News Roundup: Dollars and Euros

B2B Gondola to Unite Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows

Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows will become one this summer with construction of an interconnect gondola to coincide with the renaming of the resort. The innovative three section gondola will follow in the footsteps of other great interconnect lifts: the Quicksilver Gondola unifying Park City and The Canyons, the Peak 2 Peak Gondola linking Whistler and Blackcomb and the Slide Brook Express connecting Mt. Ellen to Sugarbush. Leitner-Poma of America will build the 2.2 mile B2B (base to base) gondola, comprising of four stations, more than 30 towers and two drive systems.

The current Red Dog triple will be shortened to make way for the Olympic Valley station. Cabins departing this terminal will cross over the Exhibition and KT-22 lifts before arriving at the first angle station on Olympic Ridge. This section of the lift could operate independently without the other two segments in operation. At most times, cabins will continue to a middle segment. A second angle station will then redirect cabins toward Alpine Meadows without offering unloading for the general public. Alpine Meadows’ base station will sit near the new Treeline Cirque detachable quad, offering guests easy access to all of Alpine’s base area lifts. The system will transport 1,400 passengers per hour in each direction with a ride time of 16 minutes.

The $60 million project is part of Alterra’s $207 million capital plan announced today for 2021-22. The commitment includes $111 million in significant resort projects, $31 million for enterprise technology systems and $65 million worth of resort maintenance. “This past season has proven that our guests are loyal, passionate and looking forward to the many seasons ahead, and we plan to provide them with a premier guest experience as we focus on the long-term future of our mountain destinations,” said Rusty Gregory, CEO of Alterra. “Alterra Mountain Company has exceeded our initial five-year goal to invest over half a billion dollars into our destinations, in just four years. We continue to be committed to infusing meaningful capital into on-mountain enhancements, base area development, and advanced technology that will elevate the mountain experience for all who visit.” In addition to the B2B Gondola, the company announced a transformation of Steamboat’s Gondola Square, which will include moving the Steamboat Gondola base terminal. The first section of the proposed Wild Blue Gondola is planned for installation next year, subject to Forest Service approval.

News Roundup: Visit Numbers

News Roundup: RFP

News Roundup: Government Relations

  • Bogus Basin shells out $53,000 to settle alleged environmental violations related to the construction of the Morning Star Express and other projects.
  • Former owner Ariel Quiros will plead guilty to orchestrating a fraudulent investment scheme at Jay Peak.
  • The Jay Peak receivership has racked up more than $8 million in attorney and accountant bills so far.
  • Aspen Snowmass hasn’t decided whether the Big Burn six place will get bubbles.
  • A near collision leads to an evacuation of a Leitner-Poma six pack in New Zealand.
  • Skiing in that country proves super popular even without international travel.
  • The State of New York makes huge investments at Whiteface this summer: $2.4 million worth of gondola upgrades, a new quad chair, a new lodge and snowmaking enhancements.
  • Skytrac is the low bidder to replace Howelsen Hill’s Barrows double with a quad next summer.
  • Alterra characterizes season pass sales for next winter as “shockingly strong.”
  • Mt. Norquay will try again for approval to build a gondola linking the ski area to Banff.

News Roundup: Tough Choices

  • The Italian parent of Leitner and Poma reports record revenue of €1.06 billion, having completed 78 ropeway projects in 2019, though the company expects sales to fall 30 percent in 2020.
  • Public comments are now being solicited regarding Steamboat’s proposed Wild Blue Gondola, Sundown Express replacement and Priest Creek removal projects.
  • Vail Resorts suspends operations at two Australian resorts just three days into the season due to the evolving Coronavirus situation.
  • Even though American Dream and Big Snow in New Jersey are closed, a second American Dream location remains in development in Miami.
  • Vail Resorts-owned OnTheSnow.com and sister websites will shut down Monday due to the challenging financial landscape. A Vail-owned TV station is also closing.
  • Bloomberg speaks with the CEOs of both Alterra and Vail about next winter.
  • Today is the last day to comment on Little Cottonwood Canyon transportation alternatives, including a 3S gondola.
  • Walt Disney World won’t allow unrelated parties to ride together in gondola cabins when the Skyliner reopens.
  • Doppelmayr USA, Leitner-Poma of America, MND America, Skytrac and SkyTrans all received Paycheck Protection Program loans supporting more than 400 American jobs.
  • A key link located on a receding glacier, the Horstman T-Bar at Whistler Blackcomb is no more.
  • Design work continues for Aspen Mountain’s Lift One Telemix and related developments.

Under Alterra, Steamboat Considers More Big Projects

The new Steamboat Gondola transports 3,600 guests per hour and was one of the first major investments by new owner Alterra.

A 17,000 foot gondola. Two boundary expansions. Three six place chairlifts. Those are among the items on Alterra Mountain Company’s new wish list for its flagship Colorado resort. The two year-old operator acquired Steamboat in 2018 from Canadian developer Intrawest, which struggled to complete the volume of sustained improvements needed at this premier destination resort. The same was true for prior owner American Skiing Company.

Nonetheless, Ski Town USA grew to become Colorado’s fifth largest resort, hosting nearly 1.1 million skier visits in 2018/19. A new master plan amendment seeks to build on Steamboat’s success by boosting out-of-base capacity, enhancing experiences for varying ability levels and more efficiently moving guests around the mountain.

Perhaps most exciting is the prospect of a base-to-summit lift called Wild Blue. This would be the longest gondola on the continent, rising an impressive 3,465 vertical feet. Intrawest and Alterra spent millions to transform the existing Steamboat Gondola into a modern 3,600 per hour machine, but it’s still not enough to handle the more than 16,000 skiers who show up on peak days. Wild Blue would carry 3,200 riders per hour to a learning center in Bashor Bowl before ascending Sunshine Peak. The two stage gondola would pass over a total of four other lifts.

News Roundup: More Skiing?

  • Mt. Baldy runs out of snow, ending North American lift served skiing for now.
  • Aspen Skiing Company expresses frustration with the Colorado governor’s order for ski resorts to remain closed until at least May 23rd.
  • Arapahoe Basin still wants to reopen.
  • Oregon may beat Colorado to the punch.
  • Eaglecrest, Alaska joins the Powder Alliance.
  • Alterra CEO Rusty Gregory says his company is well-capitalized and delayed projects should be completed next year (plus he’s still looking to buy more resorts!)
  • Skeetawk completes its chairlift, becoming the first new ski area in Alaska since 1983.
  • Mountain planner Paul Mathews of Ecosign talks about the development of Sun Peaks and future plans in the West Bowl and the Gil’s areas.
  • Norwegian Cruise Line reiterates its commitment to Alaska including the funding of two gondolas currently under construction in Hoonah.
  • As part of a land swap, the Yellowstone Club seeks to gain 500 acres of expert terrain.
  • Cuchara remains on track to reopen next year with one lift.
  • The Utah Department of Transportation will evaluate gondolas from the Salt Lake Valley and Park City as two possible options to improve mobility in Little Cottonwood Canyon.
  • Doppelmayr’s first Wir magazine of 2020 highlights new installations from around the world.

Following Cancellations, How Will Lift Construction Recover?

When Vail Resorts spelled out its suspension of operations in mid-March, the shutdown was hoped to last only a week.  Fifty days later, all 37 resorts remain shuttered and the company has borrowed more than a billion dollars to weather a possible extended recession.

Almost immediately, Vail Resorts postponed discretionary capital improvement projects including seven new chairlifts.  Vail is just one of numerous operators of lifts facing epic challenges due to COVID-19.  The impacts trickle down to suppliers, particularly global suppliers of large machinery like the Leitner Group and Doppelmayr.  While the two major lift manufacturers are of similar size and structure, their customers are incredibly diverse, from mom and pop outfits to governments, NGOs and Fortune 100 companies.

pacemay2020

As regular readers of this blog know, the lift business is not the same as the ski business.  Leitner-Poma, Skytrac and Doppelmayr USA have all completed projects for non-ski venues recently such as theme parks, zoos, stadiums and cruise ports.  Not only are these projects making up an increasing share of contracts, they tend to be large in scope and often include lucrative operation and maintenance deals.  Some of these non-traditional customers are in even worse shape than the ski business, more dependent on high guest densities and air travel.  Put another way, there is little chance the Walt Disney Company, Carnival Corporation or the Miami Dolphins would have signed to build their recent lift projects in today’s environment.  So-called “point of interest” projects may disappear entirely for a few years.

One bright spot could be urban transport.  The Portland Aerial Tram and Roosevelt Island Tramway have both remained operational throughout the pandemic, albeit at reduced capacity (the Portland Tram carries health care workers to three different hospitals and is about as essential as it gets.)  Large aerial tramways have been ceding market share to monocable, 2S and 3S gondolas, a trend which will probably accelerate with new personal space concerns.  With gondolas, each person or family can take their own cabin unlike on trains or buses.  There are lots of great concepts for urban gondolas in North America and infrastructure spending programs could finally get one or two off the ground.  Mexico already has a large urban gondola system in operation with two more under construction.

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Alterra Furloughs Staff, Delays Mammoth Lift Construction

In addition to 17,000 early layoffs of seasonal employees, Alterra Mountain Company has made the difficult decision to furlough many of its year-round workers and defer capital projects.  Affected workers will remain employed with benefits such as health insurance but will not receive any pay for the foreseeable future.  CEO Rusty Gregory will forego his entire salary as long as full time employees are furloughed.  Employees in key roles who continue to work will receive full salaries for now.  “While it is my fervent intent to avoid reducing anyone’s full pay rate for work going forward, we do not know how long this crisis will continue,” said Gregory in a letter to employees.  “It is imperative that we ensure that our finite resources last long enough to get us to the other side of this pandemic and fully open for operation when the time comes.”

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Two Yan-Doppelmayr hybrid lifts at Mammoth Mountain will live on for at least another year thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 50 percent of planned capital spending will be cut.  In a sign of just how fast the coronavirus changed everything, Alterra announced $223 million worth of improvements just four days before being forced to shut down all 15 of its resorts.  Postponed Alterra lift projects are both located at Mammoth Mountain in California, where Doppelmayr was slated to replace the mountain’s two oldest high speed quads with six place models.  The Broadway Express and Canyon Express were constructed in 1988 and 1994, respectively.  Alterra also announced last month the purchase of a Doppelmayr high speed quad for Tremblant, Quebec to be installed in 2021.  The future of that project will be determined at a later date.