The Highlands to Build First Six Place Bubble Lift in the Midwest

The fifth Boyne Resorts property to launch a D-Line detachable will be The Highlands, Michigan come 2023. Camelot 6 will include the first modern bubble chairs in the Midwest and the first fully automated safety bar system in the United States. Ergonomically designed D-Line seats will also feature heating and individual footrests. The lift will be the fastest in the Midwest with a line speed of six meters per second and ride time of just three minutes.

The flagship chairlift will replace three Riblet triples – Camelot, MacGully and Valley – all of which date back to the 1960s and the earliest days of triple chairs. Unlike the current Camelot, the new Doppelmayr will extend to the top of the Upper Camelot slope on the southern end of the mountain.

The Camelot zone features some of The Highlands’ most popular beginner and intermediate terrain adjacent to the Day Lodge. Appropriately, Camelot 6 will feature the first fully automated closing, locking and opening bar mechanisms in the US in addition to a height-adjustable loading conveyor. “We’re coming full circle in lift innovation from the world’s first bubble chairlift in 1963, to the Midwest’s first modern bubble lift with unrivaled guest comfort, speed, energy efficiency, and safety in 2023,” said Mike Chumbler, President and General Manager of The Highlands. “This will be the most kid-friendly and safest lift ever built. The addition of Camelot 6 will transform the guest experience on the southern end of our slopes for all levels of skiers and riders,” he added.

Camelot will become the fifth Boyne destination to debut Doppelmayr D-Line technology. Big Sky Resort, Boyne Mountain, Loon Mountain and Sunday River all feature six and eight passenger D-Line detachables, many with bubbles and heated seats. While Alterra, Vail Resorts and other operators have also purchased D-Line lifts, Boyne’s level of commitment to the technology remains unrivaled in North America.

Camelot 6 is the first significant on mountain investment as part of The Highlands’ Transformational Journey, a vision guiding resort growth with an array of new offerings and enhancements through the year 2030. More lift upgrades are expected to follow in the coming years.

Camelot 6 will debut for the 2023-24 ski season. Once complete, it will serve both day and evening skiers as well as becoming the primary access lift for summer sightseeing and mountain biking.

News Roundup: Town Halls

Summit at Snoqualmie Unveils Big Plans

One of Washington’s most-visited resorts today announced Summit 2030, a multi-year capital improvement push to start this summer. Reimagining The Summit is just the latest initiative by Boyne Resorts to bring its ten ski resorts into the modern era. The vision for Snoqualmie includes eight new lifts across all four base areas, enhanced summer operations, expanded snowmaking, new lodges and more. The resort has a lot of work ahead just on lift renewal with 19 chairlifts averaging 35 years old.

To start, Doppelmayr will replace the Hidden Valley double with a triple chair, enhancing capacity on the backside of Hyak for next season. The new lift will feature conveyor loading and transport 1,800 skiers per hour. “Another milestone in our plan to modernize our lift network, the new Hidden Valley Triple provides more capacity, dependability, and greatly improves access to one of most unique areas at The Summit,” said Guy Lawrence, Summit President and General Manager. The mountain also plans to open a bike park at Silver Fir this summer, add more chairs to the Armstrong Express and implement RFID ticketing this offseason.

Many more lift upgrades will follow over the next decade. At Alpental, fixed grip triple chairs are planned to replace both Sessel and Edelweiss. Perhaps most exciting will be construction of the International lift, a project first conceived decades ago. “The long-awaited International Chair at Alpental will be a fixed-grip triple dropping skiers and riders in the best spot for accessing Lower International, Snake Dance, Felson & Back Bowls, providing a whole new way to access some of the most popular terrain at Alpental,” says The Summit. Another key focus at Alpental will be installation of remote-operated avalanche control systems to open terrain faster during storm cycles.

At Summit Central, Boyne plans to replace and realign the Central Express with a larger lift. Nearby, Triple 60 is earmarked for a detachable quad. A brand new lodge, snowmaking and alpine coaster will round out improvements at Central.

Learn to ski hotspot Summit West will see replacements for workhorse lifts like Wildside and Pacific Crest as part of Summit 2030. Wildside will likely be a fixed grip quad and Pacific Crest a detachable six place.

It’s no secret Snoqualmie and other Cascades ski areas attract throngs of skiers at peak times so it’s great to see Boyne committing to major improvements in the Northwest. Not far away, Alterra has announced a similar $100 million plan for Crystal Mountain and Vail Resorts has expansion opportunities at Stevens Pass. Higher capacity lifts and more terrain at Snoqualmie will surely help meet demand for skiing in a booming region with just three ski areas.

Big Sky to Transform Base-to-Summit Lift Experience

The final chapter of Big Sky 2025 will be the largest yet, with a new gondola and tram connecting Big Sky Resort’s Mountain Village to Lone Peak. This multi-year project will cement Big Sky as a leader in lift technology among North American resorts.

Big Sky embarked on the 2025 initiative six years ago to enhance the mountain experience with a focus on lifts and dining. Boyne Resorts partnered with Doppelmayr to bring North America’s first eight place and fastest six place chairlifts to Big Sky in 2018 and 2021 and now the companies will build two more signature lifts leading up to 2025.

A new Explorer Gondola will load at the north end of the village and replace Big Sky’s last remaining original Heron-Poma lift which turns 50 next year. Together with Ramcharger 8 and Swift Current 6, three high capacity D-Line lifts will all load in the village. An intermediate gondola station will house a new ski school center and underground parking for cabins. This station will also include a direct drive powering both gondola haul ropes via a double-grooved bullwheel. Cabins will turn 22 degrees before ascending to a second new lodge near the top of Big Sky’s original Gondola One. Unlike Boyne Resorts’ five other D-Line lifts, the Explorer Gondola will feature squared glass enclosures, matching the style of the new tram stations and Bowl restaurant. The architecture alone will be unlike anything else in North American skiing.

Garaventa will build the reconfigured Lone Peak Tram, which will start at the new mid-mountain hub and operate year round. Large cabins will pass one tower before arriving at a glass-enclosed terminal at 11,166 feet. The new tram will be nearly twice as long as the current one but also faster and more capable.

“The new lift system from the base area to the summit of Lone Peak will revolutionize the way we access ‘America’s Matterhorn’ in both winter and summer,” said Big Sky Resort president and COO Taylor Middleton. “In creating this must-do experience accessible to all, we will offer the premier high-alpine experience on Montana’s highest scenic overlook.” Although tram cabins will be able to accommodate more passengers at once than the current 15 person tram, Big Sky plans to carefully manage throughput depending on conditions and season.

“We couldn’t think of a more significant and emblematic series of initiatives to close out the transformation we’re accomplishing with the Big Sky 2025 vision,” noted Stephen Kircher, CEO and president of Boyne Resorts. “Coupling a truly world-class tram experience with the most architecturally thoughtful on-mountain food and beverage and Mountain Sports facilities will set a new standard for mountain communities in North America. This innovative project will kick off an exciting new chapter in transforming the future of tourism in Big Sky and across southwest Montana, and sets the stage for planning Big Sky’s next steps.”

Construction will begin this summer although a project of this size will take multiple construction seasons to complete. The current Lone Peak Tram and Explorer lifts will remain in service throughout the process with the new tram set for completion in Fall 2023.

News Roundup: Even Ten

News Roundup: Working Capital

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.

Continue reading

Big Sky and Loon Mountain Postpone Lift Projects to 2021

Boyne Resorts and Doppelmayr have reached an agreement to delay construction of two major lifts due to the Coronavirus emergency.  Both Swift Current 6 at Big Sky Resort and Kancamagus 8 at Loon Mountain will now be constructed in 2021.  “Proceeding with a complex and deadline sensitive construction project during the COVID-19 emergency would not be a prudent decision,” stated Troy Nedved, General Manager at Big Sky Resort.  “Concerns about construction worker health and the unknowns related to the construction supply chain make the project too risky to undertake in 2020,” he continued.

Site preparation and limited construction may proceed this summer if public health conditions permit.  Manufacturing of Swift Current’s components is nearly complete and the lift will be stored either in Wolfurt, Salt Lake or the Bozeman-Big Sky area until next year.  When completed in 2021, Swifty will become the fastest six place chairlift in North America.

At Loon Mountain, skiers and riders will have to wait another year to ride the east’s first eight passenger chairlift, Kancamagus 8.  “Although significant investment has already been made, we cannot proceed with a project of this scale knowing the COVID-19 situation could further complicate its installation – potentially cutting off the Governor Adams Lodge and base area from the rest of the resort next winter,” said Loon General Manager Jay Scambio in a letter to season passholders.  “This postponement allows us to better support our team, our guests, and the greater Loon community at a time when it is needed most.”  Permitting and planning will continue in preparation for 2021 installation.

Kanc8_Infographic_1920x1080

I spoke with Boyne Resorts President Stephen Kircher this morning about the decision and his outlook during this challenging time.  The company will closely monitor impacts on summer business as well as season pass sales and proceed accordingly.  “We are going to be assessing our capital projects each week,” said Kircher.  “We’ve got milestones on every single project and last possible start dates to meet deadlines for next winter.  We’re optimistic we are going to be executing a number of projects but we need to see clarity.”

As long duration, all-or-nothing projects, the two D-Line lifts had to wait.  Boyne knew it needed to be underway this week at Loon and within two weeks at Big Sky in order to meet aggressive construction schedules.  Bubble lifts by definition include carrier storage buildings that are as complex to build as the lifts themselves.  “What happens if work stoppages occur again in the middle of summer or the fall?” lamented Kircher.  “Once we tear the existing lifts down, we’re at risk.  We would be dead in the water [without Swift Current or Kancamagus.]  The second worst thing other than this shutdown would be not having a key lift coming out of the base next winter.”

Preliminary work on the Swift Current chair parking facility may occur this summer.

Boyne’s decision is the second such deferral among North American multi-resort operators this week.  On Wednesday, Vail Resorts delayed seven different lift projects with two different manufacturers in order to cut costs.  Kircher acknowledged his decision was difficult for both customer and supplier but in some ways proved clear.  “We are working with a great partner in Doppelmayr.  Obviously they are dealing with a lot of difficult conversations across the planet,” he said.  “We talked through what the best scenario was for both companies.  They don’t want to be in a situation where they can’t finish a lift either.  I want to install a lift that we own and is sitting in warehouses more than anybody but it’s just not prudent.”

News Roundup: Ripple Effect

  • Saddleback demolishes the Rangeley double to make room for its upcoming high speed quad.
  • Debt-laden Ski Granby Ranch lays off all its employees and won’t issue refunds to guests with canceled vacations.
  • The $2.2 trillion phase three stimulus package passed by Congress doesn’t include assistance specifically for ski areas but there is hope phase four might.
  • Vail Resorts borrows more than $500 million from existing lines of credit in order to increase its cash position and maintain financial flexibility during the outbreak.
  • While many Leitner-Poma staffers work from home, a skeleton crew continues production.
  • Even in hard-hit Italy, one major lift customer plans to commence construction as soon as the immediate health danger has passed.
  • Many Doppelmayr employees are also working from home and production continues in Wolfurt.
  • Aspen Snowmass intends to complete all capital projects as planned this summer including the $10.8 million Big Burn chairlift.
  • Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz personally donates $2.5 million to mountain community charities and an employee assistance fund.
  • Yet another lift project cancelled by Vail Resorts: replacement of Peachtree at Crested Butte this summer.
  • NSAA estimates costs from early closings and lost pass sales will exceed $2 billion in the United States and forecasts capital spending will plunge 50 percent this year.
  • Magic Mountain’s Geoff Hatheway offers a small ski area perspective on COVID-19.
  • Coronavirus may impact the review timeline for Snow King Mountain’s proposed expansion and other projects on Forest Service lands.
  • Katharina Schmitz officially takes the reigns of Doppelmayr USA from Mark Bee, who retired on March 31st.
  • Boyne Resorts estimates $22 million in lost revenue as a result of this winter’s abrupt end.
  • The Vietnamese developer behind both the world’s longest and tallest 3S gondolas plans another island-hopping 3S in the country’s north.

Sugarloaf Outlines West Mountain Expansion & Future Lift Upgrades

86384575_10156559049556879_3143727309744242688_o

Boyne Resorts will embark on a major investment campaign at Sugarloaf in the coming years called Sugarloaf 2030, similar to plans revealed recently for Big Sky, Loon Mountain and Sunday River.  The central Maine resort will begin work this summer on a 450 acre expansion of West Mountain with a variety of new trails.  The area will eventually feature a big new lift.  As part of the expansion, the current West Mountain double will be shortened to about half its current length.  The expansion includes a modest new base area with expanded parking, tubing and a small lodge.

West Mtn Hero 3

“This development will expand Sugarloaf’s beginner and intermediate terrain, and will greatly alleviate traffic congestion at the SuperQuad by shifting significant numbers of riders to this new area,” says the Sugarloaf 2030 website. “Several options are being considered for size and type of lift for this location, with lift construction expected to begin in the summer of 2021.”  The lift will be designed with foot passengers in mind as Bullwinkle’s will see expanded use for weddings and conferences.  West Mountain will also be home to a future lift-served mountain bike park.  “This will be the most significant project at Sugarloaf since the SuperQuad was built in the mid 1990s,” noted Sugarloaf General Manager Karl Strand. “We’re thankful for leadership of Boyne Resorts, which, over the past 13 years, has helped us get Sugarloaf to a position of growth that allows for development projects like this.”

Lifts across the mountain will be replaced over the next decade.  Timberline, a Borvig quad serving the summit will be replaced with another new lift supporting varied year round experiences.  A third near term priority is the Double Runner double-double, which is approaching 50 years of age.  A new quad would better serve ski school programs and increase out-of-base capacity.  Carrabassett Valley Academy also plans to partner with Sugarloaf on a new alpine training surface lift servicing race trails above Double Runner.

Further out, Boyne plans to replace two more aging quads.  A new King Pine would run in a modified alignment with better wind resistance and improved reliability.  A future SuperQuad replacement is more about increasing capacity with state-of-the-art equipment.

Between this new plan, Sunday River’s vision announced two weeks ago and the rebirth of Saddleback, the 2020s are already proving to be an exciting time in Maine.  The Pine Tree State is well positioned to be a great place to ski in a changing climate and companies are responding with big investment plans.