The list of new lifts built in the Midwest since I started this website in 2015 is short. In Minnesota, a total of three – two quads at Giants Ridge and an $8 million gondola at Lutsen Mountains. Unlike both of its state-owned regional neighbors, Lutsen is a family business that also happens to be the largest ski resort for 2,000 miles between the Rockies and the Adirondacks. I’ve never been to this corner of Minnesota but it looks totally beautiful, surrounded by National Forest on three sides and Lake Superior on the fourth.
The popular new Doppelmayr gondola is like nothing else in the region and it came just two years after Lutsen owners Charles Skinner and Tom Rider launched a Leitner-Poma six place chairlift on Moose Mountain. With two key lifts upgraded, the brothers-in-law are looking to the future and more lifts servicing the types of terrain discerning skiers seek. Lutsen Mountains is a true destination resort and its competitors aren’t as much Afton Alps and Spirit Mountain as Breckenridge and Steamboat. For many, the Lutsen case is compelling – a couple hour drive, alluring scenery and plentiful natural snow at a reasonable price. “We’re a Midwest destination for families; not everybody can afford the airfare and the travel to go out west,” Mr. Skinner told the Cook County Board of Commissioners in a presentation last week. “We just need to be strong enough and appealing enough with enough terrain to go forward with the next generation.”
The co-owners are on a public outreach tour as they embark on a rigorous approval process with the United States Forest Service. If granted a special use permit for new ski terrain in the Superior National Forest, it would be the first brand new permit for a U.S. ski resort in decades. “The only available land for us to have more runs is federal land,” Skinner pointed out along with the fact that 90 percent of Cook County is publicly-owned. The expansion plan would first add 100 acres of much-needed beginner terrain with skier services on Eagle Mountain serviced by a new chairlift. Depending on the cost of a new lift, Lutsen may use one of a few retired lifts it has in storage. The next phases would add 400 acres of intermediate and advanced terrain on two sides of Moose Mountain including glades and up to six new lifts. “As the ski industry moves forward, we need to be larger in order to survive,” said Skinner, noting the eventual goal of doubling skier visits.
Setting aside new gondolas, bubbles and chondolas at Copper and Winter Park, the biggest stories for Colorado skiers next winter will be Arapahoe Basin’s long-awaited addition of The Beavers, Wolf Creek’s Meadow expansion and Purgatory’s new Gelande pod (the latter pending Forest Service approval.) A year later, Copper Mountain may follow with Tucker Mountain just as Vail plans to add a new lift and trails high on Golden Peak. If all goes according to planned, Beaver Creek will also build two new lifts in McCoy Park a year before Aspen Mountain plans to debut Pandora. Steamboat has Pioneer Ridge and Sunshine II on the horizon, Keystone plans new lifts for Outback, Independence and Bergman Bowls and Crested Butte wants to build Teocalli 2. Right in the middle of all this explosive ski country growth is Leadville’s Cooper, which now seeks an expansion of its own.
Open continuously since 1941, Cooper today operates three fixed-grip lifts and proposes adding a 2,450′ surface lift called Way Back with five advanced-intermediate trails. It’s a modest proposal for a mountain that proudly declares “we’re not like our neighbors” on its homepage. The new platter or T-Bar lift would load on the backside and top out near the Piney triple summit. If approved, construction could take place as early as 2019, which I’m thinking will be a very busy summer for Colorado lift construction. In the meantime, work is about to begin on eight new lifts, the most in Colorado since 2007.
A community ski area surrounded by iron ore mines near the Quebec-Labrador border will build as many new lifts as Whistler Blackcomb this summer, though they will be of quite a different variety. Smokey Mountain Ski Club is set to debut Canada’s first Skytrac, a quad chair where a 1972 Poma double with a floating bullwheel stands today. The mountain’s Blue lift, a detachable Poma in operation since the 1960s, will be swapped for a brand new Leitner-Poma version. Another new LPOA platter lift will serve an area known as coaches’ corner and supplement a carpet lift built last year. Smokey has also retired its Red and Green Poma lifts meaning the entire lift fleet will be renewed by next winter.
This revitalization has been in the works since at least 2016 but was put on hold due to a downturn in the iron ore market. The Iron Ore Company of Canada will fund the not-for-profit ski club’s modern and more reliable lift system as part of mitigation for a new site nearby. Below are some photos from Smokey’s website to memorialize the truly classic Poma lifts which will be missed.
This ambitious project brings the North America new lift count to a potential 48 for 2018. That number includes at least five Skytrac Monarchs, a dozen Leitner-Poma installations and 21 Doppelmayr machines.
Monster Doppelmayr UNI-G XXL terminals are headed to British Columbia for the first time. Whistler Blackcomb and Vail Resorts held a community open house last night to detail plans for what will be a packed summer building four new lifts on both iconic mountains. The largest component of the $52 million project is a new Blackcomb Gondola announced in December.
The beastly gondola will load where the current Wizard lift does before continuing to a very large mid-station located below the current Solar Coaster base. An even larger cabin parking facility will be built in the trees to the west of the dual terminal. The second stage of the gondola (separate haul ropes and drives) will continue after a slight angle change to Rendezvous just below the current Solar Coaster unload. 10-passenger cabins will depart every nine seconds yielding a 4,000 passenger hourly capacity – second highest ever in North America.
Also on Blackcomb, a new, longer Catskinner four place detachable will start to the southwest of the existing Yan triple chair. This lift will have 97 chairs reused from Emerald Express and 14 new towers. Emerald’s Spacejet-style terminals will also come over from Whistler.
Alterra Mountain Co., the new operator of eleven leading North American mountain resorts, today announced a transformational capital investment of $130 million to be followed by hundreds of millions more over the next five years. New lifts will debut at Winter Park Resort in Colorado, Mont Tremblant in Quebec and Stratton Mountain Resort in Vermont in time for next winter. Competitor Vail Resorts revealed a similar $150 million plan for 2018-19 with six new lifts across its resorts last December.
The largest single project for Alterra is a 10-passenger Zephyr Gondola at Winter Park replacing the current 1990 high-speed quad, the key people mover out of The Village at Winter Park. The new $16 million Leitner-Poma lift will be capable of moving 3,600 guests per hour to Sunspot, up from 2,600, and is the first new lift at the resort since 2007. It will feature Leitner-Poma’s DirectDrive technology, reducing energy consumption and the number of moving parts that can lead to down time. The new lift may also get a new name. “Zephyr is certainly on the table but nothing’s been decided yet,” said Steve Hurlbert, a spokesman for the resort.
British Columbia’s third largest ski resort will retire its oldest lift this summer, a Mueller which dates back to 1979 called Powder. A new $3.1 million Leitner-Poma Canada Alpha quad chair will be capable of moving 1,900 skiers per hour versus the current 1,710. Big White calls the outgoing lift one of Canada’s oldest and most popular triple chairs with more than 15 million rides logged to date. “I’m proud to be leading the third generation of our family owned business, which was established in the summer of 1985,” said Peter Plimmer, president and CEO of Big White Ski Resort Ltd. in a press release announcing multiple summer projects worth $10 million CAD. “My grandfather, Desmond Schumann, would be proud of what we’re doing here at the resort.”
Next season Big White will operate a fleet of a dozen Doppelmayr and Leitner-Poma lifts including a six-pack and gondola. The new Powder Chair is the second announced Leitner-Poma fixed-grip project for 2018 after Arapahoe Basin’s Beavers installation. Last year, most of the Leitner-Poma Group’s fixed-grip orders went to Skytrac, though that division has yet to build a lift in Canada. New lifts are also coming to Blackcomb, Whistler, SilverStar and likely Sun Peaks in BC next winter.
This afternoon couldn’t have been a more beautiful one for unveiling what will be America’s biggest lift. Over the next nine months, Big Sky Resort and Doppelmayr will create Ramcharger 8, a machine packed full of technology on Andesite Mountain. The current Ramcharger high-speed quad will move to Shedhorn and replace one of Big Sky’s most popular high-alpine lifts while a two-stage North Village gondola and more will eventually follow as part of Big Sky 2025. “The Biggest Skiing in America is getting bigger and better, again,” said Big Sky Resort General Manager and President Taylor Middleton before the bombshell announcement. Never before has America seen an 8-passenger chair of any kind, let alone one packed with every bell and whistle available.
I was lucky enough to be invited by Big Sky Resort and the Kircher family to be part of this momentous day in the Mountain Village, where Boyne Resorts’ Stephen Kircher detailed plans for being the North American ski industry’s D-Line launch customer. Kircher emphasized Big Sky’s lengthy path to this point and how the community has really come together in the past decade. “My family is proud of its 42-year commitment to southwest Montana and will continue the momentum that is underway at Big Sky Resort,” he said. “We are excited to bring the biggest chair in the world to Big Sky, and to work with the resort team and community to recognize the Resort’s full potential – rivaling the best of the Alps and our North American brethren.” With a huge snowpack, the Biggest Skiing in America is on track to have its best season ever with more than 500,000 skier days – a feat once only dreamed of here.
One of the world’s first chairlifts with heated seats but without bubbles will launch for the 2019-20 season at Sommet Saint-Sauveur, formerly known as Mont Saint Sauveur in Quebec. The new $4.7 million lift will be constructed by Doppelmayr, which is no surprise given that company’s significant manufacturing base just 15 minutes away in Saint-Jérôme. The six-pack will replace the Atomic Express, named for the famous ski brand and tied for the oldest operating detachable chairlift in North America at 33 years.
The Government of Quebec will provide approximately $2.3 million in funding for the new lift and other projects, an agreement which many American ski resort operators may envy. Sauveur is owned by MSSI, a holding company with five Laurentian resorts and is the previous owner of Jay Peak, Vermont.
It may not be the biggest lift project I write about this week but Tahoe Donner near Truckee, California has signed a contract to replace its Snowbird SLI double this summer. The Tahoe Donner Association is one of the country’s largest homeowner associations and therefore the process of assessing the old lift, designing a new one and funding it is all detailed on the neighborhood’s website. Tahoe Donner staff solicited quotes from multiple manufacturers and looked at the used marketplace but ultimately settled on a brand new Skytrac Monarch fixed-grip triple chair to improve safety and reliability.
The new $1.5 million lift will be bottom drive and bottom tension with an increased line speed of 400 feet per minute. Capacity will jump from 900 pph to 1500 with a comfortable 7.2 second chair interval. New terminals will be smaller than the old ones and located off to the side of the Snowbird ski run for better circulation. The lift will go from nine towers to six with a slope length of 1,600 feet.
Tahoe Donner is open to the public and popular with California families as an affordable option near Lake Tahoe. It’s great to see homeowners committing to the future of the mountain with this new lift. Thanks to Kirk and Max for letting me know about the project.
Just four days after its bombshell announcement of $16 million worth of new lifts for Killington, Powdr Co. today unveiled an even bigger project planned for Copper Mountain in 2018. The American Eagle high-speed quad will be replaced with a combination lift featuring six passenger chairs and eight passenger gondola cabins while the American Flyer is going to become a six-place bubble chair. The two Poma detachables being replaced were built in 1989 and 1986, respectively, and out-of-Village capacity will increase by 35 percent.
“Replacing our most popular mountain-access lifts will significantly improve how our guests experience some of the best skiing and riding on Copper Mountain,” said Gary Rodgers, president and general manager of Copper Mountain Resort in a press release. “More guests will be able to get up the mountain quicker to enjoy a variety of easy, intermediate and advanced terrain.” The Denver Post reports the new lifts will cost a staggering $20 million.
Copper Mountain operates a mixed fleet of Doppelmayr and Poma lifts and no manufacturer was identified. Most recently, Doppelmayr built the Kokomo Express, two surface lifts in 2013 and the Union Creek Express in 2011. Pending Forest Service approval, the two monster new additions will open in time for the 2018-19 season.
Update: According to V3 in the comments, these lifts could be built by Leitner-Poma with the first DirectDrives in the United States. This would be great news if true amid a flurry of gearbox-related problems in North American ski country recently.