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.

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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.

Alterra to Acquire Solitude

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Make it a dozen!  Alterra Mountain Co., the 11 month-old company formed by KSL Capital Partners, Aspen Skiing Company’s owner and others, is buying Solitude Mountain Resort in Utah.  The Big Cottonwood Canyon destination will become the company’s second Utah property after Deer Valley, which Alterra acquired from the same ownership group last fall.  “With its close relationship with Deer Valley Resort, Solitude Mountain Resort is a natural fit for Alterra Mountain Company, and a tremendous addition to our family of destinations,” said Rusty Gregory, Chief Executive Officer of Alterra Mountain Company in a press release.  “We are especially excited to expand our reach within Utah and offer another ski and snowboard experience in a state known for its exceptional snow and mountain culture.”

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The Summit Express is the newest lift at Solitude, Utah, which is set to become Alterra’s newest resort later this year.

Brighton owner Boyne Resorts attempted to buy Solitude back in 2014 but it was sold to Deer Valley months later.  Prior to that, the DeSeelhorst family had operated the resort for more than three decades.  Today, Solitude operates a fleet of eight Doppelmayr and CTEC lifts including four detachable quads.  Just yesterday, the resort confirmed to me its intention to replace the Sunrise lift with another high-speed quad next summer.

“Joining the impressive group of Alterra Mountain Company destinations Solitude Mountain Resort places in a strong position to grow and enhance Solitude,” said Kim Mayhew, the mountain’s General Manager in a statement. “We are excited about the opportunities for our guests, our staff, and for our community in Big Cottonwood Canyon.”  The transaction is expected to close by the end of the third quarter.  Terms of the agreement and Ikon Pass access details were not disclosed.  Assuming Solitude gets added to Alterra’s 2018-19 season passes upon closing, Ikon passes would include access to 408 lifts at 33 US and Canadian mountains.  With Vail’s recent acquisitions and partnerships, the competing 2018-19 Epic Pass is up to 309 lifts at 24 mountains in North America.

California Express Draft Environmental Impact Statement Released

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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.

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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.

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Deer Valley Plans 13th High-Speed Quad to Replace Homestake

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Deer Valley’s Homestake lift is less than twenty years old and eyed for replacement with a detachable version.

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 Record reports Deer Valley is finalizing plans to replace the Homestake quad with a detachable of its own this offseason.dvhomestakemap

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.