How Many Lifts Might Alterra Buy in 2019?

At just 15 months old, Alterra Mountain Company finds itself with over 200 chairlifts, gondolas and tramways in two countries.  The 13 Alterra mountains mirror the broader ski industry with places like Deer Valley and Crystal Mountain sporting many newer lifts while the average chairlift at June Mountain is 45 years old.

On a Monday last March, the fledgling company based in Denver simultaneously unveiled its very first lift investments at Stratton, Tremblant and Winter Park along with other improvements like snowmaking at Snowshoe and a new restaurant at the base of Steamboat.  Importantly, Alterra committed to spending $555 million in total capital over five years.  That was before it bought Solitude and Crystal Mountain, which could mean even more money flowing over the next few construction seasons.  While last year’s budget only included three new lifts, could we see more in 2019?

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With the September approval of major projects by the Forest Service, Steamboat is poised for a comprehensive on-mountain transformation.  Although the timing is fluid, a new Rough Rider learning center at mid-mountain will eventually be serviced by a new gondola from the village.  Here, skiers and snowboarders will be able to choose from three new carpet lifts, a new and improved Bashor lift and a second fixed-grip chair replacing the Rough Rider surface tow.

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A second initiative Steamboat could undertake in 2019 is the Pioneer Ridge expansion, which includes a 7,000 foot detachable quad and a dozen new trails.  Other possible upgrades include adding chairs to Pony Express (currently at only 1,200 skiers per hour but designed for 2,400)  or new cabins for the Silver Bullet.  Wouldn’t it be cool for the new gondola and original one to have similar cabins?

The average lift at Alterra-operated Winter Park Resort is 27 years old.  Six are early model detachable quads coming up for replacement.  In the case of 32 year old Pioneer Express, an upgrade is overdue and I expect coming in 2019.  A new version could add a snowboarder friendly mid loading station above the last section of Big Valley.

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Pioneer is one of only four remaining Poma detachables in North America with separate Alpha drive units.

A second project I hope to see is a second stage of the new gondola from Sunspot to Lunch Rock, truly uniting Winter Park and Mary Jane.  Sunnyside should be a high speed quad or six pack.  A high speed replacement of Challenger would be a nice upgrade at Mary Jane.  Looking Glass is tied for the oldest operating chairlift in Colorado.  After Pioneer, High Lonesome is the next Poma detachable up for replacement if we go solely by age.

The above Intrawest era master plan earmarked Gemini Express to be converted into an eight passenger gondola with a new learning center surrounding its top station.  Endeavor could go detachable as part of this project and/or Discovery made into a fixed grip quad.  Finally, a lift is envisioned to expand Vasquez Ridge Territory with four new intermediate trails. With all of these ideas on the table, I expect Winter Park to get at least one lift in 2019 and hopefully two.

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Whitefish Seeks to Elevate Hellroaring Basin

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Under a new concept, Whitefish Mountain Resort would remove the current Hellroaring triple and build two new lifts at higher elevations.  Lift lines are approximate.

Following record attendance last winter and its most successful season pass sale ever this fall, Whitefish Mountain Resort is looking to better disperse guests across its 3,000 acres.  Under a plan submitted to the Forest Service yesterday, the closest ski area to Glacier National Park would move one lift and add another in Hellroaring Basin.  The generally west facing drainage is currently served only at the bottom by a 1985 CTEC triple.  It loads at just 4,675 feet above sea level and offers only one trail for direct repeat skiing.

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Hellroaring closes annually on April 1st to give waking Grizzly Bears peace and quiet.

On the heels of the successful Chair 5 realignment, Whitefish would like to move Chair 8 to begin at the junction of Hell Fire and Glory Hole, a spot known as Grand Junction.  The upgraded triple would unload near the top of the 1,000 Turns run, approximately 300 vertical feet below the Big Mountain summit.  It would be steep – around 2,900′ long by 1,050′ of vertical – with a seven minute ride time.  This would be the CTEC’s third home; it was Chair 7 from 1985 to 1997 before moving to Hellroaring.  The current lift line and lower portion of Hell Fire would be permanently closed and rehabilitated to a natural state.

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A second new chairlift – Whitefish’s 13th overall – would also load at Grand Junction and ascend 1,340 feet to Hellroaring Peak.  While the overall permit area wouldn’t grow, Hellroaring Basin would become much better utilized with a dedicated 4,300′ chairlift servicing eight newly-cut runs.  Vertical rise of Chair 12 would be 1,350 feet and additional grooming would allow intermediate skiers to enjoy Hellroaring Peak for the first time.  A specific lift type is not specified but Whitefish could opt to use Great Northern, a 1978 Stadeli triple (the mountain has quite the history moving lifts, having done ten relocations throughout its history.)

“We are excited to begin the process of possible future improvements in Hellroaring Basin,” Whitefish Mountain Resort CEO Dan Graves said in a press release.  “The Hellroaring Basin improvement project will increase access, and add improved slope variety.  Additionally, relocating the Hellroaring chairlift would allow riders to access more terrain than its current location therefore creating better flow around the mountain.”   The Flathead National Forest is soliciting public comments on the proposal through November 20th.  Forest managers will analyze it over the winter and expect to make a decision next June.  If approved, implementation could take two or more construction seasons at Whitefish Mountain Resort’s discretion.

How Many Lifts Could Vail Resorts Announce Next Month?

With four recent additions, Vail Resorts Inc. now operates just over 10 percent of American and Canadian lifts, more than any other company.  Vail prides itself on investing heavily in its mountains and the average lift at an Epic resort is three years newer than the rest of the industry.  The company’s lifts now number 305 in the United States, Canada and Australia with an average age of 24.6 years.  If we assume the average lift lasts 35 years, Vail would now need to replace an average of about nine lifts per year just to turn over its fleet.

A little less than a year ago, a smaller VR unveiled plans for seven new lifts as part of a $150 million annual capital plan, the largest in the company’s history.  Back in 2016, Vail committed to building three six-packs as part of $103 million in capital spending for 2017 (VR later added a fourth detachable to that year’s class, the Red Buffalo Express at Beaver Creek.)  In December 2015, the Broomfield-based company announced a high-speed quad for Vail Mountain and in 2014, it was $50 million in improvements including three new lifts at Park City plus another six pack at Vail.  Over the last five years, more resorts have consistently led to more revenue and more capital investments.  The company said it will invest $35 million at the four new mountains in the next two years, making it possible this December’s announcement will be the most valuable ever.

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Going resort by resort, the most obvious projects are ones already in the pipeline, namely the Game Creek Express #7 replacement and Golden Peak race lift at Vail.  But VR could go bigger like it did this summer at Whistler Blackcomb, spending $52 million to package four lift replacements together.  On Vail Mountain, additional aging lifts likely to be up-gauged to six-packs eventually are Orient Express #21, Born Free Express #8 and Wildwood Express #3.  The mothership mountain has the third largest and third newest lift fleet in the company and I expect investment to continue at Vail following this year’s pause.

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Vail’s lift 7 is the only chair in Game Creek Bowl and could use more capacity.

On average, the newest lifts within Vail Resorts are at Beaver Creek, which opened decades later than its peers.  A major expansion was approved in September – McCoy Park – which may be implemented in 2020.  In advance of those two new lifts, the Strawberry Park Express could be updated in 2019 to a higher capacity gondola.  The oldest lift at Beaver Creek is the 1988 Arrow Bahn Express, which eventually will be replaced by a newer detachable.  Probably not this year though.

Sticking in Colorado, Breckenridge is usually the first or second most visited resort in America and did not see a new lift in 2018.  I say a Riblet gets replaced here in 2019 and my vote would be 6-Chair with a high speed quad.  My second guess would be C-Chair followed by 5, A, E and Rip’s Ride.  If Vail decides to continue replacing older high speed quads instead, Beaver Run SuperChair is the logical candidate.

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6 Chair at Breckenridge is wildly popular despite being fixed grip and 40 years old.

Keystone has both expansion possibilities and lifts that could be upgraded.  The project everyone’s been clamoring for is a detachable lift from The Outback to replace WaybackPeru Express is the oldest high speed lift at Keystone and a core workhorse, making it likely to be replaced with a six pack soon.  Outback Express is one year newer and in a similar situation.  Another possible replacement is Argentine, a 1977 Lift Engineering double that the 2009 Keystone Master Development Plan proposed replacing with a two stage detachable.  The new lift would load near Peru, have an angle station above Lower Schoolmarm and continue all the way to the ridge of Dercum Mountain.  The Keystone MDP also outlines major expansions that I expect we will hear more about over the next decade.  They include a Ski Tip gondola, Bergman Bowl lift, Independence Bowl lift, Windows lift and Outback surface lift.  Whatever Vail chooses, I am hopeful for a new lift or two at Keystone in 2019.

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I don’t mind Wayback at Keystone but I also rarely ski in Colorado on weekends or holidays.

Crested Butte is the new kid on the block and Vail may wait a year or more to do anything lift wise.  The mountain’s Teocalli II expansion is still moving through the Forest Service NEPA process.  The Mueller family invested heavily in the Triple Peaks resorts over the years and I don’t see a whole lot needed near-term at CBMR.  Replacing original Teocalli with a high speed quad would be a nice way to burn some of the promised $35 million.

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Utah Olympic Park Details Expansion Plans

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The number of chairlifts at Utah Olympic Park will double within two years if the foundation that operates the Olympic venue successfully raises $11 million in donations.  Located near Canyons Village, the park debuted with a CTEC double in 1992 and added its second chairlift in 1999.  The Utah Legacy Foundation was founded in 2002 and created a model for post-Olympic sustainability, adding an alpine slide, two museums, zip lines and more to the facility.  Utah Olympic Park still hosts hundreds of athletes for training in multiple disciplines and the proposed ski expansion would better support them.

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The Nordic double will remain in place to service the summer alpine slide and largest ski jumps.

A $2.7 million phase one expansion would see Deer Valley’s Homestake lift re-purposed for intermediate training near the shorter ski jumps.  The 1999 Garaventa CTEC quad chair would have a mid load station and be installed next summer in order to open by late 2019.  This lift will be around 1,200 feet long with a vertical rise of 400′.  An even more ambitious project would add 30 acres of skiing on West Peak near the Olympic bobsled and luge track at a cost of $5.8 million.  At 3,280′ x 1,200′, this lift would be roughly comparable in size to Jupiter at nearby Park City Mountain.  The West Peak project is tentatively scheduled for 2020.

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Current Utah Olympic Park winter facilities and activities.

Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation President and CEO Colin Hilton told the Park Record this week that donations are off to a solid start.  “Through the fundraising efforts, we feel pretty good that we are going to secure the first $3 million of the $11 million campaign to be able to progress.  That’s why the Homestake lift is in the parking lot.”

Leitner-Poma & Skytrac to Build New Lifts in Outback Bowl at Schweitzer

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The beloved Snow Ghost double will be retired from Schweitzer Mountain Resort next spring after 47 winter seasons, the mountain confirmed today.  In its place, two new chairlifts will service Outback Bowl in improved alignments.  A Leitner-Poma high speed quad will climb through the Kaniksu Woods area with a Skytrac fixed-grip triple servicing the Lakeside Chutes vicinity above.  “Overall, we expect the two chair arrangement to complement our existing lift system and provide better access to some of the most popular terrain at Schweitzer,” says Tom Chasse, CEO of the north Idaho mountain.  Schweitzer completed a similar project on the front side in 2007, replacing 5,500 foot Chair 1 with the Basin Express and Lakeview lifts.

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Snow Ghost is a very long Riblet double with more than 30 towers.

The detachable quad chair will offer a capacity of 2,400 skiers per hour and rise 1,447 feet in just over five minutes.  The triple chair capacity will be 1,800 per hour with a vertical of 1,360 feet and an 8 minute ride time.  “We’ve seen over the years how a similar two lift system in the South Bowl has been beneficial when we have weather challenges,” said Chasse. “By having the two lifts serving different aspects of the North Bowl, our hope is to combat similar challenges on the backside of the mountain.”  As part of the project, Schweitzer will add gladed terrain and four new runs surrounding the new lifts, which have yet to be named.

New York State Goes Lift Shopping

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This triple chair at Gore Mountain is one of three chairlifts scheduled for replacement at state-run New York ski resorts in 2019.

Only a handful of ski mountains in the United States are government owned and operated.  The largest public ski outfit by far is New York’s Olympic Regional Development Authority, which runs Belleayre, Gore Mountain, Whiteface and the Olympic Ski Jumping Complex at Lake Placid.  All but one of these properties are likely to see new lifts in 2019.  Because the mountains are funded in part by taxpayers, potential lift projects are subject to competitive procurement.  Over the last month, the Authority has opened requests for proposals for a new high speed quad at Gore Mountain, a quad chair at Whiteface and a surprise gondola at the ski jump.

Lift 12 at Gore Mountain is to be replaced and extended in a new alignment as shown on the area’s management plan.

Back on September 17th, ORDA opened bidding for a chairlift replacement project at Gore Mountain.  “Gore Mountain Ski Resort will be replacing their existing triple chair lift with a high speed detachable quad chair lift,” notes the New York State Contract Reporter.  “This would be a turnkey project where the winning bidder would provide all materials, labor and equipment to build and install the lift.”  This is almost certainly the approved upgrade of Hudson, a 2010 Partek build.  Bids were due last Tuesday and the term is 12 months.  Leitner-Poma of America built the last three detachable lifts at Gore, so I’d argue it is their contract to lose.

Next up is an RFP for a new Bear Den quad at Whiteface, the largest ski mountain in the east by vertical.  The current Riblet triple in the Bear Den base area will become one of many late model Riblet lifts to be replaced recently.  I assume this one will be fixed grip but the contract reporter website does not specify.  Bids are due on Monday, November 26th.  Doppelmayr would seem to have the edge at Whiteface, having built the mountain’s three newest lifts.

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The last Riblet at Whiteface will probably be retired next spring.

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Mission Ridge Applies to Expand by 650 Acres

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Mission Ridge has submitted a plan to expand northeast with new lifts and much more.

A day use ski area in the Cascade Mountains with lifts dating back to the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s is one step closer to becoming a regional destination with overnight accommodations.  Over the summer, Mission Ridge submitted applications to both the Forest Service and Chelan County seeking to cut new runs, build more lifts, add a second base area and debut cross country ski trails.

Seattleite Larry Scrinavich purchased Mission Ridge Ski & Board Resort from Seattle-based Harbor Properties in 2003 and went to work, installing the resort’s first high-speed detachable quad.  The Liberator Express, together with big snowmaking investments, took Mission Ridge to the next level.  The ski area enjoyed its third best season to date last year, tallying 114,000 skier days.

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One new chairlift would sit entirely on public land, one would be on private land and a third would cross some of each.

Following a dozen years of quiet growth, Mr. Scrivanich and his team are ready to elevate Mission Ridge further.  “We’re really excited about the Mission Ridge expansion plan,” General Manager Josh Jorgensen says in a launch video.  “The ski industry is certainly changing.  With Vail Resorts and Alterra purchasing Stevens Pass and Crystal Mountain Resort in the last six months, our effort to stay modern, current and relevant in terms of infrastructure is more important than ever.”

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Sipapu Looks to Add Lifts & Terrain

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Sipapu Ski & Summer Resort has submitted a master plan amendment to the Forest Service seeking to expand by 924 acres while adding 51 new trails, four new lifts, a mountain coaster and more.  This should come as no surprise given the resort’s history, current layout and owner – the collective of southwestern ski resorts known as Mountain Capital Partners.  Like with the resort’s accepted 2012 master plan, Sipapu continues to envision two new base-to-summit lifts.  Today, it takes two fixed-grip lift rides to reach 9,295′, well below the actual summit of the mountain.

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Overview of the new winter upgrade plan.

A mile-plus long Sipapu Express would rise from the current base area to a new beginner learning zone at nearly 9,700 feet with a second chairlift and two carpets.  Because it would operate in both winter and summer for a variety of guests, the Sipapu Express is proposed as a chair/gondola combination lift.  Mountain Capital Partners and its managing partner, James Coleman, plan to build a similar lift at Arizona Snowbowl as soon as next summer.  A second detachable lift at Sipapu, the Westside Express, would service intermediate terrain in an entirely new pod beyond the current permit area. “This lift will provide access to the abundant intermediate fall line skiing terrain that has been identified to address the deficiency of intermediate terrain within the existing SUP Area,” the plan notes.  This one would be around 4,400 feet long with a capacity of 2,400 skiers per hour.  The plan would also see Lift 1 realigned and replaced with a ift capable of moving 2,400 skiers per hour.  Lift 3, one of the last remaining high-speed Pomas in the country, is unfortunately slated for removal without replacement.

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The 2012 plan excluded the summit beginner area and had the Sipapu Express further southeast.

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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.

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.