How Many Lifts Might Alterra Buy in 2019?

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?

Colorado

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.

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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.

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Pioneer is one of only four remaining Poma detachables in North America with separate Alpha drive units.

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.

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Updated: Ikon Pass Adds Brighton, Solitude, Taos & More

Alterra Mountain Company added both Big Cottonwood Canyon resorts to its flagship season pass today, giving buyers access to five resorts encompassing almost 10,000 acres of the Wasatch.  Brighton is the fifth Boyne Resorts-owned mountain to sign on to Ikon and will give passholders seven unrestricted days.  Ikon Base passholders will get five with blackout dates.  Alterra agreed to acquire Solitude in June and, as expected, access there will be unlimited and unrestricted with full pass.  “The Ikon Pass is expanding, and with the addition of Solitude Mountain Resort and Brighton Resort, we are excited to offer unparalleled access to Utah, a state known around the world for its snow quality, variety of terrain, and accessibility,” noted Erik Forsell, Alterra’s Chief Marketing Officer in a media release. “We are nearly 70 days away from opening day in North America and are thrilled to jump start the ski and snowboard season by adding more premier Ikon Pass destinations for winter 2018/2019.”

This could be a huge week for what is already the most expansive season pass on the market with varying degrees of access to 413 lifts at 34 mountains and currently priced at $999.  The direct competitor is the Epic Pass by Vail Resorts, which includes skiing at 24 North American destinations with 309 lifts for $899 (the Vail Resorts owned mountains are unlimited and unrestricted while partners Resorts of the Canadian Rockies and Telluride offer seven days each.)  The Mountain Collective Pass ($449 right now) includes two days at many of the same mountains as Ikon and offers access to 194 North American lifts.  Ikon, Epic and MCP all offer additional days in the Alps, Japan, Australia and/or New Zealand.  Another offering is the Powder Alliance, a free benefit for 18 participating resorts’ season passholders to ride a combined 132 lifts across the western US and Canada.

The above Instagram post implies that six more resorts will be added to the Ikon Pass by the end of the week – one tomorrow, four on Wednesday and one more on Thursday.  Obvious candidates are Mountain Collective resorts not yet included on Ikon – Snowbasin, Sun Valley and Taos – and remaining ex-MAX Pass resorts:

  • Alyeska, AK
  • Belleayre, NY
  • Boreal, CA
  • Boyne Mountain, MI
  • Boyne Highlands, MI
  • Buck Hill, MN
  • Crystal Mountain, WA
  • Cypress Mountain, BC
  • Granite Peak, WI
  • Gore Mountain, NY
  • Lee Canyon, NV
  • Lutsen Mountains, MN
  • Mountain Creek, NJ
  • The Summit at Snoqualmie, WA
  • Wachusett, MA
  • Windham Mountain, NY
  • Whiteface, NY

Of those, groupings that could be Wednesday’s announcement are the four outstanding Boyne Resorts or the four New York resorts.  The Pacific Northwest is another emerging battleground in the season pass war with Vail Resorts’ recent purchase of Stevens Pass.  Alterra has so far invited larger destination resorts onto Ikon and the biggest outstanding mountains in order of vertical are Panorama, Whiteface, Sun Valley, Mt. Bachelor, Taos, Crystal Mountain, Red Mountain, Sun Peaks, Mt. Hood Meadows, Smuggler’s Notch, Le Massif, Alyeska and Whitefish.  Stay tuned all week for updates!

Update 8/28: Ikon announced Taos, New Mexico this morning, bringing the pass to 35 mountains with a combined 422 lifts.  Access will be 7 unrestricted days or 5 with blackouts for the Ikon Base pass.

Update 8/29: As expected, today is Boyne day with the addition of Boyne Highlands, Boyne Mountain, Cypress Mountain and The Summit at Snoqualmie.  39 mountains with a combined 466 lifts now participate in Ikon.  That’s approximately one in every five ski lifts in the US and Canada.  In addition, Boyne-owned Sugarloaf, Sunday River and Loon Mountain are now considered separate destinations.  Ikon passholders will get 7 days at each (5 with the Ikon Base pass.)

Update: 8/30: The final addition for the week is Niseko, Japan.  There may be more resorts coming up as the Ikon Facebook page says “Ikon Pass is known for news. Stay tuned.”

News Roundup: For Sale

  • In a decision the Durango Herald calls a “bombshell,” the Forest Service proposes granting road access to the controversial Village at Wolf Creek, which would include two new lifts near Wolf Creek Ski Area’s new Meadow quad.
  • Magic Mountain’s new Green lift is set to debut this winter but the Black Line Quad may not spin until 2019.
  • Tawatinaw Valley, a county-owned ski hill in Alberta with three T-Bars, will go out of business on October 1st due to continued losses.
  • The price of steel is up up 33 percent in the United States so far this year and companies like Caterpillar and Polaris are increasing prices as a result.
  • The first Doppelmayr/Garaventa lift with D-Line cubic glass enclosures comes together in Switzerland.
  • A Yan triple from Squaw Valley hits the market in Idaho (looks like East Broadway, retired in 2012.)

  • Loveland’s new high-speed quad gets a name: Chet’s Dream.
  • Opening of the Transbay Transit Center tramway in San Francisco slips to September.
  • A refurbished Riblet quad from the closed ski resort in Drumheller Valley, Alberta goes up for sale.
  • Alterra officially takes the reigns at Solitude.
  • Leitner-Poma of America President Rick Spear goes on the MarketScale Transportation Podcast to discuss the ski lift business and growth of urban cable transport.
  • With two Mueller lifts in need of work, Mt. Timothy, BC will likely close if it can’t find a buyer.
  • Big White’s retired Powder triple is headed to Red Mountain.
  • Copper Mountain commits to building its fourth new lift in three years, a Leitner-Poma triple on Tucker Mountain in 2019.
  • The Miriam Fire is burning uncomfortably close to White Pass Ski Area.

Alterra to Acquire Solitude

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Make it a dozen!  Alterra Mountain Co., the 11 month-old company formed by KSL Capital Partners, Aspen Skiing Company’s owner and others, is buying Solitude Mountain Resort in Utah.  The Big Cottonwood Canyon destination will become the company’s second Utah property after Deer Valley, which Alterra acquired from the same ownership group last fall.  “With its close relationship with Deer Valley Resort, Solitude Mountain Resort is a natural fit for Alterra Mountain Company, and a tremendous addition to our family of destinations,” said Rusty Gregory, Chief Executive Officer of Alterra Mountain Company in a press release.  “We are especially excited to expand our reach within Utah and offer another ski and snowboard experience in a state known for its exceptional snow and mountain culture.”

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The Summit Express is the newest lift at Solitude, Utah, which is set to become Alterra’s newest resort later this year.

Brighton owner Boyne Resorts attempted to buy Solitude back in 2014 but it was sold to Deer Valley months later.  Prior to that, the DeSeelhorst family had operated the resort for more than three decades.  Today, Solitude operates a fleet of eight Doppelmayr and CTEC lifts including four detachable quads.  Just yesterday, the resort confirmed to me its intention to replace the Sunrise lift with another high-speed quad next summer.

“Joining the impressive group of Alterra Mountain Company destinations Solitude Mountain Resort places in a strong position to grow and enhance Solitude,” said Kim Mayhew, the mountain’s General Manager in a statement. “We are excited about the opportunities for our guests, our staff, and for our community in Big Cottonwood Canyon.”  The transaction is expected to close by the end of the third quarter.  Terms of the agreement and Ikon Pass access details were not disclosed.  Assuming Solitude gets added to Alterra’s 2018-19 season passes upon closing, Ikon passes would include access to 408 lifts at 33 US and Canadian mountains.  With Vail’s recent acquisitions and partnerships, the competing 2018-19 Epic Pass is up to 309 lifts at 24 mountains in North America.

Instagram Tuesday: Night Sky

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

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One Wasatch: How Four Lifts Could Link 18,000 Acres

1318848If you’ve never driven over 9,700′ Guardsman Pass in the summer, you might not realize just how close Brighton Ski Resort is to the upper reaches of Park City Mountain. In fact, from Brighton’s fire station to the top of the Jupiter lift is less than 7,000 linear feet. It’s this reality and a similar one in Alta’s Grizzly Gulch that makes Ski Utah’s One Wasatch concept tantalizingly close to becoming reality.  But the feeling that the Wasatch just isn’t that big also has environmental groups scrambling to prevent any more of these mountains from becoming ski runs.  The challenge for Save Our Canyons, the Sierra Club and others is that all the land needed to complete One Wasatch is already in the private hands of Royal Street Land Company (owner of Deer Valley,) Iron Mountain Associates (developer of The Colony) and Alta Ski Lifts Co.

one wasatch overview
Only four new lifts, marked in orange, would be needed to connect six ski resorts in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains.

Over the Pass

I’m convinced Park City and Brighton will be connected first.  Ski Utah calls the two lifts needed for this connection Guardsman A and Guardsman B.  They would rise from a common point adjacent to Guardsman Pass Road between Brighton and Park City’s Jupiter pod on land owned by Royal Street a.k.a. Deer Valley. Operationally, it would make the most sense for CNL/Boyne to build and operate these lifts as part of Brighton.  Guardsman A, which would need approval from UDOT to cross State Route 190, would likely be a detachable quad approximately 4,065′ long with a vertical rise of 740′ ending near the top of Jupiter.  Guardsman B would rise back towards Brighton and be a detachable quad about 3,800′ long with a vertical of 1,235′.

Guardsman A+B
This view shows the two lifts needed to connect Park City Mountain to Brighton. Guardsman A is on the left and Guardsman B on the right.

Royal Street Land Company has a strong interest in completing the Guardsman connection because it now also owns Solitude.  With Guardsman in place, a Deer Valley skier at the top of Lady Morgan Express could ride 4 lifts (Pioneer and Jupiter at Park City, Guardsman B and Milly Express at Brighton) and be at Solitude in less than an hour.  The return trip would be almost as easy – Summit Express to Great Western Express to Guardsman A and Park City Mountain, which already abuts Deer Valley.  Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County would both need to approve the Guardsman lifts before construction could begin.

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Instagram Tuesday: Buried

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Instagram Tuesday: Evac Practice

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Finishing Up in the Snow at Solitude

Finishing up at the drive terminal.
Drive terminal for Solitude’s Summit Express on 11/8/15.

Since I last posted about Solitude’s Summit Express project in September, workers from Solitude and Highlander Lift Services have made a ton of progress, completing 19 towers and the top terminal.  Comm-line is being installed and the haul rope is on a spool at the bottom terminal location.  I say location because the lift doesn’t actually have a bottom terminal yet.  Walking up to the summit today, it’s obvious why the top got priority.  Not only is it the drive, the top is also located on a ridge at over 10,000 feet.  These guys are lucking out with the weather to be building terminals in November with just inches of snow on the ground instead of feet.  The bottom terminal will be at 8,690′ in a more accessible spot and should go up quickly. The biggest components for it are already up there and the operator house is installed.

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The bottom terminal has a ways to go!
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Towers 3-8. The lift line has lots of ups, downs and double fall lines.

The Summit Express is a Doppelmayr detachable quad replacing a double chair which was one of the first twenty lifts CTEC built back in 1982.  The replacement high speed quad’s lift line is completely new and very steep with a bunch of challenging tower locations.  At one point, the lift line crests a ridge and jogs sharply down before continuing up again.  This lift reminds me of Peruvian at Snowbird (which is only a few miles away) with some very steep sections alternating with flat ones.

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Instagram Tuesday: Doppelmayr New & Old

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