If you follow the ski industry, mark your calendar for four months from now, the week of December 4th. Very early one morning that week, the largest mountain resort operator in the world will release its fiscal 2018 first quarter results and, more importantly to this audience, outline capital expenditures for 2018. Last year, this is the moment Vail Resorts committed to building three six-packs as part of $103 million in capital spending for 2017 (the company later added a fourth detachable to this year’s class, the Red Buffalo Express at Beaver Creek.) In December 2015, MTN announced a high-speed quad for Vail Mountain and in 2014, $50 million in improvements including three new lifts at Park City plus another six-pack at Vail. So, what might be on the likely $120+ million agenda for 2018?
Game Creek Express #7 six-pack. The current 1985 version of Game Creek is the oldest operating lift on Vail Mountain and one of three remaining CLD-260 style Doppelmayr detachables there. It is likely to be replaced with a six-pack, increasing capacity by at least 25 percent in popular Game Creek Bowl. Of the recent six-pack upgrades at Vail, two were built by Doppelmayr (Avanti #2 and Mountaintop #4) and one by Leitner-Poma (Northwoods #11.)
Orient Express #21 six-pack. Three years newer than Game Creek but still with DS grips, Orient Express serves some of the most popular terrain in Vail’s famous Back Bowls below the equally popular Two Elk Lodge. A six-pack upgrade would be the first such lift in the Back Bowls or Blue Sky Basin.
Wildwood Express #3six-pack. A 1995 CTEC, Wildwood is not as old as other detachables recently replaced at Vail, but it serves a high-traffic pod between Mid-Vail and its namesake Wildwood. Parts from this lift could be used as spares for Riva Bahn/Pride Express and Cinch, Bachelor, Grouse Mountain and Strawberry Park high-speed quads at Beaver Creek.
Born Free Express #8 replacement. Born Free is the 1988 sister ship to Orient and runs parallel to the Eagle Bahn Gondola, built 1996. Vail could opt to address both lifts in the coming years with a gondola like Keystone’s or replace only Born Free with a new high-speed quad or six-pack.
Golden Peak Race lift. In April, Vail submitted a master plan amendment to add a third lift on Golden Peak above the Riva Bahn mid-station. This short fixed-grip chairlift or surface lift would primarily serve an extended race course.
Arrow Bahn Express replacement. Beaver Creek doesn’t see nearly the traffic that Vail does and has seen ten new lifts since 2000. However, Arrow Bahn Express is by far the oldest lift at Beaver Creek, built in 1988 to serve a separate Arrowhead ski area. A CLD-260 like Game Creek, Orient and Born Free but with lower hours for its age, Arrow Bahn might make it a bit longer.
Vail Resorts got welcome news yesterday that went largely unnoticed with the big Stowe buy. The Placer County Board of Supervisors finally and unanimously approved a new master plan for the 3,200-acre Northstar Resort on the northwest shore of Lake Tahoe. Booth Creek Ski Holdings started working on this plan way back in 1990 before eventually selling the mountain to Vail in October of 2010. Today’s approval includes seven new lifts: a gondola, two detachable chairlifts, one surface tow and three additional fixed-grip chairs. Two of those lifts would have mid-stations and three will serve an exciting 550-acre expansion called Sawtooth Ridge.
“The plan is designed to help lengthen current guest stays and solidify Northstar as a premiere destination resort,” Vail Resorts said in a statement. “It provides guests with a wider, more diverse array of terrain offerings and recreational activities, facilitating an improved and extended vacation experience for the destination and day-use guest.” Northstar’s current fleet stands at 14 lifts, nine of which are detachable. The proposed additions are:
Castle Peak Gondola: A six-passenger gondola to Northstar Village that wouldn’t serve any ski trails but would reduce traffic on Northstar Drive by diverting more vehicles to the offsite Castle Peak parking lots. The gondola alignment would require two stages and an angle station to the east of Northstar Village. It would serve a similar function to the Vail-owned BreckConnect Gondola. Upon completion of Castle Peak, Northstar will operate a whopping four gondolas.
Lift C: A fixed-grip or detachable chairlift east of the existing Vista Express serving three new intermediate trails above Sawmill Lake.
Lift J (Lookout Mountain Access): A long new detachable quad or six-place chairlift starting near the bottom station of the Highlands pulse gondola and ending near the Lookout Vista surface lift providing increased out-of-base capacity. A mid-load station would serve new trails to the north of the Tahoe Zephyr Express pod.
Lift V: A bottom drive fixed-grip lift starting near the Backside Express/Promised Land Express rising into the new Sawtooth Ridge expansion area.
Lift W: A second fixed-grip chairlift serving Sawtooth Ridge. No trails would be cut in this pod; it would be dedicated to serving natural tree skiing.
Lift Z: Surface tow similar to Lookout Vista providing access to “backcountry-style” terrain beyond lifts V and W.
Lift Q: A second lift on Lookout Mountain to the west of the Martis Camp Express. This one would be fixed-grip and top drive.
Build out of the ambitious plan is expected to take two decades and Doppelmayr stands to gain, having built every lift at Northstar since 1985. I’m guessing we might see the Lookout Mountain access lift and Sawtooth Ridge lifts first.
It appears Northstar California replaced most of its Big Springs Gondola in just three months between the end of last winter and the start of this summer. The bottom terminal of this 1985 Doppelmayr 6-passenger gondola was previously relocated in 2004. From the below pictures on Instagram, it appears Doppelmayr installed brand new terminal equipment inside of the existing terminal buildings along with new Agamatic grips, hangars and line gear. The first-generation CWA cabins were previously refurbished in 2013. Maybe Vail Resorts got a ‘buy eight get two free’ deal on Uni-G terminals from Doppelmayr this summer.