News Roundup: Adventure Assurance

  • Highland readies for mountain bike season with new chairs acquired from Nashoba Valley.
  • Alterra makes modest changes to Ikon in light of recent events: delaying price increases by a month and increasing renewal discounts.  Late today, the company added Adventure Assurance, permitting purchasers to defer their 2020-21 Ikon value to a 2021-22 pass if desired.
  • The Forest Service expects to have a decision on Keystone’s Bergman Bowl expansion by December.
  • Residents in opposition to Mexico City’s Cablebús Line 1 win an injunction stopping some construction.
  • The Colorado Sun goes inside the decision to close Colorado’s ski industry five Saturdays ago.
  • Saddleback decides to decommission Sandy alongside Rangeley and Cupsuptic.  Old chairs are for sale at $2,000 apiece.
  • A class action lawsuit is filed against Vail Resorts alleging fraud, misrepresentation and false advertising for this spring’s early closures.
  • Sinclair Oil Company may be exploring a sale although the firm’s two ski resorts (Snowbasin and Sun Valley) would not be included.
  • Doppelmayr may build a unique triangle shaped gondola in Australia.

Vail Resorts Cancels All 2020 Lift Construction

Ski industry fallout from the global pandemic continues.  Vail Resorts today announced the deferral of lift construction projects slated for Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Okemo due to a dramatic decline in revenue, which is expected to continue into fiscal year 2021.  The suite of projects was first announced last December, the same month COVID-19 first appeared in Wuhan, China.  While the virus spread across Asia, lift manufacturers were gearing up to build lifts that now won’t happen this year.  Beaver Creek had planned a major expansion into McCoy Park and Okemo earmarked a new bubble six pack for Jackson Gore.  Both Breckenridge and Keystone planned new chairlifts to increase uphill capacity in high traffic areas.

BC_FCE_McCoyPark_Expansion_Map_NoCallouts
McCoy Park, Beaver Creek’s deferred terrain expansion, would include two new lifts and 15 trails.

Vail said weeks ago coronavirus will cost the company between $180 and 200 million in March and April alone.  Eliminating lift construction, terrain expansions and discretionary base area improvements will save the publicly-traded company $80 to 85 million while allowing the vast majority of maintenance capital projects to proceed.  “The circumstances surrounding COVID-19 are unprecedented and the financial impact to our Company and the broader travel industry has been significant,” noted Rob Katz, Chief Executive Officer of Vail Resorts.  “We are taking proactive steps to align our capital spending and return of capital approach to ensure that we remain positioned for long-term success.”  Other steps revealed today include the furlough of nearly all year-round hourly employees, suspension of the company’s shareholder dividend, salary reductions for non-hourly employees and elimination of cash compensation for the CEO and board of directors.

The decision to postpone lifts is a blow to both major lift manufacturers but particularly Leitner-Poma, which like Vail itself, is Colorado-based.  The firm had been awarded contracts to build three detachable chairlifts and move another this summer.  Doppelmayr USA had planned to install the two machines at Beaver Creek.

IMG_5526
The second largest Vail project this summer was to be replacement of Quantum Four at Okemo with a larger bubble lift.  The existing quad was slated to move over to Green Ridge.

As goes Vail, often go others.  While I’m hopeful some lifts (and the jobs that come with them) are safe, more deferrals are possible.  Rival Alterra Mountain Company planned to add only two lifts this year, both six place chairlifts at Mammoth Mountain.  The privately-held group has not announced any changes to its capital plan thus far.  In tough times, every company is understandably revisiting capital budgets and commitments, however.

The sudden onset of such deep uncertainty in this critical period of the lift production cycle is unprecedented.  With the elimination of Vail Resorts projects for 2020, announced US and Canada complete new lifts stand at 24, fewer than Doppelmayr built by itself last year.

News Roundup: Big Game

Keystone Seeks to Build Bergman Bowl Lift

Layout 1

Fresh off announcing a plan to replace the Peru Express, Keystone Resort has submitted an application to the White River National Forest for construction of a new lift in Bergman Bowl.  As outlined in the resort’s 2009 master plan, the Bergman Bowl Express would rise approximately 1,000 vertical feet and service high alpine terrain above North Peak.  Topping out at an elevation of 12,200 feet, the lift would expand the resort’s lift-served vertical to nearly 3,000 feet.  The detachable quad would service 500-plus acres of terrain in both Bergman and Erickson Bowls, which are already within Keystone’s permit area.  The proposal also includes new snowmaking, below treeline trails, a warming hut and expansion of the existing Outpost restaurant.

keystonemdpmid
The Bergman lift alignment as envisioned in 2009.

“Keystone’s high alpine bowl skiing offers an exceptional variety of terrain which is currently only accessible via hiking or cat skiing,” said Jody Churich, vice president and general manager of Keystone Resort.  “This project would be transformational for Keystone, allowing guests to spread out across the resort and better utilize some of our existing above treeline terrain, as well as provide an open bowl skiing experience that appeals to a wide variety of ability levels from novice to expert.”

The project timeline and level of environmental review are up to the Forest Service.  More details should become public when the project hits the agency’s Schedule of Proposed Actions website.

Vail to Build New Lifts at Four Resorts in 2020

Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Okemo will all add new lifts next year in a mix of expansions and replacements.  Parent company Vail Resorts made the project announcements alongside a quarterly earnings report this afternoon.  “We remain committed to reinvesting in our resorts, creating an experience of a lifetime for our guests and generating strong returns for our shareholders,” said Vail Chairman and CEO Rob Katz.

At Beaver Creek, a new detachable quad will service the high alpine McCoy Park learning zone.  “This new lift accessed beginner and intermediate bowl experience is a rare opportunity to expand with highly accessible terrain in one of the most idyllic settings in Colorado and will further differentiate the high-end, family focused experience at Beaver Creek,” said the company.  A second quad chair will provide egress to the top of the Strawberry and Upper Beaver Creek Mountain Express lifts.

img_3752
The Peru Express opened in 1990 and will be supplanted by a higher capacity lift.

At Keystone, the Peru Express will be replaced by a six pack subject to government approval.  The new machine will increase out-of-base capacity and improve overall circulation.  Also in Summit County, a new detachable quad on Breckenridge’s Peak 7 will enhance uphill capacity near the Independence SuperChair.  “This additional lift will further enhance the guest experience at the most visited resort in the U.S. and will significantly increase guest access and circulation for the intermediate terrain on Peaks 6 and 7,” said Vail.

Continue reading

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.

vail 4-1-07 187
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.

img_3192
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.

img_3599
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.

Continue reading

Six Big Lifts Launch in Colorado

IMG_8066
This new high-speed chairlift on Beaver Creek Mountain is one of six new lifts on Colorado slopes this season, representing the most new additions in a single year since 2013.

With over 100 detachable chairlifts, 22 gondolas and some 150 fixed-grip lifts, the Colorado lift fleet represents a total investment somewhere in the neighborhood of $700 million.  The Centennial State has more ski lifts than any other state or province and on each visit I’m amazed by the caliber of ski infrastructure here.  More than half of Colorado’s lifts are detachable models, a feat which no other North American region comes close to achieving.  This winter, six more high-speed chairlifts came on scene, and while none open up new terrain, each one serves an important purpose.  I was lucky enough to ride the new machines at Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Copper, Eldora, Keystone and Vail over three days this week, testament to the remarkable amount of skiing available within a few hours’ drive here.  This year’s class includes two Doppelmayr high-speed quads, a Doppelmayr six-pack and three Leitner-Poma six-place chairs representing half of all new detachable chairlifts built in North America for 2017-18.

Red Buffalo Express – Beaver Creek Mountain

IMG_8028

The last lift from Beaver Creek’s 1980 inaugural season, Drink of Water, was replaced with a new lift with a new name over the summer.  The quad’s namesake, Red Buffalo Park, is now a dedicated learning zone with awe-inspring views of the Gore Range from 11,400 feet.  While lift 5’s terminals, hangers, grips and operator houses are new, most of the tower components and chairs are from the former Montezuma lift at Keystone.  Like its sister Vail, Beaver Creek now has just one fixed-grip lift of appreciable length remaining alongside an amazing 14 detachable chairlifts and gondolas.

Falcon SuperChair – Breckenridge

IMG_8465

Breckenridge debuted its third next-gen Leitner-Poma LPA six-pack on December 28th.  The new Falcon SuperChair replaces a Poma high-speed quad that opened along with Peak 10 itself in 1985.  The new ride lifts capacity by 25 percent to 3,000 guests per hour in this popular advanced-intermediate pod.  The Falcon has the same sweet plush chairs as the new Colorado and Kensho SuperChairs.

Continue reading

News Roundup: Study

IMG_8181
I’m in Colorado for a few days checking out this year’s new lifts. There are six!

Instagram Tuesday: Heli Days

Every Tuesday, I feature my favorite Instagram photos from around the lift world.

View this post on Instagram

Copper-

A post shared by Timberline Helicopters, INC. (@timberlinehelicopters) on

Continue reading

Instagram Tuesday: Vail Land

Every Tuesday, I feature my favorite Instagram photos from around the lift world.

Continue reading