Sunlight Looks to the East

It may take a few years, but Sunlight Mountain Resort intends to add 100 acres along its eastern boundary serviced by a fourth fixed grip chairlift.  Glading work has already begun and will continue into next summer.  “This is a multi-year effort,” General Manager Tom Hays recently told the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.  “We are in the very early stages of a process that includes building a capital fund, negotiating additional financing, permitting processes with the county and Forest Service, mapping, planning, and shopping for lifts.”  The project is estimated to cost $4 million and is dependent on another season or two as successful as 2018-19.

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Approximate alignment of the planned East Ridge chairlift, shown in orange.

New runs will be cut on private land below the Midland Traverse and will remain hike-out until the lift is installed.  The chair will load just above Four Mile Creek and unload above the Beaujolais and Rebel trails.  “We’re excited to expand skiing and riding on the already legendary East Ridge,” said Marketing and Sales Director Troy Hawks. “These new runs mean our local skiers and riders will have even more powder to explore and exploit.”  If all goes well, the new lift could spin in 2021.

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Eaglecrest Considers Building Alaska’s First Gondola

Eaglecrest is the only ski resort in Southeast Alaska, a region seeing explosive growth in summer visitation thanks to the cruise ship industry.  While some consider cruises a threat to the ski business, a recent study concluded they could actually help publicly-owned Eaglecrest become profitable.  Over just five months, 1.3 million passengers will disembark in Juneau this year, a 17 percent increase from 2018.  Many existing attractions such as the Mt. Roberts Tramway are bursting at the seams and the city sees an opportunity for its ski area to become part of the solution.

The City and Borough of Juneau owns and operates four double chairlifts which date back as far as 1975.  Eaglecrest is the only ski area in the country located on an island and, while the ocean views are amazing, low elevation sometimes limits winter operating days.  A private concessionaire operates a small scale zip tour at Eaglecrest but no lifts currently spin in the summer as the ski area ramps down to just a dozen employees.

Eaglecrest’s current lifts are shown in red with the approximate proposed gondola alignment in orange.

Alaska’s capital city is considering a cash infusion to create a year-round adventure park with skiing, mountain biking, a gondola, zip lines, mountain coaster and more.  While the initial outlay is high, projections show the current $950,000 annual subsidy provided by taxpayers could be eliminated while expanding recreational opportunities for residents and visitors alike.  The ski area could also be able to pay its employees more competitive wages and operate seven days a week in winter with the money gleaned from summer.

The most expensive component of the $34.9 million plan is a ten passenger base-to-summit gondola which would reach even higher than the current Black Bear and Ptarmigan chairlifts.  The gondola would become the primary summit access lift year-round, spanning almost 7,000 feet with 1,680 feet of vertical rise and 20 towers.  Capacity would start at 1,500 guests per hour with the ability to go to 2,400.  Both Leitner-Poma and Doppelmayr have provided bids in the $11.2 million range for the flagship lift with up to 59 cabins.  Power would be trenched up the mountain, allowing the gondola to be top-driven and providing grid power to the Black Bear double for the first time.

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Preliminary gondola profile from Leitner-Poma of America.

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Sun Peaks Confirms Crystal Quad for 2020

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Two years after partnering to build the new Orient Quad, Sun Peaks Resort and Doppelmayr will again team up to replace the Crystal triple on the upper mountain.  The lift will be realigned, unloading at the Top of the World adjacent to the Burfield Quad.  Dating back to 1979, Crystal was the very first Doppelmayr chairlift built at what was then called Tod Mountain.  The new fixed grip quad will be Sun Peaks’ 13th Doppelmayr installation spanning five decades.  “A new Crystal Chair is very important as we look at the future of our upper mountain terrain at Sun Peaks,” said Darcy Alexander, Sun Peaks Vice President and General Manager in a press release.  “As more people continue to discover the Sun Peaks experience, we need to invest in moving additional guests around the mountain effectively and efficiently.”  Work on the $3.8 million project will begin immediately with completion in advance of the 2020-21 ski season.

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Sun Peaks Resort flanks Mt. Tod in the British Columbia interior.

Sun Peaks also announced the Burfield quad will not be shortened as envisioned in the resort’s master plan.  The 9,500-plus foot lift will continue to offer nearly 3,000 vertical feet of skiing from the Top of the World alongside Crystal.

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Capacity will increase by 20 percent over the current Crystal triple chair.

Sun Peaks is owned and operated by Nippon Cable Co., the licensee of Doppelmayr technology in Japan.  Nippon also owns several Japanese ski resorts and a 25 percent stake in Whistler Blackcomb.

New Quad to Anchor Woodward Mountain Park at Mt. Bachelor

WWMP_MapProgression will be the name of the game next winter at a reimagined Sunrise base area on the east side of Mt. Bachelor.  Powdr Co. today revealed three new lifts, a remodeled lodge and new parking lot will make up the first Woodward Mountain Park, designed to offer a fun and intuitive learning experience.  Woodward Mountain Parks will eventually come to multiple Powdr resorts, building on the success of the company’s Woodward indoor action sports parks located throughout North America.  At Mt. Bachelor, 70 foot and 300 foot covered carpets will be joined by a 629 foot long Doppelmayr quad chair servicing five new acres below the Sunrise Lodge.

“Woodward is all about stoking passion and I’m excited for our guests to enjoy reimagined on-mountain environments that’ll be fun for every age and ability level,” said John McLeod, president and general manager of Mt. Bachelor in a statement. “The Mt. Bachelor Woodward Mountain Park will debut expanded terrain and new and inclusive experiences that our guests will love. Combined with our significant Sunrise lodge and base area upgrades, we’re transforming the Mt. Bachelor the guest experience for the future.”  Relatedly, Mt. Bachelor will debut a new trail map next winter painted by James Niehues.

Utah-based Powdr is on an epic building blitz.  The Bachelor addition will be the fourth chairlift for the firm this year on top of new lodges at Killington and Lee Canyon, a major snowmaking upgrade at Pico and the all new Woodward Park City ski area.  Last year, Powdr added six lifts at its resorts for an impressive total of ten in two years.

Exploring Big White’s Backcountry Project

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As I first wrote last summer, Big White Ski Resort is eyeing its most ambitious expansion since the 1996 Gem Lake megaproject.  This time, a pair of quad chairs are planned for east of the Black Forest Express, servicing 300 acres of new intermediate trails and glades within the mountain’s existing controlled recreation area.  The expansion is in place of one once planned for west of Gem Lake.  “The Black Forest Connector and Backcountry chairs will build on and complement the Black Forest ski pod, the most popular area at Big White,” notes Brent Harley and Associates, which prepared the plan.  “Together, these chairlifts represent the full realization of the vision described in the 1999 Master Plan, and the fulfillment of the Controlled Recreation Area’s physical potential to offer a world class alpine skiing experience.”

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A gorgeous new daylodge and parking lot opened at the base of Black Forest in 2015, encouraging regional guests to bypass the congested village portal.  The upcoming lifts are envisioned as gateways to even more terrain planned for East Peak eventually.  Both lifts would be 2,400 passenger per hour quads with Backcountry being detachable and Black Forest Connector being fixed grip.  The former would rise 1,250 feet over a slope length of 4,977′ in under five minutes.  The smaller lift would be about 4,354 feet long with a vertical of 666′ and ride time just under nine minutes.

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Big White operates a mix of mostly older Doppelmayr lifts and a few newer Leitner-Poma models, so I could see either company winning the next contract.  Just last year, the resort’s Powder triple was replaced with a Leitner-Poma Alpha quad.  Big White initially intended to build both Backcountry lifts in 2019 but the project is still listed as “Under Review” by the province.  Not to worry though, the resort is focusing on new bike trails, Gem Lake base area improvements and new employee housing this summer.

A Dozen Years In, Revelstoke Reassesses

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Revelstoke Mountain Resort currently operates four Leitner-Poma Omega detachable lifts built in 2007 and 2008.

More than $200 million was invested to create Revelstoke Mountain Resort, an Ikon Pass destination in the Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia.  While the skiing is undeniably fantastic, the resort’s timing was poor, launching on the cusp of the global financial crisis in December 2007.  Acquired by Northland Properties from an American developer just a year into operation, Revelstoke has slowly grown to 3,100 acres, two gondola sections and two quad chairlifts with a third set to open this year.

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Last month, Revelstoke Mountain Resort filed a new master plan with the province.  This map shows the current buildout and phase 2.

Revelstoke features a continent-leading vertical rise 5,620 feet and the longest run goes on for nearly ten miles.  The lower village lies along the Columbia River at 1,680 feet.  Despite the addition of snowmaking in 2011, the entire lower mountain is sometimes closed due to lack of snow.  The resort’s new master plan focuses on higher alpine terrain where snowfall is plentiful and reliable.  The lift currently under construction, originally called Cupcake but now known as Stellar, will service a teaching zone at 5,600 feet near the summit of the Revelation Gondola.

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In addition to the new Leitner-Poma quad, all four existing lifts will be brought up to their maximum capacities of 2,600 to 2,800 passengers per hour this summer through carrier additions.  That means 22 new gondola cabins, 21 chairs for The Stoke and 42 more for The Ripper.

After this summer, Northland plans to shift back to adding alpine terrain Revelstoke is famous for.  A high speed lift in the North Bowl of Mt. Mackenzie will provide access above The Ripper with a vertical rise of 1,970 feet.  The new South Bowl quad will add 395 acres at even higher elevation with panoramic views of the Columbia.  Phase 2c envisions a lift duo backing up the Revelation Gondola and a new intermediate quad known as Lift 15.  “The focus of Phase 2 will be on increasing uphill lift capacity to accommodate increased visitation, as well as terrain development at higher elevations in more snow-reliable areas within the resort’s current boundary,” notes the approved plan.

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Park City Announces 37th Aerial Lift

Vail Resorts will continue its commitment to new infrastructure at Park City Mountain this off-season with the installation of a new fixed-grip quad, the company revealed today.  Dubbed “Over and Out,” the lift will connect a spot near the bottom of the Tombstone six pack with the top of the Sunrise double, giving skiers and snowboarders a much-needed egress route from the heart of the mountain and the popular Quicksilver Gondola.  Ride time will be approximately five minutes.
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This will be the fifth new lift for Vail since buying Park City five years ago.  “Since combining Park City Mountain Resort and Canyons Resort in 2015, our focus has been on enhancing the guest experience,” said Bill Rock, senior vice president and chief operating officer at Park City Mountain in a statement.  “We continue to evolve as a resort and prioritize our capital improvements based on guest feedback.  We know that time is particularly valuable to our guests and the new lift will offer a faster and more convenient route to return to Canyons Village.”  Construction is expected be complete by December, pending permitting.

The latest project news comes a few months after Vail’s commitments to build new lifts at Crested Butte and Stevens Pass for next winter along with a planned T-Bar on Vail Mountain.  Park City’s lift manufacturer was not revealed and it’s possible Over and Out will be a re-engineered High Meadow.  That 1997 CTEC Sprint model quad was removed a year ago to make way for the High Meadow Express.

Update 5/24: I’ve confirmed with Park City that Over and Out will be a brand new Skytrac Monarch.

Lake Louise Pitches New Long Range Plan

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Under a new plan, the long abandoned Eagle chair would finally be replaced along with many other proposed upgrades.

The only regular venue for World Cup alpine racing in Canada is Lake Louise, which also happens to be among the most naturally scenic places one can ski anywhere.  Louise is one of three ski resorts located in Banff National Park along with Sunshine Village and Norquay, which are also considering making major lift investments in the coming years.  Lake Louise hopes a proposed reduction in overall acreage will allow it to add up to nine new chairlifts along with other improved amenities over the next 15 years.  Even though the resort’s permitted boundary would decrease from 5,400 acres to approximately 4,100, comfortable carrying capacity would increase from 6,000 to 9,000 skiers per day.  “The new plan focuses on enhancing terrain, facilities and services for all visitors, during all seasons, and will lead to a better visitor experience,” the project website notes.  “It will allow us to continue to protect local sensitive areas and species, while advancing environmental awareness and conservation goals for future generations.”

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Like at other large mountains with only one portal, out-of-base capacity is a problem.  At Lake Louise, it was compounded by the retirement of Olympic without a direct replacement in 2004.  The four person, Leitner-built Glacier Express would be rebuilt as a six place lift.  A new Juniper high speed quad is proposed load near Olympic and service three new beginner trails.  Another new lift called Meadowlark would board near the Grizzly Express Gondola with detachable quad chairs.  These improvements would bring out-of-base capacity to 9,000 skiers per hour, almost double the current level.

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The standing but not operating Olympic chair was built by Murray-Latta in 1966.

Another high speed quad called Upper Juniper would relieve pressure from the Top of the World ExpressSummit Platter would be removed and replaced with a fixed grip chairlift in completely a new alignment with wind exposure in mind.  The new lift would load at the Top of the World and unload higher near the true top of Whitehorn Mountain.   Also on the upper mountain, a new Eagle chairlift would replace the retired Mueller double with a detachable quad and ease pressure on the gondola.  Sometimes ski resorts go in circles!

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New Plan Lays Out Grand Targhee Growth

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The Caribou-Targhee National Forest recently accepted an updated road map for Grand Targhee Resort, which could eventually result in the western Teton mountain operating as many lifts as the more famous one to the east.  The 2018 Master Development Plan serves as a guide for what could change over the following decades and includes a whopping five new fixed grip chairlifts, four detachable quads and three additional surface lifts.

Like its two Grand Teton neighbors, Targhee is owned by a wealthy family with decades of experience across multiple businesses.  CEO Geordie Gillett is the son of George Gillett, who owned Vail Associates from 1985 until it went public in 1997.  The family went on to create Booth Creek Ski Holdings, which bought Targhee along with seven other resorts coast to coast in the late 1990s.  Booth Creek continues to operate Sierra at Tahoe, California while Mr. Gillett independently operates Grand Targhee, Wyoming.

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Peaked Mountain features one high speed quad today and hopefully will sport a new one soon.

Already analyzed and approved is a Peaked lift servicing terrain above the current Sacajawea detachable quad.  The new high speed lift would rise a respectable 1,829 vertical feet with a capacity of 2,000 skiers per hour, topping out at almost 9,700 feet in elevation.  To me, Peaked Mountain has always felt like an expansion yet to be completed with a lift that ends below some of its best terrain.

Another proposed project within Targhee’s existing permit boundary is the 4,300′ North Boundary fixed grip triple, which would service six gladed trails beyond the new Blackfoot lift.  A second short chairlift called Rick’s Basin would provide access to the North Boundary pod, giving guests a much needed option other than Shoshone on a stormy day.  “This lift will provide better utilization of the terrain at the far north edge of the resort, as well as providing access to intermediate and advanced terrain that is currently not lift-accessed,” notes the plan.

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Mapping Future Lifts on Vail Mountain

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Vail is a mountain which needs no introduction.  The nation’s third largest resort now attracts more than 1.6 million skiers a season, 60 percent of which are destination visitors from around the world.  Owner Vail Resorts has constructed a staggering ten new lifts in the last eleven years at its flagship, including a new 10 passenger gondola and three six place chairlifts.  While the beast may take a brief break to focus on snowmaking and other enhancements this year, a new master plan suggests more big ticket lift investments are coming.

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Today’s Vail spans 5,289 acres with two gondolas, 20 chairlifts and three surface platters.

Already approved for construction is the upper Golden Peak project, consisting of three new trails and a T-Bar above the Riva Bahn angle station.  This lift will be 2,001 feet long with a vertical of 678 feet.  While built for with ski racing in mind, the new pod will be open to the public with a capacity of 1,400 skiers per hour.  Construction is set to begin as soon as this summer.

At the opposite end of Vail’s front side, the last standing of four 1985 detachable quads is Game Creek Express.  This lift is approved to be replaced in the near future with a six person detachable.  It would be Vail’s fourth such lift following upgrades to the Mountaintop, Northwoods and Avanti Express lifts.  Uphill capacity would rise from 2,800 per hour to 3,200 in popular Game Creek Bowl.

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The Wildwood Express, a CTEC dating from 1995, would be replaced with a modern version.  A similar project would swap the two stage Riva Bahn Express (1996 CTEC) for a new model.  Born Free Express, a 1988 Doppelmayr, would also be replaced.  Next door, the Eagle Bahn Gondola is coming up on 25 years of service.  “Given its year-round, day and night operations, freight hauling duties, and limited capacity, the gondola will need a major overall or potentially an upgrade during the life of this plan,” the MDP notes.

Another proposed front side project is the Ever Vail Gondola, which would move 2,400 guests per hour from a new portal west of Lionshead.  This lift was initially planned to terminate above the bottom of the Pride Express lift.  Newer thinking has the gondola replacing that lift as well with an angle station at the current bottom terminal.  With this option, the lift would have a slope length over 9,100 feet, making it the fourth longest on the mountain.  Riders originating in West Lionshead could ascend all the way to Eagle’s Nest without needing to transfer lifts.

The nearby Cascade Village lift, a 1987 CTEC quad servicing Vail’s westernmost trail and the new Hotel Talisa, would be replaced with a detachable quad under the plan.  This project would leave just two remaining fixed grip chairlifts in a sea of detachable technology at Vail.

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In the Back Bowls, the 1988 vintage Orient Express would be replaced with a new high speed quad, increasing throughput from 2,400 to 2,800 in the process.  I am a bit surprised this is not proposed as a six pack.  In fact, Game Creek is the only additional lift set to become a six place chair under this master plan.

A major new lift approved in 2009 but not yet built is called the Sun Down Express.  This high speed, detachable quad would stretch more than 6,000 feet from the bottom of Lift 5 to the top of Lift 7 with a capacity of 2,400 skiers per hour.  Currently, the Sun Up Express and Teacup Express lifts provide egress for over 4,000 acres of terrain, causing congestion on busy afternoons.  Sun Down would become a much-needed reliever.

On the opposite end of Vail’s Back Bowls, the Mongolia Express is proposed to replace the difficult to access Mongolia platter, which opens only some of the time.  At 5,786′ feet long with a vertical of 1,575′, skiers would be able to spread out and lap this high speed quad without needing to return to the Orient Express.

While no new lifts are proposed in Blue Sky Basin, its operational boundary could be expanded both east and west.  A series of new trails are proposed near Pete’s Express along with groomed access to West Earl’s Bowl.

Vail Resorts announces new lifts for its resorts each December and I expect at least one of the many projects in the new master plan will get the green light for 2020.