As snow falls across the Rockies, resorts closer to the Pacific continue to deal with drought conditions and wildland fires. Most immediately threatened is California’s China Peak from the 153,000 acre Creek Fire. “We are aware that the fire has reached our mountain and a strike team is working hard to manage the flames and protect structures on the base area,” said a statement from the resort last night. “Employee housing has been damaged, but we have no other information at this time.” China Peak operates a total of six fixed grip chairlifts.
Eight different National Forests in California shut down to the public effective 5:00 pm on Labor Day due to extreme fire danger. Mammoth Mountain and Snow Summit are among those temporarily suspending mountain operations in partnership with the Forest Service.
In Oregon, a fire ignited within the Mt. Hood Meadows boundary on Monday. Meadows fired up the Stadium Express for firefighters, who were able to contain the blaze to a few acres without damage to lifts or facilities.
The Mt. Hood National Forest is now closed to the public. Timberline Lodge has suspended outdoor operations until further notice (skiing on Palmer Glacier ended August 30th this year.)
A judge okays the sale of Hermitage Club assets, including its six pack. Two more bidders emerge, including a group of former members. If Boyne wins the lift, it would be relocated to a New England mountain.
At just 15 months old, Alterra Mountain Company finds itself with over 200 chairlifts, gondolas and tramways in two countries. The 13 Alterra mountains mirror the broader ski industry with places like Deer Valley and Crystal Mountain sporting many newer lifts while the average chairlift at June Mountain is 45 years old.
On a Monday last March, the fledgling company based in Denver simultaneously unveiled its very first lift investments at Stratton, Tremblant and Winter Park along with other improvements like snowmaking at Snowshoe and a new restaurant at the base of Steamboat. Importantly, Alterra committed to spending $555 million in total capital over five years. That was before it bought Solitude and Crystal Mountain, which could mean even more money flowing over the next few construction seasons. While last year’s budget only included three new lifts, could we see more in 2019?
With the September approval of major projects by the Forest Service, Steamboat is poised for a comprehensive on-mountain transformation. Although the timing is fluid, a new Rough Rider learning center at mid-mountain will eventually be serviced by a new gondola from the village. Here, skiers and snowboarders will be able to choose from three new carpet lifts, a new and improved Bashor lift and a second fixed-grip chair replacing the Rough Rider surface tow.
A second initiative Steamboat could undertake in 2019 is the Pioneer Ridge expansion, which includes a 7,000 foot detachable quad and a dozen new trails. Other possible upgrades include adding chairs to Pony Express (currently at only 1,200 skiers per hour but designed for 2,400) or new cabins for the Silver Bullet. Wouldn’t it be cool for the new gondola and original one to have similar cabins?
The average lift at Alterra-operated Winter Park Resort is 27 years old. Six are early model detachable quads coming up for replacement. In the case of 32 year old Pioneer Express, an upgrade is overdue and I expect coming in 2019. A new version could add a snowboarder friendly mid loading station above the last section of Big Valley.
A second project I hope to see is a second stage of the new gondola from Sunspot to Lunch Rock, truly uniting Winter Park and Mary Jane. Sunnyside should be a high speed quad or six pack. A high speed replacement of Challenger would be a nice upgrade at Mary Jane. Looking Glass is tied for the oldest operating chairlift in Colorado. After Pioneer, High Lonesome is the next Poma detachable up for replacement if we go solely by age.
The above Intrawest era master plan earmarked Gemini Express to be converted into an eight passenger gondola with a new learning center surrounding its top station. Endeavor could go detachable as part of this project and/or Discovery made into a fixed grip quad. Finally, a lift is envisioned to expand Vasquez Ridge Territory with four new intermediate trails. With all of these ideas on the table, I expect Winter Park to get at least one lift in 2019 and hopefully two.
It’s been two weeks since the bombshellnews that Aspen Skiing Co. and KSL Capital Partners are joining forces to bring twelve ski resorts under a new entity rivaling Vail Resorts. While the deals won’t close for months, the new partners already say they plan to invest heavily in the guest experience. “We have earmarked a lot of capital for improvements to be able to continue to reinvest significantly in the communities and the mountains,” KSL CEO Eric Resnick told the Denver Post. “What’s exciting is being able to bring new opportunities with these communities and with these mountains to those customers who are already so passionate.” This could come in the form of new lifts ahead of the 2018-19 season and beyond. Below is a summary of announced plans and my speculation of what might be in store for KSL and Aspen’s upcoming resorts.
Alpine Meadows, CA:
Alpine Meadows applied for and received approval to replace the Hot Wheels chairlift in a new, longer alignment back in 2012. A mid-station offload would allow beginner and intermediate skiers to access the lower mountain while others could continue to an unload near the top of Sherwood, providing direct access to Sherwood and Lakeview. Approval for this lift likely expired in September 2015 but there’s no reason to believe Placer County would not approve it again.
Speaking of Lakeview, it is arguably the largest remaining pod at Alpine Meadows without detachable access. This 1984 CTEC is older than Sherwood and with approximately the same vertical rise. A high-speed quad is likely to replace it eventually.
Doppelmayr and CTEC have both built lifts at Alpine Meadows while Leitner-Poma has not. That could change with the unification of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows.
I’ve written before about the Base-to-Base Gondola which is still on the table but still requires multiple government approvals. It would traverse the White Wolf property between Squaw and Alpine with two angle stations along the way.
In the span of just three days, Vail Resorts has gained a challenger that spans North America. Today the new team of Aspen Skiing Company and KSL Capital Partners announced an agreement to acquire Mammoth Resorts from an ownership group led by Starwood Capital. Mammoth Mountain, Bear Mountain, June Mountain and Snow Summit will join the Intrawest resorts and Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows brought under one roof on Monday. “This new platform, built around a collective passion for the mountains and our commitment to the people who visit, work and live there, is exactly what the ski resort business needs,” said Rusty Gregory, the longtime manager and chief executive of Mammoth Resorts. He called the move “the next logical chapter in the story of Mammoth.”
Aspen Skiing Company will continue to independently own Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass but it will likely cozy up to its partner resorts. With Aspen included, the new company will operate 207 lifts at 16 mountains compared with Vail Resorts’ 261 lifts at 14 mountains. Like Monday’s deal, the Mammoth acquisition is expected to close in the third quarter. What a week, and it’s only Wednesday.
Contract awarded for India’s first urban gondola, to cost $24 million and open within two years.
Just a week after sanctions on Iran were lifted, Bartholet announces it’s building a gondola system on the resort island of Kish. A definite upgrade from the salvaged Yan detachable installed last year in Isfahan (if you’re wondering, it made the journey from Silver Star, BC.)
Its been six weeks since the Berry family, owners of Saddleback, Maine, said they would close the resort if they could not find financing to order a new lift by August 1st. Regardless of the outcome, this has been a PR disaster with a desperate announcement and then silence. Not a good sign when the general manager refuses to talk to the state’s largest newspaper. My take: despite the bluff they will find a way to open.
Ligonier Construction awarded $4.6 million contract to re-build the State of Pennsylvania’s Laurel Mountain Ski Area. The project includes a new quad chairlift but I could not find a lift manufacturer identified in the bid documents. Nearby Seven Springs Mountain Resort will operate the ski area on behalf of the state.
Not one but four 15-passenger gondolas proposed to link a cruise terminal with George Town in the Caribbean’s Cayman Islands. I’m thinking even that won’t be enough when Royal Caribbean’s newest ship shows up with 6,000 passengers tired of being on a ship with 6,000 passengers.
“No one has contributed more to the task of transporting skiers and snowboarders up the ski mountains of the United States than Jan Leonard,” said the President of the NSAA in the Salt Lake Tribune’s obituary. Services will be held tomorrow.