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.
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.
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.
As the impacts from COVID-19 continue, it's becoming less clear when our business may reopen. Because of this and to ensure we navigate the financial challenges ahead, we have made some difficult decisions that affect our employees. More from our CEO: https://t.co/7EmbUl3v0cpic.twitter.com/CDcwtUYqQ7
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.
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.
Aerial view of likely all Disney Skyliner gondolas. Stored for an extended period at the Caribbean Beach station. All Walt Disney World parks and resorts are closed due to #COVID19pic.twitter.com/gqd924ANu9
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.
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.”
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.
Vail Resorts has made the difficult decision to suspend operations of all its North American mountain resorts beginning March 15 through March 22. Please read this letter from our CEO Rob Katz. https://t.co/8082XVtCFr
North America’s ski industry is following in the unfortunate footsteps of its counterparts in Asia and Europe, forced to end winter operations early to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Among the first to pull the plug the past two days were Berkshire East, Jay Peak, Taos and Nub’s Nob.
What started as a trickle became a deluge Saturday. In Colorado, Governor Jared Polis issued an executive order compelling all resorts to close following outbreaks in Eagle, Pitkin, and Summit counties. Even before the order, the continent’s two largest resort companies almost simultaneously announced complete shutdowns effective tomorrow. The 37 Vail facilities will remain closed until at least March 22nd and will continue to pay scheduled employees. Many independent mountains are staying open for now.
Alta Ski Area will be suspending operations starting Sunday morning, March 15, until further notice to limit the spread of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus). Lift operations, food service and retail and rental services will be closed.
This is uncharted territory but I’m certain the ski business will be okay. Unlike other industries, we are used to doing this between seasons, albeit under very different circumstances. The United States government has promised help to small and mid-sized businesses along with hourly employees who are missing work and pay. Canada and governments around the world will likely do the same. Hopefully many full time, year rounders can keep working and get important maintenance done.
We are skiers at heart and understand the therapeutic nature of our shared passion. But, by order of the Governor of the State of CO, we are closing all ski operations immediately and ancillary businesses over the next week. Please view full details here: https://t.co/xj2Diz5rmg
Normally March on this blog features announcement after announcement of exciting new projects from lift manufacturers and their customers. At this point, already formalized projects are pacing about the same as last year and none have been publicly canceled. Hopefully production can continue and this mess abates in time for construction to get going as snow melts. There are many unknowns, however.
Those of you on Instagram know I’m in one of the world’s most amazing places right now: Alaska. Operations at resorts were normal across the board the past few days and the weather was perfect in a state with only one confirmed case of COVID-19. Tomorrow I will attempt to fly home and reassess. As of this writing, Jackson Hole intends to stay open and I will be in on Monday if there is work to go to.
With so many resorts shut down and the global economy struggling, there may not be much lift news to report for awhile. When there is, I’ll write, and will get back to exploring as soon as I can.