News Roundup: Across Canada

Announcing Kancamagus 8, the East’s First Eight Pack

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Boyne Resorts will invest millions to build its third D-Line chairlift, an eight place at Loon Mountain set to open for the 2020-21 season.  The first such lift in the Eastern United States will replace the Kancamagus Express, a 1995 detachable quad servicing the lower mountain.  Like Boyne’s two Doppelmayr D-Line systems at Big Sky, the Kanc will feature tinted bubbles, heated seats, locking safety bars, a loading conveyor and direct drive.  “The Kancamagus 8 chairlift will be a leap into the future of skiing for our guests,” said Jay Scambio, president and general manager of Loon Mountain Resort.  “We are committed to bringing the latest advancements to our guests—this lift is the next example of that, following our first-in-the-world dual-frequency RFID installation.”

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Boyne will operate the only two eight place chairlifts in the Americas.

Loon Mountain currently operates an all-Doppelmayr fleet of ten lifts.  “We have a deep, long-standing relationship with both Loon and Boyne Resorts,” noted Mark Bee, President of Doppelmayr USA.  “We are proud to be a part of a major step forward in the eastern ski scene that puts Loon on a path towards achieving its goal of having one of the most advanced lift systems in the world.”  The east’s most technologically advanced lift will spin at 1,100 feet per minute, making it even faster than Ramcharger.  A ride on one of 62 ultra-wide chairs will take just 4.5 minutes.  Capacity out of the Governor Adams base area will increase 25 percent to 3,500 guests per hour.

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The Kancamagus quad is 24 years old and in need of a capacity upgrade.

No other American or Canadian ski operator has purchased eight place or D-Line lifts to date.  I asked Stephen Kircher, Boyne’s chief executive, what it feels like to be the American early adopter for such technology and this was his response:

It is humbling to be able to continue our company and family’s legacy of over 70 years bringing skiers the next generation of chairlift technology.  Now doing it beyond the midwest, with Doppelmayr’s new D-Line technology and doing it with the first two 8 place chairs is even more gratifying.  Ironically it took the rest of North America time to adopt triple, quad and six place chairlifts after those were introduced at Boyne in the 60’s through early 90’s, it seems eerily similar for 8 place chairlifts and the new D-Line.  Boyne Resorts is proud to be showcasing the future of uphill transportation in the rockies and the east.  We believe this will become the new standard of quality and efficiency in the decades ahead. This is likely only the beginning of many more of these types of lifts across North America.  Ultimately, enhancing the experience and attracting many more people to the mountains.”

– Stephen Kircher, CEO/President, Boyne Resorts

Kanc 8 will be the first major investment of Flight Path: 2030, a ten year infrastructure push at Loon also announced today.  Future projects will seek to elevate the ski experience, grow the business responsibly in every season and connect with the local community.  Lift upgrades over the next ten years may include Seven Brothers, Lincoln Express, North Peak Express and the gondola .  “Loon’s 10-year plan will have a positive impact on development throughout the Lincoln and Woodstock communities—as we travel together on our path to be New England’s premier mountain destination,” said Scambio.

The Forest Service has already approved the Kanc 8 project and construction will commence in early spring.

A Solid Year Caps a Decade of Construction Growth

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The mostly new Steamboat Gondola features 137 cabins travelling at a brisk six meters per second.

This year saw installation of 43 new and 7 used lifts across North America, numbers similar to the last two seasons.  43 may seem like a modest number for newly-manufactured lifts on an entire continent but that number is a 54 percent increase from the start of the decade and the highest single year total since 2004.  Only seven resorts opted to install used lifts, mostly late model fixed grip chairlifts but also a detachable quad and one T-Bar.

While 2018 saw a record number of gondolas, multiple bubble chairs and a Telemix, 2019’s projects trended smaller with 22 fixed grip chairlifts and five surface lifts.  That’s the most platters and T-Bars built in the last 15 years.  Two of them anchor terrain expansions while another two service youth racing programs.  Loading carpets were included on five new fixed quad lifts, allowing them to run at slightly faster speeds.

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The Yeti Cruiser at Sasquatch Mountain Resort was one of three new Leitner-Poma Alpha fixed grips constructed across Canada in 2019.

After two huge years, gondola construction fell to two new installations in Colorado, one in New Hampshire and pulse versions in New York and Florida.  Detachable chairlift construction was just above the decade average of ten per year.  Only one of this year’s high speed chairlifts included bubbles and another heated seats.

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Vail Resorts completed the largest-ever lift investment at Stevens Pass, purchasing two Doppelmayr quads to replace aging Riblet and Thiokol lifts.

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Big Sky to Build North America’s Fastest Six Seat Chairlift

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Swift Current 6 will join the existing Ramcharger 8 as an out-of-base workhorse in winter 2020-21.

Big Sky Resort will cement its position as America’s leader in lift technology with the debut of Swift Current 6, the resort’s fifth major lift addition in four years.  The announcement comes just 12 months after the launch of Ramcharger 8, the only eight place and first D-Line lift in North America.  By December 2020, two groundbreaking bubble chairlifts will rise from Big Sky’s Mountain Village: one to Andesite Mountain and the other flanking Lone Peak.  Not only will Big Sky operate the only two ski lifts in North America with Doppelmayr D-Line technology, the Boyne Resorts flagship will also feature the most lifts with heated seats (three) and the most bubble lifts (four, not counting the private Yellowstone Club which has 8.)

Swift Current 6 will span twice the distance of Ramcharger – about 8,500 feet across 24 towers – making it the fourth longest bubble lift on the continent.  126 premium upholstered chairs will yield a capacity of 3,000 passengers per hour, an increase of more than 25 percent versus the current detachable quad.  “Consistent lift improvements are an essential part of Big Sky’s 2025 vision,” noted Big Sky President and COO Taylor Middleton. “We know efficiently dispersing skiers across our almost 6,000 acres of skiing is essential to our guests.  Swift Current will dramatically modernize and improve the flow of skiers in the Mountain Village base area.”

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Swift Current provides a critical link between Andesite Mountain and Lone Peak and is utilized in both winter and summer.

Swifty’s 6 m/s line speed will mark a first for North American six place chairlifts and a flight to the heart of the alpine will last just seven minutes.  Many aspects will mimic Ramcharger 8, a pioneer still unmatched in the Americas.  Bubbles will come in Big Sky blue with heated seats underneath.  “This technology offers guests reliability, efficiency, and a staggeringly fast, warm, and comfortable ride up to the iconic Lone Peak—America’s Matterhorn,” said Stephen Kircher, CEO and President of Boyne Resorts.  “There will be no faster, safer or more comfortable chairlift in North America.”

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News Roundup: Switching Sides

  • Gould Academy sells the naming rights to its T-Bar at Sunday River to Alera Group, an employee benefits firm.
  • Ski Bluewood’s former platter lift can be yours for $19,000.
  • To celebrate new carpool and transit initiatives, Crystal Mountain debuts a green gondola cabin.
  • Does the public have the right to know what individual ski resorts pay the federal government for use of public lands?  Vail Resorts and the National Ski Areas Association argue no.
  • The New York Times visits Woodward Park City in its first week of operation.
  • Sun Valley and Snowbasin prepare for their first peak period after switching from Mountain Collective to Epic.
  • The Saddleback deal won’t close on Monday as scheduled but hopefully sometime in January.
  • A religious group wants to relaunch the long-abandoned Moab Scenic Tram.
  • The Meier family assumes full ownership of Greek Peak and Toggenburg Mountain in New York.
  • Colorado Ski Country USA launches a chairlift safety video series.
  • The latest Wir Magazine highlights Bromont’s big combination lift, the history of Doppelmayr in Canada and new scale models from Jägerndorfer.

Indoor Skiing Comes to America with Big Snow

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Olympians catch the first chair at Big Snow American Dream in New Jersey.

This was the first and hopefully last opening day ever for Big Snow American Dream, the only year-round, real snow ski area in the Americas.  New Jersey is now one of the most accessible places to learn ski and snowboard, with two thirds of guests expected to be beginners.  About a dozen similar snow parks operate in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

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The mountain made of steel is one of what will be hundreds of tenants at American Dream, a $5 billion shopping and entertainment destination just five miles from midtown Manhattan.  With Big Snow plus a Nickelodeon Universe theme park, Legoland Discovery Center and DreamWorks waterpark, American Dream hopes to buck the trend of malls in decline by focusing outside of retail.

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The BIG Express Quad, built in 2008, opened to the public today for the first time.

Canadian developer Triple Five Group managed to finish a job which first broke ground in 2004.  What was then known as Meadowlands Xanadu had its lifts installed in 2008, only to see zero snow and not a skier for 11 years.  I’m told the big lift had only about 50 hours on it until a few weeks ago.  After taking over the troubled project, Triple Five principal Don Ghermezian partnered with Snow Operating to bring the ski experience to life.  Snow is the ski industry disruptor behind Mountain Creek Resort and the Terrain Based Learning program in use across the country.  Before today’s first chair, Snow Operating President and CEO Joe Hession presented the Ghermezian family an Austrian bell like those seen at many Doppelmayr lift openings.

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Steamboat Gondola to Reopen Tomorrow

The Steamboat Gondola will once again carry guests Thursday morning, ten days after a gearbox issue halted operation of the brand new lift.  Through a holiday week and major snowstorms, teams worked diligently to make repairs including new parts shipped from Europe.  During the downtime, the Christie Peak and Thunderhead Express lifts provided access to terrain normally serviced by the gondola.

Doppelmayr would like to apologize to the Steamboat community for the interruption in service on the gondola, which was caused by a failure of the main gearbox after only two days of public operation. The backup systems functioned properly and the Steamboat team reacted quickly and appropriately after the gearbox failure. Our technicians and engineers worked around the clock with Steamboat personnel and technical experts from Germany, Austria and Canada, to replace the failed gearbox and associated components. We also took additional steps to improve the overall design and brought in a technical expert to eliminate vibration that contributed to the original failure. We have conducted numerous tests and are happy to report that the gondola will return to service on Thursday. We offer a sincere thanks to Rob Perlman, Dave Hunter and Kurt Castor, and to the Steamboat community for their patience and support. We are confident and proud of the Steamboat gondola and look forward to years of use for skiers and snowboarders.

– Mark Bee, President, Doppelmayr USA

The new Steamboat Gondola is the product of a two part, $15+ million replacement project.  This past summer, upgrades included new level walk-in cabins, grips, hangers, controls, tensioning systems, drive equipment, towers, line gear and parking.  With the number of cabins increased to 137 and line speed pushed to six meters a second, travel time to Thunderhead Lodge is now under ten minutes.  Capacity has increased by 38 percent versus the previous Silver Bullet Gondola.

Sometimes setbacks happen, especially with large scale projects such as this one.  As the video above demonstrates, lifts are built by teams of dedicated people.  I look forward to being one of the thousands to enjoy the new gondola in the coming weeks thanks to their hard work.

News Roundup: Glass Floors

Doppelmayr to Install Gondola Network at Icy Strait Point, Alaska

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As part of its commitment to the growing Alaska market, Norwegian Cruise Line today announced several strategic initiatives, including partnering with an Alaska Native corporation to transform Icy Strait Point into a vehicle-free tourism hub.  Two eight passenger gondola systems will transport 5,600 guests per hour between a new Wilderness Landing, the historic Icy Strait cannery and Hoonah Mountain, which features the world’s longest ZipRider.

“Wilderness Landing will cater to visitors in search of individualized experiences with the land, wildlife and native peoples of Alaska,” said Norwegian, which will gain preferred berthing rights at Icy Strait.  As part of the expansion, Huna Totem Corporation will install two gondolas and develop the upper part of Hoonah Mountain near its ZipRider attraction to offer additional experiences for visitors in 2020.  To elevate the experience and maintain its natural setting, Wilderness Landing will be a vehicle-free zone.  Instead of needing an estimated 72 buses to move guests around the site, travelers will be able to move through the treetops between the historic cannery and Wilderness Landing on the Transporter, a high-speed gondola system supplied by Doppelmayr.  The gondola will be wheelchair and scooter accessible.

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Opening a few months later in mid-summer, a second gondola will take guests up the 1,600-foot Hoonah Mountain to the forested area around the ZipRider launch. The six minute ride will unlock additional areas for exploration and afford spectacular views of icefields, the Fairweather Range and Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, the ancestral homeland of the Huna Tlingit people.  Huna Totem Corporation will develop new attractions for guests: a top-of-the-mountain nature trail around a glacially-carved reflecting pond, a 340-foot suspension bridge swaying over a box-canyon with a 900-foot vertical drop, and a tour departure center for bear searches and ATV adventures.  Helicopter flightseeing and more will be added during the 2021 season.

“The natural beauty of Alaska makes it one of the most popular destinations to visit, and our investments in the region will enable us to provide our guests with a best-in-class experience as they explore the wonders of the Last Frontier,” said Frank Del Rio, president and chief executive officer of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings.  “These strategic initiatives mark the latest steps in our ongoing efforts to promote economic development in the region and make a positive economic and environmentally sensible impact on the Alaska tourism industry.”

Mark Bee to Retire; Katharina Schmitz Will Lead Doppelmayr USA

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Mark Bee will cap a 30 year career in the lift business when he retires as president of Doppelmayr USA on March 31st.  Austrian-born Katharina Schmitz will be promoted to fill the role.  Bee will remain on the board of directors for the company’s North American entities.

Mark joined VonRoll Tramways in 1989, seven years before that firm was acquired by Doppelmayr.  He was instrumental in merging Doppelmayr USA with Garaventa CTEC in 2002 and oversaw more than 400 lift installations over his tenure.  “It has been an honor and a privilege to be part of the Doppelmayr organization, and to work in the ski industry,” said Bee.  “I could not have imagined a better career or a better company to work for,” he continued.

Katharina Schmitz joined Doppelmayr in 2018 as Vice President, Project Management.  She had moved to the United States back in 2005 and previously worked in the automotive and aerospace sectors.  Earlier this year, she was promoted to Vice President, Operations where she is responsible for production, logistics and construction.  “When we hired Katharina last year, I thought she might be overqualified for the position we were trying to fill, and as it turns out, she was,” said Bee.  “She immediately earned the respect of her co-workers with her team-oriented approach to problem solving, and her ability to quickly learn our business.”

“As a native Austrian and avid skier, I was well aware of the Doppelmayr name and I was ready for a career change,” Katharina said about joining the 126 year old ropeway company.  “When I was offered a position, I jumped. Since joining Doppelmayr I have been impressed with the dedication and talent of the employees, and the continuous focus on solving problems for our customers.  I will work very hard to continue to advance the capabilities of our team to make sure we are prepared to provide the best products and services to our many loyal customers who have placed a great deal of trust in our organization,” she continued.

Change at the top comes as Doppelmayr continues to serve the ski industry while also growing the tourism and urban transportation segments of the lift market.  Doppelmayr USA has increasingly become a maintenance and operations provider for installations such as the Portland Aerial Tram and Bay Area Rapid Transit Oakland Airport Connector.  The company also recently introduced new products such as D-Line detachable lifts, Alpen Star fixed grip terminals and Omega V gondola cabins.

It should be no secret Doppelmayr is a company I admire and I would like to wish Katharina success in her upcoming role as well as Mark a happy retirement.