News Roundup: Chances for Chairs

News Roundup: Final Rides

“The 2021 construction season was particularly challenging due to a number of unusual circumstances. The pandemic resulted in labor shortages for not only the lift construction crews and building teams, but also with the supply chain companies delivering key materials. Helicopter usage was a key component for construction, as they were required for activities including tree removal, setting of lift towers and pouring the foundations at the KT mid-station. Helicopter availability was greatly affected by one of the worst wildfire seasons in California history, and once helicopters were available, their operations were shut down as they could not safely fly in the smoky conditions. The fires also resulted in periods when the crews had to be sent home due to unhealthy air quality. For these reasons, construction could not be completed within the six-to-eight-month time frame anticipated in the EIS.”

Photo Tour: Palisades Tahoe Base to Base Gondola

More than just a new name and logo dot the landscape at Palisades Tahoe this season. Whether starting a ski day in Olympic Valley or at Alpine Meadows, it’s impossible to miss dozens of newly-standing towers for the upcoming Base to Base Gondola. Leitner-Poma accomplished an incredible amount of work last offseason, completing four sets of terminal foundations and 33 towers for the $65 million project. Two haul rope spools sit 2.2 miles apart ready for construction to resume this spring.

Alterra and Palisades have been amazingly restrained marketing what will be a truly iconic lift. As of yesterday, no signs indicate what’s going on and there’s nothing on the trail map to indicate Palisades will be a unified 6,000-acre behemoth in a matter of months. For now, a zig-zag line of tower tubes gives a pretty good indication of greatness on the horizon.

The traffic-busting gondola will begin in the Village where the current Red Dog triple has loaded for the past 32 seasons. That lift is set to be removed this summer and swapped for a six passenger detachable in a new alignment. The gondola will ascend KT-22, crossing over Exhibition and the high speed quad affectionately known as The Mothership. The second of four B2B stations sits near the top of KT, where the shorter of two haul ropes will turn back around while cabins continue on. When conditions permit, skiers will be permitted to unload here, creating a whole new way to access much of KT-22’s storied terrain. Riders destined for Alpine Meadows will turn and descend into the middle section of the lift on a second, longer haul rope. The gondola roughly parallels another line of lift towers for a never-completed chairlift on land owned by Troy Caldwell. It seems to me Mr. Caldwell could win some hearts and minds by removing these obsolete eyesores now that a state-of-the-art gondola will traverse nearly the same alignment. But it’s his land and the fate of the private ski area dream remains to be seen.

A third station with a slight angle change will also sit on the White Wolf property. The public won’t be able to get out here but there’s a possibility Caldwell and future nearby homeowners might. For the rest of us, cabins will simply decelerate, turn and take off again for the final jaunt over the Alpine Meadows parking lots to the base of Leitner-Poma sister machine Treeline Cirque. All told, the 16 minute ride from base to base will include a 1,700 vertical foot rise and then thousand foot descent. With views of the Granite Chief Wilderness and Lake Tahoe, this gondola will be as much about the journey as the destination.

Skiing down the lift line it becomes clear this gondola will also be a fair weather activity. You can bet as storms roll across the Sierra the lift’s more than 100 cabins will be tucked safely inside a parking structure at Alpine Meadows. There’s just no way the Base to Base will spin in high winds. But when mother nature cooperates, Palisades Tahoe will ski seamlessly as the third largest resort in North America.

While much work remains, Alterra says the gondola will be ready to go in November for the start of the 2022-23 season.

Alterra Announces $344 Million Capital Plan for 2022

Alterra Mountain Company today affirmed plans to open big new lifts in 2022 and more next year as it increases investment across its 14 resorts. This year’s $344 million plan includes $93 million in increased capacity and terrain expansion, $91 million for skier services upgrades, and $16 million in guest experience technology with a focus on Palisades Tahoe, Steamboat, Crystal Mountain, Mammoth Mountain and Deer Valley.

At Palisades Tahoe, the $65 million Base-to-Base Gondola will be completed this summer after two seasons of construction. The Leitner-Poma gondola will connect the two mountains of the resort for the first time, giving skiers and riders access to a combined 6,000 acres of terrain and making Palisades the third largest resort in North America. The 16 minute gondola ride will take skiers and riders between The Village at Palisades Tahoe and Alpine Lodge, reducing road congestion in the region and making it easier to enjoy both mountains in a single day. It is the first gondola of its kind in North America, with four terminals connecting two base areas via a climb of nearly 2,000 vertical feet.

Winter 2022-23 will also see phase two of Steamboat’s Full Steam Ahead redevelopment completed with $90 million of investment to include the relocation of the lower terminal of the Christie Peak Express and the first leg of the Wild Blue Gondola, which will take guests to the new Greenhorn Ranch learning center at mid-mountain.

Wild Blue will become the longest gondola in North America and the fastest 10-person gondola in the country. With the lower leg opening in 2022-23, and the upper leg opening in 2023-24, the state-of-the-art Doppelmayr D-Line gondola will feed skiers/riders through a newly created mid-station adjacent to Bashor Bowl with the final destination of Sunshine Peak. It will feature the first Omega V cabins in the United States. At a total length of 3.16 miles, the new gondola will increase the out of base capacity from 6,000 people per hour to 10,000 people per hour, getting skiers from bottom to top in 13 minutes. The recently re-graded Rough Rider/Bashor Basin area will be home to Greenhorn Ranch, an area dedicated to beginner skiers and riders. It will feature progressive terrain-based learning and a dedicated chairlift.

For winter 2023-24, 650 acres of advanced terrain will open on Pioneer Ridge, making Steamboat the second largest ski resort in Colorado. This expert, gladed terrain will be serviced by a new detachable chairlift.

At Washington’s Crystal Mountain, $100 million will be spent over the next five years. The largest investment ever made at Crystal will focus on greater access, more space and significantly enhanced skier services. Work will begin this spring with $25 million for additional parking and a new 25,000 square foot skier services facility called Mountain Commons. No lift projects were announced but Crystal Mountain President Frank DeBerry has made no secret his wish list includes a replacement for the Rainier Express, a new gondola to the summit and relocation of the current Mt. Rainier Gondola to Campbell Basin.

At Mammoth Mountain, summer 2022 will see ground and infrastructure work to facilitate the replacement of the Canyon Express at Canyon Lodge and Broadway Express at Main Lodge. Doppelmayr initially planned to build these lifts in 2020 before the Coronavirus pandemic postponed the project. The new high-speed six packs are planned to finally debut in winter 2023-24.

New for winter 2022-23 at Deer Valley, the Burns Express chairlift will debut at the Wide West learning area. This high speed chairlift will connect the Snow Park base area to Little Baldy Mountain, offering ski school access to more beginner teaching terrain and providing an additional option for skiers to navigate out of the main arrival area. The $6 million investment to improve the learning area on Wide West will also include enhancements to the existing Snowflake chairlift, installing and reconfiguring surface lifts and grading beginner terrain.

“This historic investment is clear evidence of our commitment to deliver a premier guest experience at our North American destinations and our engagement towards the long-term future of our mountains,” said Rusty Gregory, CEO of Alterra Mountain Company. “More than ever, we continue to infuse meaningful capital into projects that will transform our base areas while significantly improving our physical and digital on-mountain offerings to ensure that our guests experience the best of the mountains.”

Some previously-approved projects were absent from Alterra’s latest announcement, namely the Red Dog replacement at Palisades, Timber expansion at Tremblant and Pioneer Express upgrade at Winter Park.

News Roundup: Retirements

News Roundup: Planning Ahead

News Roundup: Government Proceedings

So Long Squaw Valley, Hello Palisades Tahoe

This is the last time you will see Lake Tahoe’s largest ski resort referred to as Squaw Valley on the blog. Today Alterra Mountain Company announced Palisades Tahoe will replace the Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows brand. After extensive research into the etymology and history of the term squaw, the company determined last year it was widely considered a racist and sexist slur that needed to be retired. Palisades references craggy terrain located near the top of the Siberia Express and Tahoe needs no explanation.

“It is inspiring that after seven decades in operation, a company as storied and established as this resort can still reflect and adjust when it is the necessary and right thing to do,” said Palisades President and COO Dee Byrne. “This name change reflects who we are as a ski resort and community—we have a reputation for being progressive and boundary-breaking when it comes to feats of skiing and snowboarding. We have proven that those values go beyond the snow for us. It’s an incredibly exciting time to be part of Palisades Tahoe and after more than 10 years at the resort, I’m honored to be leading our team into this new era.”

Two chairlifts are in the process of being renamed and elements across the resort will feature a new orange and dark blue color scheme. Nearly 5,000 locations where the existing logo and/or name appear will be swapped out by signage teams and more than 32,000 uniform pieces will be replaced. Finalists for the renamed Squaw Creek triple are Eagle Eye, Highline, Resort, Snow King, Storm Rider and Valley View while Squaw One Express‘s updated name is still pending.

The two historically separate sections of Palisades will be referred to as Alpine Meadows and Olympic Valley going forward. A high speed, three stage gondola is under construction to connect the two sides, though the exact completion timeline remains unannounced. You can bet the new gondola will sport the Palisades brand when it opens.