A 16 minute flight between Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows took a jump forward this morning as the Truckee National Forest and Placer County released the draft environmental impact statement for the California Express gondola. The big three stage lift was first proposed by the owner of both mountains, KSL Capital Partners, more than two years ago and is now being championed by Alterra Mountain Co. At 808 pages, the EIS required under the National Environmental Policy Act outlines three possible alignments which could unite the steeps and village at Squaw Valley with the beginner and intermediate paradise of Alpine Meadows.
Two of the alternatives are new while the other two should be familiar to readers of this site. Other concepts such as a pulse gondola, expanded shuttle service and even an underground train were eliminated as part of the preliminary review, which was completed by SE Group and Ascent Environmental of Sacramento. Alternative 1 is the required no-action option, which would keep Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows separate but equal. Shuttle buses would continue running every 30 minutes between the two mountains, which already share a common lift ticket.
The lift would move 1,400 skiers per hour in 8-passenger cabins painted white to blend in with the winter environment. It would operate from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm with skiing allowed from the mid-station(s) when conditions permit. There would be separate drive systems and separate cabin parking facilities at each end so two sides could operate independently. The middle section of the lift would operate as part of the Alpine Meadows side and approximately 40 percent of the cabins would be stored at Squaw Valley with the remaining 60 percent at Alpine during storm events and the summer.
When Alterra revealed its hefty roster of 2018 upgrades on a Monday in March, Deer Valley Resort was noticeably absent. The Utah flagship has averaged nearly one new lift every year since its 1981 inception but is coming off of a five year drought since the Mountaineer Express was added. Now, as the Vail-owned owned neighbor builds a detachable beginner lift above Canyons Village, the Park Recordreports Deer Valley is finalizing plans to replace the Homestake quad with a detachable of its own this offseason.
Garaventa CTEC installed the current Homestake lift, which runs roughly parallel to the downhill section of the Silver Lake Express, in 1999. It is only 1,720 feet long but serves as a key link between Bald Mountain and Bald Eagle Mountain. The new machine would be the sixth shortest detachable in the U.S. and might re-use some components like towers. It is almost certain to be built by Doppelmayr USA, which is based just down I-80 in Salt Lake. The resort says it is still finalizing plans and lining up permits but it’s looking like there will be only a handful of fixed-grip chairlifts remaining next season at Deer Valley. With this likely addition, 2018 is now pacing nearly 30 percent above last year for announced new lift construction with a very busy summer ahead across North America.
Alterra Mountain Co., the new operator of eleven leading North American mountain resorts, today announced a transformational capital investment of $130 million to be followed by hundreds of millions more over the next five years. New lifts will debut at Winter Park Resort in Colorado, Mont Tremblant in Quebec and Stratton Mountain Resort in Vermont in time for next winter. Competitor Vail Resorts revealed a similar $150 million plan for 2018-19 with six new lifts across its resorts last December.
The largest single project for Alterra is a 10-passenger Zephyr Gondola at Winter Park replacing the current 1990 high-speed quad, the key people mover out of The Village at Winter Park. The new $16 million Leitner-Poma lift will be capable of moving 3,600 guests per hour to Sunspot, up from 2,600, and is the first new lift at the resort since 2007. It will feature Leitner-Poma’s DirectDrive technology, reducing energy consumption and the number of moving parts that can lead to down time. The new lift may also get a new name. “Zephyr is certainly on the table but nothing’s been decided yet,” said Steve Hurlbert, a spokesman for the resort.
The latest battle in the 2018-19 season pass war is being waged to the north. Vail Resorts today announced the Epic Pass will now include up to seven days at six mountains owned by Resorts of The Canadian Rockies – Fernie, Kicking Horse, Nakiska, Kimberley, Mont-Sainte-Anne and Stoneham. The addition of these MAX Pass refugees follows Alterra’s recent announcement that Revelstoke, Sunshine Village, Lake Louise, Mt. Norquay and Sugarbush will join the new Ikon Pass. In addition, Telluride has defected from the MCP to join Epic and Ikon partner Big Sky Resort will also join the Mountain Collective.
The 10th anniversary Epic Pass will go on sale tomorrow with access to 21 North American destinations with 284 lifts. It will offer unlimited skiing with no blackout dates at Vail Resorts owned mountains and a limited number of days at partner properties like Telluride. Epic Passes will also offer access to international resorts including Hakuba Valley, Japan; Perisher, Australia; and Val d’Isère, France. In theory, you could hit a crazy 61 resorts on this pass. Pricing is still pending.
The 2018-19 Mountain Collective Pass is on sale now for $409 and includes up to 33 days at 16 destinations, most of which are unchanged from last year (Telluride is out, Big Sky in.) The MCP includes access to 19 separate mountains in North America with 231 lifts and 50 percent off days after the first two. Most Mountain Collective destinations are also on the new Ikon Pass for those seeking more days.
The Ikon Pass offers unlimited access to most of Alterra Mountain Co.’s resorts with limited access to Deer Valley and numerous partner resorts. The flagship pass will cost $899 with a blackout date version for only $599. Ikon includes the most North American options by far with 32 mountains and 400 lifts. It’s not quite as many as the defunct MAX Pass (45 mountains, 435 lifts) but Ikon offers many more days at higher-caliber places. The Ikon also goes on sale tomorrow.
Alterra Mountain Company dropped a bomb at the Outdoor Retailer/SIA show this morning, announcing the forthcoming Ikon Pass will bring together its dozen North American resorts along with eleven other major mountains. Aspen Skiing Company, Boyne Resorts, Powdr Co. and more have partnered with Alterra to add destinations such as Aspen Snowmass, Alta, Snowbird, Big Sky, Killington and Jackson Hole. “The Ikon Pass is a collaboration of like-minded mountain destinations across North America where incredible terrain, unique character and local traditions are celebrated,” said Erik Forsell, Chief Marketing Officer for Alterra Mountain Company. “We’ve curated a community of iconic destinations. We believe this new pass offers tremendous opportunity and appeal to mountain enthusiasts who have a passion for outdoor adventure.”
Pass options will range from a set number of days at varying destinations to an ultimate, unlimited season pass. I can’t stress enough how much this changes big mountain skiing in North America. For years now, Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass has been the largest and most successful season pass product in the world, now offering access to 272 lifts and 44,000 acres at 15 mountains in North America and Australia to some 750,000 passholders. Ikon will one-up Vail’s terrain offering with access to 23 top-tier North American resorts, a ridiculous 363 lifts and 48,840 acres (for both passes, I am counting gondolas, chairlifts and surface lifts with towers. If carpets and rope tows are included, the Epic Pass offers 340 lifts while Ikon has 434.)
Ikon Pass resorts for 2018-19 will be:
Alpine Meadows, California
Aspen Highlands, Colorado
Aspen Mountain, Colorado
Bear Mountain, California
Blue Mountain, Ontario
Big Sky, Montana
Copper Mountain, Colorado
Deer Valley, Utah
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
June Mountain, California
Loon Mountain, New Hampshire
Mammoth Mountain, California
Snowshoe, West Virginia
Snow Summit, California
Squaw Valley, California
Sunday River, Maine
Winter Park, Colorado
Ikon passholders will also receive discounts and special offers at CMH heli-skiing in British Columbia. Epic holders already enjoy limited access to 30 European resorts. The Liftopia-powered Mountain Collective Pass, which allows destination skiers to sample many large resorts, will remain an option in its current form and also go on sale in March. The M.A.X. Pass, founded by Intrawest, Powdr and Boyne, will sunset. Specific Ikon tiers and prices will be released in the coming weeks.
Combine altitude and terrain and you get a portmanteau called Alterra. Starting today, it’s the new name for the affiliate of KSL Capital Partners and Henry Crown and Company (owner of Aspen Skiing Company) that brought 12 major mountain resorts under one umbrella last year. Based in Denver, Alterra now rivals Vail Resorts in scale but promises each of its resorts will retain an independent character. “Alterra Mountain Company is made up of unique mountain destinations, each with a personality and spirit that has delighted visitors for generations,” said David Perry, President and COO of the company in a release. “Our vision at Alterra Mountain Company is to protect and enhance what makes each destination special, inviting guests back to their favorite mountain, and enticing them to visit new destinations on their bucket list.” Alterra’s dozen resorts operate a combined 196 lifts while Vail has 228 across its 13 North American resorts.
Hopefully you’ll be reading about Alterra often on this blog in the coming years as the group makes lift investments across its mountains. They include Steamboat and Winter Park in Colorado; Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, Mammoth Mountain, June Mountain, Bear Mountain and Snow Summit in California; Stratton, Vermont; Snowshoe, West Virginia; Deer Valley, Utah and Tremblant and Blue Mountain in Canada.