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.

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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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California Express Draft Environmental Impact Statement Released

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A 16 minute flight between Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows took a jump forward this morning as the Truckee National Forest and Placer County released the draft environmental impact statement for the California Express gondola.  The big three stage lift was first proposed by the owner of both mountains, KSL Capital Partners, more than two years ago and is now being championed by Alterra Mountain Co.  At 808 pages, the EIS required under the National Environmental Policy Act outlines three possible alignments which could unite the steeps and village at Squaw Valley with the beginner and intermediate paradise of Alpine Meadows.

Two of the alternatives are new while the other two should be familiar to readers of this site.  Other concepts such as a pulse gondola, expanded shuttle service and even an underground train were eliminated as part of the preliminary review, which was completed by SE Group and Ascent Environmental of Sacramento.  Alternative 1 is the required no-action option, which would keep Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows separate but equal.  Shuttle buses would continue running every 30 minutes between the two mountains, which already share a common lift ticket.

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The lift would move 1,400 skiers per hour in 8-passenger cabins painted white to blend in with the winter environment.  It would operate from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm with skiing allowed from the mid-station(s) when conditions permit.  There would be separate drive systems and separate cabin parking facilities at each end so two sides could operate independently.  The middle section of the lift would operate as part of the Alpine Meadows side and approximately 40 percent of the cabins would be stored at Squaw Valley with the remaining 60 percent at Alpine during storm events and the summer.

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Mayor, Dodgers Back a 3S Gondola in Los Angeles

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One of the last remaining Major League Baseball stadiums not serviced by permanent public transportation could be reached by gondola in 2022, says a group with early support from the Los Angeles Dodgers and Mayor Eric Garcetti.  Aerial Rapid Transit Technologies LLC presented the idea to the Metro regional transit authority this morning as part of its Extraordinary Innovation unsolicited proposals program.  The tricable system would link Dodgers Stadium to Union Station, the busiest rail hub in the Western United States.

The 3S would be capable of transporting 5,000 passengers per hour and direction along a 1.25 mile route before, during and after Dodgers Stadium events.  It would cross over Chinatown and Interstate 110 with a terminus on the southeastern side of the ballpark with an unknown number of towers in between.  Utilizing 30 to 40 passenger cabins, the lift would be the largest gauge gondola in the western hemisphere and was selected for its optimal capacity and ease of accessibility.  “This is a major investment in the future of Los Angeles, with a zero-emission, sustainable technology that is increasingly popular for urban areas throughout the world,” noted Martha Welborne, project director for ARTT in a press release. “We look forward to working with Metro to make it a reality.”  Welborne is a former Senior Vice President of Corporate Real Estate at Disney and also served as Chief Planning Officer at LA Metro.

Mayor Garcetti commented on the project too, saying, “Dodger fans know better than anyone: making history means swinging for the fences and never stopping until you get home.  Our team has been at the center of so many landmark moments for Los Angeles, and this bold idea to ease congestion could transform how Angelenos — and millions of visitors — experience our city on their way to and from the ballpark.”  Lakers legend Magic Johnson also tweeted his support.

The estimated $125 million project would be funded privately but require the blessing of various public entities, especially to secure a lease at or near Union Station.  The founding principal of ARTT is McCourt Global, whose Chairman and CEO Frank McCourt formerly owned the Dodgers.  Much work lies ahead for the group including specific route selection and public outreach.  Operations are eyed for 2022, six years before Los Angeles hosts the Olympics for a third time.

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Vail Proposes Upgrading Game Creek Lift

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The Game Creek quad is one of seven first generation Doppelmayr detachables built on Vail Mountain between 1985 and 1989.  Only three remain as Vail Resorts renews the fleet, which could continue this summer.

When Vail Resorts unveiled its $150 million 2018 spending plan in December, it included seven new lifts in Australia, British Columbia, Nevada and Utah.  Notably, none were earmarked for Colorado, where the company operates four of the largest resorts in the state with nearly 80 lifts between them.  We learned on Thursday Vail Resorts’ North American skier visits were down 1.9 percent this season through April 15th but lift ticket revenue increased 3.7 percent, keeping MTN on solid financial footing.  Commenting on the season, CEO Rob Katz told investors, “We are pleased with our results as the 2017/2018 ski season concludes, particularly considering the historically low snowfall across our western U.S. resorts for much of the ski season.  Our results throughout the 2017/2018 ski season highlight the stability provided by our season pass, the benefit of our geographic diversification and the success of our sophisticated, data-driven marketing efforts.”

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Now the mothership – Vail Mountain – could be getting in on the new lift action as neighbors Arapahoe Basin, Copper Mountain, Loveland and Winter Park do the same this summer.  A Vail Resort Summer 2018 Construction project page posted Thursday on the White River National Forest website notes that Game Creek #7 is proposed to be upgraded.  While there are no supporting documents yet and the project is listed as “developing proposal,” recent history would indicate the 1985 high-speed quad will be replaced with a new detachable quad or six place chairlift.  Vail has already added ten new lifts in the past eleven years and three of the most recent were of the six variety from both Doppelmayr and Leitner-Poma.  Vail has made no formal announcement but the Forest Service expects to conduct public scoping in May followed by a decision in June.

Bromont Announces Construction of Canada’s Second Chondola

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Dignitaries celebrate the surprise announcement of a chondola and more in Bromont, Quebec April 20, 2018.  Photo credit: Bromont, montagne d’expériences.

The Government of Quebec and Bromont, montagne d’expériences are partnering to the tune of $19.6 million, the two confirmed yesterday.  More than half that money will go to build a base-to-summit combination lift in place of a 1985 Poma detachable.  The new $10.1 million machine with six place chairs and eight passenger cabins will be the second such combo lift in Quebec and one of two built this year in North America.  Doppelmayr will install the lift and capacity will increase 20-25 percent on the front side.  Competitor Tremblant is also building a Doppelmayr detachable this year.

Bromont is less than an hour from the Vermont border and has grown to become one of Eastern Canada’s largest resorts with eight major lifts.  The new chondola and a new lodge make up the first phase of Project Altitude, which will see approximately $80 million invested through public-private partnerships over the next few years.

Deer Valley Plans 13th High-Speed Quad to Replace Homestake

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Deer Valley’s Homestake lift is less than twenty years old and eyed for replacement with a detachable version.

When Alterra revealed its hefty roster of 2018 upgrades on a Monday in March, Deer Valley Resort was noticeably absent.  The Utah flagship has averaged nearly one new lift every year since its 1981 inception but is coming off of a five year drought since the Mountaineer Express was added.  Now, as the Vail-owned owned neighbor builds a detachable beginner lift above Canyons Village, the Park Record reports Deer Valley is finalizing plans to replace the Homestake quad with a detachable of its own this offseason.dvhomestakemap

Garaventa CTEC installed the current Homestake lift, which runs roughly parallel to the downhill section of the Silver Lake Express, in 1999.  It is only 1,720 feet long but serves as a key link between Bald Mountain and Bald Eagle Mountain.  The new machine would be the sixth shortest detachable in the U.S. and might re-use some components like towers.  It is almost certain to be built by Doppelmayr USA, which is based just down I-80 in Salt Lake.  The resort says it is still finalizing plans and lining up permits but it’s looking like there will be only a handful of fixed-grip chairlifts remaining next season at Deer Valley.  With this likely addition, 2018 is now pacing nearly 30 percent above last year for announced new lift construction with a very busy summer ahead across North America.

Hunter Mountain to Expand Northward with a Six-Pack

One of New York’s most popular resorts that hosts some 300,000 skiers annually confirmed today it will add a third detachable lift and five new trails in time for the 2018-19 season.  A 3,245-foot six-person chairlift (Hunter’s second) will service the Hunter North expansion between the front side and Hunter West, adding 25 percent more skiable terrain.  At 1,000 feet per minute, a ride up will take just 3.5 minutes.  A new parking area and access road will accompany the on mountain additions.  “The Hunter North expansion will provide our guests and Peak Pass passholders with an entirely new area to explore,” said Jesse Boyd, Senior VP of Operations of Peak Resorts in a press release. “The new entrance, arrival area and high-speed lift will provide guests with easy access to a new area of intermediate-level terrain that will dramatically broaden the variety of trails that Hunter has to offer.”

Peak Resorts, the publicly-traded parent company of Hunter and 13 other mountains in the east, says the expansion will cost around $9 million and add $1.5-2 million in incremental earnings annually.  All necessary approvals are in place and construction is set to begin this month.  No manufacturer was announced but the lift is likely to be built by Leitner-Poma as all of Hunter’s lifts were, save for one Hall.

Building a Bigger Big White

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Big White is famous for its above tree line skiing and grew to become one of BC’s busiest ski resorts by catering to families.

The Schumann Family is about to construct its twelfth new lift at Big White Ski Resortthe first lift addition in a dozen years here.  Back in 1985, Australian Desmond Schumann bought the mountain out of receivership following his success at Mt. Hotham before acquiring nearby Silver Star to form Schumann Resorts Ltd.  Back in the eighties, Big White was a sea of T-Bars and double chairs as primarily a day use area for nearby Kelowna.  Fast forward to my first visit there in the 1990s and nearly every lift had been moved or replaced, with the eventual addition of a Leitner-Poma six-pack in 2006.  Mr. Schumann died in 2012 and Big White and Silver Star went their separate ways with separate children.  Today, the larger of the two is run by descendant Peter Plimmer and the last pre-Schumann-era lift will carry its final passengers on Sunday.

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Now in its third-generation of family ownership, Big White has been working with Brent Harley & Associates of Whistler over the last 15 years on an ambitious master plan to guide development over the next many decades.  It’s important to note that Canadian master plans tend to be aspirational and do not necessarily represent eventual reality.  Whistler Blackcomb has its own big plan; Sun Peaks has one and so do unproven destinations such as Revelstoke and Valemount Glacier.

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Part of the current Big White vision focuses on the Gem Lake area, which opened with a single 8,000’+ high-speed quad in 1996 that services approximately half of the entire resort.  New lifts are eyed for either side of the current one to add more capacity and terrain.  A much-needed mid-mountain infill lift is also planned for between Powder and Gem.  As the first base area one encounters when driving from Kelowna, Gem Lake will continue to serve primarily as a base camp for locals.  Two more lifts could rise on the west side of the highway for intermediate skiers and snowboarders.

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The current Gem Lake Express is a workhorse with over 2,300′ of vertical and often many riders.

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Sun Peaks to Build New East Village Lift

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Canada’s second largest ski resort near Kamloops, British Columbia today unveiled plans for its tenth lift, a $3.1 million fixed-grip quad chair above the East Village.  The new lift will complement Sun Peaks’ existing Morrisey Express with its bottom terminal located nearby.  It will then cross the Sun Peaks road and climb over existing ski terrain with a top terminal above the East Village Ski Way.  “This lift project is especially rewarding to announce today. Better access from the East Village is vital to our overall experience and future success,” said Darcy Alexander, Vice President and General Manager of Sun Peaks in an early morning press release.  “The new lift is something we are really pleased to add to the mix for next winter and it will greatly enhance our industry leading ski-in ski-out design”

The specific run layout is currently in development but will see a green trail option to the village from the top of the lift consistent with all other resort lifts and a well-known element of the Sun Peaks ski experience.  Additionally, the lift will provide improved access to some of the most underrated and underutilized ski terrain with family-friendly blue runs and pockets of glade skiing.  New chairs will also be added this summer to the Sundance Express for a 30 percent increase in capacity as part of an overall $47 million capital plan for 2018.  No manufacturer was named for the new quad but Sun Peaks is currently an all-Doppelmayr mountain and a wholly owned subsidiary of Nippon Cable, Doppelmayr’s longtime partner in Japan.