Wisconsin’s Trollhaugen was the first resort in the nation to open a chairlift for skiing and riding this season and has been busy ever since. “This season has sparked an interest in snowsports and outdoor winter recreation like we’ve never seen in our 70 year history,” notes the ski area, which caters mostly to the Minneapolis market. “Our mission has always been to continuously reinvest in your experience while remaining true to the Mom & Pop Midwest Ski Area vibe that makes Trollhaugen feel like home to so many of you. To make the most of this unprecedented season, we will be embarking on a 3-Phase, multi year terrain expansion project this summer to better service our skiers and snowboarders of every ability level.”
A brand new Partek quad chair will replace Chair 1 this summer, boosting uphill capacity on the east side of the mountain by 33 percent. The following year, three new trails will be finished on the east side of the mountain, complete with snowmaking and night lighting. A triple chair is tentatively planned to be installed in 2023 to service the new terrain.
The quad is the first complete lift contract for New York-based Partek in two years. The firm typically builds a lift or two each year in addition to supporting hundreds of Borvig and Partek lifts in operation. With today’s announcement, at least four different lift manufacturers have confirmed installation projects in the United States for 2021.
This year saw installation of 43 new and 7 used lifts across North America, numbers similar to the last two seasons. 43 may seem like a modest number for newly-manufactured lifts on an entire continent but that number is a 54 percent increase from the start of the decade and the highest single year total since 2004. Only seven resorts opted to install used lifts, mostly late model fixed grip chairlifts but also a detachable quad and one T-Bar.
While 2018 saw a record number of gondolas, multiple bubble chairs and a Telemix, 2019’s projects trended smaller with 22 fixed grip chairlifts and five surface lifts. That’s the most platters and T-Bars built in the last 15 years. Two of them anchor terrain expansions while another two service youth racing programs. Loading carpets were included on five new fixed quad lifts, allowing them to run at slightly faster speeds.
After two huge years, gondola construction fell to two new installations in Colorado, one in New Hampshire and pulse versions in New York and Florida. Detachable chairlift construction was just above the decade average of ten per year. Only one of this year’s high speed chairlifts included bubbles and another heated seats.
With commissioning wrapping on eleven more lifts than last year at this time, 2017 represents an impressive ten-year high for North American lift building. Six-passenger chairlifts, T-Bars and urban gondolas in Mexico and the Caribbean drove much of the growth in a year that saw continued changes in the manufacturer landscape. Compared with 2016, more of this year’s chairlifts were expensive detachable models (12) compared with 17 fixed-grips (in 2016, the split was 7 detachable, 23 fixed.) A total of nine new gondolas and three T-Bars went up in 2017, both increases from the year before. Ten additional lifts were relocated and re-purposed, a three-year high with lifts originally built by Blue Mountain, CTEC, Doppelmayr, Riblet, Roebling, Stadeli and Yan finding new homes. Combined, this year’s new lift class represents a solid 27 percent increase from 2016.
Consistent with last year, about two thirds of the projects in 2017 represented one-for-one replacements in existing alignments. Interestingly, at least six resorts removed older lifts outright without replacing them. At many mountains, the era of building and maintaining extra chairlifts that rarely run is over.
With work wrapping up on 36 new and four used lifts across North America, 2016 will go down as the best year for lift construction since the Great Recession. With Skytrac now a member of the Leitner-Poma Group, the big two manufacturers each supplied exactly the same number of lifts in North America – 17 – with one each for LST and Partek (although Skytrac provided controls for and installed the LST lift.) Doppelmayr and Leitner-Poma also had their best years individually since 2008 and Skytrac its second best in history with five complete lifts and a retrofit terminal for Keystone. These numbers include four gondolas manufactured in Europe by Leitner and Poma installed in Mexico and the Dominican Republic. If only lifts built by Leitner-Poma of America in Grand Junction are counted, Leitner-Poma had its third best year since 2008 with eight new lifts. I call it a tie.
While everyone knows the East had a horrible season last year, the Pacific states actually showed the softest demand for new lifts in 2016. Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California have steadily declined for more than a decade and just three new lifts went in there, the lowest number since at least 2004. The Mountain region saw 12 installations, virtually the same as last year and the second most since 2008. The Rockies also built the biggest lifts in the country – six-packs at Arizona Snowbowl & Big Sky, high speed quads at Steamboat & Vail and a two-stage gondola at Jackson Hole. The Midwest more than doubled last year’s count, achieving its second best year since 2004 with seven new lifts while the East was well below its ten-year average with six new lifts constructed in 2016. The big shocker: Wisconsin built more new lifts in 2016 than any other state or province with three new Doppelmayr quads at Wilmot Mountain, two Leitner-Poma quads at Cascade Mountain and a Skytrac quad at Christmas Mountain Village.
Canada finished right about average with eight new lifts, all built in the eastern provinces of Ontario and Quebec. Horseshoe Resort and Le Relais both added their first six-place detachables, which are sure to be well-received. Look for Western Canada to rebound next year after struggling since the recession. Perhaps most interesting is the four gondolas built for public transportation and tourism in Mexico and the Dominican Republic. I expect growth in Mexico and the Caribbean to continue as the urban ropeway revolution spreads north from South America (and hopefully to the United States!)