Wildfires Impact Ski Areas Across the West

As snow falls across the Rockies, resorts closer to the Pacific continue to deal with drought conditions and wildland fires. Most immediately threatened is California’s China Peak from the 153,000 acre Creek Fire. “We are aware that the fire has reached our mountain and a strike team is working hard to manage the flames and protect structures on the base area,” said a statement from the resort last night. “Employee housing has been damaged, but we have no other information at this time.” China Peak operates a total of six fixed grip chairlifts.

Eight different National Forests in California shut down to the public effective 5:00 pm on Labor Day due to extreme fire danger. Mammoth Mountain and Snow Summit are among those temporarily suspending mountain operations in partnership with the Forest Service.

In Oregon, a fire ignited within the Mt. Hood Meadows boundary on Monday. Meadows fired up the Stadium Express for firefighters, who were able to contain the blaze to a few acres without damage to lifts or facilities.

The Mt. Hood National Forest is now closed to the public. Timberline Lodge has suspended outdoor operations until further notice (skiing on Palmer Glacier ended August 30th this year.)

In Washington, Crystal Mountain remains largely inaccessible due to fire-related road closures.

On the good news front, the Medio Fire near New Mexico’s Ski Santa Fe is 90 percent contained and the Bridger Foothills Fire threatening Montana’s Bridger Bowl has been slowed by wet weather.

Please keep firefighters and resort employees working to protect ski areas in your thoughts during this challenging time.

Alterra Furloughs Staff, Delays Mammoth Lift Construction

In addition to 17,000 early layoffs of seasonal employees, Alterra Mountain Company has made the difficult decision to furlough many of its year-round workers and defer capital projects.¬† Affected workers will remain employed with benefits such as health insurance but will not receive any pay for the foreseeable future.¬† CEO Rusty Gregory will forego his entire salary as long as full time employees are furloughed.¬† Employees in key roles who continue to work will receive full salaries for now.¬† “While it is my fervent intent to avoid reducing anyone‚Äôs full pay rate for work going forward, we do not know how long this crisis will continue,” said Gregory in a letter to employees.¬† “It is imperative that we ensure that our finite resources last long enough to get us to the other side of this pandemic and fully open for operation when the time comes.”

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Two Yan-Doppelmayr hybrid lifts at Mammoth Mountain will live on for at least another year thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 50 percent of planned capital spending will be cut.¬† In a sign of just how fast the coronavirus changed everything, Alterra announced $223 million worth of improvements just four days before being forced to shut down all 15 of its resorts.¬† Postponed Alterra lift projects are both located at Mammoth Mountain in California, where Doppelmayr was slated to replace the mountain’s two oldest high speed quads with six place models.¬† The Broadway Express and Canyon Express were constructed in 1988 and 1994, respectively.¬† Alterra also announced last month the purchase of a Doppelmayr high speed quad for Tremblant, Quebec to be installed in 2021.¬† The future of that project will be determined at a later date.

Alterra Capital Plan Includes New Lifts and Expansions for 2020-21

North America’s second largest resort operator today announced the purchase of two lifts for Mammoth Mountain, new terrain at Steamboat Resort and a two year project to build new trails and lifts at Tremblant.¬† Alterra Mountain Company will complete $223 million worth of capital improvements in total for next season, up from $181 million in 2019-20 and $130 million the year before.¬† Rival Vail Resorts announced back in December spending of $210 to $215 million across 37 mountain resorts, including construction of six new lifts in 2020.

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Mammoth’s Broadway Express #1 and Canyon Express #16, both built by Yan and upgraded by Doppelmayr, will be replaced this summer.

At Mammoth, one of the most utilized lifts in the Alterra system, Broadway Express, will be replaced with a high-speed six place detachable, increasing uphill capacity by 42 percent to 3,200 skiers per hour.  Sister lift Canyon Express will be replaced with a 3,000 people per hour six pack, increasing uphill capacity out of Canyon Lodge by 66 percent.  Both of these lifts are likely to be supplied by Doppelmayr.

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This will be the last season for the Canyon Express, a workhorse lift above the Village at Mammoth.

In Colorado, Steamboat Resort will expand onto 355 acres of Pioneer Ridge, providing skiers and riders with more terrain to explore.  Pioneer Ridge will feature 1,800 vertical feet of advanced and expert gladed terrain accessible via the Pony Express lift.  Twenty five new chairs will be added to the Garaventa CTEC high speed quad, increasing capacity from 1,200 people per hour to 1,800.  The Steamboat master plan calls for Pioneer Ridge to eventually feature its own detachable chairlift.

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Steamboat will open up hundreds of acres of new terrain beyond Pony Express and become Colorado’s third largest ski area.

This summer, Tremblant will begin a two-year expansion project called Timber.¬† Quebec’s most popular mountain will open a new beginner zone with a magic carpet on Versant Soleil for 2020-21 to enhance the learning experience for new skiers and riders.¬† In late 2021, the Timber summit will open with a new high speed quad and eight trails leading to Versant Soleil and the North side.¬† “This project, which aims at diversifying the ski area, is part of the continued development of Versant Soleil and reaffirms Tremblant‚Äôs leader position as the #1 ski resort in Eastern North America,” said the resort.

‚ÄúThree years ago, when we formed Alterra Mountain Company, an initial priority was to commit to investing a half a billion dollars by 2023 across our family of North American destinations,‚ÄĚ said Rusty Gregory, CEO of Alterra Mountain Company.¬† ‚ÄúTo date, we have invested more than $350 million and are committed to exceeding our original plan, spending $575 million by 2020 on lifts and gondolas, snowmaking, summer activities, real estate development, hospitality and technology, all in the name of creating memories for our guests through an elevated mountain experience.‚Ä̬† Privately-held Alterra owns 14 resorts, having recently completed its acquisition of Sugarbush.

News Roundup: Millions

News Roundup: Answers

How Many Lifts Might Alterra Buy in 2019?

At just 15 months old, Alterra Mountain Company finds itself with over 200 chairlifts, gondolas and tramways in two countries.  The 13 Alterra mountains mirror the broader ski industry with places like Deer Valley and Crystal Mountain sporting many newer lifts while the average chairlift at June Mountain is 45 years old.

On a Monday last March, the fledgling company based in Denver¬†simultaneously unveiled¬†its very first lift investments at Stratton, Tremblant and Winter Park along with other improvements like snowmaking at Snowshoe and a new restaurant at the base of Steamboat.¬† Importantly, Alterra committed to spending $555 million in total capital over five years.¬† That was before it bought Solitude and Crystal Mountain, which could mean even more money flowing over the next few construction seasons.¬† While last year’s budget only included three new lifts, could we see more in 2019?

Colorado

With the September approval of major projects by the Forest Service, Steamboat is poised for a comprehensive on-mountain transformation.  Although the timing is fluid, a new Rough Rider learning center at mid-mountain will eventually be serviced by a new gondola from the village.  Here, skiers and snowboarders will be able to choose from three new carpet lifts, a new and improved Bashor lift and a second fixed-grip chair replacing the Rough Rider surface tow.

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A second initiative Steamboat could undertake in 2019 is the Pioneer Ridge expansion, which includes a 7,000 foot detachable quad and a dozen new trails.¬† Other possible upgrades include adding chairs to Pony Express (currently at only 1,200 skiers per hour but designed for 2,400)¬† or new cabins for the Silver Bullet.¬† Wouldn’t it be cool for the new gondola and original one to have similar cabins?

The average lift at Alterra-operated Winter Park Resort is 27 years old.  Six are early model detachable quads coming up for replacement.  In the case of 32 year old Pioneer Express, an upgrade is overdue and I expect coming in 2019.  A new version could add a snowboarder friendly mid loading station above the last section of Big Valley.

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Pioneer is one of only four remaining Poma detachables in North America with separate Alpha drive units.

A second project I hope to see is a second stage of the new gondola from Sunspot to Lunch Rock, truly uniting Winter Park and Mary Jane.  Sunnyside should be a high speed quad or six pack.  A high speed replacement of Challenger would be a nice upgrade at Mary Jane.  Looking Glass is tied for the oldest operating chairlift in Colorado.  After Pioneer, High Lonesome is the next Poma detachable up for replacement if we go solely by age.

The above Intrawest era master plan earmarked Gemini Express to be converted into an eight passenger gondola with a new learning center surrounding its top station.  Endeavor could go detachable as part of this project and/or Discovery made into a fixed grip quad.  Finally, a lift is envisioned to expand Vasquez Ridge Territory with four new intermediate trails. With all of these ideas on the table, I expect Winter Park to get at least one lift in 2019 and hopefully two.

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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.

News Roundup: Never Ending

  • Arizona Snowbowl¬†files paperwork with the Coconino National Forest to replace the Agassiz lift with a combination Telemix/chondola as soon as this summer.
  • Bromont in Quebec looks to build a Doppelmayr six place chair in place of its 1985 vintage detachable.
  • It’s not every day you read about lifties being caught in an avalanche at the bottom of a high-speed quad.¬† Thankfully no one was injured.
  • I’m thinking President Trump’s¬†25 percent tariff on imported steel (and 10 percent for aluminum) will have negative implications for the ski lift business, though Mexico and Canada are exempted for now.
  • Doppelmayr Canada seeks an experienced construction manager for its four lift megaproject at Whistler Blackcomb.
  • Triple double Massachusetts mountain Bousquet is on the block.
  • Tenney Mountain opened for skiing yesterday for the first time in eight years.
  • When a T-Bar turns into a chairlift
  • Doppelmayr pitches a 3S gondola to connect Oakland with Alameda Island in San Francisco Bay.
  • Antelope Butte’s¬†two Riblets will see¬†significant work this summer in advance of a possible reopening.
  • Another viral video shows a child falling from a lift at Bear Mountain.
  • Edmonton gondola idea¬†wins a design competition, beating hundreds of other entries.
  • New owner of Mt. Norquay eyes¬†building a gondola from Banff for improved access.
  • Vail Resorts posts strong second quarter results with net income up 58 percent and lift revenue up 6.6 percent despite skier visits dropping 4.9 percent. In addition, Vail is raising its corporate minimum wage to $12.25.
  • Doppelmayr proclaims Big Sky’s upcoming 8-seater the most technologically advanced lift the company has ever delivered.

News Roundup: Snapped

  • SkyTrans Manufacturing announces the passing of its founder and president, Jerry Pendleton, who began his career with O.D. Hopkins in 1960.
  • John Dalton’s tale of how two brand new lifts survived the Category 5 hurricane in St. Maarten is a must read.
  • A dangling Mammoth Mountain guest escapes a fall from a chair unharmed; lifty who caught her isn’t as lucky.
  • Snowbird’s in-house magazine¬†demystifies how detachable lifts work with a sweet diagram from Doppelmayr and copy from a guy you might have heard of.
  • Hatcher Pass, Alaska moves toward building a SkyTrans triple chair ASAP.
  • Video of a swinging Austrian bubble chair with two skiers struggling to hang on¬†goes viral¬†worldwide.
  • The Hermitage Club comes within days of having its water and sewer services shut off and is still working through¬†other payables.
  • A gondola cabin blew off an outdoor parking rail at Sunday River during last week’s storm and a slew of other lifts suffered damage but are now back in action.
  • 9-year old unharmed after falling 15 feet from a lift at Boyce Park, PA.
  • A three-station gondola is one of ten finalists for a signature attraction in Edmonton, Alberta.¬†¬†You can vote for it in an online public advisory poll.
  • Fernie’s White Pass¬†lift will be closed for awhile while new bullwheel bearings are sourced and installed.
  • Powerful storm¬†snaps¬†a 30 mm wire rope on Mont Blanc’s iconic panoramic cable car, which was not operating and typically only runs in the summer.
  • Granite Gorge’s sole chairlift has yet to open this season, apparently due to gearbox issues.

Instagram Tuesday: Stealth

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

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