Vail Resorts Cancels All 2020 Lift Construction

Ski industry fallout from the global pandemic continues.  Vail Resorts today announced the deferral of lift construction projects slated for Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Okemo due to a dramatic decline in revenue, which is expected to continue into fiscal 2021.  The suite of projects was first announced last December, the same month COVID-19 first appeared in Wuhan, China.  While the virus spread across Asia, lift manufacturers were gearing up to build lifts that now won’t happen this year.  Beaver Creek had planned a major expansion into McCoy Park and Okemo earmarked a new bubble six pack for Jackson Gore.  Both Breckenridge and Keystone planned new chairlifts to increase uphill capacity in high traffic areas.

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McCoy Park, Beaver Creek’s deferred terrain expansion, would include two new lifts and 15 trails.

Vail said weeks ago coronavirus will cost the company between $180 and 200 million in March and April alone.  Eliminating lift construction, terrain expansions and discretionary base area improvements will save the publicly-traded company $80 to 85 million while allowing the vast majority of maintenance capital projects to proceed.  “The circumstances surrounding COVID-19 are unprecedented and the financial impact to our Company and the broader travel industry has been significant,” noted Rob Katz, Chief Executive Officer of Vail Resorts.  “We are taking proactive steps to align our capital spending and return of capital approach to ensure that we remain positioned for long-term success.”  Other steps revealed today include the furlough of nearly all year-round hourly employees, suspension of the company’s shareholder dividend, salary reductions for non-hourly employees and elimination of cash compensation for the CEO and board of directors.

The decision to postpone lifts is a blow to both major lift manufacturers but particularly Leitner-Poma, which like Vail itself, is Colorado-based.  The firm had been awarded contracts to build three detachable chairlifts and move another.  Doppelmayr USA had planned to install the two machines at Beaver Creek.

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The second largest Vail project this summer was to be replacement of Quantum Four at Okemo with a larger bubble lift.  The existing quad was slated to move over to Green Ridge.

As goes Vail, often go others.  While I’m hopeful some lifts (and the jobs that come with them) are safe, more deferrals are possible.  Rival Alterra Mountain Company planned to add only two lifts this year, both six place chairlifts at Mammoth Mountain.  The privately-held group has not announced any changes to its capital plan thus far.  In tough times, every company is understandably revisiting capital budgets and commitments, however.

The sudden onset of such deep uncertainty in this critical period of the lift production cycle is unprecedented.  With the elimination of Vail Resorts projects for 2020, announced US and Canada complete new lifts stand at 24, fewer than Doppelmayr built by itself last year.

Vail to Build New Lifts at Four Resorts in 2020

Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Okemo will all add new lifts next year in a mix of expansions and replacements.  Parent company Vail Resorts made the project announcements alongside a quarterly earnings report this afternoon.  “We remain committed to reinvesting in our resorts, creating an experience of a lifetime for our guests and generating strong returns for our shareholders,” said Vail Chairman and CEO Rob Katz.

At Beaver Creek, a new detachable quad will service the high alpine McCoy Park learning zone.  “This new lift accessed beginner and intermediate bowl experience is a rare opportunity to expand with highly accessible terrain in one of the most idyllic settings in Colorado and will further differentiate the high-end, family focused experience at Beaver Creek,” said the company.  A second quad chair will provide egress to the top of the Strawberry and Upper Beaver Creek Mountain Express lifts.

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The Peru Express opened in 1990 and will be supplanted by a higher capacity lift.

At Keystone, the Peru Express will be replaced by a six pack subject to government approval.  The new machine will increase out-of-base capacity and improve overall circulation.  Also in Summit County, a new detachable quad on Breckenridge’s Peak 7 will enhance uphill capacity near the Independence SuperChair.  “This additional lift will further enhance the guest experience at the most visited resort in the U.S. and will significantly increase guest access and circulation for the intermediate terrain on Peaks 6 and 7,” said Vail.

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McCoy Park is a Go for 2020-21 at Beaver Creek

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Beaver Creek will expand by 250 acres with a new detachable quad for the 2020-21 ski season, the resort has confirmed.  The expansion will feature 17 “groomable glades” for guests seeking low angle adventure at high elevation.  “McCoy Park is a separate, family-friendly zone allowing for a more relaxed experience for beginner families,” Vail Resorts notes, describing the terrain as “welcoming for beginner and intermediate skiers to connect and elevate their mountain experience.”  The new runs will be accessible from the existing Larkspur, Strawberry Park and Upper Beaver Creek Mountain Express lifts.

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Transporting 2,400 skiers per hour, the high speed McCoy Park Express will span approximately 5,900 feet in length with a vertical rise of 840′.  A manufacturer was not announced but Doppelmayr has built every new lift at Beaver Creek since 2003.  The McCoy Park expansion was first proposed in late 2017 and green lighted by the Forest Service last November.  A second lift for egress from McCoy Park was also approved but is not yet slated for construction.

News Roundup: Privatization

News Roundup: Heavy Snow

How Many Lifts Could Vail Resorts Announce Next Month?

With four recent additions, Vail Resorts Inc. now operates just over 10 percent of American and Canadian lifts, more than any other company.  Vail prides itself on investing heavily in its mountains and the average lift at an Epic resort is three years newer than the rest of the industry.  The company’s lifts now number 305 in the United States, Canada and Australia with an average age of 24.6 years.  If we assume the average lift lasts 35 years, Vail would now need to replace an average of about nine lifts per year just to turn over its fleet.

A little less than a year ago, a smaller VR unveiled plans for seven new lifts as part of a $150 million annual capital plan, the largest in the company’s history.  Back in 2016, Vail committed to building three six-packs as part of $103 million in capital spending for 2017 (VR later added a fourth detachable to that year’s class, the Red Buffalo Express at Beaver Creek.)  In December 2015, the Broomfield-based company announced a high-speed quad for Vail Mountain and in 2014, it was $50 million in improvements including three new lifts at Park City plus another six pack at Vail.  Over the last five years, more resorts have consistently led to more revenue and more capital investments.  The company said it will invest $35 million at the four new mountains in the next two years, making it possible this December’s announcement will be the most valuable ever.

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Going resort by resort, the most obvious projects are ones already in the pipeline, namely the Game Creek Express #7 replacement and Golden Peak race lift at Vail.  But VR could go bigger like it did this summer at Whistler Blackcomb, spending $52 million to package four lift replacements together.  On Vail Mountain, additional aging lifts likely to be up-gauged to six-packs eventually are Orient Express #21, Born Free Express #8 and Wildwood Express #3.  The mothership mountain has the third largest and third newest lift fleet in the company and I expect investment to continue at Vail following this year’s pause.

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Vail’s lift 7 is the only chair in Game Creek Bowl and could use more capacity.

On average, the newest lifts within Vail Resorts are at Beaver Creek, which opened decades later than its peers.  A major expansion was approved in September – McCoy Park – which may be implemented in 2020.  In advance of those two new lifts, the Strawberry Park Express could be updated in 2019 to a higher capacity gondola.  The oldest lift at Beaver Creek is the 1988 Arrow Bahn Express, which eventually will be replaced by a newer detachable.  Probably not this year though.

Sticking in Colorado, Breckenridge is usually the first or second most visited resort in America and did not see a new lift in 2018.  I say a Riblet gets replaced here in 2019 and my vote would be 6-Chair with a high speed quad.  My second guess would be C-Chair followed by 5, A, E and Rip’s Ride.  If Vail decides to continue replacing older high speed quads instead, Beaver Run SuperChair is the logical candidate.

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6 Chair at Breckenridge is wildly popular despite being fixed grip and 40 years old.

Keystone has both expansion possibilities and lifts that could be upgraded.  The project everyone’s been clamoring for is a detachable lift from The Outback to replace WaybackPeru Express is the oldest high speed lift at Keystone and a core workhorse, making it likely to be replaced with a six pack soon.  Outback Express is one year newer and in a similar situation.  Another possible replacement is Argentine, a 1977 Lift Engineering double that the 2009 Keystone Master Development Plan proposed replacing with a two stage detachable.  The new lift would load near Peru, have an angle station above Lower Schoolmarm and continue all the way to the ridge of Dercum Mountain.  The Keystone MDP also outlines major expansions that I expect we will hear more about over the next decade.  They include a Ski Tip gondola, Bergman Bowl lift, Independence Bowl lift, Windows lift and Outback surface lift.  Whatever Vail chooses, I am hopeful for a new lift or two at Keystone in 2019.

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I don’t mind Wayback at Keystone but I also rarely ski in Colorado on weekends or holidays.

Crested Butte is the new kid on the block and Vail may wait a year or more to do anything lift wise.  The mountain’s Teocalli II expansion is still moving through the Forest Service NEPA process.  The Mueller family invested heavily in the Triple Peaks resorts over the years and I don’t see a whole lot needed near-term at CBMR.  Replacing original Teocalli with a high speed quad would be a nice way to burn some of the promised $35 million.

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News Roundup: Down to the Wire

  • Beaver Creek renames the Buckaroo Express gondola Haymeadow Express, the name of the double chair which ran in the same alignment from 1980 to 2007.
  • Whether the Hermitage Club closes a $30 million loan to catch up on lift maintenance and operate this winter is still an open question.
  • Arapahoe Basin and Leitner-Poma fly steel for the Beavers project.
  • As of yesterday, Vail Resorts officially operates Okemo, Mt. Sunapee and Crested Butte.
  • Vail reports fiscal 2018 resort EBITDA was $616.6 million, an increase of 3.9 percent over the prior year.  2018-19 season pass sales are up 25 percent in units and 15 percent in dollars as of Sunday.
  • West Mountain adds a million dollar chairlift and looks to build another.
  • A New York-based developer receives one of many approvals for Mayflower Village at Deer Valley, which could eventually mean a slate of new lifts.

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  • Doppelmayr is named in connection with an urban gondola eyed for Long Beach, California.
  • Watch a remarkable 3S gondola launch live from Zermatt at 9:15 Eastern tomorrow morning, 6:15 Pacific.
  • The CFO and COO of Peak Resorts open up about their decision to buy Snow Time and note the three new mountains don’t immediately need much capital investment.
  • The longtime owners of Great Divide, Montana plan to sell to another couple next year.
  • Legendary ski resort builder Les Otten remains committed to The Balsams but laments, “time is killing this project.”
  • Mountain Capital Partners releases more details on the Spider Mountain Bike Park project.
  • The damaged Zugspitze cabin is successfully lowered to the valley for disassembly.  The cable car’s operator says damage exceeds $1.2 million and the lift could reopen by year end.
  • Boreal names its new quad California Cruiser.
  • The latest Leitner-Poma six-pack at Hunter Mountain, seen below, will be called Northern Express.

News Roundup: Not Cheap

  • Above: lots more Ramcharger 8 parts arrive in Big Sky.
  • Schweitzer weighs alignment options and manufacturers for two new backside lifts scheduled for construction in 2019.
  • The only aerial tramway in Texas closes after nearly six decades.  “Replacement of the Wyler Aerial Tramway is estimated to cost millions of dollars.  Texas Parks and Wildlife Department does not have the financial resources to execute a capital construction project of this size at this time.”
  • Disney gives an Orlando TV station a rare official peak into Skyliner construction.
  • Following last week’s mishap, the operator of the Zugspitze Cable Car orders a new 120 passenger cabin, hanger and carriage.
  • Beaver Creek’s big McCoy Park expansion should be official in November and is planned to open in late 2020.
  • The Lewis & Clark bubble high-speed quad at Big Sky will finally see some action in 2021 when a $400 million Montage hotel opens at its base.
  • Ascutney Outdoors is on track to install a T-Bar this fall, anchoring a scaled down version of what was once a five chairlift area.
  • LST builds a T-Bar atop a waste-to-energy plant in Copenhagen for residents to ski on year round.
  • Vail looks to Asia for growth.
  • Michael Doppelmayr is profiled for his 60th birthday.  Some interesting facts: his company’s gross margin was 12.1 percent last year and his father Artur vehemently opposed Doppelmayr’s merger with Garaventa.
  • New York’s high court clears the way for Belleayre to expand into the former Highmount Ski Center.
  • Bretton Woods and Doppelmayr make great progress on New Hampshire’s first 8 passenger gondola.
  • The leaders of North and South Korea ride a pulse gondola during their three day summit.
  • The State of New Hampshire will hold a public meeting about transferring the Mt. Sunapee lease to Vail Resorts on September 26th.
  • As it tries to secure a $30 million loan to open this winter, the Hermitage Club lawsuits keep coming.
  • Two major lifts are getting closer to reality at Copper Mountain.

News Roundup: Not Cool

News Roundup: One Billion

  • Despite competition from the Ikon and Epic passes, Peak Resorts reports sales of its Peak Passes are up 14 percent year over year through 4/30.
  • HTI, the parent company of Leitner, Poma, Aguido, MiniMetro, Prinoth and more reports it built 75 ropeways in 2017 and exceeded $1 billion in revenue.
  • The Hermitage Club opposes its primary lender’s motion to appoint a receiver and says it has found a financial firm willing to loan $26 million in restructuring capital.  A key court hearing is scheduled for one week from today.
  • TransLink’s ten year, $8.8 billion vision includes funding for Burnaby Mountain Gondola planning.
  • Gondola fever spreads in Edmonton.
  • A gondola is being looked at for Idaho Springs, Colorado along I-70.
  • SE Group and the White River National Forest test an interactive storyboard as a public engagement tool for Beaver Creek’s McCoy Park Expansion.  Comments are due May 29th and a decision is expected in September.
  • The Forest Service proposes quickly approving the replacement of Arizona Snowbowl’s Agassiz triple with a 6,100 foot combination lift utilizing gondola cabins between every three or four chairs.  Capacity would be only 1,200 passengers per hour.
  • Magic Mountain commits to finishing the Green lift and weighs the future of its nearby Pohlig-Hall-Yan contraption.