A 17,000 foot gondola. Two boundary expansions. Three six place chairlifts. Those are among the items on Alterra Mountain Company’s new wish list for its flagship Colorado resort. The two year-old operator acquired Steamboat in 2018 from Canadian developer Intrawest, which struggled to complete the volume of sustained improvements needed at this premier destination resort. The same was true for prior owner American Skiing Company.
Nonetheless, Ski Town USA grew to become Colorado’s fifth largest resort, hosting nearly 1.1 million skier visits in 2018/19. A new master plan amendment seeks to build on Steamboat’s success by boosting out-of-base capacity, enhancing experiences for varying ability levels and more efficiently moving guests around the mountain.
Perhaps most exciting is the prospect of a base-to-summit lift called Wild Blue. This would be the longest gondola on the continent, rising an impressive 3,465 vertical feet. Intrawest and Alterra spent millions to transform the existing Steamboat Gondola into a modern 3,600 per hour machine, but it’s still not enough to handle the more than 16,000 skiers who show up on peak days. Wild Blue would carry 3,200 riders per hour to a learning center in Bashor Bowl before ascending Sunshine Peak. The two stage gondola would pass over a total of four other lifts.
North America’s second largest resort operator today announced the purchase of two lifts for Mammoth Mountain, new terrain at Steamboat Resort and a two year project to build new trails and lifts at Tremblant. Alterra Mountain Company will complete $223 million worth of capital improvements in total for next season, up from $181 million in 2019-20 and $130 million the year before. Rival Vail Resorts announced back in December spending of $210 to $215 million across 37 mountain resorts, including construction of six new lifts in 2020.
At Mammoth, one of the most utilized lifts in the Alterra system, Broadway Express, will be replaced with a high-speed six place detachable, increasing uphill capacity by 42 percent to 3,200 skiers per hour. Sister lift Canyon Express will be replaced with a 3,000 people per hour six pack, increasing uphill capacity out of Canyon Lodge by 66 percent. Both of these lifts are likely to be supplied by Doppelmayr.
In Colorado, Steamboat Resort will expand onto 355 acres of Pioneer Ridge, providing skiers and riders with more terrain to explore. Pioneer Ridge will feature 1,800 vertical feet of advanced and expert gladed terrain accessible via the Pony Express lift. Twenty five new chairs will be added to the Garaventa CTEC high speed quad, increasing capacity from 1,200 people per hour to 1,800. The Steamboat master plan calls for Pioneer Ridge to eventually feature its own detachable chairlift.
This summer, Tremblant will begin a two-year expansion project called Timber. Quebec’s most popular mountain will open a new beginner zone with a magic carpet on Versant Soleil for 2020-21 to enhance the learning experience for new skiers and riders. In late 2021, the Timber summit will open with a new high speed quad and eight trails leading to Versant Soleil and the North side. “This project, which aims at diversifying the ski area, is part of the continued development of Versant Soleil and reaffirms Tremblant’s leader position as the #1 ski resort in Eastern North America,” said the resort.
“Three years ago, when we formed Alterra Mountain Company, an initial priority was to commit to investing a half a billion dollars by 2023 across our family of North American destinations,” said Rusty Gregory, CEO of Alterra Mountain Company. “To date, we have invested more than $350 million and are committed to exceeding our original plan, spending $575 million by 2020 on lifts and gondolas, snowmaking, summer activities, real estate development, hospitality and technology, all in the name of creating memories for our guests through an elevated mountain experience.” Privately-held Alterra owns 14 resorts, having recently completed its acquisition of Sugarbush.
The Steamboat Gondola will once again carry guests Thursday morning, ten days after a gearbox issue halted operation of the brand new lift. Through a holiday week and major snowstorms, teams worked diligently to make repairs including new parts shipped from Europe. During the downtime, the Christie Peak and Thunderhead Express lifts provided access to terrain normally serviced by the gondola.
Doppelmayr would like to apologize to the Steamboat community for the interruption in service on the gondola, which was caused by a failure of the main gearbox after only two days of public operation. The backup systems functioned properly and the Steamboat team reacted quickly and appropriately after the gearbox failure. Our technicians and engineers worked around the clock with Steamboat personnel and technical experts from Germany, Austria and Canada, to replace the failed gearbox and associated components. We also took additional steps to improve the overall design and brought in a technical expert to eliminate vibration that contributed to the original failure. We have conducted numerous tests and are happy to report that the gondola will return to service on Thursday. We offer a sincere thanks to Rob Perlman, Dave Hunter and Kurt Castor, and to the Steamboat community for their patience and support. We are confident and proud of the Steamboat gondola and look forward to years of use for skiers and snowboarders.
– Mark Bee, President, Doppelmayr USA
The new Steamboat Gondola is the product of a two part, $15+ million replacement project. This past summer, upgrades included new level walk-in cabins, grips, hangers, controls, tensioning systems, drive equipment, towers, line gear and parking. With the number of cabins increased to 137 and line speed pushed to six meters a second, travel time to Thunderhead Lodge is now under ten minutes. Capacity has increased by 38 percent versus the previous Silver Bullet Gondola.
Sometimes setbacks happen, especially with large scale projects such as this one. As the video above demonstrates, lifts are built by teams of dedicated people. I look forward to being one of the thousands to enjoy the new gondola in the coming weeks thanks to their hard work.
Boyne Resorts President and CEO Stephen Kircher discusses lots of exciting possibilities: a 9th peak at Sunday River, additional eight place chairlifts at key locations, more projects at Big Sky and a lift realignment at Sugarloaf.