Twin VonRoll Tramways Burn in France

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The Lognan tramway station on fire in Chamonix, France. Photo credit: Rob Atkinson

A rough summer turned even worse today for Compagnie du Mont-Blanc, the firm that operates lifts in the Chamonix Valley.  The middle station of the two section Grands Montets tramway caught fire, severing five cables and sending two of the four 60 passenger cabins to the ground.  VonRoll built both systems in 1962-63 and the first section was renovated in 1974, followed by the second in 1989.  The upper stage got new cabins in 2009 and the lower two were replaced in 2014.  The lifts are a combined 15,700 feet long with a massive 6,700 feet of vertical.

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The fire began around 1:50 pm in the roof of the intermediate station building, as captured on a nearby webcam.  Although the system operates in both winter and summer, apparently no trips were in progress at the time as the building was being renovated.

Helicopters fought the fire all afternoon and it is now extinguished.  The public is being warned to stay clear of the area as three ropes are still hanging on but could give way.  There are no reports of injuries, thankfully.

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Instagram Tuesday: Pouring

Every Tuesday, I feature my favorite Instagram photos from around the lift world.

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News Roundup: Not Cool

Alterra to Acquire Crystal Mountain

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Washington State’s largest ski resort will soon join the Alterra Mountain Company family of resorts.  The big news comes just a year and a half after John Kircher bought out the mountain from his family’s company, Boyne Resorts, which has owned Crystal since 1997.  The resort operates one of the most modern lift fleets in the country in the shadow of Mt. Rainier, less than two hours from Seattle.  Upon closing, Crystal Mountain Resort will join the Ikon Pass, giving Evergreen State passholders access to the two largest ski resorts in the region.  Boyne’s Summit at Snoqualmie signed on just last week offering 5-7 days and access at Crystal will be unlimited with no blackout dates on both the full Ikon and Ikon Base passes.  Alterra’s passes now include 39 mountains with a combined 468 lifts across the US and Canada plus partner resorts in Australia and Japan.  The third major player in the Washington Cascades, Stevens Pass, sold to Vail Resorts for $67 million earlier this year and joined the competing Epic Pass, which also includes nearby Whistler Blackcomb.

“With the addition of Crystal Mountain Resort in Washington, we are able to expand our reach into the Pacific Northwest and offer our guests incredible experiences in the Cascade Mountains, while also giving Crystal Mountain Resort skiers and riders the opportunity to explore all the other premier destinations on the Ikon Pass,” said Rusty Gregory, Chief Executive Officer at Alterra. “Crystal Mountain is Washington’s premier resort and has been a favorite year-round destination for those in the greater Seattle-Tacoma area for years, and we are excited to include it in the Alterra Mountain Company family.”  Crystal’s sale price was not disclosed and the deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter.

Like others before him, Mr. Kircher was probably made an offer he couldn’t refuse.  “It has always been my goal to ensure Crystal Mountain Resort be taken the farthest in the shortest amount of time in order to keep Crystal at the top of Northwest skiing,” he said in a statement. “Alterra Mountain Company is able to offer a depth of experience and resources, as well as inclusion on the Ikon Pass with its outstanding destinations throughout the world. The mountain sports business has changed more in the last year than I have seen it change in my entire 40-year career, and I am excited to see what lays ahead.”

Despite seven out of ten lifts being added or replaced in the last twenty years, Crystal’s master plan envisions more.  The proposed Kelly’s Gap Express would give direct access to the upper mountain from the lower parking lots and open up new runs below Green Valley.  A second new lift on the other side of the access road would open up terrain in Bullion Basin.  A second gondola could also link the base plaza with Campbell Basin.  Crystal’s three oldest lifts – Discovery, Gold Hills and Rainier Express (Washington’s first detachable chairlift) – could also be replaced by Alterra, which has committed to spending more than $550 million at its resorts over the next five years.

Instagram Tuesday: Both Sides

Every Tuesday, I feature my favorite Instagram photos from around the lift world.

Disney Skyliner Build Marches Toward Fall

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Eight is the magic number of gondola terminals now vertical in Florida.  Three haul ropes will soon connect these stations at two iconic theme parks and four distinct resorts to create the Disney Skyliner network.  With innovative loading capabilities and huge capacity, the Skyliner is poised to become a world showcase of gondola technology in 2019.

The gateway of Walt Disney World’s gondola system is being assembled this month at Epcot.  Like most of the Skyliner stations, cabins will likely transit two separate loading zones to accommodate throngs of passengers of all ages.  Each Skyliner building features a different theme and the outside of this one is going to be dark gray.

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News Roundup: Nine Figures

  • wild wind video from South America makes the internet rounds.  Anyone know why are there double and quad chairs on the same lift?
  • A founding partner of the hugely successful Sea to Sky Gondola looks at building a similar lift along the Trans-Canada Highway near Chilliwack, BC.
  • 9News checks in on Winter Park’s major gondola upgrade.
  • Mexicable’s second gondola line could be a $105 million monster: 5.2 miles long with six stations carrying an estimated 35,000 riders each day.
  • I usually write about lifts and not myself but Skytrac recently interviewed me.
  • A BC court will hear the case of a skier injured when a Mueller lift de-roped four years ago. Crystal Mountain never reopened following the incident, which was blamed on multiple factors.
  • A local photographer is posting weekly pictures of Killington’s three simultaneous lift installations.
  • Fatzer releases more details on the US debut of Compacta at Big Sky.
  • The Balsams withdraws its application for a $28 million state loan guarantee, effectively shelving redevelopment for now.
  • LST’s American lift number two looks sharp at Waterville Valley.
  • Another Blackcomb Gondola update courtesy of Rob at WB shows how giant UNI-G XXLs are.

Instagram Tuesday: Going Higher

Every Tuesday, I feature my favorite Instagram photos from around the lift world.

Updated: Ikon Pass Adds Brighton, Solitude, Taos & More

Alterra Mountain Company added both Big Cottonwood Canyon resorts to its flagship season pass today, giving buyers access to five resorts encompassing almost 10,000 acres of the Wasatch.  Brighton is the fifth Boyne Resorts-owned mountain to sign on to Ikon and will give passholders seven unrestricted days.  Ikon Base passholders will get five with blackout dates.  Alterra agreed to acquire Solitude in June and, as expected, access there will be unlimited and unrestricted with full pass.  “The Ikon Pass is expanding, and with the addition of Solitude Mountain Resort and Brighton Resort, we are excited to offer unparalleled access to Utah, a state known around the world for its snow quality, variety of terrain, and accessibility,” noted Erik Forsell, Alterra’s Chief Marketing Officer in a media release. “We are nearly 70 days away from opening day in North America and are thrilled to jump start the ski and snowboard season by adding more premier Ikon Pass destinations for winter 2018/2019.”

This could be a huge week for what is already the most expansive season pass on the market with varying degrees of access to 413 lifts at 34 mountains and currently priced at $999.  The direct competitor is the Epic Pass by Vail Resorts, which includes skiing at 24 North American destinations with 309 lifts for $899 (the Vail Resorts owned mountains are unlimited and unrestricted while partners Resorts of the Canadian Rockies and Telluride offer seven days each.)  The Mountain Collective Pass ($449 right now) includes two days at many of the same mountains as Ikon and offers access to 194 North American lifts.  Ikon, Epic and MCP all offer additional days in the Alps, Japan, Australia and/or New Zealand.  Another offering is the Powder Alliance, a free benefit for 18 participating resorts’ season passholders to ride a combined 132 lifts across the western US and Canada.

The above Instagram post implies that six more resorts will be added to the Ikon Pass by the end of the week – one tomorrow, four on Wednesday and one more on Thursday.  Obvious candidates are Mountain Collective resorts not yet included on Ikon – Snowbasin, Sun Valley and Taos – and remaining ex-MAX Pass resorts:

  • Alyeska, AK
  • Belleayre, NY
  • Boreal, CA
  • Boyne Mountain, MI
  • Boyne Highlands, MI
  • Buck Hill, MN
  • Crystal Mountain, WA
  • Cypress Mountain, BC
  • Granite Peak, WI
  • Gore Mountain, NY
  • Lee Canyon, NV
  • Lutsen Mountains, MN
  • Mountain Creek, NJ
  • The Summit at Snoqualmie, WA
  • Wachusett, MA
  • Windham Mountain, NY
  • Whiteface, NY

Of those, groupings that could be Wednesday’s announcement are the four outstanding Boyne Resorts or the four New York resorts.  The Pacific Northwest is another emerging battleground in the season pass war with Vail Resorts’ recent purchase of Stevens Pass.  Alterra has so far invited larger destination resorts onto Ikon and the biggest outstanding mountains in order of vertical are Panorama, Whiteface, Sun Valley, Mt. Bachelor, Taos, Crystal Mountain, Red Mountain, Sun Peaks, Mt. Hood Meadows, Smuggler’s Notch, Le Massif, Alyeska and Whitefish.  Stay tuned all week for updates!

Update 8/28: Ikon announced Taos, New Mexico this morning, bringing the pass to 35 mountains with a combined 422 lifts.  Access will be 7 unrestricted days or 5 with blackouts for the Ikon Base pass.

Update 8/29: As expected, today is Boyne day with the addition of Boyne Highlands, Boyne Mountain, Cypress Mountain and The Summit at Snoqualmie.  39 mountains with a combined 466 lifts now participate in Ikon.  That’s approximately one in every five ski lifts in the US and Canada.  In addition, Boyne-owned Sugarloaf, Sunday River and Loon Mountain are now considered separate destinations.  Ikon passholders will get 7 days at each (5 with the Ikon Base pass.)

Update: 8/30: The final addition for the week is Niseko, Japan.  There may be more resorts coming up as the Ikon Facebook page says “Ikon Pass is known for news. Stay tuned.”

News Roundup: Bahn

  • Bretton Woods’ upcoming gondola gets a great name: Presidential Bahn.
  • Copper updates the public on its big new American Eagle and American Flyer lifts.
  • For the third time in six years, Soldier Mountain, Idaho hits the market.  “The current owners have experienced the typical start up challenges that come with operating a ski area that has been under capitalized, under managed and under marketed for many years,” writes Mike Krongel of Mirus Resort Advisors.
  • The BC Supreme Court orders the province to reconsider its 2015 decision to pull  Jumbo Glacier Resort’s construction permit over lack of progress.
  • Mont Cascades scores a $1.2 million grant from the Government of Quebec to help build the resort’s longest chairlift yet.
  • The criminal case of a former employee who may or may not have been stuck on a Gore Mountain chairlift overnight last winter heads to trial.
  • Snow King’s possible gondola gains two new alignment options.  GM Ryan Stanley tells the Jackson Hole community “After struggling for so many years to keep the lifts spinning, it is sad to see the negativity associated with proposed improvements to the mountain.”
  • The 380 acre Cold Springs Canyon expansion and detachable quad are officially a go for next summer at Sun Valley.
  • Doppelmayr nears commissioning of a very cool gondola with spherical cabins, loopy towers and whimsical stations in Moscow.
  • Stratton says goodbye to the SMS Poma, leaving just seven detachable surface lifts in the country by my count.
  • 36 days before opening, go inside the eye-catching Matterhorn 3S gondola by Leitner Ropeways.
  • Thanks to Everett and Will for these shots of Big Sky’s trailblazing Ramcharger 8 project.