- Sipapu is threatened by New Mexico’s largest-ever wildfire.
- Other New Mexico ski areas postpone summer operations due to National Forest closures.
- Blue Mountain, Pennsylvania has 247 double chairs for sale.
- Ditto for Cascade Mountain, Wisconsin.
- Steamboat will auction chairs from Christie III along with retired gondola cabins next week.
- Heavenly’s rescheduled North Bowl chair sale will take place June 3-4.
- Aspen Snowmass forges the Silver Queen Gondola’s old haul rope into anniversary tokens.
- Snowbird provides a tram modernization project update.
- Park City won’t issue a building permit for Park City Mountain’s new lifts until at least June 8th, when an appeal will be heard. Vail Resorts tells me it still intends to complete the projects ahead of the 2022-23 season.
- Stowe also remains committed to replacing the Mountain triple this summer despite approval still pending.
- The Caribbean island of Dominica plans to build one of the world’s longest gondolas from a cruise port to a mountain lake.
- Tenney Mountain’s new owner plans to reopen next season.
- Beartooth Basin won’t open this year due to low snow.
- Kimberley and Leitner-Poma work to get the Northstar Express back operational 5 months after being idled by arson.
- The Sierra-at-Tahoe rebuild may include new lifts.
- New York’s Cockaigne won’t operate this summer and is listed for sale.
- Big Sky and Garaventa begin building Lone Peak Tram 2.0.
- Silver Mountain Lift Maintenance rescues a lost goat and gives him a gondola ride.
- Here come the terminals for Palisades Tahoe’s base to base gondola.
- Four people file appeals seeking to halt construction of Park City’s new lifts.
- Doppelmayr, Poma and Leitner all release annual brochures featuring lifts built last year.
- The former owner of Jay Peak and Burke Mountain is sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to pay $8.3 million in restitution.
- The Tenney Mountain property is sold.
- Grouse Mountain formally applies for a development permit to build a new gondola.
- West Mountain looks to break ground in 2023 on a $140 million real estate project which includes a high speed quad.
- Whistler’s chair and gondola sale is live now.
- Heavenly to sell North Bowl triple chairs beginning today (update: the sale has been postponed for unspecified reasons.)
- With multiple projects in planning, Canada may beat the United States to the urban gondola party.
- Maine’s Quoggy Jo loses key funding.
- A preliminary timeline for the Timberline Lodge gondola construction: 2028.
- Juneau will spend $845,000 to transport the used 15 passenger gondola it purchased for Eaglecrest, more than double an initial estimate.
- Mount Roberts Tramway operator Goldbelt downplays its involvement in the Eaglecrest gondola project.
- Preliminary lift work begins begins at Mayflower.
- In case you missed Doppelmayr Insights, here’s a replay.
- Bartholet prepares to build Flem Xpress, the first Ropetaxi with autonomous gondolas and multi-station selection.
- Big Snow is on track to reopen May 27th.
- County officials approve Mt. Shasta’s Gray Butte expansion and construction begins.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Vail-owned Wilmot Mountain takes down Lift 7 with no immediate replacement planned.
- A monument is unveiled honoring Byron Riblet, who founded Riblet Tramway Company in 1896.
- Kirkwood and Heavenly both utilize snowmaking systems for protection from the Caldor Fire.
- The Forest Service closes all National Forests in California due to the fire emergency, affecting summer operations at numerous resorts.
- The Palm Springs Tramway is set to close for a month of maintenance.
- Skytrac completes the first new lift of the year at Great Bear. Already in the Lift Blog database!
- Steamboat raises more than $200,000 for local nonprofits selling Priest Creek chairs.
- Alterra buys another heli ski operation, adds Dolomiti Superski and Kitzbühel as Ikon Pass international partners.
- Mexico City’s Cablebús Line 2 is certified by Guinness World Records as the longest urban gondola.
- The Storm Skiing Podcast features Charles Skinner, owner of Granite Peak and Lutsen Mountains, to talk lift upgrades and expansion plans at both resorts.
- Copper Mountain will host a State of the Resort presentation and capital plan update tomorrow.
- Massanutten takes down its Borvig J-Bar.
- Breckenridge posts a Freedom SuperChair progress report along with a new trail map.
- The Atlantic Gondola carries its first passengers in Nova Scotia.
- Kicking Horse shows how it feeds a captive grizzly bear by throwing food from the Golden Eagle Express.
- Heavenly ends summer operations early due to smoke and fire danger.
- The Caldor Fire threatens both Sierra at Tahoe and Kirkwood.
- Alta Sierra narrowly escapes being burned by a different fire.
- Environmentalists use balloons to demonstrate their opposition to gondola cabins and towers in Little Cottonwood Canyon. The last chance to comment on the gondola proposal is September 3rd.
- All remaining resorts in Australia and New Zealand close due to Covid and operators are devastated.
- Highlander Lift Services & Construction is hiring team members to help build the first two lifts at Utah’s Wasatch Peaks Ranch.
- Michigan’s Alpine Valley is under new ownership, widely rumored to be Wisconsin Resorts Inc., though I have been unable to independently confirm that.
- Holiday Valley makes progress on its self-installation of a new Doppelmayr detachable.
- A new lawsuit alleges the State of Vermont knew about and failed to protect investors from the fraud at Burke Mountain.
- County planners recommend rejection of the Pandora’s expansion proposal on Aspen Mountain.
- Parks Canada again says no to a Banff-Norquay gondola.
- The Forest Service seeks public comments on Whitefish Mountain Resort’s Chair 4 replacement project.
- Looking back as Blackcomb turns 40.
- As Chair 1 reopens, 49 Degrees North provides a thorough update regarding what happened last weekend and the steps it’s taking to avoid future issues.
- Liftopia’s assets are acquired by a European firm.
- Arizona Snowbowl quietly opens the Arizona Gondola.
- More on the Eiger Express: Not only does it feature the first automated cargo loading on a passenger ropeway, but also a VIP cabin with boarding from a dedicated lounge (cost: $13,500 per year.)
- This interview with Hermitage Club manager Bill Benneyan includes tons of historical facts about Haystack and also Mountain Creek. The Club opens tomorrow for the first time in two and a half years.
- Mission Ridge works hard to complete the lift it brought over from Europe but cannot estimate a completion date.
- Residents seek to stop construction of Wasatch Peaks Ranch, a 3,000 acre private ski resort near Snowbasin.
- Leitner-Poma of America introduces Freedom Control, a wireless remote control for lifts.
- Public comments are being solicited for Big White’s new master plan, which includes a staggering amount of new terrain.
- Ski Magazine ranks top lift systems in the East.
- California effectively shuts down lodging in some ski regions.
- The new Broadway quad will carry its first passengers this weekend at Sun Valley.
- Zermatt and Doppelmayr prepare to launch the first unstaffed lift in Switzerland, a 10 passenger gondola.
- French ski resorts sue the government over closures.
- Holiday Valley pursues a tax break for its $4 million Yodeler Express project.
- A lawsuit seeking class action status alleges lift operators and other employees at Vail Resorts were not paid for use of personal equipment and time spent getting to and from work stations.
- Timberline Mountain relaunches tomorrow with both new chairlifts in operation.
- British Columbia’s Zincton Mountain Village releases new maps of its proposed layout.
- Les Otten courts environmental, social and governance investors as he tries to revive the northernmost ski area in New Hampshire.
- When asked about acquisitions on last night’s earnings call, Rob Katz said Vail is focused on positioning the company to be able to make the most of whatever opportunities may come over the next 12 months.
- Vail is forced to cancel some guest reservations and black out employee skiing in Colorado this weekend due to limited snow and terrain.
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.
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.
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.
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 Wayback. Peru 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.
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.
- Snow King Mountain formally requests approval for a new $8 million gondola which would load along Snow King Avenue in the Town of Jackson, part of a $26 million improvement plan.
- The new Oakland Zoo gondola went down for a bit on Friday and just about every major news outlet in the Bay Area covered it.
- The SilverStar Gondola wasn’t the only new lift to open in Canada last week.
- Sadly, the gondola emoji has been the single least used on Twitter for 76 days.
- Elk Ridge, Arizona is back on the market, indicating the announced sale to Mountain Capital Partners may have fallen through.
- La Paz opens its seventh urban gondola just 366 days after groundbreaking. The Mi Teleférico system has now carried 135 million commuters since the first lines opened in 2014.
- Timberline Lodge confirms it’s eyeing a gondola or chairlift connection from Summit Ski Area, which it bought last week.
- Winter Park is getting the most money for improvements of all the Alterra mountains this year – $26.2 million. More than half of it is going to Leitner-Poma for the big Zephyr Gondola.
- James Coleman explains his ambitious dream to create another Snowbasin out of Nordic Valley.
- Episode 5 of Ski Area Management’s podcast, focusing on risk management, covers lots of lift ground: the Squaw Valley tram accident, a grip slip incident, and challenges Pats Peak faced after buying the Lake Compounce Skyride.
- One Hermitage Club lawsuit yields a $1.5 million judgement against the ski area and another one is filed.
- For the second time in recent memory, a falling cigarette is believed to have started a fire under a lift at Heavenly.
- The State of Massachusetts seeks a new operator for Blue Hills Ski Area.
- A private management company passes on operating Ski Cape Smokey, a nonprofit mountain in Nova Scotia with a broken main chairlift.
- Hunter Mountain is making quick work of the Hunter North expansion.
- Is Peak Resorts spending too much money on capital improvements such as new lifts?
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
- 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.