After spending approximately $150 million on capital improvements in 2018, Vail Resorts revealed early this morning its capital plan for 2019. First, a recap. The company went big on lifts this year, building a total of seven including the game-changing Blackcomb Gondola, Catskinner Express and Emerald 6 Express at Whistler Blackcomb, High Meadow Express at Park City and new Galaxy triple at Heavenly. Contracts for projects in all three countries Vail operates were awarded to Doppelmayr this round. With Stevens Pass joining Vail Resorts in August and Crested Butte, Mt. Sunapee and Okemo following in September, next year’s focus will skew towards snowmaking, ticketing infrastructure and restaurants.
Vail will build two lifts at Stevens in 2019. “We plan to replace and upgrade the Daisy and Brooks lifts, both of which serve critical terrain for beginner and intermediate skiers and snowboarders,” says the company. The lift replacements will reduce lift line wait times and increase total lift capacity at Stevens Pass by more than nine percent. Brooks is slated to become a high speed, detachable quad and Daisy a fixed grip quad pending Forest Service approval. Other projects include snowmaking expansions at Keystone, Vail and Beaver Creek, a new Tombstone restaurant at Park City and new skier services facility at Breckenridge. “We remain committed to reinvesting in our resorts, creating an experience of a lifetime for our guests and generating strong returns for our shareholders,” notes CEO Rob Katz.
Christmas has come early! This morning, Vail Resorts announced 2 modern chairlifts will replace the Brooks & Daisy lifts for 2019-20, subject to US Forest Service approval. It’s all part of a $35 million investment in its newest resorts. Details: https://t.co/mCp7yXpHQzpic.twitter.com/Pm6qTD1HiG
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.
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.
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.
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 Wayback. Peru 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.
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.
The only aerial tramway in Texas closes after nearly six decades. “Replacement of the Wyler Aerial Tramway is estimated to cost millions of dollars. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department does not have the financial resources to execute a capital construction project of this size at this time.”
Michael Doppelmayr is profiled for his 60th birthday. Some interesting facts: his company’s gross margin was 12.1 percent last year and his father Artur vehemently opposed Doppelmayr’s merger with Garaventa.
New York’s high court clears the way for Belleayre to expand into the former Highmount Ski Center.
Bretton Woods and Doppelmayr make great progress on New Hampshire’s first 8 passenger gondola.
The leaders of North and South Korea ride a pulse gondola during their three day summit.
The State of New Hampshire will hold a public meeting about transferring the Mt. Sunapee lease to Vail Resorts on September 26th.
Utah ski resorts will debut three new chairlifts for the 2018-19 season and although none of them service new terrain, each will make lives better for skiers and snowboarders. One of my stops this weekend was Park City Mountain, where Vail Resorts announced the creation of a reimagined High Meadow Family Fun Zone back in December. A new Doppelmayr detachable quad, opened up runs, upgraded snowmaking and candy cabin are coming together above the Red Pine Gondola. The new lift will have 8 towers, down from 11 on the old CTEC quad, which is sitting under the Cabriolet for now.
Across old town Park City at Deer Valley, another Doppelmayr detachable quad is replacing another CTEC fixed-grip quad. Highlander Lift Services & Construction is assembling Homestake Express in the existing alignment but again with fewer towers. I think the new number is eight, down from a dozen in this high traffic area above Silver Lake Lodge. For its second winter under Alterra, Deer Valley will operate an impressive 13 high speed quads this season. The 1999 version of Homestake is bound for Utah Olympic Park.
Purgatory Resort closes indefinitely and is under a mandatory evacuation order due to the nearby 416 Fire.
Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz tells analysts in a conference call there are still select acquisition opportunities in North America (with more elsewhere) and that there are no specific plans yet for the $35 million in capital earmarked for Okemo, Mt. Sunapee, Crested Butte and Stevens Pass.
Swiss manufacturer BMF and French competitor LST team up to sell urban ropeways in France.
The Forest Service tentatively approves Steamboat’s Pioneer Ridge expansion, Bashor Gondola and other new lifts.
A plan for the complete rebuild and reopening of Denton Hill, Pennsylvania is now online.
Less than a month after opening its first two urban gondolas, the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo unveils plans for a massive 6.8 mile, six station 3S gondola line.
Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows and the Sierra Club sign an agreement for the resort to abandon California Express Alternative 2 in exchange for the group withholding legal action against alternatives 3 and 4.
The Seattle suburb of Kirkland looks to a possible aerial lift to connect its city center with an upcoming bus rapid transit station.
Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz and Whistler Blackcomb COO Pete Sonntag do a wide ranging interview with the local newspaper after a challenging year and a half.
The largest publicly-traded ski resort company in the world today simultaneously unveiled two major transactions to buy ski resorts in four different states for more than $300 million. Vail Resorts will acquire Triple Peaks, LLC for $82 million and Stevens Pass, Washington for $67 million, subject to regulatory approval. The former, founded and owned by Tim and Dianne Mueller, operates Okemo Mountain Resort in Vermont, Crested Butte Mountain Resort in Colorado and Mt. Sunapee in New Hampshire, hence the name Triple Peaks. Broomfield, Colorado-based Vail will buy out the three resorts’ long term leases from Oz Real Estate upon closing for an additional $155 million. Okemo, Mt. Sunapee and Crested Butte signed onto the industry-pioneering Epic Pass back in March and will now offer unlimited, unrestricted access for Epic passholders.
Another Oz-owned resort, Stevens Pass, will be sold to Vail for $67 million in a separate deal subject to regulatory approval. Stevens Pass is currently operated by Karl Kapuscinski along with Mountain High, California. The SoCal resort is not included in Vail’s purchase. Stevens Pass will join the Epic Pass for the first time, making it an even more compelling product for Pacific Northwest skiers who frequent Whistler Blackcomb. Stevens will also be included in the Edge Card, a product that predated Vail and is offered exclusively to residents of British Columbia and Washington. Notably, Stevens Pass has major lift expansions on both flanks of the current trail system in its approved master plan.
With today’s news and other deals including the sale of six resorts to Boyne Resorts, the Oz Real Estate Ski Resort Holdings portfolio now includes just Jiminy Peak and Sierra at Tahoe, down from 15 resorts at its peak under CNL Lifestyle Properties. Northstar California, Mountain High and Bretton Woods were also sold off over the last few years.