- Australia’s Financial Review reports Vail Resorts will acquire Falls Creek and Mt. Hotham from Merlin Entertainments for about $85 million USD.
- With its purchase of Deer Valley, Alterra Mountain Company now owns about half the land under Park City’s Jupiter chair.
- Gore Mountain evacuates the Northwoods Gondola by rope.
- Salt Lake City is selected to bid for another Winter Olympics.
- Telluride CEO Bill Jensen joins CNBC’s Squawk Box to discuss the economics behind the Epic and Ikon passes.
- The top shack of Anthony Lakes’ only chairlift blows over just before planned opening day.
- The Adventure Group of Whistler proposes building a 9,000′ gondola on Oahu. Hawaii is one of only five U.S. states currently without an aerial lift.
- Mt. Spokane grows by 279 acres with seven new runs and a Skytrac named Northwood.
- Europe’s new highest ropeway is also the pinnacle of industrial design.
- The Hunter North expansion and shiny Northern Express six place chairlift launch Christmas Eve.
- Days before the second DirectDrive detachable is set to open at Copper, Jon Mauch of Leitner-Poma answers questions about the new lifts.
- In France, La Plagne announces an indefinite closure of the first French-manufactured LST detachable due to technical problems.
- Cherry Peak is set to open a third chairlift this season after three years of construction.
- Shuttered Mt. Timothy, BC is purchased by investors who plan to reopen it.
- Vail Resorts-operated Mt. Sunapee is approved to expand into West Bowl.
- The Zugspitze Cable Car reopens today with a new cabin exactly 100 days after this accident.
- Bromont inaugurates North America’s eighth combination chair/gondola lift, L’Express du Village, Sunday morning.
- Check out these photos of the Snowbowl Express build and sweet new color scheme at Stratton.
Utah ski resorts are proving this season that lifts need not be giant to positively impact guest experiences. I got to visit the state’s three newest chairlifts this week, which are all short but sweet with beginner skiers in mind.
High Meadow Express – Park City Mountain
The High Meadow Express is the centerpiece of re-imagined teaching terrain above Park City’s Canyons Village. With mellow loading and unloading speeds, a quick ride time and an improved alignment, the high speed quad marks a significant step up from the fixed quad it replaces. High Meadow Park is now wide open with perfectly pitched beginner trails. Expanded snowmaking rounds out the freshened up beginner zone.
Homestake Express – Deer Valley Resort
Homestake Express launched this morning at Alterra-owned Deer Valley, becoming the resort’s 13th detachable quad. Ride time is now under two minutes between Silver Lake Lodge and Bald Eagle Mountain. There are only eight towers now, down from 12, freeing up space on the busy Silver Link ski run. The new Homestake also features slatted backrests for wind resistance.
Snowpine – Alta Ski Area
In Little Cottonwood Canyon, the new Snowpine Quad carried its first skiers yesterday. The Skytrac Monarch was manufactured just 30 miles away in Salt Lake. While it only has two towers and a dozen chairs, the new lift serves dual functions. It will provide ski-in, ski-out access to the new Snowpine Lodge, which opens January 30th. Alta’s first fixed grip quad also provides a beginner-friendly alternative to the surface tow it replaces. The return terminal is height adjustable for the big snow years.
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.
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.
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.
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 Wayback. Peru 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.
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.
Utah ski resorts will debut three new chairlifts for the 2018-19 season and although none of them service new terrain, each will make lives better for skiers and snowboarders. One of my stops this weekend was Park City Mountain, where Vail Resorts announced the creation of a reimagined High Meadow Family Fun Zone back in December. A new Doppelmayr detachable quad, opened up runs, upgraded snowmaking and candy cabin are coming together above the Red Pine Gondola. The new lift will have 8 towers, down from 11 on the old CTEC quad, which is sitting under the Cabriolet for now.
Across old town Park City at Deer Valley, another Doppelmayr detachable quad is replacing another CTEC fixed-grip quad. Highlander Lift Services & Construction is assembling Homestake Express in the existing alignment but again with fewer towers. I think the new number is eight, down from a dozen in this high traffic area above Silver Lake Lodge. For its second winter under Alterra, Deer Valley will operate an impressive 13 high speed quads this season. The 1999 version of Homestake is bound for Utah Olympic Park.
- The Staten Island Economic Development Corporation secures $212,000 to study the feasibility of a gondola connection to Bayonne, New Jersey.
- The Forest Service green lights Alta’s big plans for a new Baldy tram, Flora lift, Wildcat detachable and replacement for Sunnyside.
- The Colony’s master plan now includes two new lifts along Pinecone Ridge at the center of Park City Mountain.
- Copper is selling parts from the Flyer and the Eagle detachables. Must act fast!
- Crested Butte says the three lift Teo 2 expansion, if approved, would likely be built over approximately five years.
- Snow King’s gondola and terrain expansion public process moves along at a glacial pace.
- Mountain Capital Partners, the company behind Arizona Snowbowl, Hesperus Pajarito, Purgatory and Sipapu, will operate Nordic Valley and add it to the Power Pass.
- Doppelmayr breaks ground for its eleventh cable-propelled automated people mover, set to open in 2021.
- Spokane’s paper traces the history of three lifts that have graced Riverfront Park, including a new gondola.
- The Forest Service seeks feedback on Arizona Snowbowl’s chondola proposal.
- An ice storm apparently causes a track rope to jump out of a saddle at Jay Peak, closing the tram and nearby lifts indefinitely.
- As legal wrangling continues, nothing seems out of the ordinary this week at the Hermitage Club except for notices on the clubhouse doors.
- Crystal Mountain owner John Kircher revives the idea of a second gondola to Campbell Basin, which would be around 7,800′ long and closely follow the one time path of an SLI double chair.
- Vermont shuts down the Hermitage Club for a third time as more lawsuits are filed against the business and its founder. One by a food service company argues, “The dire financial circumstances facing the defendants compel the plaintiff to press forward with alacrity…the collectible assets of the defendants appear to be dwindling.”
- The New York City Economic Development Corporation is again studying a gondola to connect Lower Manhattan with a redeveloped Governors Island.
- With 2,400 cabins headed out the door this year alone, CWA is expanding its production capabilities in Switzerland. Photos from the factory floor show new cabins bound for Montana, Hawaii and more.
- Park City’s NPR station reports a chair slid into another chair on the Jupiter lift in January, resulting in an injury, three day closure and now litigation.
- Approval of Woodward Park City is upheld, paving the way for construction of a fixed-grip quad.
- The Forest Service tentatively approves Purgatory’s proposed Gelande high-speed lift.
- A real estate development now under construction includes money for reopening New York’s Big Tupper with up to five lifts.
- New owners at Owl’s Head, Quebec may spend up to $150 million on new lifts and other improvements. The mountain currently includes three 1980s-era detachables including the world’s first high-speed quad from Breckenridge.
- Lift construction season is here! Thanks to Carleton G. for these photos of Waterville Valley’s new LST T-Bar.
- The latest Doppelmayr Wir highlights Yellowstone Club’s expansion and more.
- The Gondola Project updates us on the Leitner-Poma tram project at San Francisco’s Salesforce Tower transit center.
- Aspen Skiing Co. eyes opening the Pandora quad chairlift on Aspen Mountain in 2020.
- Majella Group CEO Sebastian Monsour tells the Bangor Daily News his Australian company is still working to close on the purchase of Saddleback Mountain while a former employee is suing for unpaid wages.
- A Montana community grapples with options for Teton Pass, a closed ski resort listed for $650,000 with one SLI double.
- In advance of its new gondola, Silver Star’s 1970 Mueller is listed for sale on SAM.
- CWA launches a slick new website and refreshed logo.
- Val Neigette, Quebec will close for good on April 1st and its 1990 Doppelmayr quad is on the market.
- An editorial in the Park Record floats the cool idea of a gondola from offsite parking at Kimball Junction to Park City’s Sun Peak zone with a possible mid-station at Utah Olympic Park.
- Big White’s Powder Chair will soon be available for $150,000 CAD.
- Alpine Media Technology raises $1 million to bring digital screens to more lifts including Winter Park’s new gondola.
- SkyTrans hopes to build and operate a $2 million gondola at an Illinois winery.
- A lawsuit against Sugar Mountain filed by the family of a child who jumped from a lift after closing has been settled.
- Leitner’s fifth 3S gondola will be a spectacular one with Symphony cabins and a combination gondola/railway/transit station.
- A Jacksonville, Florida developer proposes a river crossing gondola.
- What appears to be Walt Disney World’s gondola cabin maintenance facility is taking shape.
- Instagram suggests the Hermitage Club may have reached a deal to open this weekend following a state-ordered closure.
It’s 4:45 am in Jackson Hole and I’m awake because today is the biggest day of the year for the North American lift business. Moments ago, Vail Resorts released its first quarter 2018 financial results which include guidance on next year’s capital improvements to the tune of $150 million. As I speculated it might, Broomfield, Colorado-based Vail is going all in on new lifts next year, with $52 million (CAD$66 million) going to Whistler Blackcomb alone.
On Blackcomb, the company will add a signature 10-passenger gondola with mid-station replacing Wizard and Solar Coaster, two 1987 bubble quad chairs with very high hours. The new 4,000 skier-per-hour machine will be W-B’s sixth gondola and the second-highest capacity lift in North America after Squaw Valley’s Gold Coast Funitel. The mid-station will likely be located downhill of the current Wizard/Solar Coaster transition where more space can be created for a large terminal and cabin parking. The two stages will be able to be run independently with two haul ropes and separate drive systems. Together with the Peak 2 Peak and Whistler Village gondolas, the new gondola will create the world’s only three-gondola connection and an impressive 8.4 mile-long continuous sightseeing trip. The nearby Excalibur Gondola, amazingly Blackcomb’s last all-new lift, debuted in 1994.
The 1997 Doppelmayr-built Emerald Express on Whistler Mountain will move to Blackcomb, replacing the Catskinner triple likely in a modified alignment. An all-new Emerald six-place lift will also welcome skiers on Whistler Mountain for 2018-19. “Our integration efforts at Whistler Blackcomb are largely complete,” commented Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz. “We believe this plan will dramatically improve the on-mountain experience for our guests with enhanced lift capacity, improved circulation and a significantly elevated experience for skiers, riders and sightseeing guests.” The three new lifts represent a combined 43 percent improvement in capacity over the lifts they replace and are part of the largest-ever capital improvement season at Whistler Blackcomb, topping even the 2008 construction of the Peak 2 Peak Gondola. “We believe these transformational, mountain-focused investments are the most significant improvements we can undertake to support Whistler Blackcomb’s long-term growth and our commitment to pursue the most impactful projects to enhance the guest experience,” Vail noted.
At Park City, the rumored Sunrise replacement will wait for another year but the High Meadow lift will be swapped for a high-speed quad chair, reducing ride time by 70 percent and anchoring a new family fun zone. On the shores of Lake Tahoe, Heavenly will finally replace Galaxy, which has fallen into disuse. A new fixed-grip triple chair will serve 400 acres of terrain that was inaccessible the past two seasons. Vail Resorts will also replace a T-Bar with a fixed-grip quad at Perisher in Australia. “We remain committed to reinvesting in our resorts, creating an experience of a lifetime for our guests and generating strong returns for our shareholders,” Katz concluded.
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 #3 six-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.
- Watch LST Ropeways build its first detachable lift in three minutes.
- A Swedish company has developed a new, more comfortable T-Bar carrier called Boardie.
- Doppelmayr moves into new $62 million Wolfurt headquarters.
- Grand Targhee, Jackson Hole, Brundage, Sun Valley, Mt. Hood Meadows and Tamarack are operating a total of 13 lifts on August 21st for the first total solar eclipse visible from the United States since 1979.
- Sunlight’s end-of-season survey includes some insightful tidbits:
- “Sunlight is evaluating the addition of a high-speed detachable lift.”
- “Understanding that lift ticket and season pass prices would likely increase with the addition of a high-speed lift, please rank how favorable this would be.”
- Vail and Replay Resorts break ground on LIFT development set to anchor future detachable Sunrise lift at Park City’s Canyons Village.
- Preliminary gondola tree cutting and construction work spotted at Walt Disney World.
- Waterville Valley secures $7.5 million for future projects including multiple unspecified lift upgrades. “To answer one burning question, we do have multiple options in development regarding the High Country lift,” the resort says on Facebook.
- Utah sets another all-time record for skier visits.
- Two new Skytracs in St. Maarten won’t open until late summer but are already getting rave reviews.