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.

Disney Skyliner Returns to Service

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Disney Skyliner is transporting guests around Walt Disney World Resort again this morning, eight days after a malfunction caused a few cabins to stack up in the Riviera angle station.  The system has been operating since then but without passengers.  Hours today are 8:00 am to 10:30 pm for all three gondola lines.  New signage reminds riders that Skyliner flights may occasionally be interrupted with stops and delays.  “Following a complete review with the manufacturer, we’ve made adjustments to our processes and training, and we are improving how we communicate with guests during their flight with Disney Skyliner,” a statement from Disney read.  “We again offer our deepest apologies to the guests impacted by the malfunction that resulted in extended operating delays on October 5th.”

According to the Skyliner website, temporary closures will follow this week for “system updates.”  On Wednesday, the Hollywood Studios line will be closed all day while the Epcot and Pop Century/Art of Animation lines will spin from 1:00 pm to 10:30 pm.  Thursday and Friday, all lines will be closed in the morning and open at 1:00 pm.

Skyliner launched on September 29th, linking Hollywood Studios to Epcot and four Walt Disney World resorts.  Doppelmayr designed and built the lifts and maintains them through its Doppelmayr Cable Car subsidiary in partnership with Disney.  “We greatly appreciate your ongoing patience and understanding, and we look forward to welcoming you back aboard Disney Skyliner,” the theme park operator told guests.

Disney Skyliner Closed Following Partial Evacuation

An in-station collision on the Epcot line of the Disney Skyliner caused a stop that left people stuck in gondolas for more than two hours Saturday night and led to a partial evacuation.

The first tweet about the situation at Walt Disney World Resort appeared at 8:43 pm eastern time, followed by pictures of stacked cabins in one of the outgoing sections of the Riviera Resort angle station.  Riviera is the second of four stations on the longest Skyliner line, which links Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort to Epcot’s International Gateway.

The unfortunate incident happened just a week after the gondola system opened to the public.  Crews practiced repeatedly in the months prior to launch for such a scenario.  Each cabin is equipped with two way communications, emergency supplies and water.

As of 9:30, Reedy Creek Fire Department trucks and specialized lifts were being used to evacuate people from a few cabins.  The Epcot line passes over a narrow body of water plus multiple roads and buildings, necessitating a variety of rescue equipment.  The shorter Hollywood Studios and Pop Century/Art of Animation lines were unaffected but unloaded as a precaution.

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News Roundup: Powerhouse

Skyliner Begins Flying at Walt Disney World

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Nearly 300 gondolas joined the transport fleet at the world’s most visited resort this morning, commencing an exciting new era for the U.S. ropeway scene.  The milestone comes more than two years since construction began and almost 50 years from when a simpler VonRoll gondola system first opened at Walt Disney World Resort.

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Crews fired up all three Skyliner lines pre-dawn, giving guests their first opportunities to skip bus rides and explore multiple parks in one day.  Connecting Epcot and Hollywood Studios with four resort hotels, the system is sure to become among the most-ridden gondolas in the world.

This is the second D-Line detachable system from Doppelmayr to open in the Americas following Big Sky Resort’s Ramcharger 8 launch last December.  Although the Austrian builder maintains a strong presence as maintenance contractor for the Skyliner, you won’t find the Doppelmayr name and logo prominently displayed here.

The cabins are highly customized CWA Omega IV models seating up to ten passengers.  About half of them feature wraps with characters from Disney, Pixar and Marvel movie franchises.

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News Roundup: Answers