Utah ski resorts are proving this season that lifts need not be giant to positively impact guest experiences. I got to visit the state’s three newest chairlifts this week, which are all short but sweet with beginner skiers in mind.
High Meadow Express – Park City Mountain
The High Meadow Express is the centerpiece of re-imagined teaching terrain above Park City’s Canyons Village. With mellow loading and unloading speeds, a quick ride time and an improved alignment, the high speed quad marks a significant step up from the fixed quad it replaces. High Meadow Park is now wide open with perfectly pitched beginner trails. Expanded snowmaking rounds out the freshened up beginner zone.
Homestake Express – Deer Valley Resort
Homestake Express launched this morning at Alterra-owned Deer Valley, becoming the resort’s 13th detachable quad. Ride time is now under two minutes between Silver Lake Lodge and Bald Eagle Mountain. There are only eight towers now, down from 12, freeing up space on the busy Silver Link ski run. The new Homestake also features slatted backrests for wind resistance.
Snowpine – Alta Ski Area
In Little Cottonwood Canyon, the new Snowpine Quad carried its first skiers yesterday. The Skytrac Monarch was manufactured just 30 miles away in Salt Lake. While it only has two towers and a dozen chairs, the new lift serves dual functions. It will provide ski-in, ski-out access to the new Snowpine Lodge, which opens January 30th. Alta’s first fixed grip quad also provides a beginner-friendly alternative to the surface tow it replaces. The return terminal is height adjustable for the big snow years.
At a champagne toast tonight in Gondola Square, Steamboat President and Chief Operating Officer Rob Perlman announced the world’s first 8 passenger monocable gondola will be upgraded in time for the 2019/20 season. The news comes as a bit of a surprise given last month’s approvals of other lift projects including a second gondola to Bashor Bowl and the Pioneer Ridge Expansion. The current gondola received major upgrades just last year and phase two will include new cabins, towers, drives, top bullwheel and brakes. “Everyone knows the gondola is the main lift out of the base area, and having a new, high speed, state of the art transportation system will be a noticeable improvement not only in the winter on Champagne Powder snow mornings, but also during the summer with our popular sunset happy hours,” said Perlman.
The Doppelmayr machine will transport 38 percent more guests per hour with a ride time under 10 minutes. Capacity will surge from 2,600 per hour to 3,600 with 137 cabins moving at six meters per second, up from five. “From day one, Alterra Mountain Company has emphasized our commitment to enhancing the guest experience across our family of 14 North American destinations,” noted David Perry, CEO at Alterra. “We are focused on improving every aspect of a guest’s visit, while preserving each destination’s unique character and traditions. Steamboat’s new gondola fits seamlessly within our plans. We are excited to invest in infrastructure, and proud of the positive impact it will make on the community, our guests, and the future of Steamboat.” Construction on the $15 million project is set to begin April 15th. Alterra has pledged to spend more than $550 million at its resorts over five years and hopefully Steamboat’s gondola is the first of many new lifts for the company in 2019.
The most expensive gondola system ever built in the United States will debut sometime between September and December next year. Bob Chapek, Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Consumer Products made the announcement this morning in a keynote address at the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions Expo, which Doppelmayr and CWA are attending. Competitor Leitner-Poma is also there. “Next fall, Disney Skyliner will not only efficiently move you to your location, it’ll also offer a whole new way to experience Walt Disney World with amazing views only available from the sky,” the resort said in a blog post. Construction began on the three gondola lines in July of 2017.
Crews are working across the resort to complete the network, which will link two of the most visited theme parks in the world with four major hotels and replace a significant number of Disney Transport bus routes. A mural was recently added to the gateway station at Epcot and the second angle station now has its Doppelmayr D-Line enclosure.
Ramcharger 8 at Big Sky Resort is both the first eight passenger chairlift and first Doppelmayr D-Line lift in North America. I headed to Montana yesterday for an update on this exciting project and a related one, the new Shedhorn 4. Touring Ramcharger, it became clear the decision to purchase this lift was not just about the eight passenger chairs, heated seats or loading carpet. D-Line has numerous small innovations made with mechanics and operators in mind that combine to create a new generation of Doppelmayr detachable. A few features I noticed: Every grate and cover is designed to easily open and close for quick access to moving parts. Belts that connect station tires each have individual tensioners. Stairs lead into the terminals rather than ladders. Many spots where metal meets metal are lined with rubber for noise and vibration dampening. Doppelmayr says D-Line has more than 200 improvements overall.
The massive Doppelmayr Direct Drive motor is in place at the top terminal and will be water cooled. It will quietly and efficiently spin at just 13 revolutions per minute. Because a gearbox and related shafts have been removed from the equation, all braking will be directly on the bullwheel. There is a single diesel evacuation drive rather than separate evacuation and standby engines. The west side of the top terminal features a 7,500 square foot parking facility for the chairs in two rows. Part of the floor opens up to an equally-sized basement where bike carriers can be hoisted onto chair hangers come summer. The outside of the barn is being wrapped in plastic for this winter and will be completed next spring.
The first four chairs and hangers arrived during my visit at the end of a long journey from Austria by ship, train and truck (the entire lift came over in containers, not just the chairs.) The 64 carriers are emblazoned with Ramcharger 8 logos, feature heated seats and sport blue bubbles. They are so large that only four fit in each shipping container!
Steel will be set at the bottom tension station over the next 7-10 days, which we will be able to watch live. This terminal’s legs, loading conveyor and gates are already in place. Operators will be able to raise and lower the deck on demand for children to board and capacity will be 3,200 people per hour to start. The 54 mm haul rope is also on site after its trip from Fatzer in Switzerland. The comm line for this lift is completely underground as is apparently common in Europe.
Walt Disney World Resort’s Skyliner is beginning to look a lot like a gondola – actually a system of gondolas unlike anything ever built in North America. Before I get to construction pictures, two significant developments occurred within the past week. First, Disney Parks announced that water taxi service between certain destinations will be suspended for 21 days beginning November 28th, likely so haul ropes and communications lines can be pulled between the eight gondola stations and 50 or so towers. Second, the first Skyliner-specific job posting appeared last Thursday. More on that in a minute.
The station at Epcot International Gateway is getting close and scaffolding shown below may be for applying the graphics shown in this artist’s rendering. The rear end of the terminal is getting a steel structure over the turnaround area where guests will load and unload.
The non-boarding station to the southwest of Epcot now looks similarly complete. Some of the D-Line windows are transparent while some are opaque, breaking up visually this very long station. Unfortunately the three awesome red bullwheels are being covered with terminal skin as well. Notice the stub rails on both sides which will ensure no cabin is ever more than two stations away from somewhere it can be removed. The primary parking and maintenance bays will be at Caribbean Beach South, two stops away from this angle change. The Epcot line has a total of four stations.
On the heels of building its 50,000th Omega gondola cabin, CWA Constructions introduced the fifth generation of an icon yesterday. Omega V features updated design language and is highly customizable for monocable gondola installations going forward. Omega first debuted back in 1983 and the the rest is history. The Omega IV joined the dynasty in 2007 and in just a dozen years became the chosen carrier for 29 gondolas in the United States and Canada. “The new cabin features the unmistakable Omega shape which merges seamlessly with any of its surroundings. The cabin has been completely redeveloped while retaining the core values of a true Omega,” Doppelmayr says.
Designed with 10 passenger D-Line systems in mind, The V will become the global standard for snow, tourism and urban installations by the Doppelmayr Garaventa Group, of which CWA is a member. The changes I noticed first were the suspension going below the roof line and the bench seats being swapped for individual places (each seat is 18.1 inches or 460 mm wide, more than you’ll find in a typical economy airline seat.) The V has new ergonomic ski rack choices, two bumper options and wider doors that open to 35 inches (900 mm.) A single door can hold up to six pairs of powder skis or five with a snowboard lot. An interior bike rack is also available.
The most state-of-the-art chairlift in the world went vertical today under wispy Montana skies. Teams from Doppelmayr, Big Sky Resort and Timberline Helicopters flawlessly executed 71 trips to hundreds of thousands of pounds of steel to Andesite Mountain in under six and a half hours. Thanks to good weather and an even better crew, that’s an average of one pick every 5.5 minutes, including refueling. As fly days go, it was amazing to watch Ramcharger 8 take shape.
The only aerial tramway in Texas closes after nearly six decades. “Replacement of the Wyler Aerial Tramway is estimated to cost millions of dollars. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department does not have the financial resources to execute a capital construction project of this size at this time.”
Michael Doppelmayr is profiled for his 60th birthday. Some interesting facts: his company’s gross margin was 12.1 percent last year and his father Artur vehemently opposed Doppelmayr’s merger with Garaventa.
New York’s high court clears the way for Belleayre to expand into the former Highmount Ski Center.
Bretton Woods and Doppelmayr make great progress on New Hampshire’s first 8 passenger gondola.
The leaders of North and South Korea ride a pulse gondola during their three day summit.
The State of New Hampshire will hold a public meeting about transferring the Mt. Sunapee lease to Vail Resorts on September 26th.