Sugarloaf to Debut Bucksaw Express Next Winter

The high speed quad servicing Sugarloaf’s planned West Mountain expansion got a name today: Bucksaw Express. The moniker is a nod to the Bucksaw double, a Stadeli which served the northwest edge of the mountain from 1969 to 2015. Sugarloaf began construction on the 450 acre expansion today and it is expected to open to skiers in February 2024.

The Bucksaw Express quad will span 6,574 feet with a vertical rise of 1,433 feet. Some of the equipment for the 755 horsepower lift comes from Big Sky Resort, where it operated as the Swift Current quad. The Doppelmayr detachable will be completely overhauled with brand new UNI G enclosures and many other upgrades. With a 1,000 feet per minute line speed, the lift will move 2,400 skiers per hour up West Mountain with a ride time of just seven minutes. As part of the project, the West Mountain double will be shortened to its current mid-station. The West Mountain project will include a dozen new alpine trails covering roughly 120 acres, which will increase Sugarloaf’s total skiable acreage by nearly 10 percent.

“This is the most significant development project at Sugarloaf since the SuperQuad was built in the mid-1990s,” said Sugarloaf General Manager Karl Strand. “We’re very excited to get to work on what will be a transformative project for the resort and our guests.”

Government of Quebec Orders Mont-Sainte-Anne to Remain Closed

Four chairlifts and the gondola at Mont-Sainte-Anne will not carry passengers again until regulators receive a full report into last Saturday’s gondola detachment and the resort takes additional steps to ensure safety. Though no one was injured last weekend, the fall of the cabin was the third serious incident in three years on the gondola and follows numerous other failures and evacuations of lifts at Mont-Sainte-Anne. A nine page order issued today by the Quebec Building Authority (RBQ) prevents operation of the 1989 Doppelmayr gondola L’Étoile Filante as well as the mountain’s three detachable quads and one fixed grip quad. Mont-Sainte-Anne’s two T-Bars and other surface lifts are not affected.

“During the morning startup of the R-176 (L’Étoile filante) ski lift last Saturday, a malfunction occurred in the attachment of cabin number 92 to the cable of the lift,” the agency wrote in a press release. “The checks that were made before the ski lift was put into operation did not comply with the requirements of the CSA Z98:19 standard or the manufacturer’s instructions.” Z98 is the Canadian equivalent of the ANSI B77.1 standard for passenger ropeways in the United States. Specifically, the agency said the lift stopped itself that morning and displayed an “incorrectly positioned grip lever ± 10%” fault. “The mechanic dispatched to the scene carried out a simple visual inspection and authorized the restart of the lift,” the agency stated. Doppelmayr’s manual instead prescribes running the lift slowly in reverse, removing occupants if applicable and running the affected carrier empty through the switch again. If the same fault repeats, the cabin should be removed from the line immediately. Instead, the lift was quickly restarted in the forward direction and cabin 92 tripped another safety system on towers 23 and 24 before falling to the ground. Even though the lift had not opened to the public for the day, employees were on line and had to be evacuated.

The RBQ noted it has issued more than 25 correction notices to Mont-Saint-Anne since 2015. That year, an unnecessary rope evacuation occurred on the Express du Nord due to personnel having insufficient training. Also in 2015, a ski instructor and child jumped from the Express du Sud as their chair, stuck on a tower, was hit by other chairs. The lift continued moving despite the derailment and sustained significant damage. That mishap was blamed on “lack of maintenance.” Six days later, the same lift was rope evacuated due to motor and gearbox failures.

A pair of 2020 incidents on the gondola were both sudden stops that led to guest injuries, some requiring hospitalization. The RBQ noted that “shortcomings with regard to maintenance” were found and it took more than a year for the lift to be repaired (perhaps in part due to Covid). In addition to $1.5 million in upgrades, approximately half of the cabins on the gondola were decommissioned.

Today’s order outlined steps which must be taken before Mont-Sainte-Anne can return aerial lifts to operation. “For the R-176 ski lift (L’Étoile Filante), the RBQ requires MSA to obtain an expert’s report aimed at explaining the malfunction of the equipment and to apply the recommendations of this report, in addition to obtaining a security certificate signed by an engineer,” the agency wrote. “As for the resort’s other ski lifts that have detachable grips…the RBQ orders, among other things, to carry out the verification of the moving parts on all the grips and to obtain a safety certificate signed by an engineer.” Finally, the watchdog requires that Mont-Sainte-Anne submit a training plan to ensure that personnel know, understand and properly apply operating procedures.

Mont-Sainte-Anne’s most recent statement on the incident came yesterday, before the government’s order. “The operation and maintenance of ski lifts are governed by laws and standards that we must respect,” said Maxime Cretin, Vice President and General Manager for Resorts of the Canadian Rockies, Eastern Region. “Constant monitoring of the operation and a detailed maintenance log are required for all our lifts. User safety is a priority for our teams. We continue to offer our cooperation to the competent authorities who will continue their inspections a the beginning of the next week. For the moment, no hypothesis has been ruled out from the ongoing investigation into the gondola,” he said.

The RBQ noted that it does not take revocation of operating permits lightly but that last Saturday’s event could have been fatal. “Ski resort operators are primarily responsible for the safety of their customers,” commented Stephane Petit, Vice President of Client Relations and Operations at the Quebec Building Authority. “Our priority remains public safety. The reopening of the ski lifts will depend on the pace of fulfillment of the requirements set out in the ordinance by Mont-Sainte-Anne.”

Update: Mont-Sainte-Anne issued another statement tonight, 12/16:

“We were informed of the Order from the Building Authority that was issued to us at the end of the afternoon today. We will make every effort to implement the requested requirements and honor the trust of our customers. A review of procedures and training was already scheduled this weekend and additional inspections were also planned for the resumption of operations. Awaiting the final findings of the investigations, we are working on a safe plan to restore activities.

Boyne Mountain to Replace Boyneland and Superbowl Lifts

Even before the first eight place chairlift in the Midwest carries skiers up Boyne Mountain this month, two more lift projects are in the works. Next summer, Doppelmayr will replace both Boyneland and Superbowl, lifts which date back to 1995 and 1987, respectively. Boyneland will go from a fixed triple to a fixed quad and Superbowl from a fixed quad to a fixed triple.

The realigned Boyneland will load closer to the Mountain Express base area and become the gateway to family-friendly Disciples Ridge terrain. A height-adjustable loading conveyor will allow the replacement lift to operate twice as fast as the existing Borvig with a ride time of just four minutes.

Expert-focused Superbowl on the mountain’s south side will debut the fastest fixed grip chairlift in the Midwest. The new triple chair will spin at 2.5 meters per second or 492 feet per minute. Superbowl will also sport a loading carpet and the bottom terminal will shift downward to provide easier loading access. Additional space at the top will create an improved unloading experience.

Lifts are a major part of Renaissance 2030, an aggressive ten year capital improvement plan at Boyne Mountain. “These new lifts bring the latest in technology to Boyne Mountain and provide our guests with the absolute best skiing and riding experience in the Midwest,” said Jason Perl, general manager of Boyne Mountain Resort. “Better, faster lifts mean more time on the slopes, enjoying the exhilaration of the sports, and time with family and friends.” Both new lifts are expected to be complete in advance of the 2023-24 ski season.

Boyne Resorts now plans to build at least seven new lifts next year between Big Sky, Boyne Mountain, The Highlands, Loon Mountain, Sunday River and Sugarloaf. Projects run the gamut from fixed grip chairlifts at Boyne Mountain and Loon to a bubble six place at The Highlands and the all-new Big Sky tram.

Cabin Falls from Mont-Sainte-Anne Gondola

Photo credit: Jean-Francois Racine

For the third time in three years the gondola L’Étoile Filante at Mont-Sainte-Anne is shuttered due to an incident. This time no one was injured when an empty down bound cabin detached and fell from the haul rope before the mountain opened for the day. A tower safety system stopped the lift automatically and workers arrived to find the cabin on the ground. The mountain has been closed for at least the weekend while the incident is investigated.

“We continue to verify the entire lift and secure the site, read a statement from the resort. “A full inspection procedure was initiated to verify and validate the causes of the event. The teams of the lift manufacturer as well as the competent authorities were called upon to assist our teams in the inspection of the gondola.”

Mont-Sainte-Anne owner Resorts of the Canadian Rockies noted what happened today is not related to a February 2020 incident which sent a dozen people to the hospital or a March 2020 one which injured another person. The gondola was closed for a year after those accidents and underwent $1.5 million in upgrades before reopening in March 2021. Still, the Doppelmayr-built system is 33 years old and RCR has received criticism for lack of investment across its six ski areas. Mont-Sainte-Anne’s lift fleet averages 35 years old with three detachables dating back to the 1980s. Earlier this year, the well-capitalized Groupe Le Massif offered to buy Resorts of the Canadian Rockies’ two eastern resorts, an offer which RCR declined.

For now Mont-Sainte-Anne passholders can ski at nearby sister resort Stoneham. Mont-Sainte-Anne plans to shift snowmaking efforts to the south side of the mountain not serviced by the gondola and will update guests when it can reopen.

News Roundup: Back in Action

News Roundup: Project Status

New Whistler Lifts Delayed due to Supply Chain and Labor Challenges

The top executive at Doppelmayr Canada apologized Friday for delays in completing the new Big Red Express and Creekside Gondola on Whistler Mountain. While both new lifts were originally scheduled to be commissioned before the resort’s November 24th opening day, Big Red is now expected to open in early December with Creekside’s timing to be determined. The new 10 passenger gondola’s 13,000 foot haul rope has not yet arrived in Whistler.

Doppelmayr agreed to build the new six passenger chairlift and 10 passenger gondola at Whistler in November 2021. The ambitious project is the largest in the Epic Lift Upgrade initiative to build new lifts across a dozen Vail Resorts. Contracts for all 18 lifts were split roughly evenly between the two largest manufacturers, both of which face supply challenges amid high demand. “We would like to apologize to all who plan to visit Whistler Blackcomb and the impact they may experience as the result of the delayed opening of both Big Red and the Creekside Gondola,” said Luc Guy, CEO of Doppelmayr Canada. “We experienced significant global supply chain and shipping challenges, and did not anticipate delays to this degree. We understand the importance of these projects, and how this delay will impact uphill access and the overall guest experience out of Creekside. We are doing everything we can in partnership with the Whistler Blackcomb team to complete the gondola as safely and quickly as possible. We will move with urgency and align to all safety protocols once the haul rope arrives, and we are confident that the new Creekside Gondola will truly provide an improved experience for visitors to these beautiful mountains.”

In addition to supply chain delays, Doppelmayr also faces a labor shortage. Whistler Blackcomb employees have been providing extra support to the installation team and Vail Resorts is bringing in additional lift mechanics from its recently-closed Australian mountains to assist. “We appreciate Doppelmayr’s commitment to this project and their partnership,” said Whistler Blackcomb Chief Operating Officer Geoff Buchheister. “We are disappointed that these projects are delayed and I want to reiterate my gratitude for the incredible Whistler Blackcomb team and all they have done – and continue to do – in service of these projects and the guest experience. We are focused on what we can control and remain resolute on finishing these projects as quickly as possible, while still providing a great start to the season for everyone who joins us.”

Whistler Blackcomb will modify its opening strategy with a focus on offering as much terrain as possible, particularly on Blackcomb Mountain where all lifts are operable. The resort will also offer free and frequent bus service from Creekside to Whistler Village until the new lifts open. Guests arriving from Creekside will be offered priority access to both the Whistler Village and Blackcomb Gondolas. Base area lifts will also open 15 minutes early – at 8:15 am – conditions permitting until Big Red and Creekside are completed.

News Roundup: Long-Awaited

No Injuries Reported in Cypress Mountain Tower Flying Incident

A helicopter pilot was forced to release a tower head bound for Cypress Mountain’s new chairlift Friday when weather conditions became unfavorable. The Sikorsky S-61 helicopter landed safely but the uppermost section of tower 6 was damaged beyond repair. “A fog bank moved quickly and unexpectedly into the work zone as the assembly was being set,” read a statement from the resort. “During the helicopter’s exit from the fog – as required by safety protocols – the load was jettisoned to allow the helicopter to safely reposition to an area with greater visibility, then navigate back to and land at the base area,” the statement continued. The helicopter was being operated by VIH Aviation Group of North Saanich, British Columbia and had been hired by Doppelmayr Canada to install towers at Cypress. Work was temporarily suspended after the incident and Worksafe BC as well as aviation authorities are investigating.

“Safety protocols were strictly followed, and the critical and fortunate outcome is that no one was injured,” said Russell Chamberlain, president and general manager of Cypress Mountain. “We expect this incident will alter the schedule, but not in a way that causes an actual setback in timing.” Doppelmayr is working to replace damaged components at factories in Salt Lake City, Utah and St.-Jérôme, Quebec.

The SkyQuad is replacing a 1968 Mueller double on the upper mountain. Cypress said that despite the setback, Doppelmayr expects to have the new lift operational as planned in mid-December.

Loon Mountain to Build New Lift at South Peak

Loon Mountain Resort today unveiled plans for its tenth chairlift, a quad servicing 30 acres of new terrain on South Peak. The expansion will feature a Doppelmayr Alpenstar fixed grip lift with loading conveyor, a guest service facility and fully automated snowmaking. This will increase Loon’s beginner terrain by over 50 percent and bring the resort above 400 acres total. Initial work is already underway and the long-awaited expansion will open for the 2023-24 ski season.

The yet-to-be-named quad chair will load at the bottom of the existing Escape Route trail and service 500 vertical feet of beginner and low intermediate terrain. For guests looking for more advanced skiing, the new lift will also serve as a connection from parking lots in the town of Lincoln to the Lincoln Express and the rest of Loon Mountain. “Providing lift access and more skiing and riding closer to downtown Lincoln is exciting—and unique—particularly in the East,” said Brian Norton, Loon’s president and general manager. “Adding lift service just a mile and a half from Interstate 93, in the center of Lincoln, improves the guest experience immensely and is something we’ve been focused on for many years,” Norton added.

The South Peak expansion comes hot on the heels of two major lift upgrades, both part of the Flight Path: 2030 capital improvement roadmap. Kancamagus 8 opened in 2021 and a new Seven Brothers Express quad will debut this season, making the South Peak lift will Loon’s third new lift in three years. “The South Peak expansion has been a key part of Loon’s master plan for decades and we are thrilled to be moving towards the next major milestone of Flight Path: 2030,” noted Jay Scambio, COO of Boyne Resorts. Future phases of the plan include a replacement of the gondola and upgrades to the North Peak and Lincoln Express lifts.

With Loon’s announcement of South Peak expansion, Boyne Resorts is on track to build at least five new lifts across its network in 2023. Other projects include the new Lone Peak Tram at Big Sky, Camelot 6 at The Highlands, the West Mountain expansion at Sugarloaf and a Barker Mountain Express replacement at Sunday River.