How Many Lifts Might Alterra Buy in 2019?

At just 15 months old, Alterra Mountain Company finds itself with over 200 chairlifts, gondolas and tramways in two countries.  The 13 Alterra mountains mirror the broader ski industry with places like Deer Valley and Crystal Mountain sporting many newer lifts while the average chairlift at June Mountain is 45 years old.

On a Monday last March, the fledgling company based in Denver simultaneously unveiled its very first lift investments at Stratton, Tremblant and Winter Park along with other improvements like snowmaking at Snowshoe and a new restaurant at the base of Steamboat.  Importantly, Alterra committed to spending $555 million in total capital over five years.  That was before it bought Solitude and Crystal Mountain, which could mean even more money flowing over the next few construction seasons.  While last year’s budget only included three new lifts, could we see more in 2019?

Colorado

With the September approval of major projects by the Forest Service, Steamboat is poised for a comprehensive on-mountain transformation.  Although the timing is fluid, a new Rough Rider learning center at mid-mountain will eventually be serviced by a new gondola from the village.  Here, skiers and snowboarders will be able to choose from three new carpet lifts, a new and improved Bashor lift and a second fixed-grip chair replacing the Rough Rider surface tow.

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A second initiative Steamboat could undertake in 2019 is the Pioneer Ridge expansion, which includes a 7,000 foot detachable quad and a dozen new trails.  Other possible upgrades include adding chairs to Pony Express (currently at only 1,200 skiers per hour but designed for 2,400)  or new cabins for the Silver Bullet.  Wouldn’t it be cool for the new gondola and original one to have similar cabins?

The average lift at Alterra-operated Winter Park Resort is 27 years old.  Six are early model detachable quads coming up for replacement.  In the case of 32 year old Pioneer Express, an upgrade is overdue and I expect coming in 2019.  A new version could add a snowboarder friendly mid loading station above the last section of Big Valley.

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Pioneer is one of only four remaining Poma detachables in North America with separate Alpha drive units.

A second project I hope to see is a second stage of the new gondola from Sunspot to Lunch Rock, truly uniting Winter Park and Mary Jane.  Sunnyside should be a high speed quad or six pack.  A high speed replacement of Challenger would be a nice upgrade at Mary Jane.  Looking Glass is tied for the oldest operating chairlift in Colorado.  After Pioneer, High Lonesome is the next Poma detachable up for replacement if we go solely by age.

The above Intrawest era master plan earmarked Gemini Express to be converted into an eight passenger gondola with a new learning center surrounding its top station.  Endeavor could go detachable as part of this project and/or Discovery made into a fixed grip quad.  Finally, a lift is envisioned to expand Vasquez Ridge Territory with four new intermediate trails. With all of these ideas on the table, I expect Winter Park to get at least one lift in 2019 and hopefully two.

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Alterra to Acquire Crystal Mountain

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Washington State’s largest ski resort will soon join the Alterra Mountain Company family of resorts.  The big news comes just a year and a half after John Kircher bought out the mountain from his family’s company, Boyne Resorts, which has owned Crystal since 1997.  The resort operates one of the most modern lift fleets in the country in the shadow of Mt. Rainier, less than two hours from Seattle.  Upon closing, Crystal Mountain Resort will join the Ikon Pass, giving Evergreen State passholders access to the two largest ski resorts in the region.  Boyne’s Summit at Snoqualmie signed on just last week offering 5-7 days and access at Crystal will be unlimited with no blackout dates on both the full Ikon and Ikon Base passes.  Alterra’s passes now include 39 mountains with a combined 468 lifts across the US and Canada plus partner resorts in Australia and Japan.  The third major player in the Washington Cascades, Stevens Pass, sold to Vail Resorts for $67 million earlier this year and joined the competing Epic Pass, which also includes nearby Whistler Blackcomb.

“With the addition of Crystal Mountain Resort in Washington, we are able to expand our reach into the Pacific Northwest and offer our guests incredible experiences in the Cascade Mountains, while also giving Crystal Mountain Resort skiers and riders the opportunity to explore all the other premier destinations on the Ikon Pass,” said Rusty Gregory, Chief Executive Officer at Alterra. “Crystal Mountain is Washington’s premier resort and has been a favorite year-round destination for those in the greater Seattle-Tacoma area for years, and we are excited to include it in the Alterra Mountain Company family.”  Crystal’s sale price was not disclosed and the deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter.

Like others before him, Mr. Kircher was probably made an offer he couldn’t refuse.  “It has always been my goal to ensure Crystal Mountain Resort be taken the farthest in the shortest amount of time in order to keep Crystal at the top of Northwest skiing,” he said in a statement. “Alterra Mountain Company is able to offer a depth of experience and resources, as well as inclusion on the Ikon Pass with its outstanding destinations throughout the world. The mountain sports business has changed more in the last year than I have seen it change in my entire 40-year career, and I am excited to see what lays ahead.”

Despite seven out of ten lifts being added or replaced in the last twenty years, Crystal’s master plan envisions more.  The proposed Kelly’s Gap Express would give direct access to the upper mountain from the lower parking lots and open up new runs below Green Valley.  A second new lift on the other side of the access road would open up terrain in Bullion Basin.  A second gondola could also link the base plaza with Campbell Basin.  Crystal’s three oldest lifts – Discovery, Gold Hills and Rainier Express (Washington’s first detachable chairlift) – could also be replaced by Alterra, which has committed to spending more than $550 million at its resorts over the next five years.

News Roundup: Paving the Way

  • Crystal Mountain owner John Kircher revives the idea of a second gondola to Campbell Basin, which would be around 7,800′ long and closely follow the one time path of an SLI double chair.
  • Vermont shuts down the Hermitage Club for a third time as more lawsuits are filed against the business and its founder.  One by a food service company argues, “The dire financial circumstances facing the defendants compel the plaintiff to press forward with alacrity…the collectible assets of the defendants appear to be dwindling.”
  • The New York City Economic Development Corporation is again studying a gondola to connect Lower Manhattan with a redeveloped Governors Island.
  • With 2,400 cabins headed out the door this year alone, CWA is expanding its production capabilities in Switzerland.  Photos from the factory floor show new cabins bound for Montana, Hawaii and more.
  • Park City’s NPR station reports a chair slid into another chair on the Jupiter lift in January, resulting in an injury, three day closure and now litigation.
  • Approval of Woodward Park City is upheld, paving the way for construction of a fixed-grip quad.
  • The Forest Service tentatively approves Purgatory’s proposed Gelande high-speed lift.
  • A real estate development now under construction includes money for reopening New York’s Big Tupper with up to five lifts.
  • New owners at Owl’s Head, Quebec may spend up to $150 million on new lifts and other improvements.  The mountain currently includes three 1980s-era detachables including the world’s first high-speed quad from Breckenridge.
  • Lift construction season is here!  Thanks to Carleton G. for these photos of Waterville Valley’s new LST T-Bar.

News Roundup: Outage

  • Aspen Mountain 1A stakeholders narrow replacement options to a few alignments with a two-stage lift or pulse gondola still in the mix.
  • Crystal Mountain, WA retires its hand-painted trail map for a computer-rendered VistaMap.
  • Antelope Butte, Wyoming inches closer to reopening with its two existing Riblet chairlifts.
  • Local paper tells the story of how Borvig’s owner came to own Berthoud Pass.
  • Breckenridge and Vail debut new Leitner-Poma six-place lifts.
  • A power outage closes Sugarloaf on the always-busy day after Christmas.
  • Two different New Hampshire ski areas remain closed due to problems with lifts.
  • LST detachable lift number one is still undergoing testing in France with opening now planned for January.
  • Bromley’s Sun Mountain Express is back in action today following Monday’s incident.  Ironically, it’s currently on wind hold.

News Roundup: Following

  • Mt. Hood Meadows, Skytrac and Timberline Helicopters fly Buttercup towers in just 45 minutes.
  • Vail Resorts schedules annual meeting for Wednesday, December 6th, where multiple new lift projects are likely to be revealed.
  • Aspen Skiing Company, the City of Aspen, private landowners and the public collaborate towards building a long-sought detachable Lift 1.
  • Latest LST detach update: chairs are back at the factory being reworked and the Envers lift is expected to be up and running around Christmas.
  • Revelstoke adds 24 new gondola cabins, Crystal Mountain gets five more.
  • Navajo Nation leadership soundly rejects Grand Canyon Escalade gondola in 16-2 vote.
  • SkiCo and the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club plan to build a platter surface lift on the skier’s right side of Golden Horn at Aspen Highlands next summer.
  • There’s an unconfirmed rumor that the Cyclone at Sunrise Park, AZ won’t operate this winter.  The 1983 Yan is North America’s longest triple chair at 7,982′ with 32 towers and 352 chairs.  I’ve reached out to Sunrise for comment and will update if I hear anything.
  • Montana Snowbowl’s TV Mountain expansion won’t open this season.
  • After building three new lifts in a row, the Hermitage Club finds itself in a cash flow crunch.

News Roundup: Mother Nature

  • Lawsuit filed by man who fell from Seven Springs chairlift in 2015 thrown out.
  • CWA joins Instagram and look at how many gondola cabins are waiting to leave the factory this fall!
  • Snowbasin now has live streaming webcams at both six-pack terminal construction sites.
  • “Time is of the essence,” Snow King GM says seeking approval for Summit Gondola and ski expansion.
  • I hit four awesome retro T-Baronly ski areas in Idaho last weekend.
  • Red Bull turns Swedish tramway into a rope swing.
  • Two Skytrac quad chairs reaching the highest point on the Dutch side of St. Maarten faced a huge test Tuesday, taking a direct hit from a Category 5 hurricane just ten days before their scheduled grand opening.  Skytrac says the lifts were designed to withstand 200 mph winds.
  • This was the view from the gondola Monday night as wildfire threatened Crystal Mountain.  The fire has already burned much of East Peak, inside the permitted ski area where Crystal sought approval to build a new lift in 2004.090420172030_l

Instagram Tuesday: Gondy

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

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News Roundup: Interalpin

  • Revelstoke homeowners aren’t happy lift development has stalled for almost ten years now.  The resort’s response identifies master plan lifts 1 and 11 as the highest priorities but notes construction of them is subject to market demand.
  • In an interview, new Crystal Mountain owner John Kircher says he wants to build a second gondola to Campbell Basin.
  • NY State Fair gondola continues to be targeted as an example of government waste.
  • Whaleback’s T-Bar project is a go.  The lift came from Plattekill, NY and will be installed by SkyTrans.
  • New Gatlinburg Sky Lift looks to be almost finished.
  • Poma reaches agreement to build new gondolas in Vietnam with the first next-generation Sigma Diamond EVO cabins introduced yesterday at Interalpin.  The new cabins offer more natural light and feature doors that slide rather than opening out.
  • Move over D-Line: the new Leitner Station is here.
  • LST gets another detachable contract.
  • Leitner launches urban gondola in Berlin.
  • Skier visits at Vail Resorts were down 2.8 percent this season but lift ticket revenue increased 7.4 percent.
  • Mi Teleférico opens $1.5 million Operations Control Center with 22 people monitoring 1,300 surveillance cameras on 66 screens and lightning detection system for four gondola lines.
  • Purgatory will add a mid-station to its Needles triple this summer.

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.

Instagram Tuesday: Cabins

Every Tuesday, we feature our favorite Instagram photos from around the lift world.

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