Will Vail Resorts Build Big in 2018?

Winter Dual Mountain Bluebird DavidMcColm
With the additions of Whistler Blackcomb and Stowe, Vail Resorts’ reach is larger than ever.  The company typically announces new lifts projects in a single press release each December.  Photo credit: Whistler Blackcomb/Vail Resorts.

If you follow the ski industry, mark your calendar for four months from now, the week of December 4th.  Very early one morning that week, the largest mountain resort operator in the world will release its fiscal 2018 first quarter results and, more importantly to this audience, outline capital expenditures for 2018.  Last year, this is the moment Vail Resorts committed to building three six-packs as part of $103 million in capital spending for 2017 (the company later added a fourth detachable to this year’s class, the Red Buffalo Express at Beaver Creek.)  In December 2015, MTN announced a high-speed quad for Vail Mountain and in 2014, $50 million in improvements including three new lifts at Park City plus another six-pack at Vail.  So, what might be on the likely $120+ million agenda for 2018?

Vail Mountain

  1. Game Creek Express #7 six-pack.  The current 1985 version of Game Creek is the oldest operating lift on Vail Mountain and one of three remaining CLD-260 style Doppelmayr detachables there.  It is likely to be replaced with a six-pack, increasing capacity by at least 25 percent in popular Game Creek Bowl.  Of the recent six-pack upgrades at Vail, two were built by Doppelmayr (Avanti #2 and Mountaintop #4) and one by Leitner-Poma (Northwoods #11.)vail 4-1-07 184
  2. Orient Express #21 six-pack.  Three years newer than Game Creek but still with DS grips, Orient Express serves some of the most popular terrain in Vail’s famous Back Bowls below the equally popular Two Elk Lodge.  A six-pack upgrade would be the first such lift in the Back Bowls or Blue Sky Basin.
  3. Wildwood Express #3 six-pack.  A 1995 CTEC, Wildwood is not as old as other detachables recently replaced at Vail, but it serves a high-traffic pod between Mid-Vail and its namesake Wildwood.  Parts from this lift could be used as spares for Riva Bahn/Pride Express and Cinch, Bachelor, Grouse Mountain and Strawberry Park high-speed quads at Beaver Creek.
  4. Born Free Express #8 replacement.  Born Free is the 1988 sister ship to Orient and runs parallel to the Eagle Bahn Gondola, built 1996.  Vail could opt to address both lifts in the coming years with a gondola like Keystone’s or replace only Born Free with a new high-speed quad or six-pack.
  5. Golden Peak Race lift.  In April, Vail submitted a master plan amendment to add a third lift on Golden Peak above the Riva Bahn mid-station.  This short fixed-grip chairlift or surface lift would primarily serve an extended race course.vailgoldenpeakexpansion

Beaver Creek

  1. Arrow Bahn Express replacement.  Beaver Creek doesn’t see nearly the traffic that Vail does and has seen ten new lifts since 2000.  However, Arrow Bahn Express is by far the oldest lift at Beaver Creek, built in 1988 to serve a separate Arrowhead ski area.  A CLD-260 like Game Creek, Orient and Born Free but with lower hours for its age, Arrow Bahn might make it a bit longer.img_4153

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Instagram Tuesday: Colorado

Every Tuesday, I feature my favorite Instagram photos from around the lift world.

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Instagram Tuesday: Sky

Every Tuesday, I feature my favorite Instagram photos from around the lift world.

Hiked 3.8 miles to take this pic so……you better like it😂😉

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Town of Breckenridge Considers Gondola Transit

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The Vail Resorts-owned and operated BreckConnect Gondola could be complemented by a second public system, a study funded by the Town of Breckenridge has concluded.

Could a north-south gondola effectively move people through the town of Breckenridge much like Telluride and Mountain Village pioneered twenty years ago?  A team from SE Group presented Phase 1 of its Gondola Transit Study (pages 28-47) to the Breckenridge Town Council on July 11th.  The document looks at siting, capacity and cost for a system that could include up to seven stations with the goal of creating a system which reduces traffic congestion, improves connectivity between Breckenridge Ski Resort and the town and enhances the experience of riding transit.

The study’s first siting principle was to serve core destinations from peripheral parking areas to get people out of cars. Another principle placed stations no more than 2,400 feet apart with the assumption that skiers would not willingly walk more than 1,200 feet in winter.  The shortest and simplest option would begin at the Satellite North Parking (Station 1) and end at the BreckConnect Gondola (Station 5) with three mid-stations.  This option would span 7,530 feet and utilize 84 gondola cabins.  The second option (Stations 1-7) would follow the same route but add two more stations at Riverwalk Center (Station 6) and F-Lot parking (Station 7).  This one would be 10,395 feet with 116 cabins.  The most ambitious alternative, dubbed 1-7b would include the same first five stations but diverge at Gondola Center to the ice rink.  This would stretch 12,630 feet with 140 cabins and seven stations.  All routes contemplate utilizing separate haul rope loops so that only certain stages could be operated during off-peak times and seasons.

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The report notes the first two alternatives could be built easily, as “[they] present few physical barriers; alignments easily pass between existing buildings, transect relatively few private parcels, and appear to have a clear corridor.”  The third alternative with stations 6b and 7b reaches more people but a high cost.  While the 40-foot corridor for Stations 1-7 encompasses land owned by the Town, CDOT, Vail Resorts, the Summit School District and one private landowner, the alignment for stations 6b and 7b adds four more private parcels and significant complexity.

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Instagram Tuesday: New & Old

Every Tuesday, I feature my favorite Instagram photos from around the lift world.

#iga2017 #internationalegartenschau #marzahn #berlin #gärtenderwelt #ropeway #seilbahn

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It's a beautiful day to get out and explore the valley. #hiking #unbeatenpath #sunvalley #sundayfunday

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News Roundup: Turnover

  • Squaw seeks extension for permit to replace Red Dog lift.
  • MND Group turnover increases 15.1 percent year-over-year.  The company aims to double sales by 2020 partially through LST Ropeways subsidiary.  Referencing the new Cannon Mountain T-Bar in the latest magazine, MND notes “success has enabled LST to penetrate the US market, paving the way for other promising opportunities.”
  • Doppelmayr will begin building its next tri-cable gondola in December.  Who would have guessed Kenya would get a 3S before the United States!
  • Forest Service gives final green light for Breckenridge and Keystone six-place upgrades.
  • A slow landslide continues to move tower 6 of the Barrows lift at Howelsen Hill.
  • SE Group will study placement of Aspen Mountain’s future Lift 1A.
  • Denver Post publishes two part interview with Larry Smith of the CPTSB re: Granby Ranch.
  • The LiftDigital safety bar display system with integrated Wi-Fi will launch in Colorado for 2017-18.
  • New PomaLink newsletter features the Grand Canyon Express and a six-station gondola at a zoo in China.
  • Poma’s 2016 Reference Book includes LPOA installations but not Skytrac ones.
  • Mountain Creek files for bankruptcy protection with debts totaling $40+ million including $500,000 balance on 2012 Partek chairlift loan.
  • One of Heavenly’s original 1962 tram cars is for sale.  Email me if you’re interested.
  • heavenlytramcar
  • Artur Doppelmayr died Friday at age 95.  May he rest in peace.

Instagram Tuesday: Night Moves

Every Tuesday, I feature my favorite Instagram photos from around the lift world.

Lined up and ready to launch!

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News Roundup: Opponents

Breckenridge May Have the Most Interesting Lifts in the World

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The Snowflake lift at Breckenridge, CO is the only lift of its kind, making a 45-degree turn.
Breck has been on my bucket list for a long time.  Not because of the skiing, necessarily, but because its collection of 23 lifts is among the most unique anywhere.  Nowhere else can you find so many lifts with turns (5), lifts that cross other lifts (4), not to mention North America’s only double-loading detachable and its highest elevation chairlift.  This weekend I made a break for Breck and the three other Colorado Vail Resorts to see what Epic is all about.

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Even with the option to ski back to town via the Four O’Clock ski run, the BreckConnect is an immensely popular transportation solution.
I’ll start with the BreckConnect Gondola, which first connected one end of town to Peaks 7 and 8 in 2006.  The Leitner-Poma gondola is free and operates both winter and summer. Locals I talked to can no longer remember life without it.  Although it has two mid-stations each with an angle change of more than 40 degrees, the entire system operates with one haul rope.  It’s way cooler than taking a bus from the parking lot.

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The Peak 8 SuperConnect links Peaks 9 and 8 with an angle station in between.
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Vail Resorts to Build Three New Six-Packs in Colorado for 2017-18

With strong Epic Pass sales and early snow blanketing its properties, Vail Resorts revealed today it will go big on new lifts in 2017, adding additional six-place chairlifts at Vail, Keystone and Breckenridge as part of a $122 million capital program.  In the company’s first quarter results, CEO Rob Katz noted, “we remain committed to reinvesting in our resorts, creating an experience of a lifetime for our guests and generating strong returns for our shareholders.”  The news follows construction of four new lifts at Vail mountains in both 2015 and 2016.

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The Northwoods Express #11 on Vail Mountain will be replaced at the end of this year, the resort announced today.

On Vail Mountain, the Northwoods Express #11 will be replaced, leaving only three CLD-260 first-generation detachables in service.  The new Northwoods will also become the mountain’s 10th new lift in 11 years.  At Breckenridge, Vail will upgrade the Falcon high speed quad on Peak 10 to a six-person detachable, allowing more guests to experience some of the best intermediate and advanced terrain on the mountain.   The Falcon SuperChair is a 1986 Poma high speed quad also approaching the end of its useful life.  At Keystone, the 1990 Doppelmayr Uni-model Montezuma chair will be replaced with a six-pack version.

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The six-place Avanti Express #2 at Vail replaced an older high speed quad in 2015 as part of Vail Resorts’ ongoing initiative to replace high-traffic lifts in recent years.

Leitner-Poma is likely to build Breckenridge’s newest lift, which would extend a 16-lift streak for the manufacturer at Breck.  Vail and Keystone operate a mix of Leitner-Poma and Doppelmayr lifts and could plausibly sign with either company.  Noticeably absent from today’s release was any mention of new lifts for Park City or the newly-Epic Whistler-Blackcomb.  Vail Resorts will detail further capital improvements in the spring but these three projects are a huge start.

Update 1/23/17: Leitner-Poma will build and install all three of these lifts.