Major Lift Realignment Underway at Michigan’s Bittersweet

Bittersweet in Michigan is making way for a second detachable chairlift in 2022. The mountain’s current high speed quad, the Sweet Express, will move northwest to replace the Poison Ivy triple this season. That late model Hall has been moved the other direction to replace the Chickory double. Along the way, Chickory will be upgraded with a brand new Skytrac drive terminal.

The lift shuffle come as Bittersweet owner Wisconsin Resorts expands to include six mountains in Michigan, Wisconsin and Ontario. Throughout its history, the company has invested heavily in both lift and snowmaking infrastructure.

The new Sweet Express is the third lift announced for the state of Michigan in 2022. On Wednesday, Boyne Mountain unveiled plans for the region’s first eight passenger chairlift. Caberfae Peaks also plans to add a new lift next year.

News Roundup: Planning Ahead

No Injuries Reported in Courchevel Tram Crash

Both cabins on a 120 passenger aerial tramway collided into stations earlier today in Courchevel, France. The Saulire Cable Car was undergoing tests at the time and no one was injured. “During an annual regulatory check carried out at the technical limits of the device, an incident severely damaged the two cabins,” read a statement from the Société des 3 Vallées, operator of the tramway. “An expert report will determine the causes of the incident and the S3V will do everything in its power to restore the ropeway in complete safety.”

The Saulire tramway was the world’s largest when built by Poma in 1984. At that time its cars carried up to 160 passengers each. Both cabins were renovated in 2013 at a cost of €300,000.

Courchevel makes up one part of Les 3 Vallées, the largest ski complex in the world with 183 lifts.

Boyne Mountain to Launch Midwest’s First Eight Seat Chairlift

Boyne Resorts’ commitment to modernizing lift infrastructure across its properties will continue in 2022. The company today announced construction of Disciples 8, an eight place chairlift replacing Disciples Ridge and Disciples II at Boyne Mountain. The Doppelmayr D-Line system will feature a direct drive, auto locking safety bars and a loading conveyor, though no bubbles due to its 3.2 minute ride time. D8 will be Boyne Resorts’ third eight passenger chairlift following installations at Big Sky Resort in 2018 and Loon Mountain this year.

Boyne Mountain has been a center of lift innovation ever since it opened with the Midwest’s first chairlift in 1948.  From there, Boyne introduced the world’s first quad in 1964 and installed America’s first high-speed six person chairlift in 1992. “Boyne Mountain started our company’s 75 year journey in the ski and resort business, and we are excited to again build on its incredible foundation of innovative industry firsts with the next generation of attractions and our heritage of elevating the Midwest resort experience,” said Stephen Kircher, CEO and president of Boyne Resorts. More information on other improvements announced today can be found here.

Future lift upgrades are planned for Meadows, Super Bowl, Victor, Boyneland and the Mountain Express, which will create the Midwest’s most advanced lift system.

Storm Damages Gallix Chairlift in Quebec

Heavy rains caused the drive terminal of a Northern Quebec ski resort’s only chairlift to collapse Sunday night. Photos from the scene show all four terminal legs and the operator house out of position with the motor room hanging precariously. The lift involved is a 1998 Doppelmayr fixed grip quad with a slope length of 2,660 feet.

“The Gallix station team is working hard to secure the perimeter of the lift pending the arrival of the supplier inspectors,” the mountain said in a statement. “During this time, we ask the public not to visit the scene because of the extreme danger of soil stability and chairlift structure. It’s still too early to conclude anything about the 2021-22 season. Thank you for your words of encouragement and understanding,” the mountain added.

The chairlift cost CA$1.5 million when it was installed. A meeting is scheduled for Wednesday between the ski area and its insurance company.

Doppelmayr Posts Pandemic Sales Decline

We now know how much the first 12 months of the Covid-19 pandemic impacted the tourism-reliant Doppelmayr Garaventa Group. Revenue declined 12.5 percent to €763 million ($891 million) for the 2020/21 fiscal year, which began concurrently with pandemic lockdowns and ran through March of this year. “Tourism in particular took a major global hit,” said Thomas Pichler, managing director of Doppelmayr Holding SE in the company’s annual report. “The uncertainties our customers were confronted with led to a slump in contracts and the postponement of calls to tender and orders throughout the ropeway industry. The repercussions will continue to make themselves felt in the next few years.”

Doppelmayr Garaventa downsized its global workforce by about 200 employees during the fiscal year. “In spite of all our efforts to absorb the financial fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic, we had to adjust personnel levels in line with the changed circumstances last fall,” said Pichler. “That was a painful but unfortunately necessary step. We are well equipped for the next few years with a committed team who stand by our customers with a solution-focused mindset.”

Even though sales reached the lowest level in nine years, the firm celebrated some major successes. For the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, its teams built nine installations in the new ski resort of Yanqing. A gondola in Zermatt became the first autonomous ropeway in Switzerland and the trailblazing Eiger Express 3S opened last December. A large urban D-Line system was also completed in Mexico City.

In United States and Canada, Doppelmayr completed 10 ropeways in calendar year 2020, down from 25 the year before. The two countries accounted for 13 percent of global revenue, a decrease from 17 percent in 2019/20. As readers of this blog know, the three largest North American resort operators postponed all their lift projects while many independent operators continued forward with theirs. This year most of Alterra, Vail and Boyne’s postponed projects are being completed and Doppelmayr’s US/Canada project count will reach at least 17 for 2021.

Despite setbacks, Doppelmayr sees reason for optimism with particular strength emerging in two markets. “Our customers in Asia and North America are investing and setting course for a successful future with cutting-edge ropeway infrastructure from Doppelmayr,” notes the report. “We are therefore looking to the future with confidence and continuing to pursue our goal of working with our customers to build the best ropeways in the world. Global tourism will recover and people will once again experience unforgettable moments in the mountains and other special places.”

Fire Shutters Big Snow

North America’s only indoor ski area will be closed for at least a week following an overnight fire. The three alarm blaze broke out around 4:15 am when the facility was empty and no one was injured. “Unfortunately, we will be closed at least through October 2nd as we assess the total damage and repairs needed to re-open,” the mountain posted in a statement. “We are tremendously thankful for the quick response and efforts of the local fire departments in working to contain this fire.” The fire was reported to have started in the roof, which supports snowmaking, lighting and lift systems. Firefighters do not consider the blaze to be suspicious.

The 180,000 square foot space includes a quad chair, platter lift and conveyor servicing three slopes. The snow dome contains 5,500 tons of snow which requires constant radiant cooling.

Big Snow is no stranger to setbacks. The original developer of the attraction went bankrupt and the lifts sat idle for 11 years. A new developer, Triple Five Group, partnered with Mountain Creek owner SNOW Operating to finally open the facility in December 2019. Then came Covid, which shut the operation down after only three months of operation. Big Snow kept its snow cold the entire lockdown and reopened in September of 2020. Now facing a fire cleanup, the mountain promises to be back and better than ever as soon as repairs are complete.

News Roundup: A Long Time Coming

Vail Resorts to Build 19 Lifts at 14 Resorts in 2022

Vail Resorts today announced it will pump $320 million into its mountains coming out of the pandemic, building a whopping 19 new lifts next year. The company’s largest-ever annual investment will include a new gondola at Whistler Blackcomb, the firm’s first North American eight person chairlift at Park City and expansion into Bergman Bowl at Keystone. Vail properties across the Northeast and Midwest will also see new lifts. “Our mission at Vail Resorts is to provide an Experience of a Lifetime to anyone who visits our resorts – and delivering on that mission requires constant re-imagination and investment into the guest experience,” said Rob Katz, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Vail Resorts. “Our teams have been hard at work identifying significant opportunities to improve the guest experience and have produced an initial list of exciting lift upgrades, a restaurant expansion and projects that expand access to incredible terrain for next season, with more to be announced.”

Subject to government approvals, lift projects planned ahead of the 2022-23 season include:

British Columbia, Canada

  • Whistler Blackcomb, Creekside Gondola: A new 8-person gondola, replacing the existing 6-person gondola, will significantly improve wait times and increase out-of-base uphill capacity by 35% in the Creekside area, especially on high-volume days.
  • Whistler Blackcomb, Big Red Express: The replacement of the existing high-speed 4-person lift with a high-speed 6-person chair will increase uphill capacity by nearly 30% and enhance and modernize the guest experience mid-mountain out of the Creekside area.

Colorado

  • Keystone Resort, Bergman Bowl: Enhancements to Bergman Bowl will include a new high-speed 6-person chairlift, increasing lift-served terrain by 555 acres. Additional enhancements include 16 new trails, a ski patrol facility and snowmaking infrastructure. This project unlocks access for novice and intermediate guests and provides expanded entry to expert terrain in Independence and Erickson Bowls.
  • Vail Mountain, Sun Down Lift: The installation of a new high-speed 4-person chair in the Sun Down Bowl from the base of Chair 5 (High Noon Express) to the Wildwood restaurant will materially reduce wait times on peak days at Chair 5 and create the opportunity for skiers and riders to much more conveniently access the trails in Sun Down Bowl.
  • Vail Mountain, Game Creek Bowl: Skiers and riders will see improved reliability and capacity in this popular bowl with the replacement of the current 4-person chair with a new high-speed 6-person lift, increasing capacity by nearly 50%.
  • Breckenridge Ski Resort, Rip’s Ride Lift: The beginner/ski and ride school experience will be enhanced at the highly utilized Peak 8 base area by replacing the current fixed-grip double with a high-speed 4-person chair, increasing uphill capacity by nearly 70% and improving out-of-base circulation.

Utah

  • Park City Mountain, Eagle Lift: A high-speed 6-person chair with a new mid-station will replace the existing Eagle lift, significantly reducing crowding and wait times, and improving the guest experience, especially for beginner skiers and ski and ride school guests.
  • Park City Mountain, Silverlode 8-Person Lift: Vail Resorts’ first-ever high-speed 8-person chair, replacing an existing 6-person chair, will increase uphill capacity by 20% and reduce wait times at a critical spot to circulate guests on mountain.

Lake Tahoe, California & Nevada

  • Northstar California, Comstock Lift: A new high-speed 6-person chair will replace the existing mid-mountain 4-person chair and is designed to reduce wait times at one of the mountain’s most popular lifts and increase uphill capacity by nearly 50%.
  • Heavenly Ski Resort, North Bowl Lift: The replacement of an existing fixed-grip triple with a high-speed 4-person chair will increase uphill capacity by more than 40% and reduce the combined ride time of the Boulder and North Bowl lifts, which is expected to reduce wait times at the Stagecoach and Olympic lifts.

Vermont & New Hampshire 

  • Stowe Mountain Resort, Mountain Lift: The replacement and extension of the existing fixed-grip triple to a high-speed 6-person lift will increase uphill capacity by 100%, eliminate the steep hike to the base of the lift, improve reliability on windy days and offer beginner and intermediate guests with better access to lower-level terrain choices.
  • Mount Snow, Sundance/Tumbleweed Lift: The replacement of the Sundance and Tumbleweed triples with one high-speed 6-person lift will improve access to underutilized terrain and alleviate pressure on other lifts in the main base area, increasing uphill capacity by nearly 70%.
  • Mount Snow, Sunbrook Lift: A new high-speed 4-person chair to replace the existing fixed-grip quad will significantly decrease the current 14-minute ride time by approximately 30% and result in better utilization of the Sunbrook terrain.
  • Attitash Mountain Resort: The replacement of the East and West Double-Double chairs with one fixed-grip 4-person chair will improve reliability and enhance the overall guest experience.

Pennsylvania & Ohio

  • Jack Frost/Big Boulder: The replacement and consolidation of multiple lifts at both resorts will improve reliability and enhance the overall guest experience. Jack Frost will receive two new fixed-grip 4-person chairs (one to replace the B & C lifts and the other to replace the E & F lifts) and Big Boulder will receive a new fixed-grip 4-person chair to replace the Edelweiss Triple.
  • Boston Mills/Brandywine: At Boston Mills, the resort will get a new fixed-grip 4-person chair replacing the Lift 5 double. At Brandywine, a new fixed-grip 4-person chair will replace the Lift 3 triple.

Including this latest capital plan dubbed the Epic Lift Upgrade, Vail Resorts’ total investment is expected to reach approximately $2.2 billion over 15 years. The move comes as Vail enjoys brisk season pass sales. Epic Pass adoption through September 17, 2021 for the upcoming 2021/2022 North American winter season increased approximately 42 percent in units and approximately 17 percent in sales dollars as compared to the same period in the prior year. Compared with pre-pandemic 2019, Epic Pass sales increased an incredible 67 percent in units and 45 percent in sales dollars.

Although no manufacturers were identified for the 19 new lifts, an initiative of this size is likely to include multiple suppliers.