projects outlined in the new Waterville Valley Master Development Plan.  Recently accepted by the United States Forest Service, the MDP will guide upgrades at the mountain over the next decade.  It’s the first such comprehensive plan for Waterville since 1999, when Booth Creek owned the resort.

Waterville is seeking a 140 acre boundary expansion and 15 new trails on Green Peak, which saw its first lift installed in 2016.  The resort now features two summits accessed from one base area.  A proposed new portal would separate different user groups and improve the guest experience.  A two stage gondola or chondola is planned to link the Waterville Town Square to the new base area and on to Green Peak.  Two sections would be capable of operating independently with an angled mid-terminal.  The exact alignment of the first stage, which would be located on private land, has not yet been determined.

“The most remarkable element of the plan is that it includes the eventual installation of a gondola that will start in the Town of Waterville Valley near Town Square and transport guests to the summit of Green Peak,” said Waterville Valley CEO John Sununu.  “Connecting our pedestrian village to the ski resort will be incredibly exciting for our resort and community.”  The gondola would be a major undertaking, spanning some 9,000 linear feet with 1,400 feet of vertical and eight passenger cabins.  It would operate in both winter and summer.

watervillemdp

Green Peak would also see a second triple chair servicing 500 vertical feet of beginner and low intermediate terrain.  Two conveyor lifts in the existing base area would be relocated to a new ski school facility at the gondola mid-station.

Two lift upgrades are planned, which Waterville filed to construct back in October.  The White Peaks Express, nearing the end of its useful life, would become a six place detachable in the existing alignment.  Sunnyside is targeted to be replaced with a fixed grip quad.  Two other lift modifications are included: removal of Northside and lengthening of the World Cup T-Bar.  Outside of the scope of the new development plan but on the horizon is further expansion onto Green Peak’s South Ridge.

waterville-valley-master-plan-image-2020

“We’re thrilled to continue Waterville Valley’s development and look forward to fulfilling our team’s vision,” said President and General Manager Tim Smith in a statement announcing the Forest Service acceptance. “This is just the first step in a long process, but it marks an exciting milestone towards progressing Waterville Valley into the future.”

Sunday River Unveils Ten Year Plan for New Lifts & More

sunday-river-range-2030-slider-header

With ambitious improvement plans recently crafted for Big Sky and Loon Mountain, Boyne Resorts has turned to updating its capital spending vision for Sunday River, Maine.  Spanning eight peaks in the beautiful Mahoosuc Mountains, Sunday River offers more than 50 miles of trails and a beast of a snowmaking system.  Though the terrain and scenery are top notch, many lifts were installed during the American Skiing Company boom years and are showing their age.  The plan prescribes replacing at least six lifts and building a lift-served real estate development on a ninth mountain called Merrill Hill over the next ten years.

Lift wise in the short term, the two biggest priorities are Barker Mountain and Jordan Bowl.  The former is no surprise as the Barker Mountain Express was originally built by Lift Engineering and converted to a quasi-Poma high speed quad decades ago.  While no specific model was specified, I expect the replacement will be a six or eight place signature lift.  The Jordan Bowl Express is newer, built by Doppelmayr in 1994, but also ripe for up-gauging given the vast amount of terrain it services.  Another near term project is the Merrill Hill lift, providing access to a new ski-in, ski-out neighborhood near North Peak.  During this phase, the White Cap quad is slated to gain a loading conveyor to increase speed and efficiency.

SundayRiverTrailMap2019_FullRes

After those projects, Sunday River is targeting the White Cap and North Peak lifts for replacement.  The former is a 1987 Yan fixed grip quad with a ride time in excess of 10 minutes.  North Peak is a 1997 Doppelmayr detachable quad.

Near the end of the 2030 plan, the Aurora Peak and South Ridge lifts would be addressed.  Aurora is another Yan fixed grip that moves very slowly.  It’s newer than White Cap, having been installed in 1991 as one of Yan’s last-ever installations.  South Ridge is one year newer and was built by Poma.  Not all of these installations will necessarily be brand new machines.  Boyne plans to shuffle lifts within and between resorts in the coming years, including the outgoing Swift Current from Big Sky and Kancamagus at Loon Mountain.  The company also wants to purchase the bubble six place lift from the Hermitage Club, which would go to one of Boyne’s three northeast mountains.

IMG_9183
The workhorse Barker Mountain Express services six of Sunday River’s most popular trails and is planned to be replaced early in the 2030 vision.

The Sunday River 2030 vision includes more than just lifts.  RFID ticketing technology will be implemented resort-wide.  An observation deck on North Peak and mountain coaster are planned.  At the top of the already spectacular Jordan Bowl pod, a signature summit restaurant is envisioned.

Looking at the history of Sunday River, it’s quite remarkable how many lifts and terrain expansions Les Otten was able to complete before American Skiing Company ran out of cash.  Otten purchased 18 different chairlifts and grew the resort from 40,000 skier visits to more than a half million annually.  Boyne’s plan will build on that success, replacing up to six lifts and adding another peak. “We are incredibly grateful for our guests, our team, and the Boyne Resorts family for helping to guide and determine our future,” noted Sunday River President and General Manager Dana Bullen.  “The next decade will be one of the most transformational in our 60-year history, assuring that Sunday River will remain one of the top resorts in the Northeast.”

Agreement Paves the Way for Squaw-Alpine Gondola Construction

Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows today announced a comprehensive agreement with the Granite Chief Wilderness Protection League regarding the proposed California Express gondola.  The environmental advocacy group will drop its lawsuit contesting approval of the project in exchange for new conservation efforts by the ski resort.  The Forest Service issued its Final Record of Decision approving the gondola on January 31st.  With these developments, all major hurdles have been overcome.

alternative4map

“We are very happy to have worked collaboratively with the League to address their concerns so that resources could be directed to environmentally beneficial purposes, rather than funding an extended lawsuit,” said Ron Cohen, president and chief operating officer of Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows.  “We are eager to get going on this game-changing transportation project.  We thank the League for its productive approach to resolving the dispute.”

The current Squaw-Alpine connection is a long and tedious shuttle ride. The bus stops are nice though!

Squaw Alpine will set aside approximately 27 acres of private property for conservation.  These lands, which include pristine wetlands and natural ponds, have the potential to serve as habitat for the endangered Sierra Nevada Yellow Legged Frog.  Additionally, the resort agreed to provide funding to study recovery of this endangered species.  Squaw will also grant money for the Truckee Donner Land Trust to acquire parcels elsewhere in the vicinity of the Granite Chief Wilderness.

Continue reading