How Many Lifts Might Alterra Buy in 2019?

At just 15 months old, Alterra Mountain Company finds itself with over 200 chairlifts, gondolas and tramways in two countries.  The 13 Alterra mountains mirror the broader ski industry with places like Deer Valley and Crystal Mountain sporting many newer lifts while the average chairlift at June Mountain is 45 years old.

On a Monday last March, the fledgling company based in Denver simultaneously unveiled its very first lift investments at Stratton, Tremblant and Winter Park along with other improvements like snowmaking at Snowshoe and a new restaurant at the base of Steamboat.  Importantly, Alterra committed to spending $555 million in total capital over five years.  That was before it bought Solitude and Crystal Mountain, which could mean even more money flowing over the next few construction seasons.  While last year’s budget only included three new lifts, could we see more in 2019?

Colorado

With the September approval of major projects by the Forest Service, Steamboat is poised for a comprehensive on-mountain transformation.  Although the timing is fluid, a new Rough Rider learning center at mid-mountain will eventually be serviced by a new gondola from the village.  Here, skiers and snowboarders will be able to choose from three new carpet lifts, a new and improved Bashor lift and a second fixed-grip chair replacing the Rough Rider surface tow.

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A second initiative Steamboat could undertake in 2019 is the Pioneer Ridge expansion, which includes a 7,000 foot detachable quad and a dozen new trails.  Other possible upgrades include adding chairs to Pony Express (currently at only 1,200 skiers per hour but designed for 2,400)  or new cabins for the Silver Bullet.  Wouldn’t it be cool for the new gondola and original one to have similar cabins?

The average lift at Alterra-operated Winter Park Resort is 27 years old.  Six are early model detachable quads coming up for replacement.  In the case of 32 year old Pioneer Express, an upgrade is overdue and I expect coming in 2019.  A new version could add a snowboarder friendly mid loading station above the last section of Big Valley.

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Pioneer is one of only four remaining Poma detachables in North America with separate Alpha drive units.

A second project I hope to see is a second stage of the new gondola from Sunspot to Lunch Rock, truly uniting Winter Park and Mary Jane.  Sunnyside should be a high speed quad or six pack.  A high speed replacement of Challenger would be a nice upgrade at Mary Jane.  Looking Glass is tied for the oldest operating chairlift in Colorado.  After Pioneer, High Lonesome is the next Poma detachable up for replacement if we go solely by age.

The above Intrawest era master plan earmarked Gemini Express to be converted into an eight passenger gondola with a new learning center surrounding its top station.  Endeavor could go detachable as part of this project and/or Discovery made into a fixed grip quad.  Finally, a lift is envisioned to expand Vasquez Ridge Territory with four new intermediate trails. With all of these ideas on the table, I expect Winter Park to get at least one lift in 2019 and hopefully two.

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News Roundup: Rope Time

  • Searchmont, Ontario sells to Wisconsin Resorts, the firm behind Pine Knob, Mt. Holly and Ski Bittersweet in Michigan as well as Alpine Valley, Wisconsin.
  • Mike Solimano of Killington reveals what three lifts he would upgrade if given $100 million to spend at The Beast.
  • The new Winter Park gondola is creatively named Gondola.
  • Grand Junction’s NBC affiliate takes viewers inside the factory where Leitner-Poma lifts are created.
  • The two stage Blackcomb Gondola is almost finished; thanks Max for these pictures.
  • Next up for Ramcharger 8 at Big Sky: installation of an in-terminal video wall and the haul rope, which is going up right now.
  • Beech Mountain commissions its twin fixed grip quads.
  • Freeskier looks at Alterra’s whirlwind growth and future trajectory.
  • Rope pulling commences tonight at Walt Disney World, 24 years to the day since the Disneyland Skyway cable was taken down for good.
  • This week’s new trail map comes from Hunter Mountain.
  • In an act of sabotage, someone cuts into three haul ropes at a Pyrenees ski resort.

News Roundup: A World Away

  • As Vail Resorts shakes up management in the northeast, outgoing Mt. Sunapee GM Jay Gamble reflects on 20 years of growth including four new lifts and 110,000 annual skier visits.
  • Vail also says goodbye to Sunapee’s Duckling double after 55 years.
  • The owner of Mt. Washington, British Columbia; Ragged Mountain, New Hampshire; Wisp, Maryland and Wintergreen, Virginia takes over operations at Powderhorn, Colorado.
  • Propelled by five major projects in Colorado, Leitner-Poma says 2018 is it biggest year ever in the United States.
  • The $2 billion Salesforce Transit Center in San Francisco, which features a short aerial tramway, is mired in problems unrelated to the lift.
  • Construction begins in Switzerland for the world’s second longest 3S with the most towers – seven.
  • With new six and eight passenger lifts, Big Sky Resort shifts away from the double/triple/quad lift lingo.
  • Alterra names KSL veteran Adam Knox Senior Vice President of Strategy and Corporate Development to lead the company’s acquisitions and resort partnership group.
  • Due to the amount of lift work needed after seven shuttered years, Cockaigne, NY won’t reopen this winter after all.
  • One of the longest Riblets retired from Snowmass turns up in the Pakistani town where Osama bin Laden was killed.
  • A freshly cut lift line is spotted in the Spanish Peaks development adjacent to Big Sky Resort, probably for the planned Highlands chair.
  • The Berkshire Eagle looks at Catamount’s $5 million fall.
  • A judge quashes spending for lift maintenance at the Hermitage Club, which remains in foreclosure.  A new lawsuit against the ski area alleges breach of contract and consumer fraud.
  • Another aerial tramway cabin crashes in Europe, this time on the one year old Bartholet jigback Staubernbahn.  No one was hurt as the cabin that hit the ground was empty.
  • The Boston Globe talks with Mainers about a fourth winter without Saddleback.
  • In New Zealand, The Remarkables is set to build the inaugural D-Line in the southern hemisphere and Coronet Peak announces a Leitner Telemix.
  • The new Bretton Woods trail map indicates the gondola may not be called Presidential Bahn after all.
  • As Copper Mountain and Leitner-Poma crews work hard to finish two big lifts, opening weekend shifts to Super Bee.

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.

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: Must Read

  • planning document shows Big White has applied to build two lifts east of Black Forest Express called Backcountry and Backcountry Connector.
  • Snow King Mountain’s expansion officially enters the National Environmental Policy Act pipeline.  Proposed lifts are a 1,500 pph gondola with cabin storage, a 3,015′ backside fixed-grip quad, one 679′ T-Bar or platter and two new carpets.
  • The iconic Volkswagen funitel marks 15 years of operation, having delivered over three million vehicles from factory to test track.
  • A proposed urban gondola in Loveland, Colorado would be built by Leitner-Poma with up to five stations.
  • Arapahoe Basin drops its new trail map showing the big Beavers expansion.
  • An avalanche takes out the last tower of a Doppelmayr six-pack in New Zealand.

  • Skytrac is hiring for project foreman and general construction positions.
  • Denver Post alum Jason Blevins, now writing for the Colorado Sun, traces the remarkable ski industry journey of the Mueller family from Vermont to Colorado.  Insights from his must read piece: Tim and Diane Mueller took out a second mortgage on their home to buy Okemo, invested in Catamount before it failed, nearly bought Steamboat and once bid to operate Winter Park.
  • Windham’s retired F lift heads to Greek Peak to upgrade lifts 3 and 5.
  • The New Mexico State Fair will sport a new skyride-style chairlift beginning next month.
  • Alterra Mountain Company hires an Executive Vice President/Chief Financial Officer from Wall Street and looks to name a Vice President of Planning and Resort Development.
  • Enjoy the most detailed glimpse yet of the world’s longest lift.
  • The name game continues: Wolf Creek’s newest high speed quad is now Charity.
  • One of the world’s oldest high speed quads is going away in favor of a six pack.
  • I’m in New Mexico this weekend checking out as many lifts as I can.  First stop: Taos, where this yet-to-be-named Leitner-Poma detachable quad is the fourth new lift in five years!

Three New Lifts Rise Across the Wasatch

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Vail Resorts is enhancing the beginner experience at Park City Mountain with a new High Meadow teaching zone above Canyons Village, one of three lift projects in the Beehive State.

Utah ski resorts will debut three new chairlifts for the 2018-19 season and although none of them service new terrain, each will make lives better for skiers and snowboarders.  One of my stops this weekend was Park City Mountain, where Vail Resorts announced the creation of a reimagined High Meadow Family Fun Zone back in December.  A new Doppelmayr detachable quad, opened up runs, upgraded snowmaking and candy cabin are coming together above the Red Pine Gondola.  The new lift will have 8 towers, down from 11 on the old CTEC quad, which is sitting under the Cabriolet for now.

Across old town Park City at Deer Valley, another Doppelmayr detachable quad is replacing another CTEC fixed-grip quad.  Highlander Lift Services & Construction is assembling Homestake Express in the existing alignment but again with fewer towers.  I think the new number is eight, down from a dozen in this high traffic area above Silver Lake Lodge.  For its second winter under Alterra, Deer Valley will operate an impressive 13 high speed quads this season.  The 1999 version of Homestake is bound for Utah Olympic Park.

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News Roundup: For Sale

  • In a decision the Durango Herald calls a “bombshell,” the Forest Service proposes granting road access to the controversial Village at Wolf Creek, which would include two new lifts near Wolf Creek Ski Area’s new Meadow quad.
  • Magic Mountain’s new Green lift is set to debut this winter but the Black Line Quad may not spin until 2019.
  • Tawatinaw Valley, a county-owned ski hill in Alberta with three T-Bars, will go out of business on October 1st due to continued losses.
  • The price of steel is up up 33 percent in the United States so far this year and companies like Caterpillar and Polaris are increasing prices as a result.
  • The first Doppelmayr/Garaventa lift with D-Line cubic glass enclosures comes together in Switzerland.
  • A Yan triple from Squaw Valley hits the market in Idaho (looks like East Broadway, retired in 2012.)

  • Loveland’s new high-speed quad gets a name: Chet’s Dream.
  • Opening of the Transbay Transit Center tramway in San Francisco slips to September.
  • A refurbished Riblet quad from the closed ski resort in Drumheller Valley, Alberta goes up for sale.
  • Alterra officially takes the reigns at Solitude.
  • Leitner-Poma of America President Rick Spear goes on the MarketScale Transportation Podcast to discuss the ski lift business and growth of urban cable transport.
  • With two Mueller lifts in need of work, Mt. Timothy, BC will likely close if it can’t find a buyer.
  • Big White’s retired Powder triple is headed to Red Mountain.
  • Copper Mountain commits to building its fourth new lift in three years, a Leitner-Poma triple on Tucker Mountain in 2019.
  • The Miriam Fire is burning uncomfortably close to White Pass Ski Area.

News Roundup: Gondolas on Gondolas

“Ever since the company went public in 2014 it has taken advantage of its improved access to capital to finance large infrastructure projects that may have led to growth in visitation and revenues, but haven’t resulted in better earnings or cash flows.”

News Roundup: Wyoming

  • The Province that owns Atlantic Canada’s largest ski resort grows tired of losing money and looks for a private operator for Marble Mountain.
  • Doppelmayr will build the largest vertical six-pack in the world this year at Ischgl, Austria with over 3,000 feet of elevation gain in a single section.
  • Boyne Resorts President and CEO Stephen Kircher says a recent bond sale and tax cuts should yield increased capital investment at his resorts over the next five years.  Boyne doesn’t plan to buy new mountains any time soon, however.
  • Fire update: Purgatory reopens summer operations, Arizona Snowbowl is still closed while Taos, Red River, Sipapu, Ski Santa Fe and Sandia Peak are under partial closures due to extreme fire danger.
  • Antelope Butte, Wyoming has raised the $360,000 it needs to complete lift work and reopen next winter.
  • Beartooth Basin ends its summer season early due to problems with the upper platter lift.
  • Alterra CEO Rusty Gregory says of committing $555 million to mountain improvements: “We went to each resort and said, ‘Tell us, as resort operators, what will make the biggest positive impact on the guest experience.’ They had long lists.”
  • Leitner is pulling ropes at 12,740′ for the highest-ever 3S gondola.
  • Big Sky posts sweet photos from the Austrian factory where America’s first eight passenger chairlift and D-Line stations are being prepared for shipment. Chairs will have some unique designs on the back too.
  • The Portland Aerial Tram returns to service 5:30 am Monday, three weeks early, thanks to crews slipping track ropes much faster than expected.