News Roundup: Stories

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Lifts to Look for in PyeongChang

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A new gondola at South Korea’s Jeongseon Alpine Centre glides over a Wold Cup race in 2017.  Photo credit: Doppelmayr

The Olympics have become a boon for ski lift companies, which often supply tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars in new lifts in the run up to each Games.  Most recently for Sochi’s 2014 venues, Doppelmayr built a staggering 40 ropeways including multiple tricable gondolas that could even carry cars in the event of road closures.  Poma built another $137 million worth – 16 lifts – the most concurrently at a single area in company history.  Even summer host cities often feature ropeways that I’d like to think contributed to them being chosen as hosts in the first place.  Transport for London and Doppelmayr launched the Emirates Air Line just in time for the 2012 games and Rio de Janeiro debuted multiple urban gondolas in the run up to 2016.

Jeongseon

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Jeongseon Alpine Centre is a purpose-built Olympic downhill facility with 100 percent automated snowmaking coverage.

The 2018 games kick off February 9th in and around PyeongChang, South Korea.  Three ski resorts will host alpine events just 125 miles from where North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un opened his own new ski resort with a gondola and four chairlifts in 2013.  The South’s democratic government has constructed a similar facility from scratch to host the downhill and super-G events, called Jeongseon Alpine Centre.  Doppelmayr supplied a unique two-section gondola in 2015 and added additional two high-speed quad lifts in 2016.  This is notable because there are really only two runs!  One of the chairlifts is very similar to the temporary Timing Flats high-speed quad at Whistler, which simply ferried foot passengers from the base area to finish plaza during the 2010 Games and was moved to Sunshine Village after just two weeks of public use.

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Spectators for the downhill, super G and combined will ride this lift to access a 6,500 seat stadium finish.  Photo credit: Doppelmayr

The two-section Jeongseon Downhill Gondola is powered by a single 857 horsepower motor and services the entire 2,707 vertical-foot  men’s downhill course.  A stacked bullwheel at the lift’s angle station has two grooves for the two different haul ropes.  After some delays with site prep, the gondola was built by multiple crews in just three months from November 2015 to February 2016, just before an IOC deadline.  The finish line at Jeongseon sits at only 1,788 feet above sea level and a 4,500 gallon-per-minute snowmaking system was also built here.  The venue receives little natural snowfall and has been criticized for its ecological impact and questionable future as a public facility.

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Inside the Sweetest Parking Around

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For the first time since their journey across the Atlantic, Jackson Hole’s newest gondola cabins slept inside last night.  With a parking and storage facility officially commissioned at Sweetwater‘s Solitude Station, 48 luxury vehicles that cost tens of thousands of dollars each now have a world-class home that brings together the latest lift technology with proven principles.

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort opened its Bridger Gondola barn in 1998 and 84 cabins have been going inside for twenty years there.  The CWA X models are in incredible shape for their age and number of hours, a testament to their quality construction, dedicated maintenance staff and indoor storage.

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Sweetwater’s new cabin storage building is located in an underutilized area adjacent to the middle station.

JHMR launched gondola number two in December 2016 and its CWA Omega IV cabins remained on the line continuously until yesterday.  The winter of 2016-17 proved to be a monster in the Tetons and while the cabins performed well, fifty feet of snow often turned to ice on flat roofs.  Frozen chunks would bounce up and down, making sounds that mimicked falling metal.  Jackson Hole sometimes goes weeks or even months without a thaw and ice would also accumulate on the cabin floors and in ski racks (other fun liquids would freeze too!)  Ice storms that can cripple door mechanisms and plague detachable grips thankfully never materialized last year and the days of worrying that storm would come are now over.

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Six Big Lifts Launch in Colorado

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This new high-speed chairlift on Beaver Creek Mountain is one of six new lifts on Colorado slopes this season, representing the most new additions in a single year since 2013.

With over 100 detachable chairlifts, 22 gondolas and some 150 fixed-grip lifts, the Colorado lift fleet represents a total investment somewhere in the neighborhood of $700 million.  The Centennial State has more ski lifts than any other state or province and on each visit I’m amazed by the caliber of ski infrastructure here.  More than half of Colorado’s lifts are detachable models, a feat which no other North American region comes close to achieving.  This winter, six more high-speed chairlifts came on scene, and while none open up new terrain, each one serves an important purpose.  I was lucky enough to ride the new machines at Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Copper, Eldora, Keystone and Vail over three days this week, testament to the remarkable amount of skiing available within a few hours’ drive here.  This year’s class includes two Doppelmayr high-speed quads, a Doppelmayr six-pack and three Leitner-Poma six-place chairs representing half of all new detachable chairlifts built in North America for 2017-18.

Red Buffalo Express – Beaver Creek Mountain

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The last lift from Beaver Creek’s 1980 inaugural season, Drink of Water, was replaced with a new lift with a new name over the summer.  The quad’s namesake, Red Buffalo Park, is now a dedicated learning zone with awe-inspring views of the Gore Range from 11,400 feet.  While lift 5’s terminals, hangers, grips and operator houses are new, most of the tower components and chairs are from the former Montezuma lift at Keystone.  Like its sister Vail, Beaver Creek now has just one fixed-grip lift of appreciable length remaining alongside an amazing 14 detachable chairlifts and gondolas.

Falcon SuperChair – Breckenridge

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Breckenridge debuted its third next-gen Leitner-Poma LPA six-pack on December 28th.  The new Falcon SuperChair replaces a Poma high-speed quad that opened along with Peak 10 itself in 1985.  The new ride lifts capacity by 25 percent to 3,000 guests per hour in this popular advanced-intermediate pod.  The Falcon has the same sweet plush chairs as the new Colorado and Kensho SuperChairs.

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4.9 Miles! Lift Length Record Falls Again

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The Hon Thom-Phu Quoc Cable Car in Vietnam is the newest of three record-length gondolas in Vietnam.  Photo credit: Fatzer AG

It’s finished!  The new longest lift in the world, spanning a ridiculous 26,000 linear feet with just six intermediate towers, is undergoing testing and will open soon off the southern tip of Vietnam.   With this latest achievement, the Doppelmayr Garaventa Group breaks its own record held since February 2, 2016 by the Fansipan Legend, a 20,755-foot 3S gondola to the highest summit in Southeast Asia.  Before these two 3S lifts launched, the lift length record belonged to the Ba Na Cable Car, a monocable gondola stretching 19,032 feet that opened on March 29, 2013 in, you guessed it, Vietnam.  With completion of the Hon Thom-Phu Quoc 3S, Da Nang-based Sun Group now operates the three longest gondolas in the world as well as the planet’s largest aerial tramway with the tallest ropeway towers.  Silver Mountain’s gondola, the world’s longest when it opened in June 1990, is now fourth at 16,350′.  The lengthiest gondola in multiple sections remains the Bursa-Uludag three stage system built by Leitner in 2014 at almost 29,000 feet.

Hon Thom Phu Quoc MapThe new record-breaking gondola hopscotches from the large Phu Quoc Island over two smaller ones to an emerald isle called Hon Thom (Pineapple Island), previously undeveloped and encircled by white sand beaches.  $458 million of development is planned for the area which currently is a small fishing community with a state-of-the-art gondola station.

Setting aside its length, the rest of the gondola’s stats are also remarkable.  Hon Thom-Phu Quoc is the world’s fastest gondola, with cabins transiting at 8.5 m/s or 1,673 feet a minute (another Doppelmayr 3S built for the Sochi Olympics can also go 8.5.)  Sun Group’s latest system has more cabins than any other 3S – 70 CWA Taris models for 30 passengers each.  At 3,500 passengers per hour per direction, it would be the fourth highest capacity gondola in North America (Peak 2 Peak, the only 3S in the Americas, moves 2,050 an hour.)   A ride will take only 15.6 minutes at full speed and the lift’s six towers reach up to 525 feet above the Gulf of Thailand.  Four track ropes supplied by Fatzer are a crazy 58.5 mm thick with a 52 mm diameter haul rope.  The haul rope loop is so long that it had to be manufactured in two sections totaling 54,212 feet.  The new gondola will open to the public sometime this spring and we’ll see what Sun Group and Doppelmayr come up with next as they push the boundaries of ropeway technology in Vietnam.

Construction of Disney’s Skyliner is Well Underway

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A new rendering of the new Pop Century/Art of Animation gondola station, part of the Skyliner gondola system opening in 2019.

We’re somewhere around a year-and-a-half away from the grand opening of Walt Disney World Resort’s innovative Skyliner gondola network and it’s becoming clear this will be North America’s most expensive lift project ever.  Yes, much more costly than the $52 million Peak 2 Peak Gondola, way beyond the $57 million Portland Aerial Tram and many times more than the eight-figure Blackcomb Gondola, also set for construction this year.

I have never been to Florida but luckily there are die-hard Disney fans who charter helicopters on a weekly basis to photograph the goings-on at the world’s most-visited resort.  This week, they are beginning to spot tower foundations for the first of five gondola segments.

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Wind Damages Lift, Leads to Christmas Evacuation at Bromley

None of the 115 skiers and snowboarders riding the Sun Mountain Express at Bromley Mountain, Vermont were injured yesterday despite a serious wind-related incident.  The Burlington Free Press reports a gust caused at least one empty chair to contact a communications line while the lift was moving.  “The cable snagged a grip on an empty chair, derailing it and causing the lift to stop,” the paper wrote.  It’s not clear from the article whether the snagged grip and chair remained on the haul rope.  Bromley’s Assistant General Manager Michael van Eyck commented to the media, “a super high 20 or 25 second burst of wind” led to the accident.  “The winds were not predicted to be that high,” he noted.  A rope evacuation was initiated following the deropement, which took two and a third hours to complete.

The Sun Mountain Express is a mile-long detachable quad featuring torsion grips built in 1997.  The Doppelmayr lift services the vast majority of Bromley’s terrain and remained closed the rest of Christmas Day and this morning.  The mountain’s snow report currently reads: “the Sun Mountain Express will be on a delayed opening schedule today, while it undergoes some maintenance. Stay tuned for updates on its projected opening time, but our lift crew is working hard and should have it up and running by this afternoon.”  Poor Bromley also lost its primary snowmaking pump house to fire just ten days ago.  The family-focused ski area is owned by the Fairbank Group, which also operates Jiminy Peak, Massachusetts and Cranmore, New Hampshire.

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I haven’t taken pictures of the lifts at Bromley yet, but this is the Doppelmayr Worldbook entry for the Sun Mountain Express.

Construction Rises Significantly to 51 Lifts in 2017

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The Doppelmayr-built Wildcat Express comes together at Snowbasin, one of seven new six-place chairlifts built throughout the western US this year.  More six-packs were added in 2017 than any other year except 2000.

With commissioning wrapping on eleven more lifts than last year at this time, 2017 represents an impressive ten-year high for North American lift building.  Six-passenger chairlifts, T-Bars and urban gondolas in Mexico and the Caribbean drove much of the growth in a year that saw continued changes in the manufacturer landscape.  Compared with 2016, more of this year’s chairlifts were expensive detachable models (12) compared with 17 fixed-grips (in 2016, the split was 7 detachable, 23 fixed.)  A total of nine new gondolas and three T-Bars went up in 2017, both increases from the year before.  Ten additional lifts were relocated and re-purposed, a three-year high with lifts originally built by Blue Mountain, CTEC, Doppelmayr, Riblet, Roebling, Stadeli and Yan finding new homes.  Combined, this year’s new lift class represents a solid 27 percent increase from 2016.

Consistent with last year, about two thirds of the projects in 2017 represented one-for-one replacements in existing alignments.  Interestingly, at least six resorts removed older lifts outright without replacing them.  At many mountains, the era of building and maintaining extra chairlifts that rarely run is over.

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Disney Chooses Doppelmayr D-Line

The new EPCOT gondola station at Walt Disney World Resort will feature metal and glass with hand-painted murals, the park revealed in a blog post today.  Photo credit: Disney Parks Blog

Doppelmayr’s next-generation detachable lift technology appears headed for North America.  Walt Disney World Resort released new details about the upcoming Disney Skyliner gondola system this morning and renderings appear to show D-Line Station-D enclosures.  Each of the six gondola stations will be themed differently, reflecting unique character of the destinations they serve.

D-Line is Doppelmayr’s latest detachable product that debuted two years ago in Hochgurgl, Austria.  Numerous D-Line lifts have since opened in the Alps but no American resort operator has opted to pay extra for one so far, opting instead for the proven UNI-G terminals and standard line equipment.  The Walt Disney Company isn’t your standard lift customer, however.  D-Line sports hundreds of innovations including rope speeds up to 7 m/s or 1,378 feet per minute and wider line gauge for wider carriers.  CWA has developed D-Line-specific Omega gondola cabins with 11 percent greater seating area than non-D 10-passenger versions.  At Disney World, cabins will sport custom wraps with the Disney characters guests know and love.

The Disney Hollywood Studios station will be themed to match nearby buildings in a retro style. Most Disney guests will have no idea they are riding some of the most technologically-advanced lifts in North America.  Photo credit: Disney Parks Blog

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News Roundup: Express

  • Both Doppelmayr and Leitner-Poma show off gondolas at the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions expo in Orlando.
  • A startup venture is restoring Hall, Riblet and Heron-Poma chairs for sale online.
  • Snow King Mountain says the outcome of a rent dispute with the Town of Jackson could affect its ability to replace Summit with a gondola.
  • Afton Alps ditches Lift 8, a 1969 Heron triple, for a terrain park.
  • Re: Saddleback sale, an investigative report by the Portland, Maine NBC station concludes, “the money isn’t there” and “the deal could fall apart entirely.”
  • Killington switches from a James Niehues-painted trail map to a VistaMap this year; Whiteface and Belleayre ditch VistaMap for Kevin Mastin paintings.  Gunstock goes from a computer-generated map to a James Niehues one and Mt. Snow does the opposite.
  • The first lift sporting Leitner Ropeways’ new station design is almost finished.

  • A county supervisor in San Diego who gets gondolas does a great interview about them.
  • Aspen-affiliated KSL resort group to have a name by Christmas, launch a new pass product next year and continue participating in the Mountain Collective.
  • Doppelmayr releases fiscal 2016/17 global results: project count up 2.9 percent to 106, employee headcount up 1.8 percent to 2,720, revenue down 4 percent to €801 million ($948 million.)
  • T minus 14 days ’til Vail Resorts reveals preliminary lift plans for next year.