Lift-Served Bike Park to Open Near Austin

The retired Al’s Run quad from Taos is headed to Texas to anchor the state’s first lift-assisted bike park, Spider Mountain.  Mountain Capital Partners is behind project and will host a preview mountain bike race on September 29th.  Skytrac is installing the lift, which will open sometime next year.  “There is a much larger plan for the property and bikes are just a part of it,” says a poster on Bike Mojo involved in trail building.  Spider Mountain sits just outside Burnet, Texas and has a 350 foot vertical rise with views of Buchanan Lake.

MCP Managing Partner and CEO James Coleman is a University of Texas at Austin alum and Spider Mountain is about an hour away from the fast-growing city.  His company currently operates ski resorts in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.  This project brings the number of new chairlifts and gondolas outside of ski country to eight this year.  From bike parks to theme parks, fairs and urban transport applications, ropeways are proving their usefulness around the country.

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One of a Kind Chondola Coming to Grafton, Illinois

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Coming soon: a gondola along the Mississippi River.

Two days before Halloween, Colorado’s Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park will close for the longest stretch in years so its pulse gondola can be replaced with a detachable one.  The Iron Mountain Tramway is a 2002 Poma model and I’m happy to report it will find a new home 1,000 miles down I-70.  SkyTrans Manufacturing has purchased most of the machine and will will turn it into a fixed-grip chondola at Aerie’s Resort in Grafton, Illinois.  This town of 675 sees more than 1.5 million cars pass through each year and Aerie’s already operates a winery and zip line on the site.  The lift, to be known as the Grafton Sky Tour, is a joint venture of the resort, SkyTrans, and ride operator SkyFair.  “The goal is to build something that is not only a unique year-round attraction, but also a substantial revenue generator for the city and a boon to the entire Riverbend tourism experience,” the companies said in a press release.  The Sky Tour will be the only combination lift in the Midwest and only the second fixed-grip chondola in North America.

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The Iron Mountain Tramway has just over a month left in its current location.

The gondola will undergo a bunch of changes for its new mission.  Because Leitner-Poma is reusing the 18 towers in Glenwood, SkyTrans will fabricate new ones for Grafton.  The company will also swap the 400 HP DC drive and system with a 100 HP AC one (vertical matters!)  There are 18 CWA Omega cabins currently on the Iron Mountain lift, 12 of which will make it on the chondola in groups of three.  15 triple chairs will fill in between gondola pods for a total of 72 carriers.  A similar Leitner-Poma lift at Anakeesta, Tennessee has a 26 chair-2 cabin cadence and operates at only 200 feet per minute.  A one way Sky Tour will last just over 13 minutes.

Aerie’s owner Jeff Lorton and late SkyTrans leader Jerry Pendleton dreamed up the idea for a lift in Grafton five years ago and it was presented to town leadership last spring.  The $2 million project is anticipated to open around Memorial Day.

Revelstoke Announces Third Chairlift for 2019

With a new President appointed, new RFID ticketing, new snow cats and new terrain this season, Revelstoke Mountain Resort is upping its game.  Canada’s newest mountain playground today revealed even more improvements coming for 2019-20, including new beginner chair and surface lift.  The high elevation beginner zone will sit between The Ripper and Revelation Gondola, its quad chair called Cupcake.  “This lift will provide an ideal training ground for beginner skiers and riders, and also provides direct access to the Ripper, alleviating some of the pressure on the Stoke Chair,” noted Vice President of Operations Peter Nielsen.  The lift will take just over three minutes to ride and move 1,800 skiers per hour.  Leitner-Poma Canada constructed all four of Revelstoke’s current lifts, though no manufacturer was specified for the new one.  The resort has also placed a third order for 22 gondola cabins, bringing the second stage of Revelation to its design capacity of 2,800 guests each hour in 2019.

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The new Cupcake lift may follow alignment 25 on the Revelstoke master plan, though things may have changed somewhat.  Orange lift 14 is The Ripper, built in 2008.

Located on the Trans-Canada “Powder” Highway between Kicking Horse and Sun Peaks, Revelstoke is one of three Ikon Pass destinations in British Columbia.  The new lift will be the first built since Revelstoke ran out of cash in late 2008, less than a year after opening.  By the time Leitner-Poma finished the company’s second batch of lifts, the global financial crisis doomed the Denver-based developer of Revelstoke Mountain Resort, which sold it to Northland Properties.  It took a decade, but many of BC’s interior resorts are back in the green and adding lifts again.  “We are well poised for a second lift and future on-mountain infrastructure development,” says Revelstoke.

Catamount to Build Fifth Chairlift

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The Schaefer family bought Catamount Ski Area just three months ago but already has grand plans for their second ski resort.  The co-owners hope to bring the same success to Catamount the group did to Berkshire East, now a year-round destination that saw two new lifts since 2007.  Catamount, which sits partly in Massachusetts and half way in New York, is eighty years old.  Previous owners Tom Gilbert and Rich Edwards became unable to make the capital investments they knew they needed to.  “To remain really competitive in the ski industry there’s many things that need to be done, and we’ve been trying over the years to raise some capital to do these projects,” Gilbert told the Berkshire Eagle in May following the sale announcement. “We realized we were not successful in raising capital and realized we needed to bring something in.”  Berkshire East paid $650,000 for the mountain and retired Catamount’s $1.6 million in outstanding debt.

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This Poma lift could find a third home on the Massachusetts-New York border.  Photo credit: chairlift.org

A new triple chair will soon improve the beginner experience on the Massachusetts side of the mountain.  The lift is likely to be a 1987 Poma Alpha model which began its life in Vermont as Magic Mountain’s Sun Corner lift.  Magic went dark only four years later and the triple flew south to Berkshire East, where it was the Summit lift.  Skytrac replaced it with a quad in 2014 and the Poma has sat awaiting a new home ever since.  Ironically, a used chairlift from Stratton will finally return lift service to Magic’s Sun Corner this fall after 27 years.

Catamount’s new 1,600′ lift will run up up the Esplanade trail.  I suspect this will be a 2019 project but there’s a chance it could happen sooner.  The triple will complement four existing lifts, which are two SLI doubles, a Thiokol triple from Solitude, Utah and a Garaventa CTEC quad relocated from Belleayre, New York.  Catamount also plans to add a brand new 7,600 square foot lodge.

Lee Canyon Inches Closer to New Lifts

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Well over two million people in the Las Vegas region have just one ski resort within day trip reach, a unique situation among western US metros.  The mountain is Lee Canyon, which operates three fixed-grip chairlifts on 785 acres flanking Charleston Peak.  On Wednesday, the Forest Service published a 219 page Draft Environmental Impact Statement for a major expansion and upgrade plan developed by longtime owner Powdr Co.  Two alternatives would each add a pair of fixed grip quads and two new carpets lifts while a no action option would see the resort remain within the operating footprint it has since 1967.

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The first alternative would see two new trail pods, expanded snowmaking and a few new buildings.

Goals of the expansion are to update and renovate ski area infrastructure, balance lift and trail capacity, meet growing demand from Las Vegas and the surrounding area and expand year-round recreational opportunities.  The proposed Chair 5 pod would become the next step up from the Rabbit Peak bunny hill, providing beginners and low intermediate skiers the opportunity to transition to a chairlift and ski a variety of longer green runs. Chair 5 would be an 1,800 person-per-hour fixed-grip quad chairlift with a loading conveyor. The lift would be 1,400 feet long, with a vertical rise of 310 feet. It would be a top drive lift with approximately 7 towers.  In order to access the Chair 5 bottom terminal, a new 500 foot conveyor, Lift 6, would be installed from near the bottom terminal of Chair 3 to near the bottom terminal of Chair 5.

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The second alternative would truncate Lift 8 and associated trails to avoid crossing the popular Bristlecone Trail.  Chair 5 would still be included but is not shown on this map as it would be the same as in alternative 1.

Similar to the existing Chair 2, Chair 8 would be a step up in difficulty from Chair 5, accessing mostly intermediate runs with some easier and some more difficult terrain within that category. It would be a fixed-grip quad chairlift with a capacity of 1,800 pph, 2,200 feet long, with a vertical rise of 650 feet. It would be a bottom drive lift with approximately 16 towers.  With alternative 2, the lift would be shortened to load higher up.  Other proposed improvements in both alternatives are new biking and hiking trails, a new skier services building, another parking lot, expanded snowmaking, a zip tour and mountain coaster.

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Weighing the Next 42 Years at Sunshine Village

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This high-speed quad is the only lift on Goat’s Eye Mountain at Sunshine Village, a peak which could eventually be home to four lifts.

I wrote briefly a few weeks ago about Parks Canada’s proposed site guidelines for Sunshine Village, the second largest ski resort in Banff National Park.  Banff Sunshine operates a unique gondola and nine quad chairlifts within a UNESCO World Heritage site surrounded by spectacular scenery – the only resort to span two Canadian provinces.  This document will govern the public-private partnership between Sunshine Village Corporation and Banff National Park through 2060.  Currently, Sunshine’s capacity is capped at 6,000 skiers, though Sunshine says it only has enough parking for 4,500.  The future could allow for more visitors – but exactly how is up for debate.

Site guidelines Parks Canada proposed last month set a new skiers at one time figure of 8,500 at build-out compared with the 11,500 settled upon at Lake Louise and 3,800 at nearby Mt. Norquay.  Sunshine says it “reluctantly” agreed to the 8,500 number a few years ago even though the resort could theoretically reach 12,900 persons at one time (PAOT).  The new Parks Canada plan includes a gondola reliever lift as well as three new lifts in Lower Meadow Park, Hayes Hill and Goat’s Eye II, areas which currently sit within the Sunshine lease area.

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A gondola or tramway could reach the top of Goat’s Eye Mountain with just one tower.  But Banff National Park does not currently support this idea.

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Warner Bros. Unveils Hollywood Skyway Concept

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The Hollywood Skyway would bring visitors to one of LA’s most popular but hard to reach landmarks.  Photo credit: Warner Brothers Entertainment

The Los Angeles Times reports this morning that Warner Bros. Entertainment is seeking to build a $100 million aerial tramway in California’s largest metropolis.  The one mile, $100 million project would improve public access to the famed Hollywood sign atop Mt. Lee and include a new visitor center, viewing platform and walking paths.  The company already operates a popular studio tour on the site of the proposed lower terminal.

The Hollywood Skyway would be entirely funded by Warner Bros. but occupy some public land in Griffith Park, home to the iconic sign since 1923.  Therefore, operating revenue would be shared with the City of Los Angeles.  Nearby neighborhoods have struggled to cope with the flood of tourists seeking to get a glimpse from every possible direction with no formal viewing area.  A ride on the Skyway would take six minutes from a parking garage to the northwest that Warner Bros. owns in Burbank.  “This requires a bold solution,” the firm’s facilities chief Jon Gilbert said to the Times. “If we really want to make a difference … it’s got to be something compelling. Partial solutions are not going to do the trick, and people will continue to inundate the neighborhoods.”

Warner Bros. is owned by WarnerMedia, which became part of AT&T less than a month ago.  A similar gondola floated a year ago would load at Comcast-owned Universal Studios Hollywood.  More than 90 chairlifts, gondolas and tramways now operate at non-skiing venues such as parks and zoos in North America.  Powerhouse competitor Walt Disney Co. is currently building a series of gondolas at its flagship theme park in Florida.  A statement from Warner Bros. argues the Skyway is the best option in Hollywood:

Given our close proximity to the north side of the Hollywood sign, we believe we offer a solution that has the least impact on the environment — protecting and preserving Griffith Park — and the surrounding residential neighborhoods.  We understand there are a number of possible solutions being considered, but we are confident the City’s feasibility study will show our proposal to be the best option — an option that can be built and operated at no cost to the taxpayer and that will provide public benefit to the City of Los Angeles and its residents.

The Hollywood Skyway project could take around five years to complete.  The chosen technology appears to be a reversible aerial tramway rather than a continuous movement gondola system.  This surprises me given the large volume of potential visitors.  The need for air conditioning could be a factor as well as a desire to build as few towers as possible in an urban park.  In my view, a 3S gondola would be the best of both worlds and one Warner Bros. could likely afford.

Nordic Valley Envisions Expanding with a 4.3 Mile Gondola

Nordic Valley lies northeast of Salt Lake City, near much larger Snowbasin and Powder Mountain. Photo credit: Ski Utah

The new operator of Utah’s Nordic Valley, Mountain Capital Partners, has high hopes for what is currently the littlest ski resort in Utah.  MCP is the fast-growing Durango, Colorado-based outfit led by James Coleman that now operates six ski resorts in the four corners region.  Less than three years after acquiring Purgatory and Arizona Snowbowl, Mr. Coleman entered into an operating agreement with Nordic Valley’s owners in April.  Now we know one of the reasons why he went to Utah.

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The centerpiece of master plan released this month is a 4.3 mile gondola stretching from North Ogden to a summit elevation of 8,100′ before descending into Nordic Valley’s base area near Eden.  It would be the third longest gondola system in the world and some 6,000 feet longer than anything in the United States today.  “In addition to offering direct-to-resort access in a scenic 12-minute ride, the gondola will also help cut down on canyon traffic and vehicle emissions,” notes the recently-launched nordicvalleyproject.com website.  A similar gondola was once eyed to connect Ogden to Snowbasin and the proposal reminds me in some ways of the successful Silver Mountain Gondola project which transformed Kellogg, Idaho.

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Nordic Valley currently has three fixed grip chairlifts with a vertical rise of 1,110 feet.

Nordic Valley has attempted to expand upward and outward multiple times over its 50 year history but never before had access to the kind of capital needed to undertake what is now mapped.  The plan includes nine new chairlifts surrounding the new gondola, which would likely be built in two sections.  “We’re passionate about the ski industry, and about giving families and individuals the freedom and opportunity to experience the outdoors,” MCP notes.  “With an improved guest experience, the new Nordic Valley will be better positioned to grow the ski industry, compete with other area resorts, and bolster Ogden’s status as a first-rate recreation destination.”

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Forest Service Launches Aspen Mountain Pandora Analysis

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The White River National Forest will consider yet another new lift project over the coming months, this time high on Aspen Mountain.  A Notice of Proposed Action released today comes as the most-skied forest in the country simultaneously weighs proposals for two new lifts on Vail Mountain, two in McCoy Park at Beaver Creek and one at Aspen Highlands.  For Ajax, Aspen Skiing Company proposes to build the long-dreamed of Pandora lift to the east of the current Gent’s Ridge lift while adding 148 acres of new terrain.  The 4,191-foot top drive detachable quad would likely meet the Forest and SkiCo’s shared goals of enhancing terrain variety, improving circulation and providing reliable and consistent snow coverage.

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Unlike many of its peers, only 37 percent of Aspen Mountain occupies National Forest lands while the other 63 percent is privately held.  The new lift would traverse some of each and move up to 2,000 skiers per hour to the summit.  Vertical rise would be 1,220′ compared with 1,079′ at the longer and flatter Gent’s Ridge.  Aspen Skiing Company also proposes to add 53 acres of snowmaking coverage on six existing trails nearby.  A 30 day public scoping period runs through June 15th and input is being accepted online.  Project engineer SE Group has prepared an interactive web app to assist the public and there will be an open house as Aspen’s Limelight hotel next Wednesday night.  Aspen Snowmass hopes to win approval around the new year and build as early as 2019.

Building a Better Lift One in Aspen

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The third time may be the charm as the Aspen community is set to weigh the future of the Shadow Mountain lift over the coming months.

Come November 6th, Aspen residents will vote for Governor, U.S. House, and likely whether a ski lift should return to the original base of Aspen Mountain.  SE Group and the City of Aspen today posted 61 pages of study on the new Lift One with a focus on where to site the bottom terminal, a question which has lingered since 1972.  Goals include retaining the historic structures of the first Lift One, threading the needle between two new developments, and improving skier flow.  An aggressive proposed timeline begins Tuesday with review by the City Council that could culminate with a new gondola-chair combination lift spinning by late 2019.  That would be 48 years after a shortened SLI-Riblet double dubbed 1A eliminated easy access for much of the town to Shadow Mountain.

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This is the primary lift for one of the few World Cup courses in America.

The current lift starts about four towers higher than the 1946 single chair did and, like its predecessor, has reached the end of its useful life following decades of service.  The International Ski Federation makes no secret the obsolete machine is a big reason why Aspen does not host World Cup skiing as often as some of its peers.

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But things are finally looking up – or actually down.  SE Group analyzed nine chondola, chairlift, surface lift and funicular options and ones dubbed Option 1 and Option 7 were identified for detailed study that commenced in February.  An A and B variation were added to alternative number 7, leaving four scenarios in play to bring the lift back into town.  Option 1, shown above, would put the bottom terminal level with Gilbert Street between the old Lift 1 terminal and the “new” one.  Because of space constraints with Aspen Skiing Company’s preferred Telemix (chondola in Poma parlance), the lift would likely be a straight gondola or possibly a detachable chairlift.  Skier access from above would be excellent but the public would have a 40-foot vertical climb to get to the load point from town.  Furthermore, the developer of the proposed Lift One Lodge would have to give up an entire building worth of units.  The historic lift terminal and remaining towers from the first Lift One could be retained, which is an important community objective.  This is deemed a viable, but not best option.

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