Vail Resorts to Build 19 Lifts at 14 Resorts in 2022

Vail Resorts today announced it will pump $320 million into its mountains coming out of the pandemic, building a whopping 19 new lifts next year. The company’s largest-ever annual investment will include a new gondola at Whistler Blackcomb, the firm’s first North American eight person chairlift at Park City and expansion into Bergman Bowl at Keystone. Vail properties across the Northeast and Midwest will also see new lifts. “Our mission at Vail Resorts is to provide an Experience of a Lifetime to anyone who visits our resorts – and delivering on that mission requires constant re-imagination and investment into the guest experience,” said Rob Katz, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Vail Resorts. “Our teams have been hard at work identifying significant opportunities to improve the guest experience and have produced an initial list of exciting lift upgrades, a restaurant expansion and projects that expand access to incredible terrain for next season, with more to be announced.”

Subject to government approvals, lift projects planned ahead of the 2022-23 season include:

British Columbia, Canada

  • Whistler Blackcomb, Creekside Gondola: A new 8-person gondola, replacing the existing 6-person gondola, will significantly improve wait times and increase out-of-base uphill capacity by 35% in the Creekside area, especially on high-volume days.
  • Whistler Blackcomb, Big Red Express: The replacement of the existing high-speed 4-person lift with a high-speed 6-person chair will increase uphill capacity by nearly 30% and enhance and modernize the guest experience mid-mountain out of the Creekside area.

Colorado

  • Keystone Resort, Bergman Bowl: Enhancements to Bergman Bowl will include a new high-speed 6-person chairlift, increasing lift-served terrain by 555 acres. Additional enhancements include 16 new trails, a ski patrol facility and snowmaking infrastructure. This project unlocks access for novice and intermediate guests and provides expanded entry to expert terrain in Independence and Erickson Bowls.
  • Vail Mountain, Sun Down Lift: The installation of a new high-speed 4-person chair in the Sun Down Bowl from the base of Chair 5 (High Noon Express) to the Wildwood restaurant will materially reduce wait times on peak days at Chair 5 and create the opportunity for skiers and riders to much more conveniently access the trails in Sun Down Bowl.
  • Vail Mountain, Game Creek Bowl: Skiers and riders will see improved reliability and capacity in this popular bowl with the replacement of the current 4-person chair with a new high-speed 6-person lift, increasing capacity by nearly 50%.
  • Breckenridge Ski Resort, Rip’s Ride Lift: The beginner/ski and ride school experience will be enhanced at the highly utilized Peak 8 base area by replacing the current fixed-grip double with a high-speed 4-person chair, increasing uphill capacity by nearly 70% and improving out-of-base circulation.

Utah

  • Park City Mountain, Eagle Lift: A high-speed 6-person chair with a new mid-station will replace the existing Eagle lift, significantly reducing crowding and wait times, and improving the guest experience, especially for beginner skiers and ski and ride school guests.
  • Park City Mountain, Silverlode 8-Person Lift: Vail Resorts’ first-ever high-speed 8-person chair, replacing an existing 6-person chair, will increase uphill capacity by 20% and reduce wait times at a critical spot to circulate guests on mountain.

Lake Tahoe, California & Nevada

  • Northstar California, Comstock Lift: A new high-speed 6-person chair will replace the existing mid-mountain 4-person chair and is designed to reduce wait times at one of the mountain’s most popular lifts and increase uphill capacity by nearly 50%.
  • Heavenly Ski Resort, North Bowl Lift: The replacement of an existing fixed-grip triple with a high-speed 4-person chair will increase uphill capacity by more than 40% and reduce the combined ride time of the Boulder and North Bowl lifts, which is expected to reduce wait times at the Stagecoach and Olympic lifts.

Vermont & New Hampshire 

  • Stowe Mountain Resort, Mountain Lift: The replacement and extension of the existing fixed-grip triple to a high-speed 6-person lift will increase uphill capacity by 100%, eliminate the steep hike to the base of the lift, improve reliability on windy days and offer beginner and intermediate guests with better access to lower-level terrain choices.
  • Mount Snow, Sundance/Tumbleweed Lift: The replacement of the Sundance and Tumbleweed triples with one high-speed 6-person lift will improve access to underutilized terrain and alleviate pressure on other lifts in the main base area, increasing uphill capacity by nearly 70%.
  • Mount Snow, Sunbrook Lift: A new high-speed 4-person chair to replace the existing fixed-grip quad will significantly decrease the current 14-minute ride time by approximately 30% and result in better utilization of the Sunbrook terrain.
  • Attitash Mountain Resort: The replacement of the East and West Double-Double chairs with one fixed-grip 4-person chair will improve reliability and enhance the overall guest experience.

Pennsylvania & Ohio

  • Jack Frost/Big Boulder: The replacement and consolidation of multiple lifts at both resorts will improve reliability and enhance the overall guest experience. Jack Frost will receive two new fixed-grip 4-person chairs (one to replace the B & C lifts and the other to replace the E & F lifts) and Big Boulder will receive a new fixed-grip 4-person chair to replace the Edelweiss Triple.
  • Boston Mills/Brandywine: At Boston Mills, the resort will get a new fixed-grip 4-person chair replacing the Lift 5 double. At Brandywine, a new fixed-grip 4-person chair will replace the Lift 3 triple.

Including this latest capital plan dubbed the Epic Lift Upgrade, Vail Resorts’ total investment is expected to reach approximately $2.2 billion over 15 years. The move comes as Vail enjoys brisk season pass sales. Epic Pass adoption through September 17, 2021 for the upcoming 2021/2022 North American winter season increased approximately 42 percent in units and approximately 17 percent in sales dollars as compared to the same period in the prior year. Compared with pre-pandemic 2019, Epic Pass sales increased an incredible 67 percent in units and 45 percent in sales dollars.

Although no manufacturers were identified for the 19 new lifts, an initiative of this size is likely to include multiple suppliers.

News Roundup: First Load Test

News Roundup: Last Chance

News Roundup: Key Weekend

How Many Lifts Could Vail Resorts Announce Next Month?

With four recent additions, Vail Resorts Inc. now operates just over 10 percent of American and Canadian lifts, more than any other company.  Vail prides itself on investing heavily in its mountains and the average lift at an Epic resort is three years newer than the rest of the industry.  The company’s lifts now number 305 in the United States, Canada and Australia with an average age of 24.6 years.  If we assume the average lift lasts 35 years, Vail would now need to replace an average of about nine lifts per year just to turn over its fleet.

A little less than a year ago, a smaller VR unveiled plans for seven new lifts as part of a $150 million annual capital plan, the largest in the company’s history.  Back in 2016, Vail committed to building three six-packs as part of $103 million in capital spending for 2017 (VR later added a fourth detachable to that year’s class, the Red Buffalo Express at Beaver Creek.)  In December 2015, the Broomfield-based company announced a high-speed quad for Vail Mountain and in 2014, it was $50 million in improvements including three new lifts at Park City plus another six pack at Vail.  Over the last five years, more resorts have consistently led to more revenue and more capital investments.  The company said it will invest $35 million at the four new mountains in the next two years, making it possible this December’s announcement will be the most valuable ever.

Colorado

Going resort by resort, the most obvious projects are ones already in the pipeline, namely the Game Creek Express #7 replacement and Golden Peak race lift at Vail.  But VR could go bigger like it did this summer at Whistler Blackcomb, spending $52 million to package four lift replacements together.  On Vail Mountain, additional aging lifts likely to be up-gauged to six-packs eventually are Orient Express #21, Born Free Express #8 and Wildwood Express #3.  The mothership mountain has the third largest and third newest lift fleet in the company and I expect investment to continue at Vail following this year’s pause.

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Vail’s lift 7 is the only chair in Game Creek Bowl and could use more capacity.

On average, the newest lifts within Vail Resorts are at Beaver Creek, which opened decades later than its peers.  A major expansion was approved in September – McCoy Park – which may be implemented in 2020.  In advance of those two new lifts, the Strawberry Park Express could be updated in 2019 to a higher capacity gondola.  The oldest lift at Beaver Creek is the 1988 Arrow Bahn Express, which eventually will be replaced by a newer detachable.  Probably not this year though.

Sticking in Colorado, Breckenridge is usually the first or second most visited resort in America and did not see a new lift in 2018.  I say a Riblet gets replaced here in 2019 and my vote would be 6-Chair with a high speed quad.  My second guess would be C-Chair followed by 5, A, E and Rip’s Ride.  If Vail decides to continue replacing older high speed quads instead, Beaver Run SuperChair is the logical candidate.

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6 Chair at Breckenridge is wildly popular despite being fixed grip and 40 years old.

Keystone has both expansion possibilities and lifts that could be upgraded.  The project everyone’s been clamoring for is a detachable lift from The Outback to replace WaybackPeru Express is the oldest high speed lift at Keystone and a core workhorse, making it likely to be replaced with a six pack soon.  Outback Express is one year newer and in a similar situation.  Another possible replacement is Argentine, a 1977 Lift Engineering double that the 2009 Keystone Master Development Plan proposed replacing with a two stage detachable.  The new lift would load near Peru, have an angle station above Lower Schoolmarm and continue all the way to the ridge of Dercum Mountain.  The Keystone MDP also outlines major expansions that I expect we will hear more about over the next decade.  They include a Ski Tip gondola, Bergman Bowl lift, Independence Bowl lift, Windows lift and Outback surface lift.  Whatever Vail chooses, I am hopeful for a new lift or two at Keystone in 2019.

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I don’t mind Wayback at Keystone but I also rarely ski in Colorado on weekends or holidays.

Crested Butte is the new kid on the block and Vail may wait a year or more to do anything lift wise.  The mountain’s Teocalli II expansion is still moving through the Forest Service NEPA process.  The Mueller family invested heavily in the Triple Peaks resorts over the years and I don’t see a whole lot needed near-term at CBMR.  Replacing original Teocalli with a high speed quad would be a nice way to burn some of the promised $35 million.

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News Roundup: Gondolas on Gondolas

“Ever since the company went public in 2014 it has taken advantage of its improved access to capital to finance large infrastructure projects that may have led to growth in visitation and revenues, but haven’t resulted in better earnings or cash flows.”

Vail Resorts to Build New Lifts at Whistler Blackcomb, Park City, Heavenly & Perisher

It’s 4:45 am in Jackson Hole and I’m awake because today is the biggest day of the year for the North American lift business.  Moments ago, Vail Resorts released its first quarter 2018 financial results which include guidance on next year’s capital improvements to the tune of $150 million.  As I speculated it might, Broomfield, Colorado-based Vail is going all in on new lifts next year, with $52 million (CAD$66 million) going to Whistler Blackcomb alone.

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Goodbye Wizard and Solar Coaster, hello gondola on Blackcomb Mountain.

On Blackcomb, the company will add a signature 10-passenger gondola with mid-station replacing Wizard and Solar Coaster, two 1987 bubble quad chairs with very high hours.  The new 4,000 skier-per-hour machine will be W-B’s sixth gondola and the second-highest capacity lift in North America after Squaw Valley’s Gold Coast Funitel.  The mid-station will likely be located downhill of the current Wizard/Solar Coaster transition where more space can be created for a large terminal and cabin parking.  The two stages will be able to be run independently with two haul ropes and separate drive systems.  Together with the Peak 2 Peak and Whistler Village gondolas, the new gondola will create the world’s only three-gondola connection and an impressive 8.4 mile-long continuous sightseeing trip.  The nearby Excalibur Gondola, amazingly Blackcomb’s last all-new lift, debuted in 1994.

The 1997 Doppelmayr-built Emerald Express on Whistler Mountain will move to Blackcomb, replacing the Catskinner triple likely in a modified alignment.  An all-new Emerald six-place lift will also welcome skiers on Whistler Mountain for 2018-19.  “Our integration efforts at Whistler Blackcomb are largely complete,” commented Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz.  “We believe this plan will dramatically improve the on-mountain experience for our guests with enhanced lift capacity, improved circulation and a significantly elevated experience for skiers, riders and sightseeing guests.”  The three new lifts represent a combined 43 percent improvement in capacity over the lifts they replace and are part of the largest-ever capital improvement season at Whistler Blackcomb, topping even the 2008 construction of the Peak 2 Peak Gondola.  “We believe these transformational, mountain-focused investments are the most significant improvements we can undertake to support Whistler Blackcomb’s long-term growth and our commitment to pursue the most impactful projects to enhance the guest experience,” Vail noted.

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In a bit of a surprise, Vail chose to upgrade High Meadow at Park City Mountain, the main beginner lift at Canyons Village.

At Park City, the rumored Sunrise replacement will wait for another year but the High Meadow lift will be swapped for a high-speed quad chair, reducing ride time by 70 percent and anchoring a new family fun zone.  On the shores of Lake Tahoe, Heavenly will finally replace Galaxy, which has fallen into disuse.  A new fixed-grip triple chair will serve 400 acres of terrain that was inaccessible the past two seasons.  Vail Resorts will also replace a T-Bar with a fixed-grip quad at Perisher in Australia.  “We remain committed to reinvesting in our resorts, creating an experience of a lifetime for our guests and generating strong returns for our shareholders,” Katz concluded.

Galaxy will remain closed this season but 2018 will see a new lift go in on the Nevada side of Heavenly.

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News Roundup: Resources

  • Amid zip line dispute, Peak Resorts threatens to close Hidden Valley, remove five chairlifts and sell the land to a residential developer.
  • “I’m very confident we’re going to have new resources we haven’t had in previous years,” Steamboat COO says of Crown/KSL ownership.  Deer Valley President and COO Bob Wheaton makes similar comments in Park City.
  • Saddleback sale to Australian firm still hasn’t closed.
  • Bear Valley’s six-pack looks great in green and now has a name: Mokelumne Express.
  • Who says detachable terminals must be symmetrical?  Leitner experiments in Europe.
  • T-Bar area in Edmonton, Alberta shuts down.
  • At the end of a tough year, Granby Ranch goes up for sale.
  • New Heavenly trail map confirms Galaxy won’t spin again this season, leaving a big hole in Nevada.
  • Epic Passes account for 43 percent of Vail Resorts revenue.
  • New lifts at the Yellowstone Club get names: Eglise, Great Bear and Little Dipper.  A few hundred families now enjoy the 14th largest lift fleet in the country.

Will Vail Resorts Build Big in 2018?

Winter Dual Mountain Bluebird DavidMcColm
With the additions of Whistler Blackcomb and Stowe, Vail Resorts’ reach is larger than ever.  The company typically announces new lifts projects in a single press release each December.  Photo credit: Whistler Blackcomb/Vail Resorts.

If you follow the ski industry, mark your calendar for four months from now, the week of December 4th.  Very early one morning that week, the largest mountain resort operator in the world will release its fiscal 2018 first quarter results and, more importantly to this audience, outline capital expenditures for 2018.  Last year, this is the moment Vail Resorts committed to building three six-packs as part of $103 million in capital spending for 2017 (the company later added a fourth detachable to this year’s class, the Red Buffalo Express at Beaver Creek.)  In December 2015, MTN announced a high-speed quad for Vail Mountain and in 2014, $50 million in improvements including three new lifts at Park City plus another six-pack at Vail.  So, what might be on the likely $120+ million agenda for 2018?

Vail Mountain

  1. Game Creek Express #7 six-pack.  The current 1985 version of Game Creek is the oldest operating lift on Vail Mountain and one of three remaining CLD-260 style Doppelmayr detachables there.  It is likely to be replaced with a six-pack, increasing capacity by at least 25 percent in popular Game Creek Bowl.  Of the recent six-pack upgrades at Vail, two were built by Doppelmayr (Avanti #2 and Mountaintop #4) and one by Leitner-Poma (Northwoods #11.)vail 4-1-07 184
  2. Orient Express #21 six-pack.  Three years newer than Game Creek but still with DS grips, Orient Express serves some of the most popular terrain in Vail’s famous Back Bowls below the equally popular Two Elk Lodge.  A six-pack upgrade would be the first such lift in the Back Bowls or Blue Sky Basin.
  3. Wildwood Express #3 six-pack.  A 1995 CTEC, Wildwood is not as old as other detachables recently replaced at Vail, but it serves a high-traffic pod between Mid-Vail and its namesake Wildwood.  Parts from this lift could be used as spares for Riva Bahn/Pride Express and Cinch, Bachelor, Grouse Mountain and Strawberry Park high-speed quads at Beaver Creek.
  4. Born Free Express #8 replacement.  Born Free is the 1988 sister ship to Orient and runs parallel to the Eagle Bahn Gondola, built 1996.  Vail could opt to address both lifts in the coming years with a gondola like Keystone’s or replace only Born Free with a new high-speed quad or six-pack.
  5. Golden Peak Race lift.  In April, Vail submitted a master plan amendment to add a third lift on Golden Peak above the Riva Bahn mid-station.  This short fixed-grip chairlift or surface lift would primarily serve an extended race course.vailgoldenpeakexpansion

Beaver Creek

  1. Arrow Bahn Express replacement.  Beaver Creek doesn’t see nearly the traffic that Vail does and has seen ten new lifts since 2000.  However, Arrow Bahn Express is by far the oldest lift at Beaver Creek, built in 1988 to serve a separate Arrowhead ski area.  A CLD-260 like Game Creek, Orient and Born Free but with lower hours for its age, Arrow Bahn might make it a bit longer.img_4153

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News Roundup: Turnover

  • Squaw seeks extension for permit to replace Red Dog lift.
  • MND Group turnover increases 15.1 percent year-over-year.  The company aims to double sales by 2020 partially through LST Ropeways subsidiary.  Referencing the new Cannon Mountain T-Bar in the latest magazine, MND notes “success has enabled LST to penetrate the US market, paving the way for other promising opportunities.”
  • Doppelmayr will begin building its next tri-cable gondola in December.  Who would have guessed Kenya would get a 3S before the United States!
  • Forest Service gives final green light for Breckenridge and Keystone six-place upgrades.
  • A slow landslide continues to move tower 6 of the Barrows lift at Howelsen Hill.
  • SE Group will study placement of Aspen Mountain’s future Lift 1A.
  • Denver Post publishes two part interview with Larry Smith of the CPTSB re: Granby Ranch.
  • The LiftDigital safety bar display system with integrated Wi-Fi will launch in Colorado for 2017-18.
  • New PomaLink newsletter features the Grand Canyon Express and a six-station gondola at a zoo in China.
  • Poma’s 2016 Reference Book includes LPOA installations but not Skytrac ones.
  • Mountain Creek files for bankruptcy protection with debts totaling $40+ million including $500,000 balance on 2012 Partek chairlift loan.
  • One of Heavenly’s original 1962 tram cars is for sale.  Email me if you’re interested.
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  • Artur Doppelmayr died Friday at age 95.  May he rest in peace.