News Roundup: Worth the Wait

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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.

Colorado

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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Coast to Coast! Vail Resorts Buys Okemo, Crested Butte, Mt. Sunapee & Stevens Pass

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Crested Butte Mountain Resort operates a dozen lifts in central Colorado, mostly built by Poma.

The largest publicly-traded ski resort company in the world today simultaneously unveiled two major transactions to buy ski resorts in four different states for more than $300 million.  Vail Resorts will acquire Triple Peaks, LLC for $82 million and Stevens Pass, Washington for $67 million, subject to regulatory approval.  The former, founded and owned by Tim and Dianne Mueller, operates Okemo Mountain Resort in Vermont, Crested Butte Mountain Resort in Colorado and Mt. Sunapee in New Hampshire, hence the name Triple Peaks.  Broomfield, Colorado-based Vail will buy out the three resorts’ long term leases from Oz Real Estate upon closing for an additional $155 million.  Okemo, Mt. Sunapee and Crested Butte signed onto the industry-pioneering Epic Pass back in March and will now offer unlimited, unrestricted access for Epic passholders.

Another Oz-owned resort, Stevens Pass, will be sold to Vail for $67 million in a separate deal subject to regulatory approval.  Stevens Pass is currently operated by Karl Kapuscinski along with Mountain High, California.  The SoCal resort is not included in Vail’s purchase.  Stevens Pass will join the Epic Pass for the first time, making it an even more compelling product for Pacific Northwest skiers who frequent Whistler Blackcomb.  Stevens will also be included in the Edge Card, a product that predated Vail and is offered exclusively to residents of British Columbia and Washington.  Notably, Stevens Pass has major lift expansions on both flanks of the current trail system in its approved master plan.

Okemo is a nearly 100 percent Poma mountain in southern Vermont that competes with the powerhouses of Stratton, Mt. Snow and Killington.

With today’s news and other deals including the sale of six resorts to Boyne Resorts, the Oz Real Estate Ski Resort Holdings portfolio now includes just Jiminy Peak and Sierra at Tahoe, down from 15 resorts at its peak under CNL Lifestyle Properties.  Northstar California, Mountain High and Bretton Woods were also sold off over the last few years.

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News Roundup: Timelines

  • The Staten Island Economic Development Corporation secures $212,000 to study the feasibility of a gondola connection to Bayonne, New Jersey.
  • The Forest Service green lights Alta’s big plans for a new Baldy tram, Flora lift, Wildcat detachable and replacement for Sunnyside.
  • The Colony’s master plan now includes two new lifts along Pinecone Ridge at the center of Park City Mountain.
  • Copper is selling parts from the Flyer and the Eagle detachables.  Must act fast!
  • Crested Butte says the three lift Teo 2 expansion, if approved, would likely be built over approximately five years.
  • Snow King’s gondola and terrain expansion public process moves along at a glacial pace.
  • Mountain Capital Partners, the company behind Arizona Snowbowl, Hesperus Pajarito, Purgatory and Sipapu, will operate Nordic Valley and add it to the Power Pass.
  • Doppelmayr breaks ground for its eleventh cable-propelled automated people mover, set to open in 2021.
  • Spokane’s paper traces the history of three lifts that have graced Riverfront Park, including a new gondola.
  • The Forest Service seeks feedback on Arizona Snowbowl’s chondola proposal.
  • An ice storm apparently causes a track rope to jump out of a saddle at Jay Peak, closing the tram and nearby lifts indefinitely.
  • As legal wrangling continues, nothing seems out of the ordinary this week at the Hermitage Club except for notices on the clubhouse doors.

Public Comment Opens for Three Lift Crested Butte Expansion

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Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s vision to add three lifts and 500 acres of intermediate and advanced terrain moved forward last Friday with the release of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement by the Gunnison National Forest.  Operated by Triple Peaks, LLC along with New England’s Okemo and Mt. Sunapee resorts, Crested Butte currently has a fleet of 12 lifts serving mostly beginner and expert terrain.  The 58 year-old mountain seeks to provide guests more intermediate and advanced options and improve skier circulation.  Triple Peaks owners Tim and Diane Mueller were previously blocked from building a five-lift, 2,000-acre expansion on neighboring Snodgrass Mountain in 2009.

Under the new plan, first proposed in 2015, one current lift would be replaced with two more added in an area called Teocalli 2 – far from Snodgrass and nearer current resort infrastructure.  The North Face lift, a Leitner T-Bar installed in 2004, would be removed and replaced with a much longer chairlift.  This fixed-grip quad would stretch around 5,000 feet with a capacity nearly twice that of the current surface lift.  The new lift was orignally envisioned to start between the East River and Paradise lifts but is now slated to load directly adjacent to Paradise.

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Current Crested Butte trail map; the expansion would be mostly behind the expert terrain in the upper left corner.

A second new lift with the working name Teo Park would similarly top out at the summit of the North Face but rise from the Teo 2 drainage behind.  This fixed-grip triple would move 1,200 guests per hour with a slope length of 3,050′ and create a link between the proposed expansion area and the already-developed ski area front side.

The heart of the expansion lies lower in the west-facing Teo watershed, where a new high-speed or fixed-grip triple would span approximately 6,000 linear feet.  Capacity would be limited to 1,200 skiers per hour and only a handful of new intermediate runs cut, totaling 89 acres.  Most of the terrain – 434 acres – would be left as gladed skiing with select trees removed by helicopter.  This expansive zone would supplement the popular and sometimes overcrowded intermediate runs serviced by Paradise and East River.

Public comments for this major project will be accepted here until May 10th and the Forest Supervisor is expected to make a decision around October.  Implementation of approved elements could begin as early as 2019 and the Mueller family would likely sign with Leitner-Poma for any new lifts as they have for decades at Crested Butte, Okemo and Sunapee.

Instagram Tuesday: Nights

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Instagram Tuesday: Landscapes

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Instagram Tuesday: Poma

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News Roundup: Doppelmayr Garaventa 2015

  • Doppelmayr wins a €9.4 million contract for a detachable gondola in Bogota, Colombia.  The 10-passenger, two mile system will carry 2,600 passengers per hour.
  • The US Forest Service accepts Crested Butte’s new master plan for review.  It includes replacing the North Face lift as well as two new lifts in Teocalli Bowl.
  • Rick Spear, the president of Leitner-Poma, thinks an aerial tram from Staten Island to Manhattan is (not surprisingly) a good idea.
  • Arizona Snowbowl’s new lift announcement gets lots of press.
  • Italy’s Leitner and Aguido are merging.  Leitner built a couple dozen lifts in the US and Canada before their joint venture with Poma began in 2002.  Aguido built the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway in New Hampshire.
  • Sugarloaf decides it doesn’t have the money to upgrade its oldest lift to acceptable safety standards so it will be removed without a replacement.  Bucksaw was built in 1969.  After it is removed there will be 23 Stadeli lifts remaining in operation, four of which are older than Bucksaw.
  • Construction on The Balsams has been delayed again.  I’ll believe the hype when lift towers start going in.
  • Rumor on Skilifts.org is SkyTrac will complete the abandoned, half-constructed Stagecoach lift on the Moonlight Basin side of Big Sky.  I believe this Doppelmayr double came from the defunct Fortress Mountain in Alberta.

    The Stagecoach lift was partially completed before Moonlight Basin went bankrupt in 2009.
    The Stagecoach lift was partially completed before Moonlight Basin went bankrupt in 2009.