Landowner Proposes Alternate Little Cottonwood Gondola

When the Utah Department of Transportation unveiled three Little Cottonwood Canyon mobility alternatives, many Utahns were pleased to see a gondola included. However, two criticisms emerged: a lack of on-site parking at the bottom terminal and a low hourly capacity of 1,050 passengers per direction. A new proposal by a private landowner and developer seeks to address both of those issues by requesting UDOT amend the location of the bottom terminal to a 37.5 acre site adjacent to Highway 210. The alternative base station would be located near the LaCaille estate, seven tenths of a mile from the mouth of the canyon. The requested amendment to the current gondola plan would provide enough room for a public parking garage as well as transit center for bus riders to transfer directly to the ropeway.

Chris McCandless is the former Sandy City Councilman behind the proposal along with Wayne Niederhauser, a former Utah State Senator. Their company, CW Management, owns the site and plans to develop it but is willing to preserve the land needed for use as a gondola station if UDOT approves of this new option. If the gondola loads there, a non-loading angle station would be required in lower Little Cottonwood Canyon to avoid the alignment passing over designated wilderness. A second angle station at Tanners Flat, like in UDOT’s alternative, would also be included. Cabins would slow down just enough to make turns at these stations and gondola doors would stay closed.

CW Management consulted with Salt Lake-based Doppelmayr USA, which confirmed such a gondola is feasible. McCandless envisions an up to 4,000 passenger per hour 3S travelling at a speed of 8.5 meters a second. The Department of Transportation planned cabins arriving only once every two minutes, diverting only 30 percent of skiers out of private cars. Under the LaCaille vision, cabins would arrive every 30 seconds and divert up to 10,000 people off the highway during a peak three hour period. Ride time would be 27 minutes to the Snowbird Center with no need to ride a shuttle bus. The four 3S segments would range in length from 6,700 feet to 17,550 feet with cabins transferring seamlessly between multiple haul rope loops. As an alternative to the larger 3S gondola travelling to Alta, a second gondola, probably a monocable or 2S design, could connect Snowbird to Alta.

Some big players have already expressed support for a Little Cottonwood gondola and further study of the alternate CW Management proposal, including Alta Ski Area, Snowbird Resort and Doppelmayr. Snowbird notes that if a gondola is successfully designed and implemented, the company would consider placing additional private land it owns in the canyon under permanent conservation.

If you have opinions regarding one or both of the gondola/bus options, UDOT would like to hear from you. The agency continues to accept public comments through July 10th.

News Roundup: Graduation Season

 

News Roundup: More Skiing?

  • Mt. Baldy runs out of snow, ending North American lift served skiing for now.
  • Aspen Skiing Company expresses frustration with the Colorado governor’s order for ski resorts to remain closed until at least May 23rd.
  • Arapahoe Basin still wants to reopen.
  • Oregon may beat Colorado to the punch.
  • Eaglecrest, Alaska joins the Powder Alliance amid news the Freedom Pass is no more.
  • Alterra CEO Rusty Gregory says his company is well-capitalized and delayed projects should be completed next year (plus he’s still looking to buy more resorts!)
  • Skeetawk completes its chairlift, becoming the first new ski area in Alaska since 1983.
  • Mountain planner Paul Mathews of Ecosign talks about the development of Sun Peaks and future plans in the West Bowl and the Gil’s areas.
  • Norwegian Cruise Line reiterates its commitment to Alaska including the funding of two gondolas currently under construction in Hoonah.
  • As part of a land swap, the Yellowstone Club seeks to gain 500 acres of expert terrain.
  • Cuchara remains on track to reopen next year with one lift.
  • The Utah Department of Transportation will evaluate gondolas from the Salt Lake Valley and Park City as two possible options to improve mobility in Little Cottonwood Canyon.
  • Doppelmayr’s first Wir magazine of 2020 highlights new installations from around the world.

Following Cancellations, How Will Lift Construction Recover?

When Vail Resorts spelled out its suspension of operations in mid-March, the shutdown was hoped to last only a week.  Fifty days later, all 37 resorts remain shuttered and the company has borrowed more than a billion dollars to weather a possible extended recession.

Almost immediately, Vail Resorts postponed discretionary capital improvement projects including seven new chairlifts.  Vail is just one of numerous operators of lifts facing epic challenges due to COVID-19.  The impacts trickle down to suppliers, particularly global suppliers of large machinery like the Leitner Group and Doppelmayr.  While the two major lift manufacturers are of similar size and structure, their customers are incredibly diverse, from mom and pop outfits to governments, NGOs and Fortune 100 companies.

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As regular readers of this blog know, the lift business is not the same as the ski business.  Leitner-Poma, Skytrac and Doppelmayr USA have all completed projects for non-ski venues recently such as theme parks, zoos, stadiums and cruise ports.  Not only are these projects making up an increasing share of contracts, they tend to be large in scope and often include lucrative operation and maintenance deals.  Some of these non-traditional customers are in even worse shape than the ski business, more dependent on high guest densities and air travel.  Put another way, there is little chance the Walt Disney Company, Carnival Corporation or the Miami Dolphins would have signed to build their recent lift projects in today’s environment.  So-called “point of interest” projects may disappear entirely for a few years.

One bright spot could be urban transport.  The Portland Aerial Tram and Roosevelt Island Tramway have both remained operational throughout the pandemic, albeit at reduced capacity (the Portland Tram carries health care workers to three different hospitals and is about as essential as it gets.)  Large aerial tramways have been ceding market share to monocable, 2S and 3S gondolas, a trend which will probably accelerate with new personal space concerns.  With gondolas, each person or family can take their own cabin unlike on trains or buses.  There are lots of great concepts for urban gondolas in North America and infrastructure spending programs could finally get one or two off the ground.  Mexico already has a large urban gondola system in operation with two more under construction.

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News Roundup: Spread Out

  • Snowy Range proposes upgrading the Chute double chair to a triple.
  • Construction ramps up on the first next generation Leitner 2S gondola, a $49 million project.
  • The Storm Skiing Podcast catches up with Doppelmayr USA President Katharina Schmitz, whose team is working hard to deliver remaining 2020 projects on time.
  • Similar to last week’s case against Vail, an Ikon Pass holder files a class action suit against Alterra over early resort closures.
  • Prairie Sky Gondola selects Doppelmayr to assist with the next phase of its design.
  • Arapahoe Basin’s Al Henceroth gives four reasons he’s pressing ahead with two lift replacements this summer.
  • Mt. Baldy in Southern California becomes the first North American resort to reopen for skiing and riding with social distancing measures in place.
  • The Jackson Hole Aerial Tram will not operate this summer due to scheduled maintenance.
  • Following cities in France and Germany, the Czech Republic capital will build a 3S gondola for urban transport.
  • Comcast’s Universal Parks division files a patent for a multi-stop gondola system with cars that can self propel when detached from haul ropes.
  • According to a new report, the United States leads the world in annual skier visits but has only six of the world’s 50 busiest mountains (with the second most lifts of any country.)

Big Sky and Loon Mountain Postpone Lift Projects to 2021

Boyne Resorts and Doppelmayr have reached an agreement to delay construction of two major lifts due to the Coronavirus emergency.  Both Swift Current 6 at Big Sky Resort and Kancamagus 8 at Loon Mountain will now be constructed in 2021.  “Proceeding with a complex and deadline sensitive construction project during the COVID-19 emergency would not be a prudent decision,” stated Troy Nedved, General Manager at Big Sky Resort.  “Concerns about construction worker health and the unknowns related to the construction supply chain make the project too risky to undertake in 2020,” he continued.

Site preparation and limited construction may proceed this summer if public health conditions permit.  Manufacturing of Swift Current’s components is nearly complete and the lift will be stored either in Wolfurt, Salt Lake or the Bozeman-Big Sky area until next year.  When completed in 2021, Swifty will become the fastest six place chairlift in North America.

At Loon Mountain, skiers and riders will have to wait another year to ride the east’s first eight passenger chairlift, Kancamagus 8.  “Although significant investment has already been made, we cannot proceed with a project of this scale knowing the COVID-19 situation could further complicate its installation – potentially cutting off the Governor Adams Lodge and base area from the rest of the resort next winter,” said Loon General Manager Jay Scambio in a letter to season passholders.  “This postponement allows us to better support our team, our guests, and the greater Loon community at a time when it is needed most.”  Permitting and planning will continue in preparation for 2021 installation.

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I spoke with Boyne Resorts President Stephen Kircher this morning about the decision and his outlook during this challenging time.  The company will closely monitor impacts on summer business as well as season pass sales and proceed accordingly.  “We are going to be assessing our capital projects each week,” said Kircher.  “We’ve got milestones on every single project and last possible start dates to meet deadlines for next winter.  We’re optimistic we are going to be executing a number of projects but we need to see clarity.”

As long duration, all-or-nothing projects, the two D-Line lifts had to wait.  Boyne knew it needed to be underway this week at Loon and within two weeks at Big Sky in order to meet aggressive construction schedules.  Bubble lifts by definition include carrier storage buildings that are as complex to build as the lifts themselves.  “What happens if work stoppages occur again in the middle of summer or the fall?” lamented Kircher.  “Once we tear the existing lifts down, we’re at risk.  We would be dead in the water [without Swift Current or Kancamagus.]  The second worst thing other than this shutdown would be not having a key lift coming out of the base next winter.”

Preliminary work on the Swift Current chair parking facility may occur this summer.

Boyne’s decision is the second such deferral among North American multi-resort operators this week.  On Wednesday, Vail Resorts delayed seven different lift projects with two different manufacturers in order to cut costs.  Kircher acknowledged his decision was difficult for both customer and supplier but in some ways proved clear.  “We are working with a great partner in Doppelmayr.  Obviously they are dealing with a lot of difficult conversations across the planet,” he said.  “We talked through what the best scenario was for both companies.  They don’t want to be in a situation where they can’t finish a lift either.  I want to install a lift that we own and is sitting in warehouses more than anybody but it’s just not prudent.”

News Roundup: Ripple Effect

  • Saddleback demolishes the Rangeley double to make room for its upcoming high speed quad.
  • Debt-laden Ski Granby Ranch lays off all its employees and won’t issue refunds to guests with canceled vacations.
  • The $2.2 trillion phase three stimulus package passed by Congress doesn’t include assistance specifically for ski areas but there is hope phase four might.
  • Vail Resorts borrows more than $500 million from existing lines of credit in order to increase its cash position and maintain financial flexibility during the outbreak.
  • While many Leitner-Poma staffers work from home, a skeleton crew continues production.
  • Even in hard-hit Italy, one major lift customer plans to commence construction as soon as the immediate health danger has passed.
  • Many Doppelmayr employees are also working from home and production continues in Wolfurt.
  • Aspen Snowmass intends to complete all capital projects as planned this summer including the $10.8 million Big Burn chairlift.
  • Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz personally donates $2.5 million to mountain community charities and an employee assistance fund.
  • Yet another lift project cancelled by Vail Resorts: replacement of Peachtree at Crested Butte this summer.
  • NSAA estimates costs from early closings and lost pass sales will exceed $2 billion in the United States and forecasts capital spending will plunge 50 percent this year.
  • Magic Mountain’s Geoff Hatheway offers a small ski area perspective on COVID-19.
  • Coronavirus may impact the review timeline for Snow King Mountain’s proposed expansion and other projects on Forest Service lands.
  • Katharina Schmitz officially takes the reigns of Doppelmayr USA from Mark Bee, who retired on March 31st.
  • Boyne Resorts estimates $22 million in lost revenue as a result of this winter’s abrupt end.
  • The Vietnamese developer behind both the world’s longest and tallest 3S gondolas plans another island-hopping 3S in the country’s north.

Timberline Mountain Rebirth to Include a Six Place Detachable

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West Virginia’s first six passenger chairlift is coming to Timberline Mountain.  Despite the coronavirus situation and surrounding uncertainty, Chip Perfect and his team today announced a $10+ million commitment to reopen the mountain by the end of this year.  Timberline closed in the middle of the the 2018-19 season following years of financial challenges.  Perfect purchased Timberline out of bankruptcy last November and his ownership group brings four decades of experience running Perfect North Slopes, Indiana.  The West Virginia mountain is a hidden gem, featuring one of the highest natural snow totals and largest vertical rises in the mid-Atlantic.

The thousand vertical foot six pack will travel from base-to-summit with a ride time under six minutes.  A Doppelmayr fixed grip quad will service lower mountain beginner runs, a terrain park and slopeside lodging.  Other improvements will include a re-graded learning area with a conveyor carpet lift, extensive upgrades to the snowmaking system, a fully remodeled rental shop, consolidated food service facilities and an updated outdoor arrival area.  “We look forward to participating in the economic development of Tucker County and we’re excited to announce the significant investment in Timberline Mountain’s infrastructure that will take place this summer,” said Perfect, who is both President of Perfect North Slopes and CEO of Timberline Mountain.   “I believe skiers and snowboarders next season are going to really enjoy the new experience on this very special mountain.”

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The recently-removed Thunderstruck triple serviced the upper mountain for decades.

One positive of the mid-Atlantic’s low-snow winter was the ability for Perfect’s team to get to work quickly.  The mountain’s three Borvig and Heron-Poma lifts are already gone with many of the chairs in the hands of loyal Timberline guests.  All three new lifts are expected to be complete in time for the mountain’s grand re-opening.

Gondola Riders Injured in Incident at Mont-Sainte-Anne

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Photo credit: CBC Radio Canada

Nearly two dozen passengers suffered injuries this morning when a gondola lift came to an abrupt stop at Mont-Sainte-Anne, a large resort near Quebec City.  The incident occurred just before 10:00 am and cabins stopped suddenly enough that skis and snowboards fell from exterior racks.  At least one cabin became lodged at an angle in a station with a broken window.  Other cabins reportedly contacted towers.  Out of the 21 people injured, 12 were transported to hospitals by ambulance.

By around 10:45, the gondola was restarted in reverse to unload riders.  The rescue operation was completed by noon and the lift is now closed.  A spokesperson for Mont-Sainte-Anne said there were 80 cabins on the line today and an investigation will be undertaken.  “Our main objective is to make sure that everyone is taken care of quickly, then, afterwards, we will have more details on the mechanical aspects,” said Simon Lefebvre with the ski resort.

The gondola, known as L’Étoile Filante, was constructed by Doppelmayr and opened in 1989.  It is the largest of seven lifts at Sainte-Anne, a mountain owned by Resorts of the Canadian Rockies.  Calgary-based RCR operates a total of six ski resorts in Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec.

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News Roundup: Big Game