When Vail Resorts spelled out its suspension of operations in mid-March, the shutdown was hoped to last only a week. Fifty days later, all 37 resorts remain shuttered and the company has borrowed more than a billion dollars to weather a possible extended recession.
As the impacts from COVID-19 continue, it's becoming less clear when our business may reopen. Because of this and to ensure we navigate the financial challenges ahead, we have made some difficult decisions that affect our employees. More from our CEO: https://t.co/7EmbUl3v0cpic.twitter.com/CDcwtUYqQ7
Almost immediately, Vail Resorts postponed discretionary capital improvement projects including seven new chairlifts. Vail is just one of numerous operators of lifts facing epic challenges due to COVID-19. The impacts trickle down to suppliers, particularly global suppliers of large machinery like the Leitner Group and Doppelmayr. While the two major lift manufacturers are of similar size and structure, their customers are incredibly diverse, from mom and pop outfits to governments, NGOs and Fortune 100 companies.
As regular readers of this blog know, the lift business is not the same as the ski business. Leitner-Poma, Skytrac and Doppelmayr USA have all completed projects for non-ski venues recently such as theme parks, zoos, stadiums and cruise ports. Not only are these projects making up an increasing share of contracts, they tend to be large in scope and often include lucrative operation and maintenance deals. Some of these non-traditional customers are in even worse shape than the ski business, more dependent on high guest densities and air travel. Put another way, there is little chance the Walt Disney Company, Carnival Corporation or the Miami Dolphins would have signed to build their recent lift projects in today’s environment. So-called “point of interest” projects may disappear entirely for a few years.
Aerial view of likely all Disney Skyliner gondolas. Stored for an extended period at the Caribbean Beach station. All Walt Disney World parks and resorts are closed due to #COVID19pic.twitter.com/gqd924ANu9
One bright spot could be urban transport. The Portland Aerial Tram and Roosevelt Island Tramway have both remained operational throughout the pandemic, albeit at reduced capacity (the Portland Tram carries health care workers to three different hospitals and is about as essential as it gets.) Large aerial tramways have been ceding market share to monocable, 2S and 3S gondolas, a trend which will probably accelerate with new personal space concerns. With gondolas, each person or family can take their own cabin unlike on trains or buses. There are lots of great concepts for urban gondolas in North America and infrastructure spending programs could finally get one or two off the ground. Mexico already has a large urban gondola system in operation with two more under construction.
New resorts on both coasts will join Alterra’s Ikon Pass for winter 2020-21. In central Oregon, Mt. Bachelor will become the fifth Powdr-owned mountain to sign on to Ikon following Copper, Eldora, Killington and Snowbird. In New York’s Catskill region, independently-owned Windham Mountain will be the first Ikon destination in the Empire State. Both new additions will offer seven day access on the full Ikon Pass and five restricted days with the Ikon Base Pass. Ikon Pass holders will now enjoy access to 42 mountains in North America with a total of 503 lifts. The competing Epic Pass from Vail Resorts offers 42 different mountains with 434 lifts in the US and Canada. Both passes also include days in Europe, Asia and Australia.
“As we look ahead, we are excited to announce these new partners that represent the spirit of the Ikon Pass community, bringing added value to pass holders, at some of the lowest rates available since we launched the Ikon Pass,” said Erik Forsell, Chief Marketing Officer for Alterra Mountain Company. “Mt. Bachelor in Oregon and Windham Mountain in New York are favorites in their regions, adding expanded access in two new states in North America and inspiring Ikon Pass holders to seek more adventures.” Alterra recently introduced enhanced renewal savings and an Adventure Assurance program to entice buyers amid COVID-19 uncertainty.
Powdr has purchased SilverStar Mountain Resort from owner Jane Cann, marking the Park City-based firm’s first foray into Canada. Located in British Columbia’s Okanagan region, SilverStar operates seven modern lifts including a brand new gondola on 3,282 acres. “SilverStar is a world-class destination that fits well with who Powdr is, what our properties are community favorites—and our commitment to protecting and enhancing the authentic year-round adventure experience for generations to come,” said Justin Sibley, Powdr co-president. “The resort team is impressive and they have an incredibly strong relationship with the community, which we hope to build upon.”
“I am thrilled to pass the torch to such a competent and qualified operator as Powdr, who shares the same mission and beliefs for the SilverStar resort community and is committed to delivering memorable experiences and enhancing people’s lives,” said Jane Cann, whose father developed both SilverStar and nearby Big White into leading destination resorts. “Powdr is an enduring company focused on patiently making each of its destinations the best version of itself locally. I am confident that their scale and expertise will be beneficial in working toward the realization of SilverStar’s newly approved Master Plan.” Current season pass partnerships will remain in place for the 2019-20 season.
Exciting news for the future of SilverStar Mountain Resort. POWDR announced today the acquisition of SilverStar, which will operate this season as part of POWDR. SilverStar is POWDR’s first mountain resort in Canada. For more information visit: https://t.co/woNySZvkx6pic.twitter.com/ZSphTsSylu
Powdr has been investing heavily in its properties of late and now operates eleven resorts in six US states plus one Canadian province. Alterra Mountain Company, Boyne Resorts and Vail Resorts all also compete in the British Columbia market.
Progression will be the name of the game next winter at a reimagined Sunrise base area on the east side of Mt. Bachelor. Powdr Co. today revealed three new lifts, a remodeled lodge and new parking lot will make up the first Woodward Mountain Park, designed to offer a fun and intuitive learning experience. Woodward Mountain Parks will eventually come to multiple Powdr resorts, building on the success of the company’s Woodward indoor action sports parks located throughout North America. At Mt. Bachelor, 70 foot and 300 foot covered carpets will be joined by a 629 foot long Doppelmayr quad chair servicing five new acres below the Sunrise Lodge.
“Woodward is all about stoking passion and I’m excited for our guests to enjoy reimagined on-mountain environments that’ll be fun for every age and ability level,” said John McLeod, president and general manager of Mt. Bachelor in a statement. “The Mt. Bachelor Woodward Mountain Park will debut expanded terrain and new and inclusive experiences that our guests will love. Combined with our significant Sunrise lodge and base area upgrades, we’re transforming the Mt. Bachelor the guest experience for the future.” Relatedly, Mt. Bachelor will debut a new trail map next winter painted by James Niehues.
Utah-based Powdr is on an epic building blitz. The Bachelor addition will be the fourth chairlift for the firm this year on top of new lodges at Killington and Lee Canyon, a major snowmaking upgrade at Pico and the all new Woodward Park City ski area. Last year, Powdr added six lifts at its resorts for an impressive total of ten in two years.
Just months after launching two of the largestlifts in the country by vertical transport feet per hour, Copper Mountain today announced its seventh new lift in nine years will bring chairlift service to Tucker Mountain in time for the 2019-20 ski season. The Leitner-Poma triple will load at the bottom of Blackjack and terminate at over 12,200 feet atop The Taco. Copper Mountain skiers and snowboarders will gain quick repeat access to 273 acres of expert chutes and faces. Capacity of the bottom drive, bottom tension lift will be 1,200 per hour.
Coming in 2019-20: the new Tucker Mountain chairlift.
The move, approved by the White River National Forest last April, is part of a $100 million push by Powdr Co. to transform the Copper experience. “I’m thrilled to announce Copper’s newest Tucker Mountain chairlift allowing more skiers and riders to access Copper’s unique high alpine terrain.,” said Dustin Lyman, president and general manager of Copper Mountain Resort in a news release. “With all of the exciting development at Copper, now, more than ever, is a great time for the next generation of skiers, snowboarders and families to call Copper Mountain Colorado their home mountain,” he continued.
Copper’s parent company is also adding a quad chairlift at its upcoming Woodward Park City action park in Utah this summer. Killington may also see a new North Ridge Quad in time for next season.
Well over two million people in the Las Vegas region have just one ski resort within day trip reach, a unique situation among western US metros. The mountain is Lee Canyon, which operates three fixed-grip chairlifts on 785 acres flanking Charleston Peak. On Wednesday, the Forest Service published a 219 page Draft Environmental Impact Statement for a major expansion and upgrade plan developed by longtime owner Powdr Co. Two alternatives would each add a pair of fixed grip quads and two new carpets lifts while a no action option would see the resort remain within the operating footprint it has since 1967.
Goals of the expansion are to update and renovate ski area infrastructure, balance lift and trail capacity, meet growing demand from Las Vegas and the surrounding area and expand year-round recreational opportunities. The proposed Chair 5 pod would become the next step up from the Rabbit Peak bunny hill, providing beginners and low intermediate skiers the opportunity to transition to a chairlift and ski a variety of longer green runs. Chair 5 would be an 1,800 person-per-hour fixed-grip quad chairlift with a loading conveyor. The lift would be 1,400 feet long, with a vertical rise of 310 feet. It would be a top drive lift with approximately 7 towers. In order to access the Chair 5 bottom terminal, a new 500 foot conveyor, Lift 6, would be installed from near the bottom terminal of Chair 3 to near the bottom terminal of Chair 5.
Similar to the existing Chair 2, Chair 8 would be a step up in difficulty from Chair 5, accessing mostly intermediate runs with some easier and some more difficult terrain within that category. It would be a fixed-grip quad chairlift with a capacity of 1,800 pph, 2,200 feet long, with a vertical rise of 650 feet. It would be a bottom drive lift with approximately 16 towers. With alternative 2, the lift would be shortened to load higher up. Other proposed improvements in both alternatives are new biking and hiking trails, a new skier services building, another parking lot, expanded snowmaking, a zip tour and mountain coaster.
Just four days after its bombshell announcement of $16 million worth of new lifts for Killington, Powdr Co. today unveiled an even bigger project planned for Copper Mountain in 2018. The American Eagle high-speed quad will be replaced with a combination lift featuring six passenger chairs and eight passenger gondola cabins while the American Flyer is going to become a six-place bubble chair. The two Poma detachables being replaced were built in 1989 and 1986, respectively, and out-of-Village capacity will increase by 35 percent.
“Replacing our most popular mountain-access lifts will significantly improve how our guests experience some of the best skiing and riding on Copper Mountain,” said Gary Rodgers, president and general manager of Copper Mountain Resort in a press release. “More guests will be able to get up the mountain quicker to enjoy a variety of easy, intermediate and advanced terrain.” The Denver Post reports the new lifts will cost a staggering $20 million.
Copper Mountain operates a mixed fleet of Doppelmayr and Poma lifts and no manufacturer was identified. Most recently, Doppelmayr built the Kokomo Express, two surface lifts in 2013 and the Union Creek Express in 2011. Pending Forest Service approval, the two monster new additions will open in time for the 2018-19 season.
Update: According to V3 in the comments, these lifts could be built by Leitner-Poma with the first DirectDrives in the United States. This would be great news if true amid a flurry of gearbox-related problems in North American ski country recently.
Powdr Co. will invest a whopping $16 million on lift improvements at Killington Resort this summer, adding two new chairlifts and upgrading the cabins on the K-1 Express Gondola. The Snowdon Quad will be replaced with Vermont’s fourth six-place bubble chair, turning the current 10-12 minute jog into a four-and-a-half minute minute blip. This new flagship lift will move 3,000 guests per hour and feature bubble chairs along with indoor parking. “While we are committed to staying core to our beastly advanced terrain, we are also putting the focus on our blue family-friendly terrain.” says Mike Solimano, president and general manager of Killington Resort in a release. “The investments we’re making will re-shape the guest experience for years to come. Uphill capacity will increase to 48,000 per hour and the downhill enhancements will create more diverse terrain for all levels of skiers and riders.” Built by built by Leitner-Poma of America, the new Snowdon lift will be similar to the bubble sixers at Mt. Snow and Okemo.
The old Snowdon quad, which used a mix of new and used Poma parts when it was built in 1987, will move to South Ridge. A triangle-shaped Yan there stopped carrying skiers in 2011 and the terrain hasn’t been directly serviced since. The new quad will follow the downhill alignment of the old triple and feature new hangers, grips and electrical controls.
K-1 will see all new Sigma Diamond 8 cabins to replace the CWA Omegas from 1997 along with a new haul rope. Stratton’s gondola received the same cabins in 2014 and Killington will keep K-1s cabins as spares for Skyeship 1+2. Powdr will also finally complete the gondola’s cabin parking facility so the shiny new cabins can be stored inside.
The new lift and two relocations will cost $7.8 million with the gondola upgrades totaling $2.2 million. If all that wasn’t enough, the Beast of the East is also going to add Axess RFID ticketing for 2018-19, relocate the Snowdon Poma (built in 1958!) to Ramshead and make significant trail improvements. These moves represent the largest capital program at Killington in more than 20 years – since the American Skiing Company days. Welcome to lift announcement March!
Two loaded chairs collide at Owl’s Head, Quebec after the Green Chair was pressed into rare operation amid downtime on a neighboring high-speed quad. The 1972 Heron-Poma is the former Big Hitch lift from Stagecoach, Colorado.
Alterra Mountain Company dropped a bomb at the Outdoor Retailer/SIA show this morning, announcing the forthcoming Ikon Pass will bring together its dozen North American resorts along with eleven other major mountains. Aspen Skiing Company, Boyne Resorts, Powdr Co. and more have partnered with Alterra to add destinations such as Aspen Snowmass, Alta, Snowbird, Big Sky, Killington and Jackson Hole. “The Ikon Pass is a collaboration of like-minded mountain destinations across North America where incredible terrain, unique character and local traditions are celebrated,” said Erik Forsell, Chief Marketing Officer for Alterra Mountain Company. “We’ve curated a community of iconic destinations. We believe this new pass offers tremendous opportunity and appeal to mountain enthusiasts who have a passion for outdoor adventure.”
Pass options will range from a set number of days at varying destinations to an ultimate, unlimited season pass. I can’t stress enough how much this changes big mountain skiing in North America. For years now, Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass has been the largest and most successful season pass product in the world, now offering access to 272 lifts and 44,000 acres at 15 mountains in North America and Australia to some 750,000 passholders. Ikon will one-up Vail’s terrain offering with access to 23 top-tier North American resorts, a ridiculous 363 lifts and 48,840 acres (for both passes, I am counting gondolas, chairlifts and surface lifts with towers. If carpets and rope tows are included, the Epic Pass offers 340 lifts while Ikon has 434.)
Ikon Pass resorts for 2018-19 will be:
Alpine Meadows, California
Aspen Highlands, Colorado
Aspen Mountain, Colorado
Bear Mountain, California
Blue Mountain, Ontario
Big Sky, Montana
Copper Mountain, Colorado
Deer Valley, Utah
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
June Mountain, California
Loon Mountain, New Hampshire
Mammoth Mountain, California
Snowshoe, West Virginia
Snow Summit, California
Squaw Valley, California
Sunday River, Maine
Winter Park, Colorado
Ikon passholders will also receive discounts and special offers at CMH heli-skiing in British Columbia. Epic holders already enjoy limited access to 30 European resorts. The Liftopia-powered Mountain Collective Pass, which allows destination skiers to sample many large resorts, will remain an option in its current form and also go on sale in March. The M.A.X. Pass, founded by Intrawest, Powdr and Boyne, will sunset. Specific Ikon tiers and prices will be released in the coming weeks.