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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Six Big Lifts Launch in Colorado

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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

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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

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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.

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News Roundup: Study

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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.

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Instagram Tuesday: Vail Land

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

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Instagram Tuesday: Diamond

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

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Will Vail Resorts Build Big in 2018?

Winter Dual Mountain Bluebird DavidMcColm
With the additions of Whistler Blackcomb and Stowe, Vail Resorts’ reach is larger than ever.  The company typically announces new lifts projects in a single press release each December.  Photo credit: Whistler Blackcomb/Vail Resorts.

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?

Vail Mountain

  1. 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.)vail 4-1-07 184
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.vailgoldenpeakexpansion

Beaver Creek

  1. 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.img_4153

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News Roundup: Base-to-Base

  • 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.
  • Still no sign of lift construction at Saddleback.
  • Two people apparently were injured riding a lift at Montage Mountain last weekend.
  • Following the successful launch of a Poma gondola to the Kuelap fortress, Peru’s government to study building a cable car to Machu Picchu.
  • Snowbasin is adding a tower to the currently towerless Allen Peak Tram to increase clearance and reduce closures during storm cycles.
  • Keystone drops Making Montezuma episode 2.
  • Disney Skyliner gondola construction prep continues.
  • Sunshine Village reopens its gondola tomorrow after an 11-day fire closure.
  • First pictures emerge of Steamboat’s gondola rebuild.  Notice downloading capacity is now only six per cabin.
  • The City of Elko will take over Elko Snobowl.
  • Steamboat City Council reviews vision for Howelsen Hill which includes $1.54 million for a new, realigned Barrows chairlift.
  • An Eldo Express update from Eldora.
  • Ditto from Stoneham.

Instagram Tuesday: Colorado

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

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Instagram Tuesday: Gondy

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

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