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 #3six-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 Valley Alpine Meadows CEO Andy Wirth and landowner Troy Caldwell held a Base-to-Base Gondola open house and Q&A last week presenting lots of new details. The Red Dog replacement project won’t happen until the gondola alignment is finalized.
The Balsams files site plans for construction of a gondola and more beginning as soon as this fall.
Subaru Skyride debuts at the Indiana State Fair. Can anyone identify the manufacturer?
Owners of Lutsen say $40 million expansion will compel more skiers to stay in the Midwest instead of trekking to Colorado.
Mi Teleférico breaks ground today for its 13th and 14th gondolas. The four station, 159 cabin Sky Blue line will join the Red, Yellow, Green and Blue lines already operating and the Orange, White and Purple lines under construction.
Liberty Mountain delays J-Bar replacement project, saying in a statement, “We had hoped to put the triple chair in this summer but unfortunately it will not be happening…We are still planning on making this change in the future.” Liberty acquired one of Ascutney’s CTEC triples in 2013.
Of the dozen North American skier visit champions, only one mountain operates fewer than 15 lifts. Number one Vail has 25, number two Breck 23. Whistler and Mammoth spin even more. But the fourth most-visited ski area on the continent has only 13 lifts. That mountain is Keystone, an intermediate skiing mecca under 100 miles from Denver International Airport.
In 2009, Vail Resorts and SE Group updated the resort’s master plan, a road map for expansion over the coming decades. With eight new lifts planned for Dercum Mountain, North Peak and The Outback, Keystone’s plan outlines significantly more growth than slated for Vail’s other Colorado resorts. Much of the expansion would come above current lift service, adding high-alpine terrain to attract a broader spectrum of skiers and snowboarders to Keystone.
Ski Tip Gondola. A new Ski Tip portal is planned with a 3,400′ x 1,154′ two-way gondola that could transition approximately 18 percent of skiers away from the crowded River Run and Marmot portals. Skiers would ride the gondola to a point above the River Run Gondola mid-station and return there at the end of the day to ride back down. Critics have suggested this gondola is merely a real estate play.
Two-stage Argentine high-speed quad. A new high speed quad could replace Argentine and continue to a point near the Dercum summit with a mid-load angle station in the vicinity of the former Saints John and Ida Belle lifts. Three new trails would be cut between Peru and Montezuma. The mid-station would take pressure off the crowded Lower Schoolmarm trail and Peru Express.
Summit Learning Center Lift. A new fixed-grip triple chairlift is proposed to connect the top of the new Argentine to the top of the mountain between Ranger and Montezuma. This would be the seventh lift to serve the summit of Dercum Mountain. With the new triple’s 1,000 skiers per hour, a whopping 16,800 people could theoretically unload at the Summit House in one hour.
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.
With strong Epic Pass sales and early snow blanketing its properties, Vail Resorts revealed today it will go big on new lifts in 2017, adding additional six-place chairlifts at Vail, Keystone and Breckenridge as part of a $122 million capital program. In the company’s first quarter results, CEO Rob Katz noted, “we remain committed to reinvesting in our resorts, creating an experience of a lifetime for our guests and generating strong returns for our shareholders.” The news follows construction of four new lifts at Vail mountains in both 2015 and 2016.
On Vail Mountain, the Northwoods Express #11 will be replaced, leaving only three CLD-260 first-generation detachables in service. The new Northwoods will also become the mountain’s 10th new lift in 11 years. At Breckenridge, Vail will upgrade the Falcon high speed quad on Peak 10 to a six-person detachable, allowing more guests to experience some of the best intermediate and advanced terrain on the mountain. The Falcon SuperChair is a 1986 Poma high speed quad also approaching the end of its useful life. At Keystone, the 1990 Doppelmayr Uni-model Montezuma chair will be replaced with a six-pack version.
Leitner-Poma is likely to build Breckenridge’s newest lift, which would extend a 16-lift streak for the manufacturer at Breck. Vail and Keystone operate a mix of Leitner-Poma and Doppelmayr lifts and could plausibly sign with either company. Noticeably absent from today’s release was any mention of new lifts for Park City or the newly-Epic Whistler-Blackcomb. Vail Resorts will detail further capital improvements in the spring but these three projects are a huge start.
Update 1/23/17: Leitner-Poma will build and install all three of these lifts.