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?
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.)
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.
Wildwood Express #3six-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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Mt. Spokane Expansion Moving Forward: WA State Supreme Court Decision Allows Ski Area Expansion Construction to Begin.
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.
Could a north-south gondola effectively move people through the town of Breckenridge much like TellurideandMountain 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.
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.
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 ZooSingapore Cable Car.
“One hundred million dollars” is how Mammoth Mountain CEO Rusty Gregory responded when asked about capital improvements in the wake of the recent purchase of Mammoth Resorts by Aspen Skiing Co. and KSL Capital Partners this spring. While I can’t find a comprehensive online version of the 2007 Mammoth Master Plan prepared by Ecosign, the vision includes 17 lift additions and replacements including up to four new gondola stages. A vast majority of the changes are likely to be realignments and capacity upgrades of existing lifts rather than the opening of new terrain. Still, the possibilities are exciting at this already monster mountain.
Mammoth currently operates the largest second largest lift fleet in the United States, with 27 machines averaging 27 years old. All 14 lifts built before 1995 are Yan, while the 13 added post-1996 are exclusively Doppelmayr. Remarkably, every lift Mammoth has built since 1998 has been detachable, 15 in a row with DT grips (the two Yan detachables got them in 1996.) At some point, Mammoth’s impressive fleet commonality will have to end, but the streak may not be over just yet.
Of the dozen North American skier visit champions, only one mountain operates fewer than 15 lifts. Number one Vail has 25, number two Breck 23. Whistler and Mammoth spin even more. But the fourth most-visited ski area on the continent has only 13 lifts. That mountain is Keystone, an intermediate skiing mecca under 100 miles from Denver International Airport.
In 2009, Vail Resorts and SE Group updated the resort’s master plan, a road map for expansion over the coming decades. With eight new lifts planned for Dercum Mountain, North Peak and The Outback, Keystone’s plan outlines significantly more growth than slated for Vail’s other Colorado resorts. Much of the expansion would come above current lift service, adding high-alpine terrain to attract a broader spectrum of skiers and snowboarders to Keystone.
Ski Tip Gondola. A new Ski Tip portal is planned with a 3,400′ x 1,154′ two-way gondola that could transition approximately 18 percent of skiers away from the crowded River Run and Marmot portals. Skiers would ride the gondola to a point above the River Run Gondola mid-station and return there at the end of the day to ride back down. Critics have suggested this gondola is merely a real estate play.
Two-stage Argentine high-speed quad. A new high speed quad could replace Argentine and continue to a point near the Dercum summit with a mid-load angle station in the vicinity of the former Saints John and Ida Belle lifts. Three new trails would be cut between Peru and Montezuma. The mid-station would take pressure off the crowded Lower Schoolmarm trail and Peru Express.
Summit Learning Center Lift. A new fixed-grip triple chairlift is proposed to connect the top of the new Argentine to the top of the mountain between Ranger and Montezuma. This would be the seventh lift to serve the summit of Dercum Mountain. With the new triple’s 1,000 skiers per hour, a whopping 16,800 people could theoretically unload at the Summit House in one hour.
Silver Star Mountain Resort in Vernon, British Columbia will build a Summit Gondola next year, ending a three-year drought for new lifts in the region. The 8-passenger Doppelmayr will replace the Summit double, a 4,000′ Mueller built in 1970. The lift will open in July 2018 and serve summer guests before opening to skiers and snowboarders for 2018-19. After the upgrade, Silver Star will operate one of the most modern lift fleets in Western Canada with seven Leitner-Poma and Doppelmayr lifts built since 2002.
An initial fleet of 21 Omega IV LWI cabins in the five colors of the Silver Star logo will provide an uphill capacity of 1,200 passengers per hour, with the ability to add 22 more to meet future needs. “These new cabins will whisk guests from the bottom to the top of the summit in a third of the time of the existing double chair,” says Silver Star Director of Operations and Maintenance Brad Baker. “The ride will now take four and a half minutes from village to summit traveling at five meters per second.” Slope length will be 3,487′ and vertical rise 961′. In a unique move, all foundations and the top terminal will be completed this fall with the remainder of the lift going in next spring in time to celebrate the resort’s 60th anniversary. The addition of a gondola is a huge milestone for any resort and Silver Star will be no exception.
After debuting the Humphreys Peak Quad in 2015 and the Grand Canyon Express in 2016, Arizona Snowbowl will replace its Hart Prarie lift this summer, marking another major investment by owner James Coleman. Surprisingly, the contract went to Doppelmayr and Snowbowl will operate new lifts from all three major manufacturers next winter. In a blog post announcing the project, General Manager J.R. Murray noted, “Arizona Snowbowl enjoys having the best learn to ski and snowboard progression terrain in the entire western US with Hart Prairie boasting a wide open and gentle meadow, allowing beginners to learn and gain confidence on the slopes. Snowbowl is where Arizonans learn to ski and snowboard because of the fantastic and easy terrain.” The new quad chair will only improve that offering.
Hart Prarie is a 1981 Riblet with center-pole double chairs, one of two such lifts remaining at the resort. The new top drive, Alpinstar-model Hart Prarie will feature a Chairkit loading carpet, padded seats and footrests. An 1,800 skier per hour capacity doubles that of the previous lift. The alignment will be slightly shorter – 2,533 feet – with a vertical of 518′.
Finally, some news from Canada! Resorts of the Canadian Rockies has announced two relics at Stoneham will be replaced with a Doppelmayr carpet-load quad in time for 2017-18. The 1967 Poma double La Bordée and 1986 Doppelmayr T-Bar Le Chinook will be retired. The new lift will be approximately 4,700 feet long with a vertical of 1,250′. Stoneham’s other lifts include a Doppelmayr bubble detachable and two Poma fixed-grip quads.
This is big news as the last new lift built at Stoneham is 28 years old! Thanks to Julien C. for the head’s up.
From Fjord to Sky in Five is the tagline for the Loen Skylift, a spectacular new sightseeing tramway and adventure destination in Norway that debuted this morning. Rising from the sea to 1,011-meter Mt. Hoven, the brand new Garaventa aerial tram becomes the steepest jig-back built in modern times and is already being hailed as one of the world’s great lifts. “The Loen Skylift is the quickest and easiest way to explore the best of what Norwegian mountains have to offer,” said Richard Grov, general manager of Loen Skylift. “The trip from the fjord to the mountain only takes a few minutes.”
An ascent from dock to dock is 3,248 feet over a slope length of 5,021 feet, yielding an insane average grade of 53 degrees. That’s much steeper than every lift in North America, the steepest of which averages only 34.3 degrees. At seven meters per second, a Skylift ride takes just five minutes and the machine can transport 460 passengers each hour in two 45-passenger CWA Kronos cabins. As the Doppelmayr annual brochure notes, “[The Skylift] features one strongly-overhanging tower standing on two feet and anchored back with a tie bar. The tramway has two sets of track ropes and no track rope brake.”