Bridger Bowl Invests $5 Million to Transform Beginner Experience

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Located near Bozeman, Montana, Bridger Bowl is a nonprofit day-use ski area that has seen major growth and investment recently.  This year’s projects cater to beginner skiers and snowboarders.
Bridger Bowl is creating a first-rate learning center this fall, with four new lifts under construction to serve exclusively green terrain.  Following years of attendance records and upper mountain expansion, the move is similar to what Beaver Creek, Jackson Hole, Taos and the Yellowstone Club did recently combining short gondolas, new chairlifts and/or covered carpets to create dedicated teaching hubs away from facilities for other guests.  At Bridger, the Snowflake lift is being moved away from conflicting skier traffic to a completely new area, the Virginia City double replaced with a Skytrac triple chair with loading carpet and two new SunKid conveyors added.  An addition to the Saddle Peak Lodge and new Snowflake Hut cap this major investment by the Bridger Bowl Association, the mountain’s nonprofit owner for the past 63 years.  Impressively, the entire expansion is being paid for with cash reserves.

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2017-18 Bridger Bowl trail map showing the new lift layout.
Bridger Bowl’s redevelopment over the last two decades is a model for nonprofit community ski areas everywhere.  At the turn of the millennium, the mountain ran one modern quad chair and five Riblet doubles built between 1964 and 1978.  Every lift was subsequently replaced with new fixed grip triples and quads with loading carpets from Garaventa CTEC, Doppelmayr CTEC and now Skytrac.  With six Chairkit systems, Bridger Bowl is the largest operator of loading carpets in North America.  “The conveyors are very effective in reducing mis-loads and allow the lifts to be operated closer to full speeds,” Four Mountain Advisors noted in the mountain’s master plan.  “This helps maintain lift capacity without the added costs of a high-speed lift.”  While at one point Bridger operated two mile-long doubles, the new strategy relies on a larger number of shorter, well-placed fixed-grip triples and quads.  Virginia City and Snowflake are the fifth and sixth modern lift replacements in new alignments.

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Big Sky Quietly Adds 27th Lift

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The Stagecoach lift stands partially completed with Lone Peak looming in June 2016. After two owners, two bankruptcies, two names, two installers and almost a decade, it will open this winter at Moonlight Basin.

We’ve heard little about the two lift projects surrounding Lone Peak this summer, even though they will bring North America’s largest contiguous ski complex to a record 43 lifts before counting carpets.  As I covered before, the biggest development is at the Yellowstone Club, where a new Doppelmayr gondola, high-speed quad and triple chair will create one of the largest beginner skiing facilities in America, though few will be lucky enough to learn to ski there.

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Most of the towers for Big Sky’s Stagecoach lift flew October 10, 2008. Skytrac recently installed the rest and a lot happened in between.

Over at Big Sky Resort, anyone with a ticket to the Biggest Skiing in America will be able to ride the new Stagecoach double chair this winter.  Stagecoach extends the long tradition of so-called lodging access lifts here, begun with Pony Express in 1995 and followed by White Otter, Cascade, arguably all five of the Spanish Peaks lifts, and most recently Little Thunder.  Amazingly, almost half of the 43 lifts on Lone Peak and the surrounding mountains exist to create ski-in, ski-out real estate.  At Big Sky Resort, most of these machines are seconds from other Boyne mountains and they have their own color on the trail map: purple.

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Can you find it?  The approximate location of the new Stagecoach lift on the expansive Big Sky trail map is marked in red.

In the five years prior to the real estate bubble bursting nationwide in 2008, a crazy 18 lifts were built in Big Sky at four separate ski operations.  One of those, Moonlight Basin, opened in December 2003 as Lone Peak’s second public ski resort.  The development’s first two lifts had simply connected to neighboring Big Sky Resort in 1994 and 1995. Between 2003 and 2006, founder Lee Poole and his partners went it alone, adding four more lifts including Montana’s first six-pack.  Three of these were among the last CTECs off the line following the Doppelmayr merger.

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Instagram Tuesday: Alpha

Every Tuesday, I feature my favorite Instagram photos from around the lift world.

That escalated quickly #SmokyMountains #Gatlinburg #SkyLift #SkiLift #Tennessee

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News Roundup: Gravity

  • Pebble Creek joins the growing list of ski areas spinning extra lifts for the Great American Eclipse but there’s one problem: lifts weren’t designed for downloading so guests must walk down!
  • The Weather Channel and the BBC will broadcast live from the top of the Jackson Hole Tram on eclipse day.
  • Disney and Doppelmayr are building a gondola station in the middle of a lake.
  • Mayor of Rossford, Ohio wants to build a gondola across the Maumee River to Toledo.
  • Albany gondola idea moves along.
  • Metal fatigue eyed in horrific ride incident at the Ohio State Fair (additional photos of the break are here.) The Fair’s SkyGlider chairlift was not involved but temporarily shut down as a precaution.
  • Leitner-Poma will build two new lifts at Arapahoe Basin over the next two years.  A 400′ Telecorde surface lift called Lazy J Tow will go in this summer to access Montezuma Bowl while the Beavers fixed-grip quad will follow next year.
  • Sunshine Village closes again as fire rebounds.
  • Intrawest, Mammoth Resorts and Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows are now one company owned by KSL, the Crown Family of Aspen Skiing Co. and Rusty Gregory. Currently known as Hawk Holding Company, LLC, a new name and brand will be introduced this fall.
  • Rescuers in boats and ladder trucks assist with dramatic evacuation of a bi-cable gondola over the The Rhine in Cologne, Germany.
  • Bill Brett, retired GM of Timberline writes about rime and how Palmer almost became Riblet’s first detachable.
  • Snowbasin gets an A+ for its latest lift construction update.
  • Arizona Snowbowl begins work on its third new lift in three years.
  • Gravity is a crazy way to remove an old haul rope.
  • Skytrac takes the Instagram plunge.
  • Pair of investors nears deal to reopen Cockaigne, NY in 2018-19, a mountain with four Hall lifts that closed in 2011.
  • Leitner Ropeways to build a unique two-section gondola in Austria with a single direct drive powering two separately-tensioned haul rope loops.
  • Grand Canyon Escalade bill to finally go before the Navajo Nation Council this fall.
  • Gulmarg Gondola reopens 39 days after fatal tree accident.
  • Doppelmayr inaugurates the first 3S gondola in China with another on the way.

Taos to Build New Beginner Lift, Pulse Gondola & First Detachable

Birds-eye view! Amazing shot by @shotsfromabove #skitaos #wheretherockiesbegin #birdseyeview

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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.

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Three new lifts will rise out of the resort center over the next two years, benefiting every Taos guest.

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.

It's snowing!! Get up here and make some turns! #skitaos #snowing #freshies #purenm #nmtrue

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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!

News Roundup: Setbacks

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Snow King’s latest master plan concept abandons a lift east of Rafferty in favor of a south-facing lift.  The Summit double would be replaced with an 8-passenger gondola.

Skytrac to Replace Aging Chairlifts at Mt. Baker and Mt. Hood Meadows

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Chair 7 at Mt. Baker is 27 years old and slated to be replaced with a Skytrac quad chair this summer.

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.

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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.

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The short Buttercup double at Mt. Hood Meadows will also be replaced with a fixed-grip quad chair.

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.
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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.

New Roundup: French

News Roundup: Behind the Scenes

News Roundup: Transactions