Jackson Hole will soon be a three gondola valley with the addition of an enclosed lift on what locals affectionately call the Town Hill. Leitner-Poma will not only supply Snow King Mountain’s new 8 passenger gondola but also a Skytrac chairlift servicing new backside terrain. The projects were recently green lighted by both the Town of Jackson and United States Forest Service. The approval is still subject to a 45 day objection period, but the ski area wanted to get in line early with Leitner-Poma and Skytrac with the goal of completion for the 2021-22 season.
“We are extremely excited to take this leap forward for Snow King to ensure that the historic ski area can be economically viable and sustainable long into the future,” said Snow King Mountain President Ryan Stanley. “We have gone through a very extensive review process with both the Town of Jackson and USFS over the past five years and are now looking forward to making some exceptional improvements to the Town Hill that the community will be able to enjoy for decades to come.” The gondola will be the first detachable lift for 82 year old Snow King and will replace a 1981 CTEC double. To make room for the bottom gondola terminal, the Cougar triple‘s drive station will be moved 250 feet uphill.
A ride on the gondola will end at a new summit lodge featuring panoramic views of the Town of Jackson and Teton Range. The gondola will operate year round for skiers, sightseers and mountain bikers. In winter, a mountaintop learning area will feature three new surface lifts in a scenic setting. More advanced riders can look forward to new trails and glades on the southern flank of Snow King.
The two lift order is one of the first major projects announced for 2021, which could be a busy one for lift companies. More than a dozen North American 2020 projects were delayed due to the Coronavirus pandemic and hopefully will be completed next year.
The once sleepy ski area in Eden, Utah will grow dramatically this winter with the addition of a high speed lift and new terrain. Leitner-Poma of America will supply the yet-to-be-named six place chair, which will move 2,500 skiers per hour and service approximately 50 acres of terrain the first season. When completed, the expansion will more than triple skiable terrain with 300 new acres. “The pioneers who started Nordic Valley dreamed of sharing this amazing terrain,” said Brandon Fessler, Nordic Valley general manager. “Our team has worked hard to realize that dream, and we cannot wait to share it with our guests, our friends and our neighbors this winter.” The lift will rise 1,400 vertical feet in just 4.2 minutes with a slope length of 4,213 feet. It will become the first six passenger lift built by Leitner-Poma in Utah.
Fast-growing Mountain Capital Partners took over operations of Nordic Valley in 2018. This expansion project will be located entirely on private property, though more lifts could eventually be added on Forest Service land at higher elevation.
MCP is also partnering with Leitner-Poma to add a base-to-summit Telemix at Arizona Snowbowl this summer. The two projects combine to form the largest lift investment in North American skiing for the 2020/21 season. While some resort groups have paused expansion capital due to the pandemic, Mountain Capital Partners and select others continue to forge ahead.
Nordic Valley expects to open the new six passenger lift early this winter, increasing its vertical drop by 65 percent.
When Vail Resorts spelled out its suspension of operations in mid-March, the shutdown was hoped to last only a week. Fifty days later, all 37 resorts remain shuttered and the company has borrowed more than a billion dollars to weather a possible extended recession.
As the impacts from COVID-19 continue, it's becoming less clear when our business may reopen. Because of this and to ensure we navigate the financial challenges ahead, we have made some difficult decisions that affect our employees. More from our CEO: https://t.co/7EmbUl3v0cpic.twitter.com/CDcwtUYqQ7
Almost immediately, Vail Resorts postponed discretionary capital improvement projects including seven new chairlifts. Vail is just one of numerous operators of lifts facing epic challenges due to COVID-19. The impacts trickle down to suppliers, particularly global suppliers of large machinery like the Leitner Group and Doppelmayr. While the two major lift manufacturers are of similar size and structure, their customers are incredibly diverse, from mom and pop outfits to governments, NGOs and Fortune 100 companies.
As regular readers of this blog know, the lift business is not the same as the ski business. Leitner-Poma, Skytrac and Doppelmayr USA have all completed projects for non-ski venues recently such as theme parks, zoos, stadiums and cruise ports. Not only are these projects making up an increasing share of contracts, they tend to be large in scope and often include lucrative operation and maintenance deals. Some of these non-traditional customers are in even worse shape than the ski business, more dependent on high guest densities and air travel. Put another way, there is little chance the Walt Disney Company, Carnival Corporation or the Miami Dolphins would have signed to build their recent lift projects in today’s environment. So-called “point of interest” projects may disappear entirely for a few years.
Aerial view of likely all Disney Skyliner gondolas. Stored for an extended period at the Caribbean Beach station. All Walt Disney World parks and resorts are closed due to #COVID19pic.twitter.com/gqd924ANu9
One bright spot could be urban transport. The Portland Aerial Tram and Roosevelt Island Tramway have both remained operational throughout the pandemic, albeit at reduced capacity (the Portland Tram carries health care workers to three different hospitals and is about as essential as it gets.) Large aerial tramways have been ceding market share to monocable, 2S and 3S gondolas, a trend which will probably accelerate with new personal space concerns. With gondolas, each person or family can take their own cabin unlike on trains or buses. There are lots of great concepts for urban gondolas in North America and infrastructure spending programs could finally get one or two off the ground. Mexico already has a large urban gondola system in operation with two more under construction.
A modern Leitner-Poma gondola is coming to Nova Scotia’s beautiful Cape Breton Island. The new lift will become the centerpiece of a thousand foot mountain called Cape Smokey, which features views of the Atlantic Ocean. With summer visitation outpacing winter in this region, the gondola will provide year-round access to skiing, sightseeing, mountain biking and a new tree canopy walk.
Cape Smokey was recently rescued by a New York-based investor group after falling into disrepair as a nonprofit society. Developer Joseph Balaz purchased the mountain from the province of Nova Scotia for just CAD$370,000. The area’s 1995 Blue Mountain quad last operated in 2006, leaving only a Poma platter lift operable in recent seasons.
Removal of the mountain’s quad chair has already begun and the base-to-summit gondola is expected to open in July 2021.
Arizona Snowbowl’s fourth new lift in six years will be the largest yet – a chair/gondola combo lift rising almost 2,000 vertical feet. The new base-to-summit workhorse will operate year round for skiers, snowboarders and sightseers beginning next winter. “Since its inception, Agassiz has been the beating heart of Snowbowl,” notes the resort. “With the replacement of the lift, we’re ushering in a new era. More than an upgrade, the new Agassiz lift completely redefines the Snowbowl experience.”
Unlike most combination lifts, Agassiz will feature eight passenger gondolas between every two chairs (usually the ratio is more like one in four or five.) Agassiz reaches an elevation of 11,500 feet and enclosed cabins will offer guests a comfortable option in inclement weather. The gondolas will also provide improved access for guests with disabilities and ride time will decrease from 15 minutes to seven. Capacity will remain a modest 1,200 skiers per hour so as not to overwhelm expert trails off the summit.
The Leitner-Poma Telemix will be the third lift in the Agassiz alignment over six decades of history. The existing Agassiz triple opened in 1986 and is currently inoperable due to a mechanical issue. The CTEC is expected to be repaired this week and will finish out the remainder of the season. Once removed, it will be stored for eventual re-installation at a location to be determined.
Mountain Capital Partners has invested heavily in Arizona Snowbowl since purchasing the resort back in 2014. Improvements to date include a new lodge, two different fixed-gripquads and a six place called the Grand Canyon Express. 2020’s project will be the largest in resort history and one of the most significant lift additions in North America this year.
This year saw installation of 43 new and 7 used lifts across North America, numbers similar to the last two seasons. 43 may seem like a modest number for newly-manufactured lifts on an entire continent but that number is a 54 percent increase from the start of the decade and the highest single year total since 2004. Only seven resorts opted to install used lifts, mostly late model fixed grip chairlifts but also a detachable quad and one T-Bar.
While 2018 saw a record number of gondolas, multiple bubble chairs and a Telemix, 2019’s projects trended smaller with 22 fixed grip chairlifts and five surface lifts. That’s the most platters and T-Bars built in the last 15 years. Two of them anchor terrain expansions while another two service youth racing programs. Loading carpets were included on five new fixed quad lifts, allowing them to run at slightly faster speeds.
After two huge years, gondola construction fell to two new installations in Colorado, one in New Hampshire and pulse versions in New York and Florida. Detachable chairlift construction was just above the decade average of ten per year. Only one of this year’s high speed chairlifts included bubbles and another heated seats.
Halfway between Denver and Summit County’s ski resorts, 22 million vehicles a year transit I-70 in the town of Idaho Springs. Local businesswoman Mary Jane Loevlie sees an opportunity for 400,000 of them to stop and take a gondola ride from the historic Argo Mill and Tunnel to a new summit plaza. The Colorado Sun reports a group of investors led by Loevlie has partnered with Leitner-Poma to build The Mighty Argo Cable Car, an eight passenger gondola system in what was once a mining boom town. “We are marrying outdoor recreation and heritage tourism at a reclaimed EPA Superfund site,” said Loevlie at a community gathering yesterday. “You know what, we are putting the fun in Superfund.”
The concept resembles Silver Mountain, Idaho, a successful public-private partnership that saw construction of a 3.1 mile gondola adjacent to Interstate 90 atop of one of the nation’s largest EPA cleanup sites. The Colorado project initially focused on constructing a hotel, conference center and stores but morphed to begin with the gondola due to revenue potential. The 10 minute lift ride would ascend 1,300 vertical feet to a restaurant and park. Capacity would be 600 visitors per hour, modest by ski lift standards. Bike carriers would be included for adventurous guests seeking to take advantage of nearby trails.