In 2008, a 53-year old Taos Ski Valley welcomed snowboarders for the first time in a move that once seemed unthinkable. Then a game-changing new lift up 12,481’ Kachina Peak debuted in 2015, serving terrain accessible only by hiking for six prior decades. This season, the renaissance continued with the opening of the slopeside Blake Hotel and announcement that Taos would be the first ski resort in the world to become a B Corporation, joining the likes of Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s. Now we learn Taos will launch a re-imagined beginner facility with two new lifts next season and will finally join 167 of its North American counterparts with the opening of its first detachable quad in 2018. Talk about a transformation.
This off-season will see complete renewal of the beginner complex with the removal of two lifts and the addition of two new ones. Stadeli doubles Rueggli (1991, the old lift 2) and Strawberry Hill (1970) will be retired and the area around them re-contoured. A new Skytrac fixed-grip triple will better serve beginners and a six-passenger pulse gondola will link a remodeled children’s ski school to the Resort Center. “This gondola is going to be a huge improvement, connecting our newly designed Children’s Center with our new hotel and plaza base area,” Director of Operations John Kelly told me. “The terrain associated with these new lifts will be getting a full redesign and regrade to widen and enhance our beginner terrain.” The new lifts are in addition to the Pioneer lift, a triple chair that arrived from Deer Valley in 2012.
Rising to mid-mountain, a Leitner-Poma high-speed quad will replace lifts 1 and 5 in 2018. The 2010 Taos Master Plan envisioned a 7000′ detachable rising all the way to the summit and replacing Lift 6 as well, but that plan appears to have been modified. The long-awaited foray into detachable lifts follows construction of five new Poma and Skytrac fixed-grips at Taos since 1989. What may be called Al’s Express will most likely reach the summit of the existing lift 5, a 1973 Stadeli double chair that only operates on peak mornings. The new lift will also replace Lift 1, a 1989 Poma Alpha quad that ends 400 feet lower than 5 and serves as today’s primary out-of-base lift. After 2018, the remaining largest ski resorts in North America without a detachable lift will be Red Mountain, 49 Degrees North, Loveland and Bridger Bowl.
This will be the first joint project since Skytrac joined the Leitner-Poma Group last spring and plays to both companies’ strengths. Skytrac will supply the fixed-grip chair while Leitner-Poma will bring its expertise to build the gondola and detachable.
Even after these changes, Taos will retain three classic Stadeli lifts on the upper mountain. Lift 6 dates back to 1976 and 7A was installed in 1990 with used parts from 1 and 2. Maxi’s (lift 7) is a 1984 Stadeli triple. Both lifts 4 and 7 are identified for eventual replacement in the 2010 Taos Master Plan along with a second lift to the ridge. I think Taos skiers (and snowboarders) will find the new lifts a welcome change with friendlier beginner options and a 4.5 minute ride to the heart of the mountain. Welcome to the 21st century, Taos!
For the first time, Skytrac has posted lift projects in advance of construction on its “A Skytrac Near You” page, revealing two older fixed-grip lifts in the Pacific Northwest will be replaced this off season.
At Mt. Baker, Washington, the Chair 7 fixed-grip quad will be removed and swapped with a modern, galvanized 250-horsepower Skytrac quad. Seven is 2,349′ long and rises 579′ out of the White Salmon base area. Although only middle-aged by North American standards, the 1990 quad chair is a so-called “orphaned lift” as a late-model Riblet. Keep an eye out for its sister ship, Chair 8, to also be up for replacement in the next few years. Mt. Baker’s four newer Doppelmayr CTEC fixed-grip models should be safe for years to come, as long as the ski area holds out on building a detachable. Keep in mind, any lift decision at Baker weighs the fact that lifts run on diesel fuel full time. The new seven will be Skytrac’s third project in Washington, following on the heels of a new Chair 6 at Crystal Mountain and Rampart at The Summit at Snoqualmie.
Five volcanoes to the south, Skytrac apparently also won the bidding to swap the Buttercup beginner double chair with a 100-horsepower Monarch fixed-grip quad at Mt. Hood Meadows. Yan built the existing double chair in 1979, making it Meadows’ fourth oldest lift. Buttercup is only 920’x 122′ and has height adjustable terminals at both ends. The new lift will be Skytrac’s first in Oregon.
Skytrac Lifts, acquired by Leitner-Poma in April, specializes in building sub-500 horsepower fixed-grip chairlifts at its facility in Salt Lake City. These two new quad chairs will be the company’s 27th and 28th complete lifts, following its best year ever supplying eight lifts in 2016. We’ll likely see more additions to the Skytrac project page as the spring progresses and you can keep up on all of North America’s new lift projects for 2017 here. Notably absent from Skytrac’s list is Bridger Bowl’s Virginia City replacement project.
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!)
Three years into its ownership of Utah’s second largest ski resort, Summit Powder Mountain is making a statement by adding two Skytrac quad chairs to serve new intermediate terrain in Lefty’s drainage and Mary’s Bowl. The new lifts are called Village and Mary’s and will access runs to the south of the existing boundary beginning this winter. Powder Mountain already sprawls an impressive 7,000 acres but has just five lifts, four of them fixed-grips. Expanded uphill options will be welcome news to skiers although these latest additions are mostly about access to Powder Mountain Village and 150 new home sites. I reached out to Powder Mountain for more details about these lift projects and so far they have not gotten back to me. Luckily public records from Weber County provide some info and pictures tell a thousand words.
Skiing off to the south from the Hidden Lake Express this winter you’ll find the bottom of the new Village lift part way down Lefty’s drainage. The Village quad and its new sister lift will be the first just the third and fourth top drive lifts for Skytrac. Rising 582 vertical feet, Village will sport 16 towers and a capacity of 1,500 pph to start. The chairlift unloads on the ridge between Lefty’s and Mary’s at the heart of the forthoming village. Construction began on the late side for a lift to 9,000 feet in the Wasatch but all concrete work is finished and steel is arriving.
Peak Resorts loses $7.9 million in the first quarter (it owns Alpine Valley, Attitash, Big Boulder, Boston Mills, Brandywine, Crotched Mountain, Hidden Valley, Hunter Mountain, Jack Frost, Mad River Mountain, Mt. Snow, Paoli Peaks, Snow Creek and Wildcat.)
The deropement and evacuation of the pulse gondola between the Aiguille du Midi and Pointe Helbronner makes CNN.
Austria’s Foreign Minister meets with former London Mayor Boris Johnson to talk Brexit. The mayor says the Doppelmayr cowbell that came with the Emirates Air Line is one of his most prized possessions.