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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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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Instagram Tuesday: Pop

Every Tuesday, we feature our favorite Instagram photos from around the lift world.

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It's bubble time!

A post shared by Okemo Mountain Resort (@okemomtn) on

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News Roundup: Expansions

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Apologies for the lack of posts this week, I’m on a ski vacation.
  • Snowbird granted unanimous approval to build two chairlifts, a new gondola and upgrade the Mineral Basin Express.  A zip line will share towers with the gondola in Mary Ellen Gulch.
  • Boyne Resorts buys 77 acres on Snoqualmie Pass for an improved connection between Summit Central and Summit West that could someday include a new chairlift.
  • Okemo Mountain Resort files for permit to build a fixed-grip beginner quad chair at Jackson Gore.
  • In other Snowbird news, the two-month project to replace the Aerial Tram’s track ropes begins April 18th.
  • Big Snow America is the latest incarnation of the snow dome at New Jersey’s Meadowlands hoping to be the United States’ first indoor ski slope.  The latest plan pegs an opening next year.  Doppelmayr CTEC completed two lifts for the project – a quad chair and a platter – back in 2008 that have yet to carry any skiers.

News Roundup: Fansipan Legend Opens

  • Contract awarded for India’s first urban gondola, to cost $24 million and open within two years.
  • Just a week after sanctions on Iran were lifted, Bartholet announces it’s building a gondola system on the resort island of Kish.  A definite upgrade from the salvaged Yan detachable installed last year in Isfahan (if you’re wondering, it made the journey from Silver Star, BC.)

Instagram Tuesday: Epic

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News Roundup: Peak Buys Another

  • The first non-prototype photos of Doppelmayr’s new detachable terminal that will replace the Uni-G model over the next few years.  It’s certainly different; note the huge windows, Frey controls and stairs instead of ladders on the Kirchenkarbahn’s terminals.  Thanks for the head’s up, snowtirol.
  • Maine’s chief tramway inspector releases his report with pictures on the King Pine rollback and Sugarloaf’s GM responds.  Eight months after the incident, the replacement drive terminal is nearly finished.
  • Doppelmayr Garaventa Group revenue was down 7.5% to $841 million in fiscal 2015 while the company’s global employee headcount rose to 2,546.
  • Still more bad press surrounding Saddleback and the resort’s asking price is down to $9.5 million for 2,000 acres.  Meanwhile Boyne offers passholders in the lurch last spring’s rates on New England Passes.
  • Peak Resorts, the fourth largest operator of lifts in North America, buys Hunter Mountain for $36.8 million.  After the deal closes the publicly-traded company will operate 14 ski resorts with 153 lifts in Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Missouri.
  • Two different models of LPOA chairs going up at Okemo and Purgatory.
  • West Mountain demonstrates an old lift can be new again with help from Leitner-Poma, SkyTrac, Green Mountain Control Systems and Alpine Engineering.
  • They call it ‘The Beast’ for a reason.  Killington opened for skiing on October 19th and is running 240 snow guns nightly, all while flying concrete and adding a mid-station to their Snowdon triple.  The 1973 Heron-Poma is evidently going to stick around for awhile.  Fun fact: Snowdon had a mid-station in nearly the same spot which was removed in 1990.
  • Lutsen’s recently retired Hall Skycruiser gondola cabins sold out in 4 minutes on Cyber Monday for $1200 each.  A new gondy opens to passengers December 11th after a brief delay.  If you missed out on the $1200 gondola cabins, you can still get someone a $150 double chair this holiday season.

Instagram Tuesday: Snow Ghosts

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News Roundup: First Chairs

  • Hanging carriers at PowderhornSnowmass, Sipapu and Lutsen.
  • Leitner-Poma Alpha motor room arrives at Okemo.
  • No lift inspections, no updates and no comment from Maine’s third largest ski resort. The last post on their Facebook page was Oct. 17th.
  • The Balsams will not break ground this year as originally planned but still hopes for a 2016-17 opening with a mix of new and existing lifts.
  • Leitner-Poma would supply a gondola proposed to run from Queenstown to The Remarkables on the South Island of New Zealand.  L-P built The Remarkables’ flagship six-pack “Curvy Basin Express” in 2014.  The new gondola system would span 6.1 miles in two sections and take 27 minutes to ride with a potential opening in 2018.  It would feature an impressive 4,200 foot vertical rise and 140 8-passenger cabins from Sigma.
  • Sunshine Village cuts the ribbon on Canada’s first new bubble chair since 1999.  Tee Pee Town LX (Luxury eXpress) also has the first seat heating in Canada.  Congratulations to Sunshine on completing one of the most modern lift fleets on the continent while others curate lift museums.

News Roundup: Panoramabahn

  • I passed a Doppelmayr drive terminal on I-80 last week.  Now I know where it was going: Sugarloaf.
  • More pictures from Lutsen Mountains of their new gondola.  The old Hall Skycruiser is still standing parallel to her replacement.
  • Haul rope and commline go up at Okemo.
  • North Korea’s Masik Pass ski resort looks to have gotten a base-to-summit gondola this summer based on recent satellite imagery.  Perhaps another counterfeit Doppelmayr?
Creeping on North Korea’s ski lift construction in Google Earth yields a new building at the summit of Masik Pass.  It looks to house a detachable lift terminal with a lift line stretching all the way to the base area with towers and gondola cabins also visible.   The existing summit double is on the lower right.
  • In British Columbia, first Crystal Mountain and now Mt. Baldy will not open this season. Baldy has a T-Bar, Mueller double, and 2007 Leitner-Poma quad that last operated in 2013.
  • SkyTrac load tests at Pomerelle.  One more to go at Arizona Snowbowl.