Bretton Woods Plans New Hampshire’s First 8-Passenger Gondola

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Routing of a new gondola planned for Bretton Woods will give riders excellent views of the famous Mt. Washington across the way.

Pending government approval, one of the closest ski resorts to Mt. Washington and its famous cog railway will open a 6,000-foot base-to-summit gondola in 2018.  Bretton Woods’ director of ski operations Chris Ellms appeared before a local planning board last night to unveil plans for the all-season lift and a new summit lodge.

The relatively low-capacity gondola will circulate 36 8-passenger cabins, making it the largest gondola in the state by cabin size.  Loon Mountain’s gondola seats only four.  Both the Bethlehem Express quad and Fayban’s Express triple chair will remain in place for winter skiers but the 1,300 vertical-foot gondola will spin other seasons as well.  Fayban’s top terminal will be moved downhill to make room for the gondola station and the new lift will cross over Bethlehem.  Ellms said the approximately five minute gondola ride will serve skiers, sightseers, hikers, diners and wedding parties.  “What we are proposing is it is not all about skiing, it is what the resort is about which is four seasons.”  Total project cost for the gondola and new restaurant is approximately $15 million and Bretton Woods’ owner, Omni Hotels & Resorts, hopes to open the new lift next ski season.  The mountain’s current fleet includes mostly Doppelmayr and Garaventa CTEC lifts, though a manufacturer for the new gondola was not named.

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Disney Chooses Doppelmayr D-Line

The new EPCOT gondola station at Walt Disney World Resort will feature metal and glass with hand-painted murals, the park revealed in a blog post today.  Photo credit: Disney Parks Blog

Doppelmayr’s next-generation detachable lift technology appears headed for North America.  Walt Disney World Resort released new details about the upcoming Disney Skyliner gondola system this morning and renderings appear to show D-Line Station-D enclosures.  Each of the six gondola stations will be themed differently, reflecting unique character of the destinations they serve.

D-Line is Doppelmayr’s latest detachable product that debuted two years ago in Hochgurgl, Austria.  Numerous D-Line lifts have since opened in the Alps but no American resort operator has opted to pay extra for one so far, opting instead for the proven UNI-G terminals and standard line equipment.  The Walt Disney Company isn’t your standard lift customer, however.  D-Line sports hundreds of innovations including rope speeds up to 7 m/s or 1,378 feet per minute and wider line gauge for wider carriers.  CWA has developed D-Line-specific Omega gondola cabins with 11 percent greater seating area than non-D 10-passenger versions.  At Disney World, cabins will sport custom wraps with the Disney characters guests know and love.

The Disney Hollywood Studios station will be themed to match nearby buildings in a retro style. Most Disney guests will have no idea they are riding some of the most technologically-advanced lifts in North America.  Photo credit: Disney Parks Blog

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Vail Resorts to Build New Lifts at Whistler Blackcomb, Park City, Heavenly & Perisher

It’s 4:45 am in Jackson Hole and I’m awake because today is the biggest day of the year for the North American lift business.  Moments ago, Vail Resorts released its first quarter 2018 financial results which include guidance on next year’s capital improvements to the tune of $150 million.  As I speculated it might, Broomfield, Colorado-based Vail is going all in on new lifts next year, with $52 million (CAD$66 million) going to Whistler Blackcomb alone.

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Goodbye Wizard and Solar Coaster, hello gondola on Blackcomb Mountain.

On Blackcomb, the company will add a signature 10-passenger gondola with mid-station replacing Wizard and Solar Coaster, two 1987 bubble quad chairs with very high hours.  The new 4,000 skier-per-hour machine will be W-B’s sixth gondola and the second-highest capacity lift in North America after Squaw Valley’s Gold Coast Funitel.  The mid-station will likely be located downhill of the current Wizard/Solar Coaster transition where more space can be created for a large terminal and cabin parking.  The two stages will be able to be run independently with two haul ropes and separate drive systems.  Together with the Peak 2 Peak and Whistler Village gondolas, the new gondola will create the world’s only three-gondola connection and an impressive 8.4 mile-long continuous sightseeing trip.  The nearby Excalibur Gondola, amazingly Blackcomb’s last all-new lift, debuted in 1994.

The 1997 Doppelmayr-built Emerald Express on Whistler Mountain will move to Blackcomb, replacing the Catskinner triple likely in a modified alignment.  An all-new Emerald six-place lift will also welcome skiers on Whistler Mountain for 2018-19.  “Our integration efforts at Whistler Blackcomb are largely complete,” commented Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz.  “We believe this plan will dramatically improve the on-mountain experience for our guests with enhanced lift capacity, improved circulation and a significantly elevated experience for skiers, riders and sightseeing guests.”  The three new lifts represent a combined 43 percent improvement in capacity over the lifts they replace and are part of the largest-ever capital improvement season at Whistler Blackcomb, topping even the 2008 construction of the Peak 2 Peak Gondola.  “We believe these transformational, mountain-focused investments are the most significant improvements we can undertake to support Whistler Blackcomb’s long-term growth and our commitment to pursue the most impactful projects to enhance the guest experience,” Vail noted.

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In a bit of a surprise, Vail chose to upgrade High Meadow at Park City Mountain, the main beginner lift at Canyons Village.

At Park City, the rumored Sunrise replacement will wait for another year but the High Meadow lift will be swapped for a high-speed quad chair, reducing ride time by 70 percent and anchoring a new family fun zone.  On the shores of Lake Tahoe, Heavenly will finally replace Galaxy, which has fallen into disuse.  A new fixed-grip triple chair will serve 400 acres of terrain that was inaccessible the past two seasons.  Vail Resorts will also replace a T-Bar with a fixed-grip quad at Perisher in Australia.  “We remain committed to reinvesting in our resorts, creating an experience of a lifetime for our guests and generating strong returns for our shareholders,” Katz concluded.

Galaxy will remain closed this season but 2018 will see a new lift go in on the Nevada side of Heavenly.

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Lift-Served Skiing Likely Coming to Hatcher Pass, Alaska

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An approved day-use ski area on Hatcher Pass includes two chairlifts and support buildings.

A group planning to open a rare new American ski area just got a big boost, securing $500,000 towards building chairlift number one yesterday.  Despite encompassing 425 million acres and with more residents than Vermont and Wyoming, the great state of Alaska includes just five lift-served public ski mountains, three of which are in close proximity to Anchorage.  The proposed Hatcher Alpine Xperience sits in the Mat-Su Valley, well north of the Alyeska, Hilltop and Arctic Valley ski areas, where locals have been dreaming of their own mountain for decades.

Not satisfied with dreaming, citizens formed a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in 2015 and got to work.  Already, they’ve completed a federal environmental impact statement, forged an agreement to operate within the Government Peak Recreation Area, cleared trails and built a maintenance facility.  An access road, parking lot and utilities are also in place.  This winter, trails will be groomed but without lift service.  Hatcher Pass tentatively plans to acquire a used triple chair from SkyTrans next spring and install for a 2018-19 opening.  Just today I learned Vail Resorts removed Chair 8 from Afton Alps, Minnesota over the summer – a 1969 Heron which was 1,280′ x 190′ – and might be the lift in question.  It’s just a theory, but no other recently-removed triple chair matches the stats.

The Alaska Pacific Mining Company proposed building a 6,300′ Riblet double chair on Hatcher Pass in the 1960s which was never built. Photo credit: Alaska Public Media

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Bridger Bowl Invests $5 Million to Transform Beginner Experience

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Located near Bozeman, Montana, Bridger Bowl is a nonprofit day-use ski area that has seen major growth and investment recently.  This year’s projects cater to beginner skiers and snowboarders.
Bridger Bowl is creating a first-rate learning center this fall, with four new lifts under construction to serve exclusively green terrain.  Following years of attendance records and upper mountain expansion, the move is similar to what Beaver Creek, Jackson Hole, Taos and the Yellowstone Club did recently combining short gondolas, new chairlifts and/or covered carpets to create dedicated teaching hubs away from facilities for other guests.  At Bridger, the Snowflake lift is being moved away from conflicting skier traffic to a completely new area, the Virginia City double replaced with a Skytrac triple chair with loading carpet and two new SunKid conveyors added.  An addition to the Saddle Peak Lodge and new Snowflake Hut cap this major investment by the Bridger Bowl Association, the mountain’s nonprofit owner for the past 63 years.  Impressively, the entire expansion is being paid for with cash reserves.

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2017-18 Bridger Bowl trail map showing the new lift layout.
Bridger Bowl’s redevelopment over the last two decades is a model for nonprofit community ski areas everywhere.  At the turn of the millennium, the mountain ran one modern quad chair and five Riblet doubles built between 1964 and 1978.  Every lift was subsequently replaced with new fixed grip triples and quads with loading carpets from Garaventa CTEC, Doppelmayr CTEC and now Skytrac.  With six Chairkit systems, Bridger Bowl is the largest operator of loading carpets in North America.  “The conveyors are very effective in reducing mis-loads and allow the lifts to be operated closer to full speeds,” Four Mountain Advisors noted in the mountain’s master plan.  “This helps maintain lift capacity without the added costs of a high-speed lift.”  While at one point Bridger operated two mile-long doubles, the new strategy relies on a larger number of shorter, well-placed fixed-grip triples and quads.  Virginia City and Snowflake are the fifth and sixth modern lift replacements in new alignments.

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In a Booming Region, Stevens Pass Looks to Expand

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Up to five more high-speed quads like the new Jupiter Express could join the Stevens Pass lift fleet over the next 10-15 years.

Once again in 2016, Seattle found itself the fastest-growing big city in America, and the only one of the top five in close proximity to major mountain resorts.  The Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metro area is now home to 3.8 million people, seven figures more than metro Denver or the Wasatch Front and growing faster than both.  Yet despite being generally outdoorsy and with high average incomes, Puget Sound residents have only three real choices for where to spend a day skiing.  Unlike in neighboring Oregon, where three resorts flank Mt. Hood and another Mt. Bachelor, Washington’s large volcanoes never saw ski development before being placed under conservation.  Most of Washington State’s ski areas lie far from Puget Sound, along which two-thirds of Washingtonians live, concentrating some 1.5 million skiers annually at The Summit at SnoqualmieStevens Pass and Crystal Mountain.

Crystal spun off from Boyne Resorts in April to become Seattle’s only locally-owned and operated mountain. The resort’s master plan includes new lifts but most of them have already been built.  Michigan-based Boyne still operates The Summit at Snoqualmie, just 45 minutes from Amazon’s new 24,000-head complex in Downtown Seattle.  The Summit’s approved plan includes a dozen new lifts but almost all of them simply replace very old ones.  That leaves the place where I first rode a detachable chairlift in 1997, Stevens Pass, to meet much of the Puget Sound region’s growing demand for local skiing.  As the second busiest resort in Washington, Stevens averages double the skier density of Crystal and Snoqualmie.  Located along U.S. Route 2, Stevens Pass grew under the ownership of Seattle-based Harbor Properties, which also at one point held Mission Ridge and Schweitzer.  In 2011, Harbor sold Stevens to CNL Lifestyle Properties with operations assumed by Karl Kapuscinski of Mountain High, California.  Stevens saw one new lift during CNL’s tenure, a Doppelmayr detachable in Mill Valley called Jupiter Express.

As the 2007 Stevens Pass master plan notes, “demand for skiing facilities currently exceeds capacity both on the trails, on the lifts and in the base area.  A a result, Stevens Pass frequently experiences days when these facilities are overcrowded, resulting in the use of satellite parking, long lift lines, lack of seating and a shortage of restrooms.” The introduction concludes by noting Stevens has been over-utilized every year since 1995. But with its ambitious upgrade plan approved in 2015 and new stability following the sale of CNL’s ski holdings to hedge fund Och-Ziff last fall, more lifts and less crowding are on the horizon.

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Stevens’ two oldest Riblets are planned to be replaced under the current MDP filed with the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.  I will miss this breakover!

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Will Vail Resorts Build Big in 2018?

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With the additions of Whistler Blackcomb and Stowe, Vail Resorts’ reach is larger than ever.  The company typically announces new lifts projects in a single press release each December.  Photo credit: Whistler Blackcomb/Vail Resorts.

If you follow the ski industry, mark your calendar for four months from now, the week of December 4th.  Very early one morning that week, the largest mountain resort operator in the world will release its fiscal 2018 first quarter results and, more importantly to this audience, outline capital expenditures for 2018.  Last year, this is the moment Vail Resorts committed to building three six-packs as part of $103 million in capital spending for 2017 (the company later added a fourth detachable to this year’s class, the Red Buffalo Express at Beaver Creek.)  In December 2015, MTN announced a high-speed quad for Vail Mountain and in 2014, $50 million in improvements including three new lifts at Park City plus another six-pack at Vail.  So, what might be on the likely $120+ million agenda for 2018?

Vail Mountain

  1. Game Creek Express #7 six-pack.  The current 1985 version of Game Creek is the oldest operating lift on Vail Mountain and one of three remaining CLD-260 style Doppelmayr detachables there.  It is likely to be replaced with a six-pack, increasing capacity by at least 25 percent in popular Game Creek Bowl.  Of the recent six-pack upgrades at Vail, two were built by Doppelmayr (Avanti #2 and Mountaintop #4) and one by Leitner-Poma (Northwoods #11.)vail 4-1-07 184
  2. Orient Express #21 six-pack.  Three years newer than Game Creek but still with DS grips, Orient Express serves some of the most popular terrain in Vail’s famous Back Bowls below the equally popular Two Elk Lodge.  A six-pack upgrade would be the first such lift in the Back Bowls or Blue Sky Basin.
  3. Wildwood Express #3 six-pack.  A 1995 CTEC, Wildwood is not as old as other detachables recently replaced at Vail, but it serves a high-traffic pod between Mid-Vail and its namesake Wildwood.  Parts from this lift could be used as spares for Riva Bahn/Pride Express and Cinch, Bachelor, Grouse Mountain and Strawberry Park high-speed quads at Beaver Creek.
  4. Born Free Express #8 replacement.  Born Free is the 1988 sister ship to Orient and runs parallel to the Eagle Bahn Gondola, built 1996.  Vail could opt to address both lifts in the coming years with a gondola like Keystone’s or replace only Born Free with a new high-speed quad or six-pack.
  5. Golden Peak Race lift.  In April, Vail submitted a master plan amendment to add a third lift on Golden Peak above the Riva Bahn mid-station.  This short fixed-grip chairlift or surface lift would primarily serve an extended race course.vailgoldenpeakexpansion

Beaver Creek

  1. Arrow Bahn Express replacement.  Beaver Creek doesn’t see nearly the traffic that Vail does and has seen ten new lifts since 2000.  However, Arrow Bahn Express is by far the oldest lift at Beaver Creek, built in 1988 to serve a separate Arrowhead ski area.  A CLD-260 like Game Creek, Orient and Born Free but with lower hours for its age, Arrow Bahn might make it a bit longer.img_4153

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Mt. Spokane Backside Expansion is Finally a Go

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This one’s a long time coming.  The Washington State Supreme Court this afternoon upheld two lower courts’ decisions to allow Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park to add a sixth chairlift and seven new runs on the northwest side of the mountain, a project first proposed circa 2005.  Ever since then, the nonprofit that operates the ski area has fought the Spokane Tribe, Sierra Club, Audubon Society, Spokane Mountaineers, Conservation Northwest, Native Plant Society, Lands Council and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to move the project forward.  At issue were 279 acres of old growth forest and alpine meadows popular with backcountry skiers that are now poised to become part of the ski area, one of only a handful nationwide located in a state park. The expansion will allow the nonprofit mountain to open more reliable northwest-facing terrain in lean snow years and meet growing demand for outdoor winter recreation in the Inland Northwest.  “This is a very exciting day for every skier in our region,” Mt. Spokane general manager Brad McQuarrie celebrated in a press release. “We can now turn our vision into a reality so that more skiers can enjoy more of the mountain.”

When I visited Mt. Spokane this spring, logging equipment was staged near the summit awaiting the court’s decision.  A double chair removed from Bridger Bowl in 2013 sat in the main parking lot undergoing modifications for its new home.  The Riblet will be called Red Chair for obvious reasons and has upgraded CTEC components including its bottom tension terminal.  “This chairlift has a long and storied history, including ties to the Spokane community from its inception, as Riblet Tramway Company was the original builder of this chairlift based in Spokane,” the mountain’s release noted.  Mt. Spokane’s existing chairlifts will also get new names this fall to replace numbers one through five.

 

Construction begins tomorrow morning and the ropes are expected to drop for the 2018-19 season.

Town of Breckenridge Considers Gondola Transit

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The Vail Resorts-owned and operated BreckConnect Gondola could be complemented by a second public system, a study funded by the Town of Breckenridge has concluded.

Could a north-south gondola effectively move people through the town of Breckenridge much like Telluride and Mountain Village pioneered twenty years ago?  A team from SE Group presented Phase 1 of its Gondola Transit Study (pages 28-47) to the Breckenridge Town Council on July 11th.  The document looks at siting, capacity and cost for a system that could include up to seven stations with the goal of creating a system which reduces traffic congestion, improves connectivity between Breckenridge Ski Resort and the town and enhances the experience of riding transit.

The study’s first siting principle was to serve core destinations from peripheral parking areas to get people out of cars. Another principle placed stations no more than 2,400 feet apart with the assumption that skiers would not willingly walk more than 1,200 feet in winter.  The shortest and simplest option would begin at the Satellite North Parking (Station 1) and end at the BreckConnect Gondola (Station 5) with three mid-stations.  This option would span 7,530 feet and utilize 84 gondola cabins.  The second option (Stations 1-7) would follow the same route but add two more stations at Riverwalk Center (Station 6) and F-Lot parking (Station 7).  This one would be 10,395 feet with 116 cabins.  The most ambitious alternative, dubbed 1-7b would include the same first five stations but diverge at Gondola Center to the ice rink.  This would stretch 12,630 feet with 140 cabins and seven stations.  All routes contemplate utilizing separate haul rope loops so that only certain stages could be operated during off-peak times and seasons.

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The report notes the first two alternatives could be built easily, as “[they] present few physical barriers; alignments easily pass between existing buildings, transect relatively few private parcels, and appear to have a clear corridor.”  The third alternative with stations 6b and 7b reaches more people but a high cost.  While the 40-foot corridor for Stations 1-7 encompasses land owned by the Town, CDOT, Vail Resorts, the Summit School District and one private landowner, the alignment for stations 6b and 7b adds four more private parcels and significant complexity.

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Disney Unveils Bold Skyliner Gondola Plan

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A six-station Disney Skyliner gondola network will connect two parks with four vacation resorts at Walt Disney World, the company announced yesterday.

It’s official: North America’s largest-ever gondola network is coming to Walt Disney World in Orlando.  Bob Chapek, Chairman of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts announced the project in a Steve Jobs-esque keynote at a Disney fan convention in Anaheim yesterday. The name for the new system will be Disney Skyliner in a nod to the Skyway VonRoll gondolas which operated at three Disney Parks from the 1950s until 1990s.  “I’m proud to announce that we’re building a whole new transportation system,” Chapek said onstage to wild applause.  “The Disney Skyliner will soon give our guests a bird’s eye view of Walt Disney World.  Many of these gondolas will feature your favorite Disney characters and what a better way to get around the resort than with your pals in the sky.”  A simultaneous post on the Disney Parks Blog noted, “[This] new transportation system will add even more magic to your future vacation experiences.”

As rumored since February, there will be five stages connecting Disney’s Pop Century, Art of Animation, Caribbean Beach Resort, and new Riviera Resort to Hollywood Studios and the International Gateway at EPCOT.  Whistler Blackcomb currently operates the most gondola sections in North America – six – but they are not contiguous and utilize varying technologies. The longest of three individual lines at Walt Disney World will have two angle stations, one of which will serve the all-new Disney Riviera Resort opening in 2019.  All three lines will meet at a hub on the south side of Caribbean Beach Resort, where guest can change cabins based on destination.  Renderings confirm Doppelmayr and CWA ropeway technology and this is probably Doppelmayr USA’s largest lift contract ever (excluding DCC rail-based systems like the Oakland Airport Connector.)  Air conditioning does not appear to be included but the Omega cabins will include more open windows than normal like those on the recently completed Arthurs Seat Eagle in Australia and California Trail at the Oakland Zoo Singapore Cable Car.

Disney Parks Chairman Bob Chapek shows off Skyliner’s five stages and six stations at the D23 convention yesterday.  Photo credit: Inside the Magic.

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