Crested Butte to Replace Teocalli Lift

Just weeks after declaring the Teocalli lift wouldn’t spin this season due to needed maintenance, Crested Butte Mountain Resort today announced the Riblet double will be replaced with a new fixed-grip quad next summer.  Teocalli opened in 1979 and was the last operating Riblet lift at the resort.  Pending Forest Service approval, the larger lift will increase capacity by more than 50 percent.  The lower terminal will remain in its current location while the top station will shift closer to the Red Lady Express summit.

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“The realignment and improved capacity of the lift will provide an elevated on-mountain experience via quick terrain access, improved egress to the resort base area and access to Uley’s Cabin – one of CBMR’s premier on mountain restaurants,” said Tim Baker, general manager of the resort in a blog post.  “We believe this investment can provide a significant benefit to a variety of guests in the near future, and we’ll continue to listen to feedback and evaluate other potential investments that will have a similar impact for a spectrum of guests moving forward.”  Ten of Crested Butte’s eleven lifts are of Leitner-Poma lineage but no manufacturer was specified.  The new lift is the third to be announced by Vail Resorts for 2019, following the company’s commitment to replace two chairlifts at Stevens Pass next summer.  Both Crested Butte and Stevens were acquired by Vail last summer.

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Silverton Considers Growing Kendall Mountain

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Silverton, Colorado – population 650 – is home to two ski areas with a grand total of two double chairlifts.  The smaller of the two at just 16 acres, owned and operated by the town, is Kendall Mountain.  Silverton recently commissioned SE Group to study possibilities for additional ski terrain and year round recreation.  The viability assessment, released last month, is very intriguing.

Kendall Mountain Recreation Area’s current lift, installed in 2006, is a 1972 Poma double with a 1990 return terminal.  The lift has a design capacity of 800 people per hour (pph), but currently operates at 760 pph.  It rises only 263 vertical feet on a mountain that stretches some 3,500 feet above the top terminal.  The setup reminds me of Whitetooth before Kicking Horse or Powder Springs pre-Revelstoke Mountain Resort.  Both were modest community ski areas at the bases of large mountains transformed into destinations by private developers.  Silverton isn’t currently considering anything on the scale of the new British Columbia resorts but the project could eventually yield Colorado’s third largest vertical drop in a place known for epic snowfall.

As part of its public outreach, the town held multiple community meetings to gain feedback over the past year.  Top priorities residents came up with at a first brainstorming session were expanded lifts and terrain.  SE Group identified excellent ski terrain on the central part of the mountain with a large quantity of terrain suitable for ability levels from novice up to advanced.  Importantly, the mountain’s high elevation would provide desirable snow conditions without the need for snowmaking.

SE Group also notes there is potential for Silverton to rise in popularity as a ski destination, benefiting both Silverton Mountain and Kendall Mountain as well as nearby Purgatory Resort.  The study concludes that “expanded skiing infrastructure on Kendall Mountain would benefit the existing Silverton Mountain Ski Area by providing a complimentary experience that would draw additional visitors to the area during the winter season.”  Silverton currently offers guided lift and helicopter skiing for experts only.

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Doppelmayr Quad Coming to Manning Park, BC

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Just five years after it was set to close and liquidate, the remote but beautiful Manning Park Resort has some exciting news to share.  The ski area will retire one of its two Murray-Latta chairlifts at the end of the winter, replacing the Orange chair with a brand new Doppelmayr quad.

The modern Alpen Star installation will transport 1,400 skiers per hour just under 1,100 vertical feet.  More chairs can be added in the future to further increase capacity.  Following the upgrade, there will only be four Murray-Latta lifts operational – three in British Columbia and one in Alberta.  The now hundred year old machine company remains in business, just not the ski lift business.  It built more than 20 chairlifts through the 1960s and ’70s in Western Canada and the United States.

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Manning Park’s new chair will open in time for the 2019-20 season and become the resort’s first new lift in 49 years.

Vail Resorts to Replace Two Lifts at Stevens Pass

After spending approximately $150 million on capital improvements in 2018, Vail Resorts revealed early this morning its capital plan for 2019.  First, a recap.  The company went big on lifts this year, building a total of seven including the game-changing Blackcomb Gondola, Catskinner Express and Emerald 6 Express at Whistler Blackcomb, High Meadow Express at Park City and new Galaxy triple at Heavenly.  Contracts for projects in all three countries Vail operates were awarded to Doppelmayr this round.  With Stevens Pass joining Vail Resorts in August and Crested Butte, Mt. Sunapee and Okemo following in September, next year’s focus will skew towards snowmaking, ticketing infrastructure and restaurants.

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Brooks is a 1968 Riblet double at Stevens Pass that Vail Resorts will replace with a new chairlift in 2019.

Vail will build two lifts at Stevens in 2019.  “We plan to replace and upgrade the Daisy and Brooks lifts, both of which serve critical terrain for beginner and intermediate skiers and snowboarders,” says the company.  The lift replacements will reduce lift line wait times and increase total lift capacity at Stevens Pass by more than nine percent.  Brooks is slated to become a high speed, detachable quad and Daisy a fixed grip quad pending Forest Service approval.  Other projects include snowmaking expansions at Keystone, Vail and Beaver Creek, a new Tombstone restaurant at Park City and new skier services facility at Breckenridge.  “We remain committed to reinvesting in our resorts, creating an experience of a lifetime for our guests and generating strong returns for our shareholders,” notes CEO Rob Katz.

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Steamboat to Build New, Faster Gondola

At a champagne toast tonight in Gondola Square, Steamboat President and Chief Operating Officer Rob Perlman announced the world’s first 8 passenger monocable gondola will be upgraded in time for the 2019/20 season.  The news comes as a bit of a surprise given last month’s approvals of other lift projects including a second gondola to Bashor Bowl and the Pioneer Ridge Expansion.  The current gondola received major upgrades just last year and phase two will include new cabins, towers, drives, top bullwheel and brakes.  “Everyone knows the gondola is the main lift out of the base area, and having a new, high speed, state of the art transportation system will be a noticeable improvement not only in the winter on Champagne Powder snow mornings, but also during the summer with our popular sunset happy hours,” said Perlman.

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The Silver Bullet opened in 1986 and was upgraded with new terminal equipment, grips and hangers in 2017 after more than 80,000 hours of operation.

The Doppelmayr machine will transport 38 percent more guests per hour with a ride time under 10 minutes.  Capacity will surge from 2,600 per hour to 3,600 with 137 cabins moving at six meters per second, up from five.  “From day one, Alterra Mountain Company has emphasized our commitment to enhancing the guest experience across our family of 14 North American destinations,” noted David Perry, CEO at Alterra.  “We are focused on improving every aspect of a guest’s visit, while preserving each destination’s unique character and traditions.  Steamboat’s new gondola fits seamlessly within our plans. We are excited to invest in infrastructure, and proud of the positive impact it will make on the community, our guests, and the future of Steamboat.”  Construction on the $15 million project is set to begin April 15th.  Alterra has pledged to spend more than $550 million at its resorts over five years and hopefully Steamboat’s gondola is the first of many new lifts for the company in 2019.

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.