Loveland Takes the Detach Plunge with Chet’s Dream

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Two of the five biggest American ski areas without detachable lifts will leave the club this year.  They are Loveland and Taos, both coincidentally adding bright blue Leitner-Poma high speed quads to serve as out-of-base workhorses.  Along the Continental Divide at Loveland, the newly-named Chet’s Dream is the third chairlift to follow the Lift 1 line, carrying on the legacy of a Heron double and later a Lift Engineering triple.  Family-owned Loveland ordered this lift early as 1 is usually among the first in the country to open for skiing in October.  “It’s a big deal for both us and our guests,” Marketing & Communications Director John Sellers told me when I visited last week.  “This lift will be in operation for the next few decades and we are excited to offer the increased speed and reliability to our customers for years to come.”  With towers all flown  and the rope going up shortly, the project is right on schedule.

Chester “Chet” Upham, Jr. joined Loveland in the 1950s and was instrumental in building the original Lift One, the third chairlift in Colorado.  He bought out his partners in 1972 and the Upham family continues to own Loveland today.  Chet’s Dream is the work of former Loveland ski patroller Terry Henningson, who submitted the name as part of a contest this spring that received nearly 3,000 entries.  “Chet’s Dream stood out immediately as a way for us to honor a ski industry pioneer and the patriarch of Loveland Ski Area,” said John.  I’m told the most popular entry was Lift 1 followed closely by Lifty McLiftface.

Ride time will fall from eight minutes to three and the number of towers is down by four.  49 quad chairs will circulate on the bottom drive lift.  “Lift 1 was our workhorse and it had served us well for over 30 years. It was time for an upgrade and it was exciting to learn that our owners were considering a high-speed lift for its replacement,”  John told me.  Will it be the only high speed ride at Loveland?  “Lift 6 will be our next upgrade and that will remain a fixed grip.  As for future upgrades and any new potential lifts, we will have to wait and see what happens.”

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At Arapahoe Basin, The Beavers Get a Lift

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Tower 12 of A Basin’s new Beavers lift will soon be flown to this foundation with a view.

Steep chutes, natural glades, a couple cruiser trails and wide open faces.  When Arapahoe Basin drops the ropes on The Beavers this year, there will be something for everyone.  Just under 350 new acres make it the largest lift-served terrain expansion on the continent for 2018-19, ahead of Mt. Spokane’s backside development and Hunter North.  The Beavers debuted for an earn-your-turns preview last season along with the Steep Gullies, totaling 468 acres of new terrain.  Installation of a Leitner-Poma fixed-grip quad chair, the Basin’s sixth chairlift, was in high gear when I stopped by yesterday.

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Topping out at 12,475′, The Beavers drainage is beyond beautiful and A Basin is taking great care to implement the project with as little disturbance as possible.  The quad drive terminal is the closest you can get by road and dozens of workers are readying the expansion by foot, helicopter and spider excavator.  Arapahoe Basin opted to do the development carefully over two years rather than rushing it in one, and it shows.  The two blue trails were traditionally cut while the rest of the new stuff is either above tree line or was thinned by hand.

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The Gondola Era Arrives at Winter Park

Winter Park guests will soon enjoy direct gondola access to Sunspot in place of the Zephyr chairlift.

When holiday crowds catch a Cabriolet to The Village at Winter Park Resort this year, the second lift they’ll see is the resort’s first true gondola.  Capable of hauling 3,600 skiers per hour out of the base area, the new Zephyr lift replaces a 1990 high-speed quad that could do only 2,600 in a perfect hour.  Announced in March, the Leitner-Poma system will be similar to Vail’s Gondola One but with something totally new to the North American market: DirectDrive.

Sigma is fabricating 79 ten passenger Diamond cabins with the fresh Winter Park logo unveiled on Monday.  The $16 million gondola and new brand are just part of a $28.2 million capital drive this year in cooperation with Winter Park’s operator, Alterra Mountain Company.  Amazingly for a resort of WP’s size, this is the first new lift in ten years.  Snowmaking is also seeing mega upgrades and a new heated village plaza will lead seamlessly to the bottom gondola terminal.  The old Zephyr had 20 four passenger cabins used for restaurant access at night but the new version will be fully ADA accessible and operate day and night.

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News Roundup: Color Choices

  • Alta withdraws from a proposed land swap, opting to hang on to land in Grizzly Gulch for possible expansion.
  • Killington goes blue with its bubbles.
  • Vail Resorts officially takes over Stevens Pass.
  • Massachusetts awards the current operators of Blue Hills a new three year contract.
  • Fatzer begins production of the first Compacta rope for the US lift market.  At 54 mm, any guesses where it’s headed?

News Roundup: Change of Plans

  • Mammoth seeks to replace the workhorse Canyon Express #16 with a detachable six place lift in a new alignment.
  • Plans for Battle Mountain Resort that once featured ten chairlifts and two gondolas near Vail no longer do.
  • Leitner-Poma’s self-driving mini aerial tramway in San Francisco will debut this summer.
  • A Grafton, Illinois gondola project faces a key vote with groundbreaking possible later this summer.
  • Partek will build a brand new quad chair this summer at West Mountain, New York.

  • Ghost Town – the defunct chairlift-accessed amusement park in North Carolina – may reopen in 2019.
  • A court rules in favor of plaintiffs in three Hermitage Club cases but is still considering next steps for the ski mountain foreclosure.
  • The latest Aspen Lift One meetings go well.
  • You probably heard Jerusalem in the news this week but not for the $56 million earmarked to build a four station gondola there.
  • Like the first one, the second Disney Skyliner terminal to go airborne has two distinct turnarounds.

Building a Better Lift One in Aspen

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The third time may be the charm as the Aspen community is set to weigh the future of the Shadow Mountain lift over the coming months.

Come November 6th, Aspen residents will vote for Governor, U.S. House, and likely whether a ski lift should return to the original base of Aspen Mountain.  SE Group and the City of Aspen today posted 61 pages of study on the new Lift One with a focus on where to site the bottom terminal, a question which has lingered since 1972.  Goals include retaining the historic structures of the first Lift One, threading the needle between two new developments, and improving skier flow.  An aggressive proposed timeline begins Tuesday with review by the City Council that could culminate with a new gondola-chair combination lift spinning by late 2019.  That would be 48 years after a shortened SLI-Riblet double dubbed 1A eliminated easy access for much of the town to Shadow Mountain.

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This is the primary lift for one of the few World Cup courses in America.

The current lift starts about four towers higher than the 1946 single chair did and, like its predecessor, has reached the end of its useful life following decades of service.  The International Ski Federation makes no secret the obsolete machine is a big reason why Aspen does not host World Cup skiing as often as some of its peers.

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But things are finally looking up – or actually down.  SE Group analyzed nine chondola, chairlift, surface lift and funicular options and ones dubbed Option 1 and Option 7 were identified for detailed study that commenced in February.  An A and B variation were added to alternative number 7, leaving four scenarios in play to bring the lift back into town.  Option 1, shown above, would put the bottom terminal level with Gilbert Street between the old Lift 1 terminal and the “new” one.  Because of space constraints with Aspen Skiing Company’s preferred Telemix (chondola in Poma parlance), the lift would likely be a straight gondola or possibly a detachable chairlift.  Skier access from above would be excellent but the public would have a 40-foot vertical climb to get to the load point from town.  Furthermore, the developer of the proposed Lift One Lodge would have to give up an entire building worth of units.  The historic lift terminal and remaining towers from the first Lift One could be retained, which is an important community objective.  This is deemed a viable, but not best option.

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California Express Draft Environmental Impact Statement Released

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A 16 minute flight between Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows took a jump forward this morning as the Truckee National Forest and Placer County released the draft environmental impact statement for the California Express gondola.  The big three stage lift was first proposed by the owner of both mountains, KSL Capital Partners, more than two years ago and is now being championed by Alterra Mountain Co.  At 808 pages, the EIS required under the National Environmental Policy Act outlines three possible alignments which could unite the steeps and village at Squaw Valley with the beginner and intermediate paradise of Alpine Meadows.

Two of the alternatives are new while the other two should be familiar to readers of this site.  Other concepts such as a pulse gondola, expanded shuttle service and even an underground train were eliminated as part of the preliminary review, which was completed by SE Group and Ascent Environmental of Sacramento.  Alternative 1 is the required no-action option, which would keep Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows separate but equal.  Shuttle buses would continue running every 30 minutes between the two mountains, which already share a common lift ticket.

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The lift would move 1,400 skiers per hour in 8-passenger cabins painted white to blend in with the winter environment.  It would operate from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm with skiing allowed from the mid-station(s) when conditions permit.  There would be separate drive systems and separate cabin parking facilities at each end so two sides could operate independently.  The middle section of the lift would operate as part of the Alpine Meadows side and approximately 40 percent of the cabins would be stored at Squaw Valley with the remaining 60 percent at Alpine during storm events and the summer.

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Smokey Mountain to Replace Entire Lift Fleet

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One of Atlantic Canada’s best kept secrets is Smokey Mountain, which will soon sport three new lifts.

A community ski area surrounded by iron ore mines near the Quebec-Labrador border will build as many new lifts as Whistler Blackcomb this summer, though they will be of quite a different variety.  Smokey Mountain Ski Club is set to debut Canada’s first Skytrac, a quad chair where a 1972 Poma double with a floating bullwheel stands today.  The mountain’s Blue lift, a detachable Poma in operation since the 1960s, will be swapped for a brand new Leitner-Poma version.  Another new LPOA platter lift will serve an area known as coaches’ corner and supplement a carpet lift built last year.  Smokey has also retired its Red and Green Poma lifts meaning the entire lift fleet will be renewed by next winter.

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This revitalization has been in the works since at least 2016 but was put on hold due to a downturn in the iron ore market.  The Iron Ore Company of Canada will fund the not-for-profit ski club’s modern and more reliable lift system as part of mitigation for a new site nearby.  Below are some photos from Smokey’s website to memorialize the truly classic Poma lifts which will be missed.

This ambitious project brings the North America new lift count to a potential 48 for 2018.  That number includes at least five Skytrac Monarchs, a dozen Leitner-Poma installations and 21 Doppelmayr machines.

Alterra Building New Lifts at Stratton, Tremblant and Winter Park

Alterra Mountain Co., the new operator of eleven leading North American mountain resorts, today announced a transformational capital investment of $130 million to be followed by hundreds of millions more over the next five years.  New lifts will debut at Winter Park Resort in Colorado, Mont Tremblant in Quebec and Stratton Mountain Resort in Vermont in time for next winter.  Competitor Vail Resorts revealed a similar $150 million plan for 2018-19 with six new lifts across its resorts last December.

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Goodbye massive lines at Zephyr, hello gondola.

The largest single project for Alterra is a 10-passenger Zephyr Gondola at Winter Park replacing the current 1990 high-speed quad, the key people mover out of The Village at Winter Park.  The new $16 million Leitner-Poma lift will be capable of moving 3,600 guests per hour to Sunspot, up from 2,600, and is the first new lift at the resort since 2007.  It will feature Leitner-Poma’s DirectDrive technology, reducing energy consumption and the number of moving parts that can lead to down time.  The new lift may also get a new name.  “Zephyr is certainly on the table but nothing’s been decided yet,” said Steve Hurlbert, a spokesman for the resort.

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Winter Park’s first true gondola will sport Sigma Diamond 10 cabins.

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Big White Upgrading Powder Chair to a Leitner-Poma Quad

British Columbia’s third largest ski resort will retire its oldest lift this summer, a Mueller which dates back to 1979 called Powder.  A new $3.1 million Leitner-Poma Canada Alpha quad chair will be capable of moving 1,900 skiers per hour versus the current 1,710.  Big White calls the outgoing lift one of Canada’s oldest and most popular triple chairs with more than 15 million rides logged to date.  “I’m proud to be leading the third generation of our family owned business, which was established in the summer of 1985,” said Peter Plimmer, president and CEO of Big White Ski Resort Ltd. in a press release announcing multiple summer projects worth $10 million CAD.  “My grandfather, Desmond Schumann, would be proud of what we’re doing here at the resort.”

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Big White’s Powder chair on a snowy Saturday last month.

Next season Big White will operate a fleet of a dozen Doppelmayr and Leitner-Poma lifts including a six-pack and gondola.  The new Powder Chair is the second announced Leitner-Poma fixed-grip project for 2018 after Arapahoe Basin’s Beavers installation.  Last year, most of the Leitner-Poma Group’s fixed-grip orders went to Skytrac, though that division has yet to build a lift in Canada.  New lifts are also coming to Blackcomb, Whistler, SilverStar and likely Sun Peaks in BC next winter.