It’s been two weeks since the bombshellnews that Aspen Skiing Co. and KSL Capital Partners are joining forces to bring twelve ski resorts under a new entity rivaling Vail Resorts. While the deals won’t close for months, the new partners already say they plan to invest heavily in the guest experience. “We have earmarked a lot of capital for improvements to be able to continue to reinvest significantly in the communities and the mountains,” KSL CEO Eric Resnick told the Denver Post. “What’s exciting is being able to bring new opportunities with these communities and with these mountains to those customers who are already so passionate.” This could come in the form of new lifts ahead of the 2018-19 season and beyond. Below is a summary of announced plans and my speculation of what might be in store for KSL and Aspen’s upcoming resorts.
Alpine Meadows, CA:
Alpine Meadows applied for and received approval to replace the Hot Wheels chairlift in a new, longer alignment back in 2012. A mid-station offload would allow beginner and intermediate skiers to access the lower mountain while others could continue to an unload near the top of Sherwood, providing direct access to Sherwood and Lakeview. Approval for this lift likely expired in September 2015 but there’s no reason to believe Placer County would not approve it again.
Speaking of Lakeview, it is arguably the largest remaining pod at Alpine Meadows without detachable access. This 1984 CTEC is older than Sherwood and with approximately the same vertical rise. A high-speed quad is likely to replace it eventually.
Doppelmayr and CTEC have both built lifts at Alpine Meadows while Leitner-Poma has not. That could change with the unification of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows.
I’ve written before about the Base-to-Base Gondola which is still on the table but still requires multiple government approvals. It would traverse the White Wolf property between Squaw and Alpine with two angle stations along the way.
Killington Resort and a local developer will invest $110 million to revitalize Bear Mountain over the next few years, including the addition of a fixed-grip quad chair at South Ridge next summer. Most of the plans involve base infrastructure and real estate but the lift news is exciting given the South Ridge area has been without direct service since its triple chair was removed in 2011. The $3 million quad chair will be the first new lift at the East’s most visited resort since the addition of the Skye Peak Express in 2008. “This Bear Mountain Revitalization Plan is especially exciting for me because I know that our core group of season pass holders has wanted a new South Ridge lift since the day we removed the old one,” says Mike Solimano, president and general manager of Killington Resort. “With the trail work our team has planned, this layout should greatly enhance the Killington experience by improving connectivity between the north and south sides of the resort.” The Bear Mountain Quad, a 1979 Yan will remain for now but is likely to be upgraded in the future with new development at its base.
Lift Engineering built the old South Ridge lift in the shape of a triangle, a wacky setup that will not be repeated. The new version will follow the path of the old light side from the bottom of Roundabout to an unload near the summit of Killington Peak. “From the top of the Bear Mountain Quad, the long-awaited replacement of the South Ridge lift will give skiers and snowboarders easy access the resort’s north side terrain including the Canyon and Snowdon areas, or easy access to the many trails in the sunny South Ridge area,” says Jeff Temple, director of mountain operations. Leitner-Poma is likely to build the fixed-grip quad as a longstanding supplier to Killington, but there’s also a chance it could go to Doppelmayr with Powdr Co.’s recent history. In further good news, The Beast also announced an agreement yesterday to host World Cup ski racing in both 2017 and 2018.
Sun Valley Resort plans to replace its oldest chairlift with a new, longer high-speed quad and open 380 acres of Cold Springs Canyon to skiing in 2018. A future plans webpage launched today details the planned expansion within Bald Mountain’s existing permit area on Bureau of Land Management and National Forest lands. North-facing terrain in Turkey Bowl and Cold Springs Canyon would be gladed with an extended Lower Broadway run leading to the bottom of a new detachable quad chairlift. South-facing terrain underneath the lift would also be opened when conditions permit.
The new high speed quad is slated to replace the Cold Springs double, a Yan/Riblet hybrid that dates back to 1970. The new chairlift would be nearly twice as long and rise 1,550 vertical feet, up from the current 1,069′. Ride time would still decrease from 6.7 minutes to 6 minutes with a top terminal moved closer to the Roundhouse Gondola. After the upgrade, Bald Mountain would have only two fixed-grip chairlifts remaining – Mayday and Lookout – with two more left on Dollar Mountain.
The world’s largest urban gondola network leaps forward this week with the addition of the Línea Azul (Blue Line) in the Bolivian twin cities of La Paz and El Alto. Since debuting with just one line in May 2014, the state-owned Mi Teleférico (My Cable Car) system has now transported more than 75 million passengers on its Green, Yellow, and Red gondolas. In 2015, My Cable Car committed $450 million to build six additional lines through 2020, and it ordered twomore last year. Mi Teleférico has quickly become one of Doppelmayr’s largest customers, exclusively utilizing the Austrian company’s ten-passenger monocable detachable gondola technology.
Construction commenced on Línea Azul in late May 2015 with cable pulling (by drone!) wrapping in September 2016. The first cabin launched later that month with Bolivian President Evo Morales taking the inaugural ride in November. After three more months of terminal buildout and system testing, the Blue line’s five stations are ready for show time. Línea Azul is La Paz’s longest to date, with 208 CWA Omega IV-10-LWI cabins that will cover an impressive 32,700 feet per revolution beginning March 3rd, just 645 days after groundbreaking.
Like the Red, Yellow and Green lines, the Blue line is actually two lifts with two separate haul ropes and two drive systems with cabins transferring between them. Nearly all of the Mi Teleférico network will be built this way, with multiple haul rope loops forming single “lines” with two to five stations each (most have either three or four.) Multi-stage gondolas operating with this principle in North America include WhistlerVillage and Excalibur at Whistler Blackcomb, Panorama at Mammoth and Revelation at Revelstoke Mountain Resort.
As one of America’s oldest resorts, Loveland Ski Area has welcomed skiers to the Continental Divide continuously since 1937. Although now surrounded by the likes of Keystone, Breckenridge and Winter Park and with I-70 literally cutting through it, Loveland remains a local favorite with plentiful snowfall and varied terrain served by nine fixed-grip chairlifts. The first double chair – a Heron – debuted at Loveland Basin in 1955. A second ski area, Loveland Valley, opened in 1961. A number of Heron, Heron-Poma and later Lift Engineering lifts were added through 1990. The first modern Poma quad chair debuted in 1996, followed by a series of Leitner-Poma triple and quad chairs to modernize the fleet. When Lift 9 opened in 1998, it became the highest-elevation chairlift in North America, a title Loveland held until Breckenridge opened the Imperial SuperChair in 2005.
Loveland now averages more than 300,000 skier visits annually and visitation increased by 45 percent between 2002 and 2010. The ski area is now implementing projects from its 2013 master plan, a road map aimed at improving the guest experience while maintaining a laid-back vibe. SE Group prepared the plan and notes, “Loveland has been known for its abundant, high quality snow; fun and diverse terrain; and uncrowded slopes.” I visited on a bluebird Sunday in January and never once waited in a lift line.
Loveland generally builds lifts below maximum capacity and skier density is much lower than the industry average, with 1,800 acres of skiable terrain and an hourly lift capacity of over 14,000 skiers. The development plan notes that Loveland’s lift network generally serves the terrain well, but some lifts are approaching the end of a typical 35-year lifespan and a few changes should be made. Just last week, lifts 1 and 6 had to be closed for multi-day repairs but have since re-opened.
A $15 million gondola system will connect the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse to a nearby amphitheater, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced this morning. “This is very, very exciting and it brings the energy of both facilities together for a synergy between the two,” Cuomo noted, calling the planned gondola “world class.” The lift’s 38 cabins will cross Interstate 690 along a 3,700′ route. The project still requires federal approval but is scheduled for completion in June 2018.
The gondola will link more than 15,000 parking spaces at the fair to the 17,500-seat Lakeview Amphitheater, which will host major acts such as Zac Brown Band and Third Eye Blind this summer. The amphitheater gondola station will also serve Onondaga Lake Park and its network of popular trails. The state- and county-owned facilities are currently connected by shuttle buses operating on a circuitous route during major events. Capacity of the eight-passenger lift will be 1,200 passengers per hour. An expansion to 75 cabins would achieve an ultimate capacity of 2,400 per hour. A manufacturer has not yet been selected and the state will hold a competitive bid process in the coming months.
A separate, privately-funded and operated skyride lift will also be built this spring, traveling 1,500 feet over the fairgrounds with between 100 and 120 double chairs. Dozens of fairs across the country operate either chairlifts or gondolas for fair-goers, among them a new Skytrac ride at Cal Expo, a Partek chairlift at the North Carolina State Fair and the Texas Skyway gondola built at the Texas State Fair in 2007.
Governor Cuomo also announced $20 million in improvements at the state-owned Belleayre, Gore Mountain and Whiteface ski resorts today, including a new enclosed upper terminal building for Gore’s Northwoods Gondola and a new lift connecting Whiteface’s learning center to mid-station. New York State owns more lifts than any other state – 27 in total – including the Roosevelt Island Tramway. The government has been a frequent customer of both Doppelmayr and Leitner-Poma over the years.
The Yellowstone Club in Big Sky, Montana will likely build not one, but three new lifts this summer as it adds Eglise Mountain to its expansive roster of ski terrain. The second section of a future two-stage gondola, along with a detachable bubble quad chair and new beginner triple chair are all slated to debut in time for the Club’s 17th winter season next year.
Doppelmayr USA will build the new lifts and already poured many of the tower and terminal footings last summer. The upper section of the 8-passenger Eglise Gondola will debut first, with the lower stage to be added when the 550,000 square-foot Village Core is substantially completed. That project, located adjacent to the Warren Miller Lodge, is also underway and currently the biggest construction project in Montana. A dedicated building in the village will eventually house the new gondola’s base terminal, not far from the Lodge lift.
Whitefish Mountain Resort will make a big lift move this summer, relocating Chair 5 from Ptarmigan Bowl to become a new East Rim lift. Chair 5, also known as Glacier View and at times High Five, has not seen public operation since 2014/15 due to its redundancy with the Big Mountain Express and will better serve skiers in the North Bowl. The $1.2 million project will cost more than double what the ski area paid for the original CTEC installation in 1981. Whitefish Mountain Resort has contracted with Skytrac to make the move.
“We are pleased to continue what has been a decade of steady improvements at Whitefish Mountain Resort with the re-position of Chair 5 to better utilize our lift infrastructure and improve the guest experience as we celebrate our 70th anniversary,” Whitefish Mountain Resort CEO Dan Graves said in a press release. Although technically it does not open any new terrain, the East Rim lift will create a new pod between Chair 1 and T-Bar 2. The new lift will rise 814 feet with a slope length of 2,540 feet and capacity of 1,600 skiers per hour. It will sport a new electric motor, drive, brakes, hydraulic tensioning, rebuilt gearbox and added restraining bars in the new location.
Whitefish has been all in on lift shuffling lately, acquiring the former Moab Scenic Skyway lift in 2006 and installing it as Easy Rider. The original Glacier Chaser Express quad moved to become the Swift Creek Express in 2007, the same year old Easy Rider became Elk Highlands. In 2011, Whitefish installed the Bad Rock triple which was relocated from a resort in Pennsylvania. The 2014 addition of the Flower Point triple came from Kimberley, BC. The new East Rim triple is scheduled to open in December 2017. You can find out more about the history of Chair 5 and the new lift on the Whitefish Mountain Resort blog.
In its home country of France, Poma Ropeways has won a $56 million tender to realize the first 3S gondola designed entirely for public transport. Téléphérique Urbain Sud (South Urban Cable Car) will link two hospitals to Paul Sabatier University in the city of Toulouse. You may know France’s fourth largest city, with 1.2 million inhabitants, as the global headquarters of the Airbus Group.
The gondola’s 1.9 mile route will ascend a 300-foot hill called Pech David before crossing the Garonne waterway. Factors leading to the selection of a 3S over a MGD were the need for long spans between towers (just 5 required instead of 20), the ability to more easily transport wheelchairs/bicycles as well as wind tolerance. Fourteen 35-passenger Sigma Symphony cabins will circulate between three stations with an hourly capacity of 1,500 passengers per direction. At 5 m/s, the system will achieve headways of just 90 seconds and a trip will take ten minutes each way, a 20-minute improvement from today in a car. Like other successful urban gondola projects, riders of the 3S will be able to use existing fare media and easily transfer to and from metro trains or buses. Additional stages are likely to be added to the ends of the new gondola in the future.
Telluride Ski Resort, which crested 500,000 skier visits for the first time last season and operates 14 chairlifts, released a new master development plan this month aimed at upgrading key lifts and adding a few new ones over the next decade. At opening in 1972, Telluride had just five double chairlifts but now, together with the town of Mountain Village, is home to North America’s largest gondola transit system and one of the most successful destination resorts.
Telski’s last MDP from 1999 included several lift projects that are still approved but not yet completed. Most notably, the Palmyra Basin lift would rise 1,165 vertical feet lift to serve intermediate terrain above the Prospect Express, which itself was built as part of a four-lift expansion in 2001. Also in this area, a new 1,500′ surface lift is approved to serve the Gold Hill chutes above the Revelation lift, which debuted in 2008 as Telluride’s only Leitner-Poma lift.
More lift upgrades are added in the latest master plan. The first is bringing Gold Hill Express capacity from its 1,500 pph to 2,200 by adding more chairs. This lift was initially approved as two separate lifts with 1,200-1,500 pph each, but was combined into one lift with a higher design capacity. Gold Hill is a 2001 Doppelmayr, one of four Telluride built in one very busy summer.
Another planned project that will surprise no one is a Plunge lift replacement. The existing 1985 CTEC triple has had a reduced hourly capacity of 1,042 pph ever since safety bars were installed, due to their added weight. At 6,260 feet slope length, a ride takes nearly 13 minutes. A 1,000 f.p.m. detachable quad is proposed to replace Plunge with an initial capacity of 1,800 pph and designed to reach 2,400.