Waterville Valley Eyes Terrain Expansion and a Gondola

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A gondola may finally link the Town of Waterville Valley with its ski area in the coming years, just one of many exciting projects outlined in the new Waterville Valley Master Development Plan.  Recently accepted by the United States Forest Service, the MDP will guide upgrades at the mountain over the next decade.  It’s the first such comprehensive plan for Waterville since 1999, when Booth Creek owned the resort.

Waterville is seeking a 140 acre boundary expansion and 15 new trails on Green Peak, which saw its first lift installed in 2016.  The resort now features two summits accessed from one base area.  A proposed new portal would separate different user groups and improve the guest experience.  A two stage gondola or chondola is planned to link the Waterville Town Square to the new base area and on to Green Peak.  Two sections would be capable of operating independently with an angled mid-terminal.  The exact alignment of the first stage, which would be located on private land, has not yet been determined.

“The most remarkable element of the plan is that it includes the eventual installation of a gondola that will start in the Town of Waterville Valley near Town Square and transport guests to the summit of Green Peak,” said Waterville Valley CEO John Sununu.  “Connecting our pedestrian village to the ski resort will be incredibly exciting for our resort and community.”  The gondola would be a major undertaking, spanning some 9,000 linear feet with 1,400 feet of vertical and eight passenger cabins.  It would operate in both winter and summer.

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Green Peak would also see a second triple chair servicing 500 vertical feet of beginner and low intermediate terrain.  Two conveyor lifts in the existing base area would be relocated to a new ski school facility at the gondola mid-station.

Two lift upgrades are planned, which Waterville filed to construct back in October.  The White Peaks Express, nearing the end of its useful life, would become a six place detachable in the existing alignment.  Sunnyside is targeted to be replaced with a fixed grip quad.  Two other lift modifications are included: removal of Northside and lengthening of the World Cup T-Bar.  Outside of the scope of the new development plan but on the horizon is further expansion onto Green Peak’s South Ridge.

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“We’re thrilled to continue Waterville Valley’s development and look forward to fulfilling our team’s vision,” said President and General Manager Tim Smith in a statement announcing the Forest Service acceptance. “This is just the first step in a long process, but it marks an exciting milestone towards progressing Waterville Valley into the future.”

Sunday River Unveils Ten Year Plan for New Lifts & More

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With ambitious improvement plans recently crafted for Big Sky and Loon Mountain, Boyne Resorts has turned to updating its capital spending vision for Sunday River, Maine.  Spanning eight peaks in the beautiful Mahoosuc Mountains, Sunday River offers more than 50 miles of trails and a beast of a snowmaking system.  Though the terrain and scenery are top notch, many lifts were installed during the American Skiing Company boom years and are showing their age.  The plan prescribes replacing at least six lifts and building a lift-served real estate development on a ninth mountain called Merrill Hill over the next ten years.

Lift wise in the short term, the two biggest priorities are Barker Mountain and Jordan Bowl.  The former is no surprise as the Barker Mountain Express was originally built by Lift Engineering and converted to a quasi-Poma high speed quad decades ago.  While no specific model was specified, I expect the replacement will be a six or eight place signature lift.  The Jordan Bowl Express is newer, built by Doppelmayr in 1994, but also ripe for up-gauging given the vast amount of terrain it services.  Another near term project is the Merrill Hill lift, providing access to a new ski-in, ski-out neighborhood near North Peak.  During this phase, the White Cap quad is slated to gain a loading conveyor to increase speed and efficiency.

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After those projects, Sunday River is targeting the White Cap and North Peak lifts for replacement.  The former is a 1987 Yan fixed grip quad with a ride time in excess of 10 minutes.  North Peak is a 1997 Doppelmayr detachable quad.

Near the end of the 2030 plan, the Aurora Peak and South Ridge lifts would be addressed.  Aurora is another Yan fixed grip that moves very slowly.  It’s newer than White Cap, having been installed in 1991 as one of Yan’s last-ever installations.  South Ridge is one year newer and was built by Poma.  Not all of these installations will necessarily be brand new machines.  Boyne plans to shuffle lifts within and between resorts in the coming years, including the outgoing Swift Current from Big Sky and Kancamagus at Loon Mountain.  The company also wants to purchase the bubble six place lift from the Hermitage Club, which would go to one of Boyne’s three northeast mountains.

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The workhorse Barker Mountain Express services six of Sunday River’s most popular trails and is planned to be replaced early in the 2030 vision.

The Sunday River 2030 vision includes more than just lifts.  RFID ticketing technology will be implemented resort-wide.  An observation deck on North Peak and mountain coaster are planned.  At the top of the already spectacular Jordan Bowl pod, a signature summit restaurant is envisioned.

Looking at the history of Sunday River, it’s quite remarkable how many lifts and terrain expansions Les Otten was able to complete before American Skiing Company ran out of cash.  Otten purchased 18 different chairlifts and grew the resort from 40,000 skier visits to more than a half million annually.  Boyne’s plan will build on that success, replacing up to six lifts and adding another peak. “We are incredibly grateful for our guests, our team, and the Boyne Resorts family for helping to guide and determine our future,” noted Sunday River President and General Manager Dana Bullen.  “The next decade will be one of the most transformational in our 60-year history, assuring that Sunday River will remain one of the top resorts in the Northeast.”

Agreement Paves the Way for Squaw-Alpine Gondola Construction

Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows today announced a comprehensive agreement with the Granite Chief Wilderness Protection League regarding the proposed California Express gondola.  The environmental advocacy group will drop its lawsuit contesting approval of the project in exchange for new conservation efforts by the ski resort.  The Forest Service issued its Final Record of Decision approving the gondola on January 31st.  With these developments, all major hurdles have been overcome.

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“We are very happy to have worked collaboratively with the League to address their concerns so that resources could be directed to environmentally beneficial purposes, rather than funding an extended lawsuit,” said Ron Cohen, president and chief operating officer of Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows.  “We are eager to get going on this game-changing transportation project.  We thank the League for its productive approach to resolving the dispute.”

The current Squaw-Alpine connection is a long and tedious shuttle ride. The bus stops are nice though!

Squaw Alpine will set aside approximately 27 acres of private property for conservation.  These lands, which include pristine wetlands and natural ponds, have the potential to serve as habitat for the endangered Sierra Nevada Yellow Legged Frog.  Additionally, the resort agreed to provide funding to study recovery of this endangered species.  Squaw will also grant money for the Truckee Donner Land Trust to acquire parcels elsewhere in the vicinity of the Granite Chief Wilderness.

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West Virginia’s Timberline to Relaunch as Timberline Mountain

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When the State of West Virginia regains a fifth ski area next season, a lot will be new.  The folks behind Perfect North Slopes in Indiana acquired the resort formerly known as Timberline Four Seasons in November and are already busy preparing for a 2020-21 rebirth under the name Timberline Mountain.  Being closed this season has a silver lining: there’s been little natural snow to speak of in the mid-Atlantic, allowing work to begin.  This week, a crew started removing the Thunderstruck triple, one of two Borvig lifts on the mountain.  The retirement is significant as this key lift suffered a major structural failure near the end of the prior owners’ run.

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A new logo, new signage and new website all debuted recently.  The resort announced a partnership with Doppelmayr to bring a brand new, top-to-bottom lift to Timberline Mountain this summer.  The lift will traverse more than 4,000 feet with a thousand foot vertical rise. “Details of the size and scope of the new lift are still developing,” a posting reads.  “We will be excited to share updates on this new addition to the West Virginia ski and snowboarding community as they become available!”

Thunderstruck’s 165-plus Leitner triple chairs will be sold to the public at the price of $250 (or $200 apiece for multiple) in the coming weeks.  The mountain’s two other chairlifts will remain in place for now.

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Announcing Kancamagus 8, the East’s First Eight Pack

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Boyne Resorts will invest millions to build its third D-Line chairlift, an eight place at Loon Mountain set to open for the 2020-21 season.  The first such lift in the Eastern United States will replace the Kancamagus Express, a 1995 detachable quad servicing the lower mountain.  Like Boyne’s two Doppelmayr D-Line systems at Big Sky, the Kanc will feature tinted bubbles, heated seats, locking safety bars, a loading conveyor and direct drive.  “The Kancamagus 8 chairlift will be a leap into the future of skiing for our guests,” said Jay Scambio, president and general manager of Loon Mountain Resort.  “We are committed to bringing the latest advancements to our guests—this lift is the next example of that, following our first-in-the-world dual-frequency RFID installation.”

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Boyne will operate the only two eight place chairlifts in the Americas.

Loon Mountain currently operates an all-Doppelmayr fleet of ten lifts.  “We have a deep, long-standing relationship with both Loon and Boyne Resorts,” noted Mark Bee, President of Doppelmayr USA.  “We are proud to be a part of a major step forward in the eastern ski scene that puts Loon on a path towards achieving its goal of having one of the most advanced lift systems in the world.”  The east’s most technologically advanced lift will spin at 1,100 feet per minute, making it even faster than Ramcharger.  A ride on one of 62 ultra-wide chairs will take just 4.5 minutes.  Capacity out of the Governor Adams base area will increase 25 percent to 3,500 guests per hour.

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The Kancamagus quad is 24 years old and in need of a capacity upgrade.

No other American or Canadian ski operator has purchased eight place or D-Line lifts to date.  I asked Stephen Kircher, Boyne’s chief executive, what it feels like to be the American early adopter for such technology and this was his response:

It is humbling to be able to continue our company and family’s legacy of over 70 years bringing skiers the next generation of chairlift technology.  Now doing it beyond the midwest, with Doppelmayr’s new D-Line technology and doing it with the first two 8 place chairs is even more gratifying.  Ironically it took the rest of North America time to adopt triple, quad and six place chairlifts after those were introduced at Boyne in the 60’s through early 90’s, it seems eerily similar for 8 place chairlifts and the new D-Line.  Boyne Resorts is proud to be showcasing the future of uphill transportation in the rockies and the east.  We believe this will become the new standard of quality and efficiency in the decades ahead. This is likely only the beginning of many more of these types of lifts across North America.  Ultimately, enhancing the experience and attracting many more people to the mountains.”

– Stephen Kircher, CEO/President, Boyne Resorts

Kanc 8 will be the first major investment of Flight Path: 2030, a ten year infrastructure push at Loon also announced today.  Future projects will seek to elevate the ski experience, grow the business responsibly in every season and connect with the local community.  Lift upgrades over the next ten years may include Seven Brothers, Lincoln Express, North Peak Express and the gondola .  “Loon’s 10-year plan will have a positive impact on development throughout the Lincoln and Woodstock communities—as we travel together on our path to be New England’s premier mountain destination,” said Scambio.

The Forest Service has already approved the Kanc 8 project and construction will commence in early spring.

Big Sky to Build North America’s Fastest Six Seat Chairlift

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Swift Current 6 will join the existing Ramcharger 8 as an out-of-base workhorse in winter 2020-21.

Big Sky Resort will cement its position as America’s leader in lift technology with the debut of Swift Current 6, the resort’s fifth major lift addition in four years.  The announcement comes just 12 months after the launch of Ramcharger 8, the only eight place and first D-Line lift in North America.  By December 2020, two groundbreaking bubble chairlifts will rise from Big Sky’s Mountain Village: one to Andesite Mountain and the other flanking Lone Peak.  Not only will Big Sky operate the only two ski lifts in North America with Doppelmayr D-Line technology, the Boyne Resorts flagship will also feature the most lifts with heated seats (three) and the most bubble lifts (four, not counting the private Yellowstone Club which has 8.)

Swift Current 6 will span twice the distance of Ramcharger – about 8,500 feet across 24 towers – making it the fourth longest bubble lift on the continent.  126 premium upholstered chairs will yield a capacity of 3,000 passengers per hour, an increase of more than 25 percent versus the current detachable quad.  “Consistent lift improvements are an essential part of Big Sky’s 2025 vision,” noted Big Sky President and COO Taylor Middleton. “We know efficiently dispersing skiers across our almost 6,000 acres of skiing is essential to our guests.  Swift Current will dramatically modernize and improve the flow of skiers in the Mountain Village base area.”

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Swift Current provides a critical link between Andesite Mountain and Lone Peak and is utilized in both winter and summer.

Swifty’s 6 m/s line speed will mark a first for North American six place chairlifts and a flight to the heart of the alpine will last just seven minutes.  Many aspects will mimic Ramcharger 8, a pioneer still unmatched in the Americas.  Bubbles will come in Big Sky blue with heated seats underneath.  “This technology offers guests reliability, efficiency, and a staggeringly fast, warm, and comfortable ride up to the iconic Lone Peak—America’s Matterhorn,” said Stephen Kircher, CEO and President of Boyne Resorts.  “There will be no faster, safer or more comfortable chairlift in North America.”

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Keystone Seeks to Build Bergman Bowl Lift

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Fresh off announcing a plan to replace the Peru Express, Keystone Resort has submitted an application to the White River National Forest for construction of a new lift in Bergman Bowl.  As outlined in the resort’s 2009 master plan, the Bergman Bowl Express would rise approximately 1,000 vertical feet and service high alpine terrain above North Peak.  Topping out at an elevation of 12,200 feet, the lift would expand the resort’s lift-served vertical to nearly 3,000 feet.  The detachable quad would service 500-plus acres of terrain in both Bergman and Erickson Bowls, which are already within Keystone’s permit area.  The proposal also includes new snowmaking, below treeline trails, a warming hut and expansion of the existing Outpost restaurant.

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The Bergman lift alignment as envisioned in 2009.

“Keystone’s high alpine bowl skiing offers an exceptional variety of terrain which is currently only accessible via hiking or cat skiing,” said Jody Churich, vice president and general manager of Keystone Resort.  “This project would be transformational for Keystone, allowing guests to spread out across the resort and better utilize some of our existing above treeline terrain, as well as provide an open bowl skiing experience that appeals to a wide variety of ability levels from novice to expert.”

The project timeline and level of environmental review are up to the Forest Service.  More details should become public when the project hits the agency’s Schedule of Proposed Actions website.

Vail to Build New Lifts at Four Resorts in 2020

Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Okemo will all add new lifts next year in a mix of expansions and replacements.  Parent company Vail Resorts made the project announcements alongside a quarterly earnings report this afternoon.  “We remain committed to reinvesting in our resorts, creating an experience of a lifetime for our guests and generating strong returns for our shareholders,” said Vail Chairman and CEO Rob Katz.

At Beaver Creek, a new detachable quad will service the high alpine McCoy Park learning zone.  “This new lift accessed beginner and intermediate bowl experience is a rare opportunity to expand with highly accessible terrain in one of the most idyllic settings in Colorado and will further differentiate the high-end, family focused experience at Beaver Creek,” said the company.  A second quad chair will provide egress to the top of the Strawberry and Upper Beaver Creek Mountain Express lifts.

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The Peru Express opened in 1990 and will be supplanted by a higher capacity lift.

At Keystone, the Peru Express will be replaced by a six pack subject to government approval.  The new machine will increase out-of-base capacity and improve overall circulation.  Also in Summit County, a new detachable quad on Breckenridge’s Peak 7 will enhance uphill capacity near the Independence SuperChair.  “This additional lift will further enhance the guest experience at the most visited resort in the U.S. and will significantly increase guest access and circulation for the intermediate terrain on Peaks 6 and 7,” said Vail.

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Wasatch Peaks Ranch Targets 2021-22 Opening

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A group of investors plan to begin construction soon on a new 3,000 acre, 3,000′ vertical ski resort just 30 minutes from Salt Lake City.  Unlike at Utah’s 15 existing resorts, skiing at Wasatch Peaks Ranch will be reserved exclusively for investors and homeowners.  The site lies 10 miles south of Snowbasin Resort near the community of Peterson.  Wasatch Peaks recently tapped Bob Wheaton, former head of Deer Valley Resort to be President and CEO of the new venture.  Past Deer Valley owner Lessing Stern is one of 10 investors with more being sought.  Their plan includes building seven lifts, up to 750 housing units and two golf courses.

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Private mountain resorts have a checkered history in the United States.  The Yellowstone Club in Montana has grown to include 20 ski lifts and sold more than $1 billion worth of real estate.  But others in the east such as the Hermitage Club, Plymouth Notch and Otsego Club are now either shut down or open as public areas.

Utah is unique in the West with large swaths of the Wasatch Mountains privately owned.  Even public ski resorts like Deer Valley, Park City and Powder Mountain are located on private land, giving them more freedom to add lifts quickly and develop slopeside real estate.  Wasatch Peaks plans to build in phases based on market demand and fundraising.  Infrastructure construction is planned to begin next summer with the first phase of lifts following in 2021.

Gondola to Anchor Redeveloped Site Along Colorado’s Interstate 70

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Photo credit: Andy Colwell via The Colorado Sun

Halfway between Denver and Summit County’s ski resorts, 22 million vehicles a year transit I-70 in the town of Idaho Springs.  Local businesswoman Mary Jane Loevlie sees an opportunity for 400,000 of them to stop and take a gondola ride from the historic Argo Mill and Tunnel to a new summit plaza.  The Colorado Sun reports a group of investors led by Loevlie has partnered with Leitner-Poma to build The Mighty Argo Cable Car, an eight passenger gondola system in what was once a mining boom town.  “We are marrying outdoor recreation and heritage tourism at a reclaimed EPA Superfund site,” said Loevlie at a community gathering yesterday.  “You know what, we are putting the fun in Superfund.”

The concept resembles Silver Mountain, Idaho, a successful public-private partnership that saw construction of a 3.1 mile gondola adjacent to Interstate 90 atop of one of the nation’s largest EPA cleanup sites.  The Colorado project initially focused on constructing a hotel, conference center and stores but morphed to begin with the gondola due to revenue potential.  The 10 minute lift ride would ascend 1,300 vertical feet to a restaurant and park.  Capacity would be 600 visitors per hour, modest by ski lift standards.  Bike carriers would be included for adventurous guests seeking to take advantage of nearby trails.

Local approval for the project is still pending but it’s possible the gondola could launch as soon as next summer.  The Mighty Argo Cable Car would join an elite group of scenic tramways and gondolas across Colorado: the Estes Park Tramway, Glenwood Gondola, Monarch Crest Scenic Tram and Royal Gorge Gondola, all of which were constructed by Leitner-Poma and its predecessor companies.