At just 15 months old, Alterra Mountain Company finds itself with over 200 chairlifts, gondolas and tramways in two countries. The 13 Alterra mountains mirror the broader ski industry with places like Deer Valley and Crystal Mountain sporting many newer lifts while the average chairlift at June Mountain is 45 years old.
On a Monday last March, the fledgling company based in Denver simultaneously unveiled its very first lift investments at Stratton, Tremblant and Winter Park along with other improvements like snowmaking at Snowshoe and a new restaurant at the base of Steamboat. Importantly, Alterra committed to spending $555 million in total capital over five years. That was before it bought Solitude and Crystal Mountain, which could mean even more money flowing over the next few construction seasons. While last year’s budget only included three new lifts, could we see more in 2019?
With the September approval of major projects by the Forest Service, Steamboat is poised for a comprehensive on-mountain transformation. Although the timing is fluid, a new Rough Rider learning center at mid-mountain will eventually be serviced by a new gondola from the village. Here, skiers and snowboarders will be able to choose from three new carpet lifts, a new and improved Bashor lift and a second fixed-grip chair replacing the Rough Rider surface tow.
A second initiative Steamboat could undertake in 2019 is the Pioneer Ridge expansion, which includes a 7,000 foot detachable quad and a dozen new trails. Other possible upgrades include adding chairs to Pony Express (currently at only 1,200 skiers per hour but designed for 2,400) or new cabins for the Silver Bullet. Wouldn’t it be cool for the new gondola and original one to have similar cabins?
The average lift at Alterra-operated Winter Park Resort is 27 years old. Six are early model detachable quads coming up for replacement. In the case of 32 year old Pioneer Express, an upgrade is overdue and I expect coming in 2019. A new version could add a snowboarder friendly mid loading station above the last section of Big Valley.
A second project I hope to see is a second stage of the new gondola from Sunspot to Lunch Rock, truly uniting Winter Park and Mary Jane. Sunnyside should be a high speed quad or six pack. A high speed replacement of Challenger would be a nice upgrade at Mary Jane. Looking Glass is tied for the oldest operating chairlift in Colorado. After Pioneer, High Lonesome is the next Poma detachable up for replacement if we go solely by age.
The above Intrawest era master plan earmarked Gemini Express to be converted into an eight passenger gondola with a new learning center surrounding its top station. Endeavor could go detachable as part of this project and/or Discovery made into a fixed grip quad. Finally, a lift is envisioned to expand Vasquez Ridge Territory with four new intermediate trails. With all of these ideas on the table, I expect Winter Park to get at least one lift in 2019 and hopefully two.