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.

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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.

Boston Gondola Would Link South Station with Seaport District

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A gondola in Boston, Massachusetts could connect America’s sixth busiest train station with a growing waterfront neighborhood and convention center.  Photo credit: Handel Architects

Two private development firms are moving forward with plans for a $100 million gondola in South Boston, which would feature three stations in its first phase.  Millennium Partners and Cargo Ventures are building a 2.7 million square foot mixed-use development at the eastern edge of the Seaport District, a part of the city historically under served by public transit.  The current Silver Line bus rapid transit lines here have been criticized since their inception as slow, overcrowded and inconvenient while a gondola would create a quick and efficient path to the new complex and beyond.

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Millennium is working with Handel Architects and Leitner-Poma on a design which it presented to the Boston Planning and Development Agency in January.  The latest route avoids cabins flying past rooms at the new $550 million Omni Hotel, a source of criticism for an earlier route proposal, which is somewhat ironic considering Omni’s hopes to build its own gondola at Bretton Woods in New Hampshire.  The Boston gondola would travel over Summer Street for its entire 4,650′ alignment with stations adjacent to the South Station transit hub, Boston Convention & Exhibition Center and Marine Park.

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The lift would travel down Summer street at varying heights to avoid getting too close to buildings.  Photo credit: Handel Architects

The lift would feature 13 towers, 70 10-passenger cabins and a capacity of 4,000 passengers per hour, per direction (nine second spacing!)  A ride between South Station and Marine Park would take just 7.3 minutes.  A second phase could service the South Boston neighborhood with the Marine Park terminal becoming a sharp angle station.  Cabin parking and maintenance would also be housed at Marine Park.

Photo credit: Handel Architects

This proposal is one of many urban gondolas envisioned for North American cities including Albany, Vancouver and Washington, DC.  It will be interesting to see which one will be the first to actually break ground.

Killington to Add Bubble Six-Pack, South Ridge Quad & New K-1 Cabins

Powdr Co. will invest a whopping $16 million on lift improvements at Killington Resort this summer, adding two new chairlifts and upgrading the cabins on the K-1 Express Gondola.  The Snowdon Quad will be replaced with Vermont’s fourth six-place bubble chair, turning the current 10-12 minute jog into a four-and-a-half minute minute blip.  This new flagship lift will move 3,000 guests per hour and feature bubble chairs along with indoor parking.  “While we are committed to staying core to our beastly advanced terrain, we are also putting the focus on our blue family-friendly terrain.” says Mike Solimano, president and general manager of Killington Resort in a release. “The investments we’re making will re-shape the guest experience for years to come. Uphill capacity will increase to 48,000 per hour and the downhill enhancements will create more diverse terrain for all levels of skiers and riders.”  Built by built by Leitner-Poma of America, the new Snowdon lift will be similar to the bubble sixers at Mt. Snow and Okemo.

The old Snowdon quad, which used a mix of new and used Poma parts when it was built in 1987, will move to South Ridge.  A triangle-shaped Yan there stopped carrying skiers in 2011 and the terrain hasn’t been directly serviced since.  The new quad will follow the downhill alignment of the old triple and feature new hangers, grips and electrical controls.

K-1 will see all new Sigma Diamond 8 cabins to replace the CWA Omegas from 1997 along with a new haul rope.  Stratton’s gondola received the same cabins in 2014 and Killington will keep K-1s cabins as spares for Skyeship 1+2.  Powdr will also finally complete the gondola’s cabin parking facility so the shiny new cabins can be stored inside.

The new lift and two relocations will cost $7.8 million with the gondola upgrades totaling $2.2 million.  If all that wasn’t enough, the Beast of the East is also going to add Axess RFID ticketing for 2018-19, relocate the Snowdon Poma (built in 1958!) to Ramshead and make significant trail improvements.  These moves represent the largest capital program at Killington in more than 20 years – since the American Skiing Company days.  Welcome to lift announcement March!

Glenwood Caverns Gondola to Go Detachable in 2019

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The Iron Mountain Tramway provides the only guest access to a popular adventure park called Glenwood Caverns along Interstate 70.

Colorado’s growing Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park will make a major lift upgrade in 2019, swapping its pulse gondola system for a detachable oneThe Iron Mountain Tramway is a 2002 Poma Alpha model with 16 6-passenger Omega cabins that currently moves up to 300 guests per hour.  From early 2019, a new Leitner-Poma detachable gondola is planned to more than triple capacity to 1,000 per hour with 44 six passenger cabins.  Ride time will plunge from 12-15 minutes down to just seven.  “This will help us enhance our guests’ experience by reducing wait times to board the tram and reducing the frequency of weather-related tram closures,” noted the park’s general manager, Nancy Heard in a press release.  “It will be more stable in high-wind conditions, and will eliminate 80 percent of the shutdowns caused by wind and lightning.”

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This terminal will be replaced with a new LPA one along with new cabins and a new haul rope.

Sixteen years after Steve and Jeanne Beckley opened the adventure park in Glenwood, it now averages 205,000 visitors annually and the tramway sometimes experiences 60 to 90 minute wait times.  New tropical model Sigma Diamond cabins will feature additional ventilation and lightning arresters will be added to the towers in hopes of achieving more up time.  Pending local approval, construction will begin November 1st and continue for four months, during which the park will be closed.  Existing towers will be reused while the terminals will be completely replaced (the new drive system will shift to the top terminal.)  The unique tower-mounted utility lines that have been in service since opening day will also be buried and a new two-story administration building constructed in time for the park’s 17th season.

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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