Vail Resorts to Install Deferred Park City Lifts at Whistler Blackcomb

In its earnings report today, Vail Resorts announced new six and eight passenger lifts will be built at Whistler Blackcomb in 2023, replacing the aging Jersey Cream and Fitzsimmons high speed quads. The project will utilize Doppelmayr equipment originally purchased for Park City Mountain but not installed due to a successful permit appeal by four local residents. On Blackcomb Mountain, Jersey Cream will become a six passenger detachable and on Whistler Mountain, Vail Resorts’ first eight place D-Line will replace the Fitzsimmons Express. Jersey Cream services the heart of Blackcomb’s mid mountain and Fitzsimmons provides out-of-base capacity to Whistler Mountain along with servicing the world’s largest bike park. Jersey Cream capacity will increase 29 percent and Fitzsimmons capacity will jump 73 percent.

The lifts were originally slated to become Eagle and Silverlode, respectively, at Park City. Vail said it remains “committed to resolving our permit” for the new Park City lifts in the future. “When that happens, we plan to purchase the lifts and equipment needed,” the company said. Vail Resorts appealed the permit revocation in July but no resolution has been reached. Due to continued uncertainty, lift equipment was placed in storage in Utah over the summer and will be re-engineered and modified for Whistler Blackcomb. An intermediate unloading station built for Eagle likely won’t be utilized in Whistler. Despite the Park City situation, 18 other lifts that are part of the 2022 Epic Lift Upgrade are proceeding on schedule, including two at Whistler Blackcomb.

“We are excited to continue investing in the guest experience here at Whistler Blackcomb, and the opportunity to upgrade the Fitzsimmons Express and Jersey Cream chairlifts reinforces our commitment to excellence, especially as a world-class destination resort,” said Geoff Buchheister, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Whistler Blackcomb. “Following approvals and installation, these upgrades will reduce lift line wait times and create easier access and flow for all who visit our beautiful mountains,” he continued.

The Whistler Blackcomb projects bring Vail Resorts to at least six new lifts for 2023, including three previously announced investments and the delayed Keystone Bergman Bowl expansion. In July, Vail unveiled plans to replace Summit at Attitash, 5-Chair at Breckenridge and Kehr’s Chair at Stevens Pass for 2023. The Attitash and Breckenridge projects will be detachable quads while Stevens Pass will see a fixed grip quad. Manufacturer(s) for those lifts have not been announced. At Keystone, Bergman Bowl will feature a six passenger Leitner-Poma detachable.

Vail also reported season pass sales increased approximately 6 percent in units and 7 percent in sales dollars through September 24th as compared to a year ago. However, full Epic and Epic Local unlimited season pass sales declined roughly 10 percent. The company’s total 2023 capital plan is expected to total $191 million to $196 million, significantly less than this year’s $323 to $333 million. Those numbers reflect approximately $10 million in capital deferred from 2022 to 2023 as a result of the Park City and Keystone lift delays.

In addition to the six 2023 lift projects, Vail also plans to debut new technology allowing guests to use phones as lift passes via Bluetooth Low Energy connectivity next season.

Park City Mountain Appeals Lift Approval Revocation

Park City Mountain on Wednesday appealed the Park City Planning Commission’s decision to revoke approval of the permit to upgrade the Silverlode and Eagle chairlifts, which were scheduled to be built this summer. “The City Planning Director made the right decision to issue this permit, supported by her extensive, four-month-long analysis and the advice of three outside experts,” said Sara Huey, Vail Resorts Senior Manager of Communications in a statement. “There is no evidence that she made a mistake, and we believe her decision will be upheld in this next step in the process.” Silverlode was scheduled to become Vail Resorts’ first eight passenger and first D-Line chairlift in North America and Eagle was to be a detachable six with a mid unloading station. The appeal was filed in District Court.

Four citizens appealed the initial approval, arguing the project should not have been approved by administratively by city staff. They also questioned the degree to which the new lifts would increase traffic and said the mountain’s parking mitigation plan was insufficient. The residents’ appeal was granted by a vote of 3 to 1 at a June Planning Commission meeting. “While we disagreed with the outcome, we respect the right of four residents to appeal the Planning Director’s decision and likewise we have the right to appeal the Planning Commission’s decision,” continued Vail’s statement today. “In parallel with this appeal, we, of course, remain committed to working with the City to explore options to ensure that the resort moves forward with these important replacements of equipment that was installed many decades ago.”

While the process plays out, Doppelmayr and Park City are placing lift equipment which has already been delivered into storage. When I stopped by last week, parts were being sorted and loaded onto trailers.

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Park City Lift Projects Blocked

The Park City Planning Commission voted 3-1 tonight to grant an appeal of two approved lift projects at Park City Mountain. First announced in September 2021, the new Eagle six pack would have featured a mid-unloading station and a new Silverlode lift would have become the first eight place lift constructed by Vail Resorts. Both detachables were set to be built by Doppelmayr and Silverlode was slated to be a D-Line model. The projects were part of the Epic Lift Upgrade, a 21 lift modernization initiative across Vail Resorts.

The appeal focused on a decades-old agreement with a cap on Comfortable Carrying Capacity between Park City Mountain Resort and previous owner Powdr. At issue was the degree to which new lifts create new demand for skiing. Vail argued the projects were simple lift replacements and would pull skiers off of the current 3 Kings lift in addition to three removed lifts. Appellants said the projects would induce new demand for parking and cause traffic. Normally chairlift replacement projects do not make it to the Planning Commission and are approved by city staff. The appeal was brought by four citizens, triggering elected officials’ involvement.

New Park City Mountain Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Deirdra Walsh blasted the move in a late night statement. “Those opposed to these important enhancements to the guest experience have created a false narrative that the replacement of aged infrastructure with modernized lifts will draw crowds,” she said. “Chairlift tourism does not exist – skiers and riders just want to spend more time on Park City Mountain’s vast terrain and less time in line. Investment in infrastructure is a critical part of the guest experience at Park City Mountain – and we are deeply disappointed that the City is now blocking that investment at the last minute.”

Luckily the lack of approval and threat of appeal kept Doppelmayr and Park City from removing the outgoing Eagle and Silverlode lifts, which will remain in service. Only preliminary construction work had taken place including fabrication of foundation elements in Park City’s parking lot. Both lifts were ordered many months ago and well into production, leading to questions about the future of the euipment. “We are considering our options and next steps based on today’s disappointing decision,” Park City said, adding that new lifts at Park City would not move forward until at least 2023.

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