It’s almost November and by my count construction is wrapping up on 33 lifts across the US and Canada. With the usual caveat that there could be a lift project I haven’t heard about, 2015 will be the fourth year in a row that the total number of new lifts has declined. Nonetheless there are some encouraging trends – namely more of this summer’s lifts were (expensive) detachables and more were brand new rather than re-installations of used lifts.
Looking geographically, there’s no question the dismal snow situation last winter killed the market for lifts in the Sierras and Cascades. In a typical year, Washington, Oregon and British Columbia account for five new lifts and this year they had zero. The Rockies were a bright spot this summer, with at least one new lift being built in every Rocky Mountain state except Montana. Colorado had a particularly strong year, building five new lifts including four detachables. Utah had almost as good a year, thanks largely to Vail Resorts’ mega-project at Park City. Colorado averages 4.4 new lifts a year and Utah 3.3 and both came out ahead of those numbers this summer.
The Midwest was about average for snowfall last winter but its ski areas built just one new lift and one used lift this year. The one bright spot was Lutsen in Minnesota which spent $7 million with Doppelmayr to rebuild the Midwest’s only gondola. Looking further east, Vermont was a success story, getting three brand new lifts from both Leitner-Poma and Doppelmayr. Despite averaging more than five new lifts a year, nowhere else in the Northeast invested in a new lift despite a stellar winter in 2014-15.
Canada had a tough year with only three lifts going in at Sunshine Village, Boler Mountain and Mont Cascades. In a normal construction season the country’s resorts build 7-8 new lifts. My take is newer resorts in Western Canada – places like Sun Peaks, Revelstoke and Kicking Horse – were hit particularly hard by the Great Recession and still haven’t recovered.