News Roundup: A World Away

  • As Vail Resorts shakes up management in the northeast, outgoing Mt. Sunapee GM Jay Gamble reflects on 20 years of growth including four new lifts and 110,000 annual skier visits.
  • Vail also says goodbye to Sunapee’s Duckling double after 55 years.
  • The owner of Mt. Washington, British Columbia; Ragged Mountain, New Hampshire; Wisp, Maryland and Wintergreen, Virginia takes over operations at Powderhorn, Colorado.
  • Propelled by five major projects in Colorado, Leitner-Poma says 2018 is it biggest year ever in the United States.
  • The $2 billion Salesforce Transit Center in San Francisco, which features a short aerial tramway, is mired in problems unrelated to the lift.
  • Construction begins in Switzerland for the world’s second longest 3S with the most towers – seven.
  • With new six and eight passenger lifts, Big Sky Resort shifts away from the double/triple/quad lift lingo.
  • Alterra names KSL veteran Adam Knox Senior Vice President of Strategy and Corporate Development to lead the company’s acquisitions and resort partnership group.
  • Due to the amount of lift work needed after seven shuttered years, Cockaigne, NY won’t reopen this winter after all.
  • One of the longest Riblets retired from Snowmass turns up in the Pakistani town where Osama bin Laden was killed.
  • A freshly cut lift line is spotted in the Spanish Peaks development adjacent to Big Sky Resort, probably for the planned Highlands chair.
  • The Berkshire Eagle looks at Catamount’s $5 million fall.
  • A judge quashes spending for lift maintenance at the Hermitage Club, which remains in foreclosure.  A new lawsuit against the ski area alleges breach of contract and consumer fraud.
  • Another aerial tramway cabin crashes in Europe, this time on the one year old Bartholet jigback Staubernbahn.  No one was hurt as the cabin that hit the ground was empty.
  • The Boston Globe talks with Mainers about a fourth winter without Saddleback.
  • In New Zealand, The Remarkables is set to build the inaugural D-Line in the southern hemisphere and Coronet Peak announces a Leitner Telemix.
  • The new Bretton Woods trail map indicates the gondola may not be called Presidential Bahn after all.
  • As Copper Mountain and Leitner-Poma crews work hard to finish two big lifts, opening weekend shifts to Super Bee.
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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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News Roundup: Not Cheap

  • Above: lots more Ramcharger 8 parts arrive in Big Sky.
  • Schweitzer weighs alignment options and manufacturers for two new backside lifts scheduled for construction in 2019.
  • The only aerial tramway in Texas closes after nearly six decades.  “Replacement of the Wyler Aerial Tramway is estimated to cost millions of dollars.  Texas Parks and Wildlife Department does not have the financial resources to execute a capital construction project of this size at this time.”
  • Disney gives an Orlando TV station a rare official peak into Skyliner construction.
  • Following last week’s mishap, the operator of the Zugspitze Cable Car orders a new 120 passenger cabin, hanger and carriage.
  • Beaver Creek’s big McCoy Park expansion should be official in November and is planned to open in late 2020.
  • The Lewis & Clark bubble high-speed quad at Big Sky will finally see some action in 2021 when a $400 million Montage hotel opens at its base.
  • Ascutney Outdoors is on track to install a T-Bar this fall, anchoring a scaled down version of what was once a five chairlift area.
  • LST builds a T-Bar atop a waste-to-energy plant in Copenhagen for residents to ski on year round.
  • Vail looks to Asia for growth.
  • Michael Doppelmayr is profiled for his 60th birthday.  Some interesting facts: his company’s gross margin was 12.1 percent last year and his father Artur vehemently opposed Doppelmayr’s merger with Garaventa.
  • New York’s high court clears the way for Belleayre to expand into the former Highmount Ski Center.
  • Bretton Woods and Doppelmayr make great progress on New Hampshire’s first 8 passenger gondola.
  • The leaders of North and South Korea ride a pulse gondola during their three day summit.
  • The State of New Hampshire will hold a public meeting about transferring the Mt. Sunapee lease to Vail Resorts on September 26th.
  • As it tries to secure a $30 million loan to open this winter, the Hermitage Club lawsuits keep coming.
  • Two major lifts are getting closer to reality at Copper Mountain.

News Roundup: More Cabins

  • A live streaming webcam shows New Hampshire’s largest and fastest gondola going in at Bretton Woods.  Some tidbits on the lift from the New Hampshire Tramway Board: line speed will be 6 m/s with 36 cabins and a design capacity of 2,600 using 62 cabins.  SkyTrans is taking the retired B double and the gondola’s load test is slated for December 20th.
  • Sunrise Park Resort abruptly ends all summer operations.
  • In Europe, some pulse gondolas are on the way out.
  • As it works to finalize its lease of Mt. Sunapee, Vail Resorts assures New Hampshire residents the company is in for the long haul and doesn’t plan any real estate development at the state-owned mountain.
  • A stack up of at least nine cabins on the White urban gondola line in La Paz last Monday is deemed the result of human error.  No passengers were on the lift at the time.
Photo credit: Página Siete

News Roundup: States

  • Keep an eye out for a brand new urban gondola adjacent to the stadium during coverage of the final World Cup soccer match in Moscow.
  • The Jay Peak receiver goes after the owner of six Quebec ski resorts for allegedly aiding and abetting fraud that followed the sale of its Vermont ski resort to a Florida businessman.
  • Boston will spend $400,000 to study a gondola and other possible transportation options for the city’s Seaport district.
  • Utah skier visits fell 9.6 percent compared with last year but were even with the state’s ten year average.
  • Vermont visits rose 1.2 percent year over year to 3.97 million.
  • New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald says the state will have the final say in Vail Resorts’ announced takeover of Mt. Sunapee’s lease from Triple Peaks.
  • The Oakland Zoo will more than double in size on July 12th thanks to an innovative gondola.
  • SilverStar’s new gondola, recently dubbed the Schumann Summit Express, launches July 14th.
  • The White River National Forest approves Vail’s Game Creek six place project. I’m still waiting to hear back from Vail Resorts about a construction timeline and manufacturer.
  • A Branson, MO company is still talking about building a $260 million gondola system there.
  • The second Doppelmayr Wir magazine of 2018 highlights the company’s quickest ever gondola construction project in the United States, Big Sky’s upcoming D-Line eight seater and a 2,800 pph gondola that requires no operators at all.
  • Purgatory furloughs employees, reduces hours and eliminates some positions entirely as it remains closed due to the 416 Fire.
  • Sebastian Monsour, the Australian developer who flew to Maine to announce his purchase of Saddleback, is arrested in Brisbane, accused of misusing $3.4 million in investor funds.
  • Parts are everywhere at Wolf Creek for the upcoming Meadow detachable quad.

Coast to Coast! Vail Resorts Buys Okemo, Crested Butte, Mt. Sunapee & Stevens Pass

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Crested Butte Mountain Resort operates a dozen lifts in central Colorado, mostly built by Poma.

The largest publicly-traded ski resort company in the world today simultaneously unveiled two major transactions to buy ski resorts in four different states for more than $300 million.  Vail Resorts will acquire Triple Peaks, LLC for $82 million and Stevens Pass, Washington for $67 million, subject to regulatory approval.  The former, founded and owned by Tim and Dianne Mueller, operates Okemo Mountain Resort in Vermont, Crested Butte Mountain Resort in Colorado and Mt. Sunapee in New Hampshire, hence the name Triple Peaks.  Broomfield, Colorado-based Vail will buy out the three resorts’ long term leases from Oz Real Estate upon closing for an additional $155 million.  Okemo, Mt. Sunapee and Crested Butte signed onto the industry-pioneering Epic Pass back in March and will now offer unlimited, unrestricted access for Epic passholders.

Another Oz-owned resort, Stevens Pass, will be sold to Vail for $67 million in a separate deal subject to regulatory approval.  Stevens Pass is currently operated by Karl Kapuscinski along with Mountain High, California.  The SoCal resort is not included in Vail’s purchase.  Stevens Pass will join the Epic Pass for the first time, making it an even more compelling product for Pacific Northwest skiers who frequent Whistler Blackcomb.  Stevens will also be included in the Edge Card, a product that predated Vail and is offered exclusively to residents of British Columbia and Washington.  Notably, Stevens Pass has major lift expansions on both flanks of the current trail system in its approved master plan.

Okemo is a nearly 100 percent Poma mountain in southern Vermont that competes with the powerhouses of Stratton, Mt. Snow and Killington.

With today’s news and other deals including the sale of six resorts to Boyne Resorts, the Oz Real Estate Ski Resort Holdings portfolio now includes just Jiminy Peak and Sierra at Tahoe, down from 15 resorts at its peak under CNL Lifestyle Properties.  Northstar California, Mountain High and Bretton Woods were also sold off over the last few years.

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News Roundup: Needs

  • Mt. Sunapee plans to install the former Sunbowl quad in place of the North Peak triple and move that lift to the other side of North Peak as early as 2019.
  • There are now four Snow King Mountain master plan alternatives; all include a base-to-summit gondola and three have a new backside chairlift.
  • The first fly day of 2018 title goes to SilverStar, Doppelmayr and Vancouver Island Helicopters.
  • A top ramp incident at Wachusett Mountain apparently leads to a $72,000 verdict.
  • The approved Mt. Baldy tram at Alta remains contentious and may never happen.
  • In hot and dry Arizona, officials close large swaths of National Forest including all outdoor summer activities at Arizona Snowbowl until further notice.
  • The asking price for Blacktail Mountain is $3.5 million.
  • As BMF builds its first detachable lift in Iran, the Swiss company says it has no interest in the U.S. market.
  • OSHA proposes $64,673 in fines for 15 violations identified during the investigation into Loveland lift mechanic Adam Lee’s death.
  • West Mountain needs a Poma return terminal and eight quad gauge towers in order to complete its third new lift of the decade.
  • When Alta’s reimagined Snowpine Lodge opens in January, you will be able to get there on a dedicated Skytrac chairlift.

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News Roundup: Eurotrip