News Roundup: Chances for Chairs

News Roundup: Letters from the Top

Vail Resorts to Build 19 Lifts at 14 Resorts in 2022

Vail Resorts today announced it will pump $320 million into its mountains coming out of the pandemic, building a whopping 19 new lifts next year. The company’s largest-ever annual investment will include a new gondola at Whistler Blackcomb, the firm’s first North American eight person chairlift at Park City and expansion into Bergman Bowl at Keystone. Vail properties across the Northeast and Midwest will also see new lifts. “Our mission at Vail Resorts is to provide an Experience of a Lifetime to anyone who visits our resorts – and delivering on that mission requires constant re-imagination and investment into the guest experience,” said Rob Katz, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Vail Resorts. “Our teams have been hard at work identifying significant opportunities to improve the guest experience and have produced an initial list of exciting lift upgrades, a restaurant expansion and projects that expand access to incredible terrain for next season, with more to be announced.”

Subject to government approvals, lift projects planned ahead of the 2022-23 season include:

British Columbia, Canada

  • Whistler Blackcomb, Creekside Gondola: A new 8-person gondola, replacing the existing 6-person gondola, will significantly improve wait times and increase out-of-base uphill capacity by 35% in the Creekside area, especially on high-volume days.
  • Whistler Blackcomb, Big Red Express: The replacement of the existing high-speed 4-person lift with a high-speed 6-person chair will increase uphill capacity by nearly 30% and enhance and modernize the guest experience mid-mountain out of the Creekside area.

Colorado

  • Keystone Resort, Bergman Bowl: Enhancements to Bergman Bowl will include a new high-speed 6-person chairlift, increasing lift-served terrain by 555 acres. Additional enhancements include 16 new trails, a ski patrol facility and snowmaking infrastructure. This project unlocks access for novice and intermediate guests and provides expanded entry to expert terrain in Independence and Erickson Bowls.
  • Vail Mountain, Sun Down Lift: The installation of a new high-speed 4-person chair in the Sun Down Bowl from the base of Chair 5 (High Noon Express) to the Wildwood restaurant will materially reduce wait times on peak days at Chair 5 and create the opportunity for skiers and riders to much more conveniently access the trails in Sun Down Bowl.
  • Vail Mountain, Game Creek Bowl: Skiers and riders will see improved reliability and capacity in this popular bowl with the replacement of the current 4-person chair with a new high-speed 6-person lift, increasing capacity by nearly 50%.
  • Breckenridge Ski Resort, Rip’s Ride Lift: The beginner/ski and ride school experience will be enhanced at the highly utilized Peak 8 base area by replacing the current fixed-grip double with a high-speed 4-person chair, increasing uphill capacity by nearly 70% and improving out-of-base circulation.

Utah

  • Park City Mountain, Eagle Lift: A high-speed 6-person chair with a new mid-station will replace the existing Eagle lift, significantly reducing crowding and wait times, and improving the guest experience, especially for beginner skiers and ski and ride school guests.
  • Park City Mountain, Silverlode 8-Person Lift: Vail Resorts’ first-ever high-speed 8-person chair, replacing an existing 6-person chair, will increase uphill capacity by 20% and reduce wait times at a critical spot to circulate guests on mountain.

Lake Tahoe, California & Nevada

  • Northstar California, Comstock Lift: A new high-speed 6-person chair will replace the existing mid-mountain 4-person chair and is designed to reduce wait times at one of the mountain’s most popular lifts and increase uphill capacity by nearly 50%.
  • Heavenly Ski Resort, North Bowl Lift: The replacement of an existing fixed-grip triple with a high-speed 4-person chair will increase uphill capacity by more than 40% and reduce the combined ride time of the Boulder and North Bowl lifts, which is expected to reduce wait times at the Stagecoach and Olympic lifts.

Vermont & New Hampshire 

  • Stowe Mountain Resort, Mountain Lift: The replacement and extension of the existing fixed-grip triple to a high-speed 6-person lift will increase uphill capacity by 100%, eliminate the steep hike to the base of the lift, improve reliability on windy days and offer beginner and intermediate guests with better access to lower-level terrain choices.
  • Mount Snow, Sundance/Tumbleweed Lift: The replacement of the Sundance and Tumbleweed triples with one high-speed 6-person lift will improve access to underutilized terrain and alleviate pressure on other lifts in the main base area, increasing uphill capacity by nearly 70%.
  • Mount Snow, Sunbrook Lift: A new high-speed 4-person chair to replace the existing fixed-grip quad will significantly decrease the current 14-minute ride time by approximately 30% and result in better utilization of the Sunbrook terrain.
  • Attitash Mountain Resort: The replacement of the East and West Double-Double chairs with one fixed-grip 4-person chair will improve reliability and enhance the overall guest experience.

Pennsylvania & Ohio

  • Jack Frost/Big Boulder: The replacement and consolidation of multiple lifts at both resorts will improve reliability and enhance the overall guest experience. Jack Frost will receive two new fixed-grip 4-person chairs (one to replace the B & C lifts and the other to replace the E & F lifts) and Big Boulder will receive a new fixed-grip 4-person chair to replace the Edelweiss Triple.
  • Boston Mills/Brandywine: At Boston Mills, the resort will get a new fixed-grip 4-person chair replacing the Lift 5 double. At Brandywine, a new fixed-grip 4-person chair will replace the Lift 3 triple.

Including this latest capital plan dubbed the Epic Lift Upgrade, Vail Resorts’ total investment is expected to reach approximately $2.2 billion over 15 years. The move comes as Vail enjoys brisk season pass sales. Epic Pass adoption through September 17, 2021 for the upcoming 2021/2022 North American winter season increased approximately 42 percent in units and approximately 17 percent in sales dollars as compared to the same period in the prior year. Compared with pre-pandemic 2019, Epic Pass sales increased an incredible 67 percent in units and 45 percent in sales dollars.

Although no manufacturers were identified for the 19 new lifts, an initiative of this size is likely to include multiple suppliers.

News Roundup: Dedication

How Many Lifts Could Vail Resorts Announce Next Month?

With four recent additions, Vail Resorts Inc. now operates just over 10 percent of American and Canadian lifts, more than any other company.  Vail prides itself on investing heavily in its mountains and the average lift at an Epic resort is three years newer than the rest of the industry.  The company’s lifts now number 305 in the United States, Canada and Australia with an average age of 24.6 years.  If we assume the average lift lasts 35 years, Vail would now need to replace an average of about nine lifts per year just to turn over its fleet.

A little less than a year ago, a smaller VR unveiled plans for seven new lifts as part of a $150 million annual capital plan, the largest in the company’s history.  Back in 2016, Vail committed to building three six-packs as part of $103 million in capital spending for 2017 (VR later added a fourth detachable to that year’s class, the Red Buffalo Express at Beaver Creek.)  In December 2015, the Broomfield-based company announced a high-speed quad for Vail Mountain and in 2014, it was $50 million in improvements including three new lifts at Park City plus another six pack at Vail.  Over the last five years, more resorts have consistently led to more revenue and more capital investments.  The company said it will invest $35 million at the four new mountains in the next two years, making it possible this December’s announcement will be the most valuable ever.

Colorado

Going resort by resort, the most obvious projects are ones already in the pipeline, namely the Game Creek Express #7 replacement and Golden Peak race lift at Vail.  But VR could go bigger like it did this summer at Whistler Blackcomb, spending $52 million to package four lift replacements together.  On Vail Mountain, additional aging lifts likely to be up-gauged to six-packs eventually are Orient Express #21, Born Free Express #8 and Wildwood Express #3.  The mothership mountain has the third largest and third newest lift fleet in the company and I expect investment to continue at Vail following this year’s pause.

vail 4-1-07 187
Vail’s lift 7 is the only chair in Game Creek Bowl and could use more capacity.

On average, the newest lifts within Vail Resorts are at Beaver Creek, which opened decades later than its peers.  A major expansion was approved in September – McCoy Park – which may be implemented in 2020.  In advance of those two new lifts, the Strawberry Park Express could be updated in 2019 to a higher capacity gondola.  The oldest lift at Beaver Creek is the 1988 Arrow Bahn Express, which eventually will be replaced by a newer detachable.  Probably not this year though.

Sticking in Colorado, Breckenridge is usually the first or second most visited resort in America and did not see a new lift in 2018.  I say a Riblet gets replaced here in 2019 and my vote would be 6-Chair with a high speed quad.  My second guess would be C-Chair followed by 5, A, E and Rip’s Ride.  If Vail decides to continue replacing older high speed quads instead, Beaver Run SuperChair is the logical candidate.

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6 Chair at Breckenridge is wildly popular despite being fixed grip and 40 years old.

Keystone has both expansion possibilities and lifts that could be upgraded.  The project everyone’s been clamoring for is a detachable lift from The Outback to replace WaybackPeru Express is the oldest high speed lift at Keystone and a core workhorse, making it likely to be replaced with a six pack soon.  Outback Express is one year newer and in a similar situation.  Another possible replacement is Argentine, a 1977 Lift Engineering double that the 2009 Keystone Master Development Plan proposed replacing with a two stage detachable.  The new lift would load near Peru, have an angle station above Lower Schoolmarm and continue all the way to the ridge of Dercum Mountain.  The Keystone MDP also outlines major expansions that I expect we will hear more about over the next decade.  They include a Ski Tip gondola, Bergman Bowl lift, Independence Bowl lift, Windows lift and Outback surface lift.  Whatever Vail chooses, I am hopeful for a new lift or two at Keystone in 2019.

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I don’t mind Wayback at Keystone but I also rarely ski in Colorado on weekends or holidays.

Crested Butte is the new kid on the block and Vail may wait a year or more to do anything lift wise.  The mountain’s Teocalli II expansion is still moving through the Forest Service NEPA process.  The Mueller family invested heavily in the Triple Peaks resorts over the years and I don’t see a whole lot needed near-term at CBMR.  Replacing original Teocalli with a high speed quad would be a nice way to burn some of the promised $35 million.

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Instagram Tuesday: Twilight

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

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Instagram Tuesday: Shades

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

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Night creature sunrise!

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News Roundup: Lost

  • Tussey Mountain thinks weakened spring packs caused last weekend’s lift incident and plans to reopen Saturday.
  • As many speculated it would, Vail is taking a wait and see approach to capital improvements at Stowe.
  • A lawsuit is filed against Granby Ranch one year after a fatal lift accident there.
  • Billionaire philanthropist Barry Diller considers gifting a $30 million gondola to the people of Los Angeles, which would travel over 2.2 miles of parkland from the city’s zoo to the Hollywood sign.
  • One Hall double at the defunct Big Tupper ski area will reopen next winter, with another needing extensive work before it can spin.
  • A report suggests Sunrise Park mechanic Reggie Antonio lost his life when the lift he was working on moved while he was in a work chair but still attached to a tower.
  • Proposed urban gondolas find friends and foes in San Diego.
  • LiftDigital safety bar screens go live on five chairs at Winter Park.
  • Garaventa completes the world’s steepest funicular railway in Switzerland.
  • New owner of Mt. Whittier, NH weighs the future of a lost ski area with a 1963 Mueller gondola that still stands adjacent to a McDonald’s drive through.

Instagram Tuesday: Metropolitan

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

https://www.instagram.com/p/BbdEjubF3QM/

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Instagram Tuesday: Vail Land

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

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