- 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.
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.
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.
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.
- Did you catch a glimpse of gondolas flying during the Super Bowl? The lift is called the Bud Light Seltzer SkyView and is expected to be open around 50 event days per year at Hard Rock Stadium.
- The Bridger-Teton National Forest releases a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Snow King with a preferred alternative including a new gondola, backside fixed grip quad and access platter or T-Bar.
- Arctaris officially owns Saddleback and plans to order at least a detachable quad.
- With its longest chairlift out of service for weeks, Arizona Snowbowl opens its summit to hiking access.
- An Austrian newspaper interviews Anton Seeber, head of the Leitner Group, about the company’s growing presence in that country and worldwide.
- Sasquatch Mountain’s access road washes out, trapping guests at the resort for days and closing the mountain for a week.
- Sioux Falls, South Dakota budgets $1.6 million for a new chairlift at Great Bear.
- Donner Ski Ranch finds success as a family business despite being surrounded by larger resorts.
- Two more individuals bid on Hermitage Club assets with an auction now scheduled for March 20th.
- Bartholet and MND Group/LST Ropeways expand their ropeway partnership to include unified sales, service, production and products.
- The Australian resort hit hardest by this year’s wildfires won’t open next season.
- Wynn Resorts considers building a gondola from a casino in Everett, Massachusetts to a nearby transit station.
- Loon Mountain GM Jay Scambio talks extensively about Kanc 8 and Flight Path 2030.
- Keystone plans to remove Argentine as part of the Peru Express replacement project.
- New Hampshire’s largest newspaper visits Cannon Mountain and highlights the lift maintenance profession.
- A lift operator born deaf blazes trail for people with disabilities at Breckenridge.
- Struggling White Pine, Wyoming goes up for sale.
- A small Minnesota ski area closes due to chairlift problems but another local resort steps in to help.
- Three different lifts are under construction this winter in Alaska including one at the new Skeetawk ski area.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
- SAM reports almost all of North America’s ski industry had a difficult Christmas but things are improving.
- Pictures of a severed gondola cable from a Chamonix storm are incredible (reminder: the lift was not operating.)
- Through January 8th, Vail Resorts skier visits are pacing 10.8 percent below last season and non-Vail-owned Colorado resorts are down 13 percent.
- Gunstock rope evacuates 27 guests from the Silver Medal lift.
- A federal judge dismisses a lawsuit filed by a woman who broke her femur unloading the Discovery lift at Keystone.
- Colorado sides with Winter Park and rules that service dogs don’t necessarily belong on chairlifts.
- SAM‘s inaugural Summit Series piece brings together industry heavy-hitters and future leaders and not surprisingly, the first two stories quoted involve lifts!
- USFS and Doppelmayr veteran Michael Lane will succeed Sid Roslund as NSAA’s Director of Technical Services.
- Electrical fire damages Oakland Zoo’s skyride.
- A wall of mud partially buries the new Lightning Express at Marble Mountain.
- The Forest Service accepts Aspen Mountain’s master plan update including the construction of a Pandora detachble quad, removal of Gent’s Ridge and shortening of Bell Mountain. 1A study continues.
- The end is in sight for a significant midwinter repair to Fernie’s White Pass quad.
- Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board releases its investigation report on the carpet entanglement death of Loveland mechanic Adam Lee.
- Winter Park calls response to digital restraining bar displays “amazingly positive” and they may be deployed on other lifts and at more Alterra resorts.
- Mt. Spokane wisely opts to use the Riblet it purchased from Bridger Bowl for spare parts and is now soliciting bids for a brand new triple chair for this summer’s expansion.
Every Tuesday, I feature my favorite Instagram photos from around the lift world.
Every Tuesday, I feature my favorite Instagram photos from around the lift world.