Snow King Mountain’s expansion officially enters the National Environmental Policy Act pipeline. Proposed lifts are a 1,500 pph gondola with cabin storage, a 3,015′ backside fixed-grip quad, one 679′ T-Bar or platter and two new carpets.
Denver Post alum Jason Blevins, now writing for the Colorado Sun, traces the remarkable ski industry journey of the Mueller family from Vermont to Colorado. Insights from his must read piece: Tim and Diane Mueller took out a second mortgage on their home to buy Okemo, invested in Catamount before it failed, nearly bought Steamboat and once bid to operate Winter Park.
Utah ski resorts will debut three new chairlifts for the 2018-19 season and although none of them service new terrain, each will make lives better for skiers and snowboarders. One of my stops this weekend was Park City Mountain, where Vail Resorts announced the creation of a reimagined High Meadow Family Fun Zone back in December. A new Doppelmayr detachable quad, opened up runs, upgraded snowmaking and candy cabin are coming together above the Red Pine Gondola. The new lift will have 8 towers, down from 11 on the old CTEC quad, which is sitting under the Cabriolet for now.
Across old town Park City at Deer Valley, another Doppelmayr detachable quad is replacing another CTEC fixed-grip quad. Highlander Lift Services & Construction is assembling Homestake Express in the existing alignment but again with fewer towers. I think the new number is eight, down from a dozen in this high traffic area above Silver Lake Lodge. For its second winter under Alterra, Deer Valley will operate an impressive 13 high speed quads this season. The 1999 version of Homestake is bound for Utah Olympic Park.
Four American ski resorts will launch major terrain expansions next winter and I got to check out one of them this weekend in Washington State. New west facing trails at Mt. Spokane Ski & Snowboard Park will be serviced by a new Skytrac triple chair topping out at 5,850′. The nonprofit that runs the resort initially planned to use Bridger Bowl’s retired Alpine lift but wisely axed that plan last winter and solicited bids for a brand new machine. At this area once owned by Riblet Tramway Company itself, the last new lift was a double chair that opened back in 1977. Mt. Spokane’s Chair 1 dates even further to 1956, making it the oldest operating chairlift in the country. With five Riblet doubles still spinning, a modern galvanized triple is sure to stand out along with the new runs.
A growing demand for skiing has led to many new lifts at competing resorts in the Selkirk Mountains during the 14 years it took for Mt. Spokane’s expansion to be approved. In the nearby Idaho panhandle, Schweitzer Mountain Resort plans to build two new lifts on its backside next summer, Lookout Pass is eyeing another two and so is 49 Degrees North in northeast Washington. Just across the Canadian border, Spokane favorite Red Mountain hopes to complete the Topping Creek T-Bar this fall.
A community ski area surrounded by iron ore mines near the Quebec-Labrador border will build as many new lifts as Whistler Blackcomb this summer, though they will be of quite a different variety. Smokey Mountain Ski Club is set to debut Canada’s first Skytrac, a quad chair where a 1972 Poma double with a floating bullwheel stands today. The mountain’s Blue lift, a detachable Poma in operation since the 1960s, will be swapped for a brand new Leitner-Poma version. Another new LPOA platter lift will serve an area known as coaches’ corner and supplement a carpet lift built last year. Smokey has also retired its Red and Green Poma lifts meaning the entire lift fleet will be renewed by next winter.
This revitalization has been in the works since at least 2016 but was put on hold due to a downturn in the iron ore market. The Iron Ore Company of Canada will fund the not-for-profit ski club’s modern and more reliable lift system as part of mitigation for a new site nearby. Below are some photos from Smokey’s website to memorialize the truly classic Poma lifts which will be missed.
This ambitious project brings the North America new lift count to a potential 48 for 2018. That number includes at least five Skytrac Monarchs, a dozen Leitner-Poma installations and 21 Doppelmayr machines.
It may not be the biggest lift project I write about this week but Tahoe Donner near Truckee, California has signed a contract to replace its Snowbird SLI double this summer. The Tahoe Donner Association is one of the country’s largest homeowner associations and therefore the process of assessing the old lift, designing a new one and funding it is all detailed on the neighborhood’s website. Tahoe Donner staff solicited quotes from multiple manufacturers and looked at the used marketplace but ultimately settled on a brand new Skytrac Monarch fixed-grip triple chair to improve safety and reliability.
The new $1.5 million lift will be bottom drive and bottom tension with an increased line speed of 400 feet per minute. Capacity will jump from 900 pph to 1500 with a comfortable 7.2 second chair interval. New terminals will be smaller than the old ones and located off to the side of the Snowbird ski run for better circulation. The lift will go from nine towers to six with a slope length of 1,600 feet.
Tahoe Donner is open to the public and popular with California families as an affordable option near Lake Tahoe. It’s great to see homeowners committing to the future of the mountain with this new lift. Thanks to Kirk and Max for letting me know about the project.
Exactly half of the 14 lifts at Whitefish Mountain Resort stand in a second location, with some even finding a third home in Northwestern Montana. By strategically re-engineering and relocating lifts from elsewhere on the mountain and beyond, Whitefish has been able to grow faster than many of its competitors and now encompasses 3,000 acres of glades, groomers and chutes. This year’s move of Chair 5 creates the East Rim lift and turns a machine that sat idle for years into a dedicated lift for some of the finest advanced terrain in the Inland Northwest.
For the first 50 years, every lift on Big Mountain was purchased new from a manufacturer. That changed in 1999 and 2000, when the the Bigfoot and Sunrise T-Bars joined the Whitefish fleet just as consolidation and new technology were making new lifts increasingly expensive. In 2002, the ski area acquired a Hall triple for a new beginner lift. Continuing the pattern, Big Mountain, as it was then still known, snagged Moab’s failed Skyway experiment for another new beginner pod. When the first-generation Glacier Chaser detachable needed to be replaced the following year, Whitefish had no choice but to go new for the flagship Big Mountain Express. But instead of scrapping the old Doppelmayr, it shifted west to become the Swift Creek Express. That summer’s lift shuffle also turned the old Easy Rider triple into Elk Highlands, a real estate egress lift. In 2011, the Bad Rock lift was brought in all the way from Pennsylvania and now runs out of the base lodge in both winter and summer. With a major lift renewal complete, Whitefish set its sights on expansion for winter 2014-15, opening the Flower Point lift and 200 additional acres. That machine came from across the border, the old Rosa triple from Kimberley (and the predecessor to the Whistler Village Gondola before that.) To summarize, Whitefish impressively built “new” lifts in 1999, 2000, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2014 and now 2017.
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.