Gondola to Anchor Redeveloped Site Along Colorado’s Interstate 70

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Photo credit: Andy Colwell via The Colorado Sun

Halfway between Denver and Summit County’s ski resorts, 22 million vehicles a year transit I-70 in the town of Idaho Springs.  Local businesswoman Mary Jane Loevlie sees an opportunity for 400,000 of them to stop and take a gondola ride from the historic Argo Mill and Tunnel to a new summit plaza.  The Colorado Sun reports a group of investors led by Loevlie has partnered with Leitner-Poma to build The Mighty Argo Cable Car, an eight passenger gondola system in what was once a mining boom town.  “We are marrying outdoor recreation and heritage tourism at a reclaimed EPA Superfund site,” said Loevlie at a community gathering yesterday.  “You know what, we are putting the fun in Superfund.”

The concept resembles Silver Mountain, Idaho, a successful public-private partnership that saw construction of a 3.1 mile gondola adjacent to Interstate 90 atop of one of the nation’s largest EPA cleanup sites.  The Colorado project initially focused on constructing a hotel, conference center and stores but morphed to begin with the gondola due to revenue potential.  The 10 minute lift ride would ascend 1,300 vertical feet to a restaurant and park.  Capacity would be 600 visitors per hour, modest by ski lift standards.  Bike carriers would be included for adventurous guests seeking to take advantage of nearby trails.

Local approval for the project is still pending but it’s possible the gondola could launch as soon as next summer.  The Mighty Argo Cable Car would join an elite group of scenic tramways and gondolas across Colorado: the Estes Park Tramway, Glenwood Gondola, Monarch Crest Scenic Tram and Royal Gorge Gondola, all of which were constructed by Leitner-Poma and its predecessor companies.

Doppelmayr to Install Gondola Network at Icy Strait Point, Alaska

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As part of its commitment to the growing Alaska market, Norwegian Cruise Line today announced several strategic initiatives, including partnering with an Alaska Native corporation to transform Icy Strait Point into a vehicle-free tourism hub.  Two eight passenger gondola systems will transport 5,600 guests per hour between a new Wilderness Landing, the historic Icy Strait cannery and Hoonah Mountain, which features the world’s longest ZipRider.

“Wilderness Landing will cater to visitors in search of individualized experiences with the land, wildlife and native peoples of Alaska,” said Norwegian, which will gain preferred berthing rights at Icy Strait.  As part of the expansion, Huna Totem Corporation will install two gondolas and develop the upper part of Hoonah Mountain near its ZipRider attraction to offer additional experiences for visitors in 2020.  To elevate the experience and maintain its natural setting, Wilderness Landing will be a vehicle-free zone.  Instead of needing an estimated 72 buses to move guests around the site, travelers will be able to move through the treetops between the historic cannery and Wilderness Landing on the Transporter, a high-speed gondola system supplied by Doppelmayr.  The gondola will be wheelchair and scooter accessible.

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Opening a few months later in mid-summer, a second gondola will take guests up the 1,600-foot Hoonah Mountain to the forested area around the ZipRider launch. The six minute ride will unlock additional areas for exploration and afford spectacular views of icefields, the Fairweather Range and Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, the ancestral homeland of the Huna Tlingit people.  Huna Totem Corporation will develop new attractions for guests: a top-of-the-mountain nature trail around a glacially-carved reflecting pond, a 340-foot suspension bridge swaying over a box-canyon with a 900-foot vertical drop, and a tour departure center for bear searches and ATV adventures.  Helicopter flightseeing and more will be added during the 2021 season.

“The natural beauty of Alaska makes it one of the most popular destinations to visit, and our investments in the region will enable us to provide our guests with a best-in-class experience as they explore the wonders of the Last Frontier,” said Frank Del Rio, president and chief executive officer of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings.  “These strategic initiatives mark the latest steps in our ongoing efforts to promote economic development in the region and make a positive economic and environmentally sensible impact on the Alaska tourism industry.”

McCoy Park is a Go for 2020-21 at Beaver Creek

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Beaver Creek will expand by 250 acres with a new detachable quad for the 2020-21 ski season, the resort has confirmed.  The expansion will feature 17 “groomable glades” for guests seeking low angle adventure at high elevation.  “McCoy Park is a separate, family-friendly zone allowing for a more relaxed experience for beginner families,” Vail Resorts notes, describing the terrain as “welcoming for beginner and intermediate skiers to connect and elevate their mountain experience.”  The new runs will be accessible from the existing Larkspur, Strawberry Park and Upper Beaver Creek Mountain Express lifts.

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Transporting 2,400 skiers per hour, the high speed McCoy Park Express will span approximately 5,900 feet in length with a vertical rise of 840′.  A manufacturer was not announced but Doppelmayr has built every new lift at Beaver Creek since 2003.  The McCoy Park expansion was first proposed in late 2017 and green lighted by the Forest Service last November.  A second lift for egress from McCoy Park was also approved but is not yet slated for construction.

Whitefish Plans a Fourth Detachable

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A new detachable quad will soon join the lift fleet at Whitefish Mountain Resort, although the exact timeline is uncertain.  The Chair 4 Express (name TBD) will be the first detachable lift servicing the mountain’s new day lodge, where nearly 70 percent of Whitefish skiers now start their day.  The big lift will replace Great Northern, a Stadeli triple which opened in 1978 but loads higher than the replacement.  The top terminal will be very close to where the old Chair 5 unloaded.

The new lift will open a half hour earlier than the workhorse Big Mountain Express and relieve pressure from the Base Lodge and Bad Rock beginner lifts.  Hourly capacity will be 2,200 skiers, more than double Chair 4 on the rare occasions it is open.  A number of trails will be re-graded to converge at the new load point.  “When people stand at the current carpet lift and look up the mountain when this project is done it will look very different from how it looks today,” says Whitefish.

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The new Chair 4 will be approximately 7,000 feet long with 2,200 feet of rise, even more than the current triple.

The resort did not release a timeline or manufacturer although planning is well underway.  Whitefish is already seeking Forest Service approval for its Hellroaring Basin improvement project, which includes two new lifts.  If approved, all three new lifts will be well worth the wait on an already great Big Mountain.

Loon Mountain & Waterville Valley Look to Build Big New Lifts

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The current Loon Mountain trail map shows two lifts on the lower mountain which are now slated to be replaced.

The Interstate 93 corridor in New Hampshire could soon be a hotbed of lift construction.  Four exciting projects appeared on the White Mountain National Forest proposed actions page this week.  In what would be a major move, Loon Mountain is seeking to replace the Kancamagus detachable quad with an eight seater chairlift.  Next, the Seven Brothers triple would be replaced with a detachable quad, presumably utilizing equipment removed from the Kanc.  This project would be similar to one Loon’s owner Boyne Resorts completed last year at Big Sky.  There, the Ramcharger detachable quad was replaced by North America’s first eight passenger chairlift and the old machine moved to replace a Heron-Poma double.

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The Kancamagus quad at Loon is 24 years old and in need of more capacity at peak times.

Just to the south at Waterville Valley, the White Peaks Express is proposed to be replaced by a six passenger detachable lift.  The current machine was built in 1988 and shortened to its current length in 1996.  In a second project, the Sunnyside triple would be swapped for a fixed-grip quad and the Northside double removed.  Both of these lifts were built decades ago by Stadeli.  Waterville Valley has been independently owned and operated by a local group of investors since 2010.  They recently replaced another aging Stadeli lift with an LST T-Bar.

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The White Peaks Express is one of just three lifts in North America utilizing a unique 1988 design from Poma.  The others are at Crystal Mountain, Washington and Sunshine Village, Alberta.

It is unknown whether any of these new lifts will feature bubbles and/or heated seats, which have become popular across New England.  The Forest Service expects to make decisions on whether to approve the projects in December.

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With new White Peaks and Sunnyside lifts, Waterville’s seldom-operated Northside double would no longer be needed.

Gondola Eyed to Link Timberline & Summit Ski Areas on Mt. Hood

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When the family that operates Timberline Lodge & Ski Area bought nearby Summit Ski Area last year, an interconnect immediately entered the realm of possibility.  The Forest Service recently accepted RLK and Company’s new Summit Master Development Plan, which includes a 10 passenger gondola from the Summit base area in Government Camp to historic Timberline Lodge.  The combined resort would feature a vertical drop exceeding 4,500 feet, longest in the United States with all lifts open.

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A Timberline Gondola would span 12,952 feet with a vertical ascent of 1,890′.  It would require a boundary expansion of 228 acres between the top of Summit’s Homestead double chair and the bottom of Timberline’s Jeff Flood Express.  Importantly, the Summit base area would become a transit and parking hub for both mountains, reducing congestion and parking demands at higher elevations.  An approximately 30,000 square foot base lodge would replace the existing one at Summit.  Guests from Portland would save almost 12 miles of driving each day, instead enjoying an 11 minute flight from Government Camp to the base of Timberline’s Magic Mile quad.  “The gondola would not only provide direct, aerial access to Timberline from the Summit’s base area, for both guests and employees, it would also alleviate the congestion on Oregon Highway 173 and re-prioritize the need for additional parking at the bottom of Timberline’s Molly’s Chairlift,” notes the master plan, which was prepared by SE Group.  The gondola would travel up to 1,200 feet per minute with a capacity of 2,400 passengers per hour in each direction.  It would operate approximately nine hours per day in both winter and summer, serving skiers, snowboarders, sightseers and mountain bikers.

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Additionally, the plan prescribes replacing Summit’s 1980 Riblet double with a fixed grip quad called Summit Pass.  This lift would parallel the gondola for 1,933 feet and terminate at 4,290 feet in elevation.  “By upgrading the existing chairlift conveyance, the overall guest experience would improve by having updated lift technology, allowing ski school and parties of four or less to ride the chairlift together,” the plan notes.  Capacity would increase from 1,200 per hour to 2,000.  A new carpet lift would also be installed.

The Forest Service’s acceptance of the master plan does not constitute approval of individual projects and, if approved, gondola construction is likely still years away.  Timberline’s immediate next lift project is set to be a detachable replacement for Pucci, benefiting beginner and intermediate skiers.  The gondola link would be even more impactful with major environmental and guest service benefits year round.

Great Divide to Build Two New Chairlifts

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Montana’s Great Divide announced on Friday plans to construct new chairlifts in 2020 and 2022.  The first one, dubbed Summit Shuttle, will load at the bottom of the Hiballer run and unload above the Mt. Belmont double‘s top terminal.  This will extend Great Divide’s vertical from the true summit of 7,330’.  The reasons for Summit Shuttle are four fold: allow skiers to lap the upper mountain without having to return to the base area, add lift capacity for peak days, provide maintenance redundancy and quicken access to Way Out West trails.

In three years, the mountain plans to add a second new lift in terrain known as Tall Timbers south of Rawhide Gulch.  Part of this zone will open this winter and it will eventually encompass more than 150 acres.  Egress to the base area will be via the existing Rawhide Gulch double.  Components for both new lifts are already on site with engineering underway.  Great Divide operates a quirky mix of entirely used Mueller and Riblet lifts from other mountains and these are likely to be similar.

In this era of consolidating ownership, it’s fantastic to see a family run, community ski area like Great Divide flourishing and expanding.  The 1,600 acre mountain offered the longest season in Montana last year and a walk-up, peak period lift tickets cost $48.

Mayflower Mountain Resort Eyes 2021 Opening

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Photo credit: Extell Development Company

Mayflower Mountain Resort, the fledgling billion dollar development near Park City, Utah, made headlines early this week on two fronts.  First, the proposed resort’s owner reached an agreement with Alterra Mountain Company for Deer Valley to continue leasing a chunk of land on Bald Mountain for 199 years.  Second, Mayflower held a media gathering, revealing grand plans for its first lifts to open in 2021.

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A 2018 Mayflower plan by SE Group identified nine possible lift alignments.

With the new lease between Deer Valley and Mayflower’s parent companies, the existing Mayflower lift and terrain will remain part of Deer Valley regardless of what happens with Mayflower Mountain Resort.

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Photo credit: Extell Development Company

Most of the 5,600 acres Extell Development of New York City has pieced together is currently undeveloped.  That could change shortly with three new hotels, 400 acres of ski runs and multiple chairlifts above the Jordanelle Reservoir.  Whether those lifts will be Deer Valley green and disallow snowboarders is an open question.  There are a lot of parallels with Moonlight Basin, Montana throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.  Initially a modest development with a couple access lifts operated under contract by Big Sky Resort, Moonlight turned into a ski resort of its own before eventually being integrated back into Big Sky’s ticket products and operations.

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Wasatch County’s parcel viewer shows existing Deer Valley ski runs in dark blue and upcoming Mayflower runs in light blue.  Deer Valley trails in neighboring Summit County are not highlighted.

Regardless of who operates the lifts, Mayflower could be big.  Current plans call for five main lifts and two surface lifts, not counting a potential connector lifts to Deer Valley.  Extell is commencing road and infrastructure work this fall with potential lift contracts a year away.  The company has roughly two years to sort out whether it wants to be independent, partner more broadly with Alterra or perhaps another ski industry player.

Sunlight Looks to the East

It may take a few years, but Sunlight Mountain Resort intends to add 100 acres along its eastern boundary serviced by a fourth fixed grip chairlift.  Glading work has already begun and will continue into next summer.  “This is a multi-year effort,” General Manager Tom Hays recently told the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.  “We are in the very early stages of a process that includes building a capital fund, negotiating additional financing, permitting processes with the county and Forest Service, mapping, planning, and shopping for lifts.”  The project is estimated to cost $4 million and is dependent on another season or two as successful as 2018-19.

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Approximate alignment of the planned East Ridge chairlift, shown in orange.

New runs will be cut on private land below the Midland Traverse and will remain hike-out until the lift is installed.  The chair will load just above Four Mile Creek and unload above the Beaujolais and Rebel trails.  “We’re excited to expand skiing and riding on the already legendary East Ridge,” said Marketing and Sales Director Troy Hawks. “These new runs mean our local skiers and riders will have even more powder to explore and exploit.”  If all goes well, the new lift could spin in 2021.

Eaglecrest Considers Building Alaska’s First Gondola

Eaglecrest is the only ski resort in Southeast Alaska, a region seeing explosive growth in summer visitation thanks to the cruise ship industry.  While some consider cruises a threat to the ski business, a recent study concluded they could actually help publicly-owned Eaglecrest become profitable.  Over just five months, 1.3 million passengers will disembark in Juneau this year, a 17 percent increase from 2018.  Many existing attractions such as the Mt. Roberts Tramway are bursting at the seams and the city sees an opportunity for its ski area to become part of the solution.

The City and Borough of Juneau owns and operates four double chairlifts which date back as far as 1975.  Eaglecrest is the only ski area in the country located on an island and, while the ocean views are amazing, low elevation sometimes limits winter operating days.  A private concessionaire operates a small scale zip tour at Eaglecrest but no lifts currently spin in the summer as the ski area ramps down to just a dozen employees.

Eaglecrest’s current lifts are shown in red with the approximate proposed gondola alignment in orange.

Alaska’s capital city is considering a cash infusion to create a year-round adventure park with skiing, mountain biking, a gondola, zip lines, mountain coaster and more.  While the initial outlay is high, projections show the current $950,000 annual subsidy provided by taxpayers could be eliminated while expanding recreational opportunities for residents and visitors alike.  The ski area could also be able to pay its employees more competitive wages and operate seven days a week in winter with the money gleaned from summer.

The most expensive component of the $34.9 million plan is a ten passenger base-to-summit gondola which would reach even higher than the current Black Bear and Ptarmigan chairlifts.  The gondola would become the primary summit access lift year-round, spanning almost 7,000 feet with 1,680 feet of vertical rise and 20 towers.  Capacity would start at 1,500 guests per hour with the ability to go to 2,400.  Both Leitner-Poma and Doppelmayr have provided bids in the $11.2 million range for the flagship lift with up to 59 cabins.  Power would be trenched up the mountain, allowing the gondola to be top-driven and providing grid power to the Black Bear double for the first time.

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Preliminary gondola profile from Leitner-Poma of America.

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