Forest Service Launches Aspen Mountain Pandora Analysis

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The White River National Forest will consider yet another new lift project over the coming months, this time high on Aspen Mountain.  A Notice of Proposed Action released today comes as the most-skied forest in the country simultaneously weighs proposals for two new lifts on Vail Mountain, two in McCoy Park at Beaver Creek and one at Aspen Highlands.  For Ajax, Aspen Skiing Company proposes to build the long-dreamed of Pandora lift to the east of the current Gent’s Ridge lift while adding 148 acres of new terrain.  The 4,191-foot top drive detachable quad would likely meet the Forest and SkiCo’s shared goals of enhancing terrain variety, improving circulation and providing reliable and consistent snow coverage.

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Unlike many of its peers, only 37 percent of Aspen Mountain occupies National Forest lands while the other 63 percent is privately held.  The new lift would traverse some of each and move up to 2,000 skiers per hour to the summit.  Vertical rise would be 1,220′ compared with 1,079′ at the longer and flatter Gent’s Ridge.  Aspen Skiing Company also proposes to add 53 acres of snowmaking coverage on six existing trails nearby.  A 30 day public scoping period runs through June 15th and input is being accepted online.  Project engineer SE Group has prepared an interactive web app to assist the public and there will be an open house as Aspen’s Limelight hotel next Wednesday night.  Aspen Snowmass hopes to win approval around the new year and build as early as 2019.

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Building a Better Lift One in Aspen

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The third time may be the charm as the Aspen community is set to weigh the future of the Shadow Mountain lift over the coming months.

Come November 6th, Aspen residents will vote for Governor, U.S. House, and likely whether a ski lift should return to the original base of Aspen Mountain.  SE Group and the City of Aspen today posted 61 pages of study on the new Lift One with a focus on where to site the bottom terminal, a question which has lingered since 1972.  Goals include retaining the historic structures of the first Lift One, threading the needle between two new developments, and improving skier flow.  An aggressive proposed timeline begins Tuesday with review by the City Council that could culminate with a new gondola-chair combination lift spinning by late 2019.  That would be 48 years after a shortened SLI-Riblet double dubbed 1A eliminated easy access for much of the town to Shadow Mountain.

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This is the primary lift for one of the few World Cup courses in America.

The current lift starts about four towers higher than the 1946 single chair did and, like its predecessor, has reached the end of its useful life following decades of service.  The International Ski Federation makes no secret the obsolete machine is a big reason why Aspen does not host World Cup skiing as often as some of its peers.

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But things are finally looking up – or actually down.  SE Group analyzed nine chondola, chairlift, surface lift and funicular options and ones dubbed Option 1 and Option 7 were identified for detailed study that commenced in February.  An A and B variation were added to alternative number 7, leaving four scenarios in play to bring the lift back into town.  Option 1, shown above, would put the bottom terminal level with Gilbert Street between the old Lift 1 terminal and the “new” one.  Because of space constraints with Aspen Skiing Company’s preferred Telemix (chondola in Poma parlance), the lift would likely be a straight gondola or possibly a detachable chairlift.  Skier access from above would be excellent but the public would have a 40-foot vertical climb to get to the load point from town.  Furthermore, the developer of the proposed Lift One Lodge would have to give up an entire building worth of units.  The historic lift terminal and remaining towers from the first Lift One could be retained, which is an important community objective.  This is deemed a viable, but not best option.

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News Roundup: Eruption

  • Move over Epic Pass, Alterra is launching the Ikon Pass.
  • Granby Ranch is officially listed for sale.
  • Aspen CEO Mike Kaplan says snow challenges bring out the best in people.
  • Think your area is busy on a Saturday?  The urban gondola network in La Paz sets a new one day record: 278,621 riders!
  • New York Governor calls previously announced state fair gondola “an exciting idea” but withholds funding for now.
  • More stories surface of the Hermitage Club owing people money.
  • Skier records volcano erupting from a Doppelmayr detachable in Japan. One person was killed and a gondola damaged by rockfall.
  • ORDA, the state owner of Belleayre, Gore Mountain and Whiteface, lost $20.8  million last year.
  • Powder catches up with Alterra President and COO David Perry, who stresses the company will do things differently than Vail.
  • Public comment period opens for Mt. Rose’s Atoma expansion, which would include construction of one or two new chairlifts as early as 2019.
  • The draft environmental impact statement is also out for Steamboat’s expansion, to include a second gondola, Rough Rider chairlift, new Bashor lift and Pioneer Ridge pod with groundbreaking possible by May.
  • Lake Louise and Nakiska are probable venues for a possible 2026 Calgary Olympics. Denver, Reno-Tahoe and Salt Lake also weigh bids.
  • Just upgrading electric infrastructure for Disney’s Skyliner gondola system will cost $3.8 million, around the total price tag of a typical ski lift project!
  • For the first time since I started keeping track, 2018 new lifts are pacing behind 2017.

News Roundup: Under the Radar

  • Chinese investment firm acquires a majority stake in Swiss ropeway manufacturer BMF, which also owns Gangloff.
  • Wolf Creek will build a third high-speed quad called Meadow in 2018.
  • Aspen Skiing Company settles with a woman who sued after falling in the loading area of the Village Express.
  • Private operator of Val Bialas Ski Center in New York resigns, citing continued financial losses.  The publicly-owned mountain has a 1973 Borvig.
  • Check out these architectural drawings of Disney World’s Skyliner gondola network.
  • No real news but this recent drone video shows the current state of lifts and why Saddleback is worth saving.
  • The Skytracs in St. Maarten open this week and are expected to draw some 135,000 cruise passengers a year.
  • Here’s a Mt. Spokane expansion construction update.
  • Adanac Ski Hill in Ontario replaced its 1950s Poma double with an Alpen Star quad this summer, bringing Doppelmayr to 15 new lifts for 2017 in North America.

Aspen/KSL Venture Buys Deer Valley

The new ski empire backed by the owner of Aspen Skiing Company along with KSL Capital Partners has reached a deal to purchase Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah.  The news follows the group’s combination of Intrawest, Mammoth Resorts and Squaw Valley, and brings together 13 mountains rivaling the scope of Vail Resorts.  Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed and it does not include Solitude, which the Deer Valley partners bought in 2015.  A new name and brand for the combined Aspen/KSL venture, currently known as Hawk Holding Company, will launch sometime this fall with a unified pass product expected to follow next spring. “Deer Valley Resort is one of the pre-eminent mountain resorts in the world and is a tremendous addition to our existing portfolio,” said David Perry, president and chief operating officer of the new ski conglomerate in a press statement. “Prior to this acquisition, we were able to offer our guests exceptional experiences throughout most of North America’s major ski regions, but we did not have a resort in Utah, a state that is renowned for great skiing and mountain town life.”

Bob Wheaton, Deer Valley’s president and general manager, noted “joining this portfolio of resorts will enable Deer Valley to build upon its outstanding traditions and further enhance our ability to provide our guests with a world class skiing experience. I look forward to working with them as we develop our vision for the future of the resort and the new company.”  The still all-but-legally nameless company’s coast to coast portfolio now includes:

  • Alpine Meadows, California
  • Bear Mountain, California
  • Blue Mountain, Ontario
  • Deer Valley, Utah
  • June Mountain, California
  • Mammoth Mountain, California
  • Snow Summit, California
  • Snowshoe, West Virginia
  • Squaw Valley, California
  • Steamboat, Colorado
  • Stratton, Vermont
  • Tremblant, Quebec
  • Winter Park, Colorado

A new 2018-19 season pass product could also include the four Aspen mountains, which are separately owned by the Crown Family.  With Ajax, Buttermilk, Highlands and Snowmass included, the pass would get you on 229 lifts in North America, exactly the same number as next year’s Epic Pass.  The acquisition of Deer Valley is expected to close by the end of the year.

Round Two: Aspen-KSL Partnership Buys Mammoth Resorts

Mammoth Resorts and its namesake mountain will be acquired by Aspen Skiing Company and KSL in their second big deal of the week. Mammoth Mountain is the third largest mountain by lift capacity in North America behind Vail-owned Whistler Blackcomb and Park City.

In the span of just three days, Vail Resorts has gained a challenger that spans North America.  Today the new team of Aspen Skiing Company and KSL Capital Partners announced an agreement to acquire Mammoth Resorts from an ownership group led by Starwood Capital.  Mammoth Mountain, Bear Mountain, June Mountain and Snow Summit will join the Intrawest resorts and Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows brought under one roof on Monday.  “This new platform, built around a collective passion for the mountains and our commitment to the people who visit, work and live there, is exactly what the ski resort business needs,” said Rusty Gregory, the longtime manager and chief executive of Mammoth Resorts.  He called the move “the next logical chapter in the story of Mammoth.”

The new yet-to-be-named entity will operate:

  • Alpine Meadows, CA
  • Bear Mountain, CA
  • Blue Mountain, ON
  • June Mountain, CA
  • Mammoth Mountain, CA
  • Snowshoe, WV
  • Snow Summit, CA
  • Steamboat, CO
  • Squaw Valley, CA
  • Stratton, VT
  • Tremblant, QC
  • Winter Park, CO

Aspen Skiing Company will continue to independently own Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass but it will likely cozy up to its partner resorts. With Aspen included, the new company will operate 207 lifts at 16 mountains compared with Vail Resorts’ 261 lifts at 14 mountains.  Like Monday’s deal, the Mammoth acquisition is expected to close in the third quarter.  What a week, and it’s only Wednesday.

Aspen Skiing Co. & KSL Capital Partners Buy Intrawest for $1.5 Billion

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Intrawest Resorts Holdings has entered into an agreement to sell to Aspen Skiing Company and KSL Capital Partners, the owners of Aspen Snowmass and Squaw Valley, respectively.  A new company owned by both partners will pay $23.75 in cash for each share of Intrawest, representing a total value of approximately $1.5 billion.  Intrawest shares had risen 49 percent since January on acquisition rumors and the deal includes Intrawest’s debt.  “This transaction creates significant opportunity for Intrawest and delivers tremendous value to our current shareholders,” said Thomas Marano, Intrawest’s chief executive officer.  “We are excited to work with Aspen and KSL. Our new partners bring additional financial resources and a shared passion for the mountains and our mountain communities. Both Aspen and KSL are committed to helping Intrawest accelerate our plans to bring more value to our guests, more opportunities for our employees and more investment into our local communities.”

The transaction is expected to close in the third quarter of this year and will likely affect pass options for the 2018-19 season.  Intrawest’s Blue Mountain, Snowshoe, Steamboat, Stratton, Tremblant and Winter Park resorts were founding members of the MAX Pass while Aspen’s four mountains and Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows are both destinations on the Liftopia-backed Mountain Collective.  On the lift front, Aspen Skiing Co. and KSL/Squaw Valley are mostly Leitner-Poma customers while Intrawest mountains buy from both manufacturers (Tremblant/Snowshoe are all Doppelmayr, Winter Park/Blue Mountain are all L-P, Stratton and Steamboat have a mix.)

Update: Aspen Snowmass has posted a Better Together page and FAQ on its website. “Aspen Skiing Company will continue to be operated separately from Intrawest and Squaw, but we plan to work together in areas that make sense,” it notes.