In a Changing Market, Snow Valley Adds a Six-Pack

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Crossarms staged for the new Snow Valley Express lift being built by Leitner-Poma at Snow Valley this fall.

Back in April, Snow Valley made a big bet, investing millions to build Southern California’s first six-pack.  For a resort with a dozen Yan fixed-grips built in the 1970s and ’80s, the new Snow Valley Express is a big deal.  In the months since the announcement, new owners have coincidentally taken over SoCal competitors Bear Mountain, Snow Summit and Mountain High, hinting at further capital improvements in a market which hasn’t seen a new chairlift since 1999.  Just down the road from two new KSL/Aspen resorts, Snow Valley prides itself on family ownership and is committed to improving the ski experience for its 80th season.

The turnkey Leitner-Poma six-pack project replaces Chair 1, a double serving the mountain’s front side.  LPOA is very busy this fall with six new LPA detchables going up across the West and Midwest, the most since the new product debuted in 2010.  Snow Valley’s towers have arrived from Grand Junction and crews were finishing up concrete work at the top terminal today.  The bottom return terminal showed up last week, joining the seven strand Redaelli haul rope from Italy.  The drive terminal, line equipment and chairs will follow soon.

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Snow Valley Announces Southern California’s First Six-Pack

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Lift 1 at Snow Valley Resort will be replaced this summer with a Leitner-Poma detachable six-place chairlift serving the heart of the mountain.

Snow Valley Resort in the San Bernadino Mountains will join the growing ranks of American ski resorts with a high-speed lift next winter, opening a six-pack in place of Chair 1.  More details are below, but first, resort marketers take note. Snow Valley made two interesting choices today.  One, they announced the new lift on a Sunday, when there is a smaller audience but also a lot less “noise” on the internet (I can’t remember the last time lift news broke on a weekend and yesterday was not an option.)  Two, they teased the announcement with a photo and invited guests to guess the big reveal on Facebook with a chance to win free lift tickets.  As of this writing, that post has garnered 92 comments, likely more than the actual announcement will see.  Many commenters nailed it, while others opined Snow Valley was opening a Starbucks, had discovered a new way to control the weather or would begin offering free beer.  Nothing like a little suspense to grab people’s attention and spur engagement on a Sunday morning.

Now to the lift news.  Snow Valley is one of those high density resorts with twelve Yan fixed-grips and an hourly uphill capacity of 17,500 skiers on 240 acres (at Jackson Hole where I work, we operate a dozen lifts with about the same capacity spread across 2,500 acres.)  Leitner-Poma of America completed a retrofit of Chair 13 at Snow Valley in 2013 and will build the new detachable six-pack, which will ascend approximately 800 feet over 5,000 feet of slope length with a ride time of 4.9 minutes. “This new lift will open up new opportunities for Snow Valley in the future, including the possibility of summer operations,” said Kevin Somes, Vice President and General Manager of Snow Valley Resort.  “We look forward to sharing many seasons of fun ahead and we dedicate this lift to all of our guests and team members.”  The new lift will cost just under $6 million.

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Pulse Lifts

These days building a detachable lift means a capital investment of at least $3 million plus around $100,000 in annual maintenance.  A so-called ‘pulse’ lift offers the speed of a detachable system with similar infrastructure to a traditional fixed-grip lift.  Chairs or cabins are grouped together into ‘pulses’ and the entire lift slows down for loading and unloading.  When comparing types of aerial lifts there are always trade-offs; here they include low capacity and long headways.  Most pulse lifts can only move 300-600 passengers per hour and headway – the time a passenger has to wait for a carrier to show up – can be minutes instead of as low as six seconds.  Perfect for certain applications but unsuitable in most.

Pine Ridge lift at the Yellowstone Club, Montana.
Pine Ridge lift at the Yellowstone Club, Montana.

There are currently 17 pulse lifts operating in the US, Canada and Mexico; all but three are gondolas.  Nearly all were built in the last 15 years.  Panorama Mountain Village, Northstar California, Steamboat, Snowmass, Canyons Resort, and Le Massif all use pulse gondolas to connect village areas.  These lifts are usually less than 3,000 feet long and convenient for skiers and non-skiers alike.  Other pulse gondolas are attractions in their own right such the Iron Mountain Tramway at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, SkyTrail at Trees of Mystery, the Gondola at Royal Gorge Bridge Bridge & Park and the Riverfront Park SkyRide in Spokane.  There is also a new Leitner-Poma pulse gondola in Orizaba, Mexico with tripod towers that are hundreds of feet tall.

Spokane Falls SkyRide, built by Doppelmayr.
Riverfront Park SkyRide, built by Doppelmayr.

Snow Valley in Edmonton, Alberta has a very unique pulse chairlift built by Doppelmayr in 2008.  Instead of having groups of 3-5 chairs, it has just two groups of 20 closely-spaced quad chairs.  Because it is only 850 feet long, the lift can move 1,378 skiers per hour at up to 5 m/s, the same speed as most detachable lifts.  In fact the ride is only about a minute.  The lift slows to a beginner-friendly 0.8 m/s for loading and unloading.  Because of the low speed, skiers ride around the bullwheel at the top and unload facing down the hill.  It’s the only lift I know of with 180-degree unloading.

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