Only a handful of ski mountains in the United States are government owned and operated. The largest public ski outfit by far is New York’s Olympic Regional Development Authority, which runs Belleayre, Gore Mountain, Whiteface and the Olympic Ski Jumping Complex at Lake Placid. All but one of these properties are likely to see new lifts in 2019. Because the mountains are funded in part by taxpayers, potential lift projects are subject to competitive procurement. Over the last month, the Authority has opened requests for proposals for a new high speed quad at Gore Mountain, a quad chair at Whiteface and a surprise gondola at the ski jump.
Back on September 17th, ORDA opened bidding for a chairlift replacement project at Gore Mountain. “Gore Mountain Ski Resort will be replacing their existing triple chair lift with a high speed detachable quad chair lift,” notes the New York State Contract Reporter. “This would be a turnkey project where the winning bidder would provide all materials, labor and equipment to build and install the lift.” This is almost certainly the approved upgrade of Hudson, a 2010 Partek build. Bids were due last Tuesday and the term is 12 months. Leitner-Poma of America built the last three detachable lifts at Gore, so I’d argue it is their contract to lose.
Next up is an RFP for a new Bear Den quad at Whiteface, the largest ski mountain in the east by vertical. The current Riblet triple in the Bear Den base area will become one of many late model Riblet lifts to be replaced recently. I assume this one will be fixed grip but the contract reporter website does not specify. Bids are due on Monday, November 26th. Doppelmayr would seem to have the edge at Whiteface, having built the mountain’s three newest lifts.
A day use ski area in the Cascade Mountains with lifts dating back to the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s is one step closer to becoming a regional destination with overnight accommodations. Over the summer, Mission Ridge submitted applications to both the Forest Service and Chelan County seeking to cut new runs, build more lifts, add a second base area and debut cross country ski trails.
Seattleite Larry Scrinavich purchased Mission Ridge Ski & Board Resort from Seattle-based Harbor Properties in 2003 and went to work, installing the resort’s first high-speed detachable quad. The Liberator Express, together with big snowmaking investments, took Mission Ridge to the next level. The ski area enjoyed its third best season to date last year, tallying 114,000 skier days.
Following a dozen years of quiet growth, Mr. Scrivanich and his team are ready to elevate Mission Ridge further. “We’re really excited about the Mission Ridge expansion plan,” General Manager Josh Jorgensen says in a launch video. “The ski industry is certainly changing. With Vail Resorts and Alterra purchasing Stevens Pass and Crystal Mountain Resort in the last six months, our effort to stay modern, current and relevant in terms of infrastructure is more important than ever.”
Sipapu Ski & Summer Resort has submitted a master plan amendment to the Forest Service seeking to expand by 924 acres while adding 51 new trails, four new lifts, a mountain coaster and more. This should come as no surprise given the resort’s history, current layout and owner – the collective of southwestern ski resorts known as Mountain Capital Partners. Like with the resort’s accepted 2012 master plan, Sipapu continues to envision two new base-to-summit lifts. Today, it takes two fixed-grip lift rides to reach 9,295′, well below the actual summit of the mountain.
A mile-plus long Sipapu Express would rise from the current base area to a new beginner learning zone at nearly 9,700 feet with a second chairlift and two carpets. Because it would operate in both winter and summer for a variety of guests, the Sipapu Express is proposed as a chair/gondola combination lift. Mountain Capital Partners and its managing partner, James Coleman, plan to build a similar lift at Arizona Snowbowl as soon as next summer. A second detachable lift at Sipapu, the Westside Express, would service intermediate terrain in an entirely new pod beyond the current permit area. “This lift will provide access to the abundant intermediate fall line skiing terrain that has been identified to address the deficiency of intermediate terrain within the existing SUP Area,” the plan notes. This one would be around 4,400 feet long with a capacity of 2,400 skiers per hour. The plan would also see Lift 1 realigned and replaced with a ift capable of moving 2,400 skiers per hour. Lift 3, one of the last remaining high-speed Pomas in the country, is unfortunately slated for removal without replacement.
The retired Al’s Run quad from Taos is headed to Texas to anchor the state’s first lift-assisted bike park, Spider Mountain. Mountain Capital Partners is behind project and will host a preview mountain bike race on September 29th. Skytrac is installing the lift, which will open sometime next year. “There is a much larger plan for the property and bikes are just a part of it,” says a poster on Bike Mojo involved in trail building. Spider Mountain sits just outside Burnet, Texas and has a 350 foot vertical rise with views of Buchanan Lake.
MCP Managing Partner and CEO James Coleman is a University of Texas at Austin alum and Spider Mountain is about an hour away from the fast-growing city. His company currently operates ski resorts in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. This project brings the number of new chairlifts and gondolas outside of ski country to eight this year. From bike parks to theme parks, fairs and urban transport applications, ropeways are proving their usefulness around the country.
Two days before Halloween, Colorado’s Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park will close for the longest stretch in years so its pulse gondola can be replaced with a detachable one. The Iron Mountain Tramway is a 2002 Poma model and I’m happy to report it will find a new home 1,000 miles down I-70. SkyTrans Manufacturing has purchased most of the machine and will will turn it into a fixed-grip chondola at Aerie’s Resort in Grafton, Illinois. This town of 675 sees more than 1.5 million cars pass through each year and Aerie’s already operates a winery and zip line on the site. The lift, to be known as the Grafton Sky Tour, is a joint venture of the resort, SkyTrans, and ride operator SkyFair. “The goal is to build something that is not only a unique year-round attraction, but also a substantial revenue generator for the city and a boon to the entire Riverbend tourism experience,” the companies said in a press release. The Sky Tour will be the only combination lift in the Midwest and only the second fixed-grip chondola in North America.
The gondola will undergo a bunch of changes for its new mission. Because Leitner-Poma is reusing the 18 towers in Glenwood, SkyTrans will fabricate new ones for Grafton. The company will also swap the 400 HP DC drive and system with a 100 HP AC one (vertical matters!) There are 18 CWA Omega cabins currently on the Iron Mountain lift, 12 of which will make it on the chondola in groups of three. 15 triple chairs will fill in between gondola pods for a total of 72 carriers. A similar Leitner-Poma lift at Anakeesta, Tennessee has a 26 chair-2 cabin cadence and operates at only 200 feet per minute. A one way Sky Tour will last just over 13 minutes.
Aerie’s owner Jeff Lorton and late SkyTrans leader Jerry Pendleton dreamed up the idea for a lift in Grafton five years ago and it was presented to town leadership last spring. The $2 million project is anticipated to open around Memorial Day.
With a new President appointed, new RFID ticketing, new snow cats and new terrain this season, Revelstoke Mountain Resort is upping its game. Canada’s newest mountain playground today revealed even more improvements coming for 2019-20, including new beginner chair and surface lift. The high elevation beginner zone will sit between The Ripper and Revelation Gondola, its quad chair called Cupcake. “This lift will provide an ideal training ground for beginner skiers and riders, and also provides direct access to the Ripper, alleviating some of the pressure on the Stoke Chair,” noted Vice President of Operations Peter Nielsen. The lift will take just over three minutes to ride and move 1,800 skiers per hour. Leitner-Poma Canada constructed all four of Revelstoke’s current lifts, though no manufacturer was specified for the new one. The resort has also placed a third order for 22 gondola cabins, bringing the second stage of Revelation to its design capacity of 2,800 guests each hour in 2019.
Located on the Trans-Canada “Powder” Highway between Kicking Horse and Sun Peaks, Revelstoke is one of three Ikon Pass destinations in British Columbia. The new lift will be the first built since Revelstoke ran out of cash in late 2008, less than a year after opening. By the time Leitner-Poma finished the company’s second batch of lifts, the global financial crisis doomed the Denver-based developer of Revelstoke Mountain Resort, which sold it to Northland Properties. It took a decade, but many of BC’s interior resorts are back in the green and adding lifts again. “We are well poised for a second lift and future on-mountain infrastructure development,” says Revelstoke.
The Schaefer family bought Catamount Ski Area just three months ago but already has grand plans for their second ski resort. The co-owners hope to bring the same success to Catamount the group did to Berkshire East, now a year-round destination that saw two new lifts since 2007. Catamount, which sits partly in Massachusetts and half way in New York, is eighty years old. Previous owners Tom Gilbert and Rich Edwards became unable to make the capital investments they knew they needed to. “To remain really competitive in the ski industry there’s many things that need to be done, and we’ve been trying over the years to raise some capital to do these projects,” Gilbert told the Berkshire Eagle in May following the sale announcement. “We realized we were not successful in raising capital and realized we needed to bring something in.” Berkshire East paid $650,000 for the mountain and retired Catamount’s $1.6 million in outstanding debt.
A new triple chair will soon improve the beginner experience on the Massachusetts side of the mountain. The lift is likely to be a 1987 Poma Alpha model which began its life in Vermont as Magic Mountain’s Sun Corner lift. Magic went dark only four years later and the triple flew south to Berkshire East, where it was the Summit lift. Skytrac replaced it with a quad in 2014 and the Poma has sat awaiting a new home ever since. Ironically, a used chairlift from Stratton will finally return lift service to Magic’s Sun Corner this fall after 27 years.
Catamount’s new 1,600′ lift will run up up the Esplanade trail. I suspect this will be a 2019 project but there’s a chance it could happen sooner. The triple will complement four existing lifts, which are two SLI doubles, a Thiokol triple from Solitude, Utah and a Garaventa CTEC quad relocated from Belleayre, New York. Catamount also plans to add a brand new 7,600 square foot lodge.
Well over two million people in the Las Vegas region have just one ski resort within day trip reach, a unique situation among western US metros. The mountain is Lee Canyon, which operates three fixed-grip chairlifts on 785 acres flanking Charleston Peak. On Wednesday, the Forest Service published a 219 page Draft Environmental Impact Statement for a major expansion and upgrade plan developed by longtime owner Powdr Co. Two alternatives would each add a pair of fixed grip quads and two new carpets lifts while a no action option would see the resort remain within the operating footprint it has since 1967.
Goals of the expansion are to update and renovate ski area infrastructure, balance lift and trail capacity, meet growing demand from Las Vegas and the surrounding area and expand year-round recreational opportunities. The proposed Chair 5 pod would become the next step up from the Rabbit Peak bunny hill, providing beginners and low intermediate skiers the opportunity to transition to a chairlift and ski a variety of longer green runs. Chair 5 would be an 1,800 person-per-hour fixed-grip quad chairlift with a loading conveyor. The lift would be 1,400 feet long, with a vertical rise of 310 feet. It would be a top drive lift with approximately 7 towers. In order to access the Chair 5 bottom terminal, a new 500 foot conveyor, Lift 6, would be installed from near the bottom terminal of Chair 3 to near the bottom terminal of Chair 5.
Similar to the existing Chair 2, Chair 8 would be a step up in difficulty from Chair 5, accessing mostly intermediate runs with some easier and some more difficult terrain within that category. It would be a fixed-grip quad chairlift with a capacity of 1,800 pph, 2,200 feet long, with a vertical rise of 650 feet. It would be a bottom drive lift with approximately 16 towers. With alternative 2, the lift would be shortened to load higher up. Other proposed improvements in both alternatives are new biking and hiking trails, a new skier services building, another parking lot, expanded snowmaking, a zip tour and mountain coaster.
I wrote briefly a few weeks ago about Parks Canada’s proposed site guidelines for Sunshine Village, the second largest ski resort in Banff National Park. Banff Sunshine operates a unique gondola and nine quad chairlifts within a UNESCO World Heritage site surrounded by spectacular scenery – the only resort to span two Canadian provinces. This document will govern the public-private partnership between Sunshine Village Corporation and Banff National Park through 2060. Currently, Sunshine’s capacity is capped at 6,000 skiers, though Sunshine says it only has enough parking for 4,500. The future could allow for more visitors – but exactly how is up for debate.
Site guidelines Parks Canada proposed last month set a new skiers at one time figure of 8,500 at build-out compared with the 11,500 settled upon at Lake Louise and 3,800 at nearby Mt. Norquay. Sunshine says it “reluctantly” agreed to the 8,500 number a few years ago even though the resort could theoretically reach 12,900 persons at one time (PAOT). The new Parks Canada plan includes a gondola reliever lift as well as three new lifts in Lower Meadow Park, Hayes Hill and Goat’s Eye II, areas which currently sit within the Sunshine lease area.
The Los Angeles Timesreports this morning that Warner Bros. Entertainment is seeking to build a $100 million aerial tramway in California’s largest metropolis. The one mile, $100 million project would improve public access to the famed Hollywood sign atop Mt. Lee and include a new visitor center, viewing platform and walking paths. The company already operates a popular studio tour on the site of the proposed lower terminal.
The Hollywood Skyway would be entirely funded by Warner Bros. but occupy some public land in Griffith Park, home to the iconic sign since 1923. Therefore, operating revenue would be shared with the City of Los Angeles. Nearby neighborhoods have struggled to cope with the flood of tourists seeking to get a glimpse from every possible direction with no formal viewing area. A ride on the Skyway would take six minutes from a parking garage to the northwest that Warner Bros. owns in Burbank. “This requires a bold solution,” the firm’s facilities chief Jon Gilbert said to the Times. “If we really want to make a difference … it’s got to be something compelling. Partial solutions are not going to do the trick, and people will continue to inundate the neighborhoods.”
Warner Bros. is owned by WarnerMedia, which became part of AT&T less than a month ago. A similar gondola floated a year ago would load at Comcast-owned Universal Studios Hollywood. More than 90 chairlifts, gondolas and tramways now operate at non-skiing venues such as parks and zoos in North America. Powerhouse competitor Walt Disney Co. is currently building a series of gondolas at its flagship theme park in Florida. A statement from Warner Bros. argues the Skyway is the best option in Hollywood:
Given our close proximity to the north side of the Hollywood sign, we believe we offer a solution that has the least impact on the environment — protecting and preserving Griffith Park — and the surrounding residential neighborhoods. We understand there are a number of possible solutions being considered, but we are confident the City’s feasibility study will show our proposal to be the best option — an option that can be built and operated at no cost to the taxpayer and that will provide public benefit to the City of Los Angeles and its residents.
The Hollywood Skyway project could take around five years to complete. The chosen technology appears to be a reversible aerial tramway rather than a continuous movement gondola system. This surprises me given the large volume of potential visitors. The need for air conditioning could be a factor as well as a desire to build as few towers as possible in an urban park. In my view, a 3S gondola would be the best of both worlds and one Warner Bros. could likely afford.