- 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.
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?
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Artur Doppelmayr died Friday at age 95. May he rest in peace.
- I talk six-packs with the Vail Daily.
- Heavenly’s Comet Express remains closed following a Jan. 1st rope evacuation, apparently due to a gearbox issue. This is one of the reasons Vail Resorts is replacing its fleet of 1980s-vintage detachable quads.
- Doppelmayr and the United Nations are hosting a week-long urban mobility ropeway class in April.
- The New York Times tells the tale of Big Sky Resort.
- Ski patroller severely injured in fall from chair at Terry Peak.
- Gondola proposed to serve airport in Vietnam’s congested largest city.
- BC Parks considers a gondola to Mt. Seymour to alleviate parking and traffic problems.
- Ski Area Management‘s lift construction survey dropped this week. Highlights from its outlook for 2017:
- “We’re off to a strong year for ’17, there are lots of people asking about lifts…It’s very positive compared to the previous two years.” – Jon Mauch, Senior Sales Manager at Leitner-Poma
- “There’s a lot of enthusiasm about what could happen under a Trump administration. People expect deregulation and a more business-friendly climate.” – Mark Bee, President at Doppelmayr USA
- “We’re seeing lots of requests quotes, lots of major modifications and retrofits…It’s all being driven by the age of the existing lift infrastructure.” – Carl Skylling, General Manager at Skytrac
- I’ve already identified 29 new lifts likely to be built in 2017, pacing well above the last few years for mid-January.
- Slovakian manufacturer Tatralift debuts its third detachable lift using a Wopfner grip. That makes seven companies capable of building a detachable lift globally – Bartholet, BMHRI (China), Doppelmayr/Garaventa (Austria), Leitner–Poma (Italy), LST (France), STM (Turkey) and Tatralift (Slovakia.)
- Father accuses Ragged Mountain of operating a lift unmanned after his son falls 20-30 feet. Another child falls 40 feet at Squaw Valley.
- Pretty neat article about Aspen’s old Riblets finding new homes as far afield as Montana, Alaska and Pakistan.
- Aspen Skiing Company’s first rope evac in decades was a learning experience.
- Adding a new Doppelmayr terminal to a 25-year old Borvig at Sugarloaf didn’t go exactly as planned but all’s well that ends well.
According to published reports, an unoccupied chair fell from the light side of Heavenly’s North Bowl triple just before 11:00 am today. As a result, approximately 65 people were evacuated from the lift in about two hours. The incident is under investigation. North Bowl is a 1984 Riblet triple with insert clips. The video below shows a skier being lowered by rope and North Bowl will remain closed until further notice.