News Roundup: Wyoming

  • The Province that owns Atlantic Canada’s largest ski resort grows tired of losing money and looks for a private operator for Marble Mountain.
  • Doppelmayr will build the largest vertical six-pack in the world this year at Ischgl, Austria with over 3,000 feet of elevation gain in a single section.
  • Boyne Resorts President and CEO Stephen Kircher says a recent bond sale and tax cuts should yield increased capital investment at his resorts over the next five years.  Boyne doesn’t plan to buy new mountains any time soon, however.
  • Fire update: Purgatory reopens summer operations, Arizona Snowbowl is still closed while Taos, Red River, Sipapu, Ski Santa Fe and Sandia Peak are under partial closures due to extreme fire danger.
  • Antelope Butte, Wyoming has raised the $360,000 it needs to complete lift work and reopen next winter.
  • Beartooth Basin ends its summer season early due to problems with the upper platter lift.
  • Alterra CEO Rusty Gregory says of committing $555 million to mountain improvements: “We went to each resort and said, ‘Tell us, as resort operators, what will make the biggest positive impact on the guest experience.’ They had long lists.”
  • Leitner is pulling ropes at 12,740′ for the highest-ever 3S gondola.
  • Big Sky posts sweet photos from the Austrian factory where America’s first eight passenger chairlift and D-Line stations are being prepared for shipment. Chairs will have some unique designs on the back too.
  • The Portland Aerial Tram returns to service 5:30 am Monday, three weeks early, thanks to crews slipping track ropes much faster than expected.
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News Roundup: Last Call

  • No ticket, no card.  You can now ride lifts using only your phone at Sunshine Village.
  • Berkshire East owners buy Catamount with summer business and upgrading aging infrastructure on the agenda.
  • U.S. skier visits decline 2.8 percent for 2017-18 with the Midwest and Southeast up year-over-year, the Northeast flat and the Rockies, Pacific Northwest and Southwest regions down.
  • New lift construction is nonetheless pacing 25 percent ahead of last year and 43 points above this date in 2016.
  • Quebec area Val Neigette closes for good with its Doppelmayr quad chairlift headed to an unknown Ontario mountain to cover outstanding debt.
  • Mi Teleférico is apparently in talks to build dozens more urban gondolas in La Paz between 2020 and 2030.
  • The Balsams project faces a key state vote on May 21st.
  • Add Nashville to the list of US cities considering public transport gondolas.
  • Boyne Resorts closes on its purchase of seven mountain resorts, bringing its owned and operated portfolio to ten across North America.
  • Jackson, Wyoming stakeholders mostly agree to site a new gondola in a public park at the base of Snow King Mountain.
  • Loveland will hold a lottery for season passholders to win purchase rights for Lift 1 chairs.
  • The final last chair for the Norway lift at A-Basin is Sunday.

News Roundup: Intentions

  • Poma breaks ground on Medellín’s sixth urban gondola line as Doppelmayr prepares to open La Paz’s sixth on March 24th.
  • Gearbox issue strikes Camp Fortune, Quebec and 130 guests are roped off a Blue Mountain quad chair.
  • As Beantown weighs a gondola, Boston Globe staff travel to experience Leitner’s Mexicable.
  • Boyne Resorts acquires six mountain resorts plus the Gatlinburg Sky Lift it leased from CNL Lifestyle Properties and later Och-Ziff Capital Management.  “This opportunity will enable us to accelerate and fine tune the execution of our reinvestment plans for these spectacular properties, which will boost our competitive advantages and support our focus on continuous enhancement of the guest experience,” says Boyne President Stephen Kircher.
  • Don’t let this go unpunished at your resort.
  • The Australian man who was supposed to buy Maine’s third largest ski resort is caught on tape saying, “We’re not going to deliver on Saddleback,”  “Opening the mountain is not a primary concern for us,” and  “We’re not going to lose any sleep with regards to it,” acknowledging it was mostly about cashing in on the EB-5 immigrant investor program.
  • Triple Peaks’ Okemo, Crested Butte and Mt. Sunapee join the Epic Pass through a long-term alliance with Vail Resorts.
  • Anti Edmonton gondola editorial argues “challenges to a gondola could include its operational reliability in a harsh winter climate.”  Guess again.

Game-Changing Ikon Pass to Launch with 23 Mountain Resorts

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Alterra Mountain Company dropped a bomb at the Outdoor Retailer/SIA show this morning, announcing the forthcoming Ikon Pass will bring together its dozen North American resorts along with eleven other major mountains.  Aspen Skiing Company, Boyne Resorts, Powdr Co. and more have partnered with Alterra to add destinations such as Aspen Snowmass, Alta, Snowbird, Big Sky, Killington and Jackson Hole.  “The Ikon Pass is a collaboration of like-minded mountain destinations across North America where incredible terrain, unique character and local traditions are celebrated,” said Erik Forsell, Chief Marketing Officer for Alterra Mountain Company. “We’ve curated a community of iconic destinations. We believe this new pass offers tremendous opportunity and appeal to mountain enthusiasts who have a passion for outdoor adventure.”

Pass options will range from a set number of days at varying destinations to an ultimate, unlimited season pass.  I can’t stress enough how much this changes big mountain skiing in North America.  For years now, Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass has been the largest and most successful season pass product in the world, now offering access to 272 lifts and 44,000 acres at 15 mountains in North America and Australia to some 750,000 passholders.  Ikon will one-up Vail’s terrain offering with access to 23 top-tier North American resorts, a ridiculous 363 lifts and 48,840 acres (for both passes, I am counting gondolas, chairlifts and surface lifts with towers.  If carpets and rope tows are included, the Epic Pass offers 340 lifts while Ikon has 434.)

Ikon Pass resorts for 2018-19 will be:

  • Alta, Utah
  • Alpine Meadows, California
  • Aspen Highlands, Colorado
  • Aspen Mountain, Colorado
  • Bear Mountain, California
  • Blue Mountain, Ontario
  • Big Sky, Montana
  • Buttermilk, Colorado
  • Copper Mountain, Colorado
  • Deer Valley, Utah
  • Eldora, Colorado
  • Jackson Hole, Wyoming
  • June Mountain, California
  • Killington, Vermont
  • Loon Mountain, New Hampshire
  • Mammoth Mountain, California
  • Snowbird, Utah
  • Snowmass, Colorado
  • Snowshoe, West Virginia
  • Snow Summit, California
  • Squaw Valley, California
  • Steamboat, Colorado
  • Stratton, Vermont
  • Sugarloaf, Maine
  • Sunday River, Maine
  • Tremblant, Quebec
  • Winter Park, Colorado

Ikon passholders will also receive discounts and special offers at CMH heli-skiing in British Columbia.  Epic holders already enjoy limited access to 30 European resorts. The Liftopia-powered Mountain Collective Pass, which allows destination skiers to sample many large resorts, will remain an option in its current form and also go on sale in March.  The M.A.X. Pass, founded by Intrawest, Powdr and Boyne, will sunset.  Specific Ikon tiers and prices will be released in the coming weeks.

As an employee of one of the independent resorts on the MCP and now Ikon Pass, I watched first hand the worry of consolidation last spring turn to optimism in the fall.  Now I know why.

Six Months After Flames, Gatlinburg Sky Lift Returns Friday

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This new and improved Gatlinburg Sky Lift replaces a Riblet double chair destroyed by wildfire on November 28th, 2016.  Photos credit: Everett Kircher

Two days shy of six months since an intentionally-set wildfire killed 14 people and destroyed more than 2,000 buildings near Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the iconic Gatlinburg Sky Lift will reopen this Friday.  On November 28th, 2016, Sky Lift employees left the lift running on its auxiliary diesel as they fled the fire, saving the haul rope.  However, the top terminal and some towers were so severely burned that the entire lift needed to be replaced.For 62 years, Boyne Resorts has operated a chairlift on Crockett Mountain and the company chose a Doppelmayr Alpen Star triple chair for its third incarnation.  Previous versions were a Heron double recycled from Sugar Bowl in 1954 and Riblet double brought to Tennessee in 1991.

Boyne Resorts announced construction of the new $2.4 million lift in early February and received its operating permit less than three months later on April 27th.  Doppelmayr and Boyne collaborated to re-create the Sky Lift’s iconic appearance with 11 orange towers and 92 yellow chairs with wooden slats in place of galvanized ones.  Although guests cannot yet get off at the top due to ongoing construction, the new lift is sure to be as popular as it has been for generations.  When Boyne sold and leased-back the Sky Lift operation in 2005, it attracted 400,000 annual visitors and was valued at $19.9 million.  Not bad for a 1,300′ double chair!

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News Roundup: Confirmed

  • $150 million Raymond James settlement includes $762,503 for Burke Mountain’s new Leitner-Poma T-Bar.
  • Power outage leads to rope evacuation of Loveland’s newest lift.
  • Steamboat gondola refurbishing begins  (I got to tour Northstar’s gondola this week which received a similar upgrade in 2015.)
  • Orlando Sentinel confirms Walt Disney World is building three Doppelmayr 10-passenger gondolas with six stations.
  • Crystal Mountain breaks away from Boyne Resorts, orders five additional gondola cabins and plans to build new Discovery and Gold Hills lifts in 2018.
  • Eldora is selling Hall and Heron chairs as six-pack construction begins.
  • Preview Oakland’s new $13 million restaurant accessible only by gondola.
  • Sunday River’s new owner commits to replacing Spruce Peak.
  • This week’s cities floating gondolas include Edmonton and Burlington, Vermont.
  • Fatzer delivers four 153-ton track ropes to Germany’s Zugspitze using two trucks linked together for the entire journey.

Boyne Resorts Will Build New Sky Lift, Add Adventure Park in Gatlinburg

From the ashes..

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Three months since a wildland fire ripped through Gatlinburg, Tennesee, two brand new lifts are under construction as the gateway to the Smoky Mountains rebuilds.  As many suspected, the Gatlinburg Sky Lift will be replaced with a new version this spring.  “We are investing in a total replacement and are excited to be in process with installation of a new scenic chairlift,” spokeswoman Julie Ard of Boyne Resorts tells the Mountain Press.  The Riblet double’s haul rope and chairs have already been pulled in preparation for tower removal. The new Sky Lift will be the third version following the original Heron that operated from 1954-1991 and the Riblet that followed from 1991 until last November.  I’ve reached out to Boyne for the manufacturer of Sky Lift 3.0 and am waiting to hear back.  Update 2/6/17: The new lift will be a Doppelmayr Alpen Star triple chair with custom wooden seats.

Before the fire, Boyne Resorts had planned for and received approval to build an adventure park on the site, where the company has operated continuously for more than sixty years.  Zip lines, a suspension bridge, walking trails and more will eventually occupy 17.5 acres.  While that expansion will take some time, the lift project is progressing quickly.  “Reopening of the Gatlinburg Sky Lift is expected to be April/May 2017,” says Ard. “Just as our past guests who want to come back to Gatlinburg to continue traditions of experiencing this iconic attraction, and locals who are aware of its draw among tourists, we are eager to have this lift spinning again just as quickly as possible.”

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Big Sky 2025: A $150 Million Vision for the Next Decade on Lone Peak

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Big Sky Resort plans to build the most high-speed, high-tech lift network in North America over the next ten years, the company announced at media event this afternoon. Boyne Resorts Principal Stephen Kircher outlined Big Sky 2025, a $150 million road map for capital investment that includes a new North Village gondola, replacement of core lifts with bubble six-packs and additional lifts to serve new terrain. Enhanced snowmaking, new on-mountain dining and improvements to the Mountain Village will complement the massive investment in new lifts.

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The rise of Big Sky from Chet Huntley’s four-lift outpost in 1973 to the Biggest Skiing in America with 26 lifts owes in large part to the Matterhorn-like mountain named Lone Peak. Boyne Resorts bought Big Sky in 1976 and slowly grew it into America’s largest ski resort by 2013 with the purchase of Moonlight Basin and the Spanish Peaks Mountain Club.  Mr. Kircher noted none of the three mountains were financially sustainable in the 2000s and the uniting of the three has been transformative.  Now with 5,800 acres of terrain, Boyne seeks to elevate the ski experience to match the grandeur of its mountain that is unmatched in North America.  “We have a unique opportunity with the high alpine terrain here at Big Sky,” he noted.

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Phase one underway this summer includes the new Challenger Triple, Lone Peak Six and upgrades to Ramcharger and Lone Tree.

With $13 million of construction underway on the mountain, Big Sky Resort will operate the second third largest lift fleet in North America this winter behind Whistler Blackcomb and Park City.  The sprawling complex already includes two six-packs, five detachable quads and the famous Lone Peak Tram. This summer’s new lifts are just the beginning of a plan that includes the return of a gondola and ten more lifts (eight with bubbles) within existing boundaries and beyond.  Big Sky 2025 will transition the resort from one with nearly the most lifts to one with the best lifts featuring loading carpets, bubble chairs, head rests and heated seats that skiers have become accustomed to in Austria and Switzerland but rarely find in the States.

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Sunday River to Build New Lift on Spruce Peak

Sunday River announced this morning a $2.1 million Doppelmayr fixed-grip triple will replace the Spruce Peak triple, where a terminal literally fell over last month.   Willis MountainGuard and Boyne Resorts deemed the lift a loss after suspected grout failure sent the top station sliding from the bedrock it was anchored to the weekend of July 9th.  The 1986 Borvig triple was Sunday River’s second oldest lift and the new version will re-use its new Chairkit loading conveyor.  Doppelmayr will also replace the top terminal of Sunday River’s other Borvig triple on Locke Mountain.

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Exactly when the new lift will open is unclear.  Doppelmayr already has a packed summer building 17 lifts across the US and Canada.  In the meantime, most of Spruce Peak can be accessed from the Chondola and Aurora lifts.

This is far from the first (and won’t be the last) late-season lift replacement after unexpected disaster.  On June 11, 2012, a wildfire burned through Ski Apache in New Mexico, damaging two chairlifts and a gondola.  The Native American tribe that owns the mountain announced a $15 million deal with Doppelmayr on September 5th and three new lifts were completed by January.

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Big Changes Coming to The Summit at Snoqualmie

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The Summit at Snoqualmie still operates eleven Riblet doubles dating as far back as 1967.

The Summit at Snoqualmie sits just 45 minutes from downtown Seattle, the 4th fastest-growing major city in America.  With 20 lifts spread across four ski areas, the resort hosts nearly 700,000 skier visits in a good snow year, placing it among the top 15 most-visited resorts nationwide (in a bad snow year, it barely opens.)  Three of The Summit’s areas – Summit East, Summit Central and Summit West are connected by ski trails while Alpental stands alone on the opposite side of I-90.

The Pacific Northwest region (Alaska, Washington, Oregon) saw a stunning increase of 142 percent in skier visits  last year, more than double the two million visits from the year before.  That fact, coupled with an aging lift system means The Summit is primed for major upgrades.  The resort still has four Riblets dating from the 1960s and seven from the 1970s.

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In 1996, The Summit had even more lifts than today – 25 total.  Photo credit: Skimap.org

The Summit at Snoqualmie Master Plan approved in 2008 authorizes replacement of 11 lifts and construction of nine new ones with just six lifts remaining in their current state. The first of these projects have already completed, including all new lifts at Summit East/Hyak and the replacement of Silver Fir with a Leitner-Poma high speed quad.  That leaves eleven lift projects planned for the next decade or two at Summit Central, Summit West and Alpental.

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