Vail Resorts to Build New Lifts at Whistler Blackcomb, Park City, Heavenly & Perisher

It’s 4:45 am in Jackson Hole and I’m awake because today is the biggest day of the year for the North American lift business.  Moments ago, Vail Resorts released its first quarter 2018 financial results which include guidance on next year’s capital improvements to the tune of $150 million.  As I speculated it might, Broomfield, Colorado-based Vail is going all in on new lifts next year, with $52 million (CAD$66 million) going to Whistler Blackcomb alone.

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Goodbye Wizard and Solar Coaster, hello gondola on Blackcomb Mountain.

On Blackcomb, the company will add a signature 10-passenger gondola with mid-station replacing Wizard and Solar Coaster, two 1987 bubble quad chairs with very high hours.  The new 4,000 skier-per-hour machine will be W-B’s sixth gondola and the second-highest capacity lift in North America after Squaw Valley’s Gold Coast Funitel.  The mid-station will likely be located downhill of the current Wizard/Solar Coaster transition where more space can be created for a large terminal and cabin parking.  The two stages will be able to be run independently with two haul ropes and separate drive systems.  Together with the Peak 2 Peak and Whistler Village gondolas, the new gondola will create the world’s only three-gondola connection and an impressive 8.4 mile-long continuous sightseeing trip.  The nearby Excalibur Gondola, amazingly Blackcomb’s last all-new lift, debuted in 1994.

The 1997 Doppelmayr-built Emerald Express on Whistler Mountain will move to Blackcomb, replacing the Catskinner triple likely in a modified alignment.  An all-new Emerald six-place lift will also welcome skiers on Whistler Mountain for 2018-19.  “Our integration efforts at Whistler Blackcomb are largely complete,” commented Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz.  “We believe this plan will dramatically improve the on-mountain experience for our guests with enhanced lift capacity, improved circulation and a significantly elevated experience for skiers, riders and sightseeing guests.”  The three new lifts represent a combined 43 percent improvement in capacity over the lifts they replace and are part of the largest-ever capital improvement season at Whistler Blackcomb, topping even the 2008 construction of the Peak 2 Peak Gondola.  “We believe these transformational, mountain-focused investments are the most significant improvements we can undertake to support Whistler Blackcomb’s long-term growth and our commitment to pursue the most impactful projects to enhance the guest experience,” Vail noted.

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In a bit of a surprise, Vail chose to upgrade High Meadow at Park City Mountain, the main beginner lift at Canyons Village.

At Park City, the rumored Sunrise replacement will wait for another year but the High Meadow lift will be swapped for a high-speed quad chair, reducing ride time by 70 percent and anchoring a new family fun zone.  On the shores of Lake Tahoe, Heavenly will finally replace Galaxy, which has fallen into disuse.  A new fixed-grip triple chair will serve 400 acres of terrain that was inaccessible the past two seasons.  Vail Resorts will also replace a T-Bar with a fixed-grip quad at Perisher in Australia.  “We remain committed to reinvesting in our resorts, creating an experience of a lifetime for our guests and generating strong returns for our shareholders,” Katz concluded.

Galaxy will remain closed this season but 2018 will see a new lift go in on the Nevada side of Heavenly.

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News Roundup: Express

  • Both Doppelmayr and Leitner-Poma show off gondolas at the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions expo in Orlando.
  • A startup venture is restoring Hall, Riblet and Heron-Poma chairs for sale online.
  • Snow King Mountain says the outcome of a rent dispute with the Town of Jackson could affect its ability to replace Summit with a gondola.
  • Afton Alps ditches Lift 8, a 1969 Heron triple, for a terrain park.
  • Re: Saddleback sale, an investigative report by the Portland, Maine NBC station concludes, “the money isn’t there” and “the deal could fall apart entirely.”
  • Killington switches from a James Niehues-painted trail map to a VistaMap this year; Whiteface and Belleayre ditch VistaMap for Kevin Mastin paintings.  Gunstock goes from a computer-generated map to a James Niehues one and Mt. Snow does the opposite.
  • The first lift sporting Leitner Ropeways’ new station design is almost finished.

  • A county supervisor in San Diego who gets gondolas does a great interview about them.
  • Aspen-affiliated KSL resort group to have a name by Christmas, launch a new pass product next year and continue participating in the Mountain Collective.
  • Doppelmayr releases fiscal 2016/17 global results: project count up 2.9 percent to 106, employee headcount up 1.8 percent to 2,720, revenue down 4 percent to €801 million ($948 million.)
  • T minus 14 days ’til Vail Resorts reveals preliminary lift plans for next year.

News Roundup: Resources

  • Amid zip line dispute, Peak Resorts threatens to close Hidden Valley, remove five chairlifts and sell the land to a residential developer.
  • “I’m very confident we’re going to have new resources we haven’t had in previous years,” Steamboat COO says of Crown/KSL ownership.  Deer Valley President and COO Bob Wheaton makes similar comments in Park City.
  • Saddleback sale to Australian firm still hasn’t closed.
  • Bear Valley’s six-pack looks great in green and now has a name: Mokelumne Express.
  • Who says detachable terminals must be symmetrical?  Leitner experiments in Europe.
  • T-Bar area in Edmonton, Alberta shuts down.
  • At the end of a tough year, Granby Ranch goes up for sale.
  • New Heavenly trail map confirms Galaxy won’t spin again this season, leaving a big hole in Nevada.
  • Epic Passes account for 43 percent of Vail Resorts revenue.
  • New lifts at the Yellowstone Club get names: Eglise, Great Bear and Little Dipper.  A few hundred families now enjoy the 14th largest lift fleet in the country.

News Roundup: Following

  • Mt. Hood Meadows, Skytrac and Timberline Helicopters fly Buttercup towers in just 45 minutes.
  • Vail Resorts schedules annual meeting for Wednesday, December 6th, where multiple new lift projects are likely to be revealed.
  • Aspen Skiing Company, the City of Aspen, private landowners and the public collaborate towards building a long-sought detachable Lift 1.
  • Latest LST detach update: chairs are back at the factory being reworked and the Envers lift is expected to be up and running around Christmas.
  • Revelstoke adds 24 new gondola cabins, Crystal Mountain gets five more.
  • Navajo Nation leadership soundly rejects Grand Canyon Escalade gondola in 16-2 vote.
  • SkiCo and the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club plan to build a platter surface lift on the skier’s right side of Golden Horn at Aspen Highlands next summer.
  • There’s an unconfirmed rumor that the Cyclone at Sunrise Park, AZ won’t operate this winter.  The 1983 Yan is North America’s longest triple chair at 7,982′ with 32 towers and 352 chairs.  I’ve reached out to Sunrise for comment and will update if I hear anything.
  • Montana Snowbowl’s TV Mountain expansion won’t open this season.
  • After building three new lifts in a row, the Hermitage Club finds itself in a cash flow crunch.

News Roundup: Dire

  • Hemlock Mountain, BC re-brands as Sasquatch Mountain and eyes a high-speed quad to replace Skyline.
  • Vail Resorts’ fiscal 2017 net income rose 40.6 percent and skier visits 20.1 percent over 2016 with Epic Pass pass sales trending 17 percent higher for 2017-18.
  • Och-Ziff sells Mountain High back to previous ownership group.
  • Frost Fire, ND won’t open this winter, citing the “dire” condition of its triple chairlift.  The nonprofit mountain estimates $1.35 million is needed to buy a replacement.  The statement makes no mention of the mountain’s other lift, a double chair with Poma components.
  • Sugarloaf’s five year plan would turn the SuperQuad into a SuperSix in 2019, move the CTEC Stealth to Timberline and add a T-Bar to Brackett Basin in 2021.
  • Kevin Mastin paints a new trail map for Whiteface.
  • Belleayre’s gondola will feature a new rack design for snowboards and skis of different sizes.
  • Steamboat Resort won’t operate Howelsen Hill.
  • Resorts grapple with whether service dogs should ride chairlifts.
  • Allen Peak Tram’s new tower is in at Snowbasin.
  • Doppelmayr’s latest Wir magazine features Oakland’s new gondola and more.

News Roundup: Selloff

  • Owing $3.8 million to creditors, Deer Mountain, SD to be sold to the highest bidder in a sheriff’s sale today.  The mountain has two Riblet chairlifts.
  • Curbed counts down 11 gondolas changing the way people move through cities.
  • Steamboat sells off triple chairs from Four Points in 28 minutes (the lift got new Doppelmayr ones in 2012.)
  • Taos offloads 200 chairs from lifts 5 and 6 for $200 each with proceeds going to hurricane relief.  As of this writing, 37 remain.
  • Leitner Ropeways’ new gondola at the world’s largest hotel transported 3.5 million passengers in its first eight months.
  • Aspen Mountain installs Bluetooth speakers in Silver Queen Gondola cabins.
  • China Peak completes its first quad chair, the old Elkhead from Steamboat.
  • The Burnaby Mountain Gondola is back on the table.
  • Leitner-Poma of America inks contract to build a US$7.1 million high-speed quad at Falls Creek in Australia.
  • Vail Resorts launches interactive website with lift downtime and wait time data for last season at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Park City.
  • Belleayre’s gondola cabins arrive from across the pond.  Unfortunately, the name of the lift is spelled wrong on all of them.
  • Ski Magazine predicts the KSL-Aspen duo will benefit skiers with a second Epic-style season pass and major resort upgrades.
  • Skytrac and Timberline Helicopters fly towers for the new East Rim lift at Whitefish.  Thanks Buzz D. for these cool photos.

Will Vail Resorts Build Big in 2018?

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With the additions of Whistler Blackcomb and Stowe, Vail Resorts’ reach is larger than ever.  The company typically announces new lifts projects in a single press release each December.  Photo credit: Whistler Blackcomb/Vail Resorts.

If you follow the ski industry, mark your calendar for four months from now, the week of December 4th.  Very early one morning that week, the largest mountain resort operator in the world will release its fiscal 2018 first quarter results and, more importantly to this audience, outline capital expenditures for 2018.  Last year, this is the moment Vail Resorts committed to building three six-packs as part of $103 million in capital spending for 2017 (the company later added a fourth detachable to this year’s class, the Red Buffalo Express at Beaver Creek.)  In December 2015, MTN announced a high-speed quad for Vail Mountain and in 2014, $50 million in improvements including three new lifts at Park City plus another six-pack at Vail.  So, what might be on the likely $120+ million agenda for 2018?

Vail Mountain

  1. Game Creek Express #7 six-pack.  The current 1985 version of Game Creek is the oldest operating lift on Vail Mountain and one of three remaining CLD-260 style Doppelmayr detachables there.  It is likely to be replaced with a six-pack, increasing capacity by at least 25 percent in popular Game Creek Bowl.  Of the recent six-pack upgrades at Vail, two were built by Doppelmayr (Avanti #2 and Mountaintop #4) and one by Leitner-Poma (Northwoods #11.)vail 4-1-07 184
  2. Orient Express #21 six-pack.  Three years newer than Game Creek but still with DS grips, Orient Express serves some of the most popular terrain in Vail’s famous Back Bowls below the equally popular Two Elk Lodge.  A six-pack upgrade would be the first such lift in the Back Bowls or Blue Sky Basin.
  3. Wildwood Express #3 six-pack.  A 1995 CTEC, Wildwood is not as old as other detachables recently replaced at Vail, but it serves a high-traffic pod between Mid-Vail and its namesake Wildwood.  Parts from this lift could be used as spares for Riva Bahn/Pride Express and Cinch, Bachelor, Grouse Mountain and Strawberry Park high-speed quads at Beaver Creek.
  4. Born Free Express #8 replacement.  Born Free is the 1988 sister ship to Orient and runs parallel to the Eagle Bahn Gondola, built 1996.  Vail could opt to address both lifts in the coming years with a gondola like Keystone’s or replace only Born Free with a new high-speed quad or six-pack.
  5. Golden Peak Race lift.  In April, Vail submitted a master plan amendment to add a third lift on Golden Peak above the Riva Bahn mid-station.  This short fixed-grip chairlift or surface lift would primarily serve an extended race course.vailgoldenpeakexpansion

Beaver Creek

  1. Arrow Bahn Express replacement.  Beaver Creek doesn’t see nearly the traffic that Vail does and has seen ten new lifts since 2000.  However, Arrow Bahn Express is by far the oldest lift at Beaver Creek, built in 1988 to serve a separate Arrowhead ski area.  A CLD-260 like Game Creek, Orient and Born Free but with lower hours for its age, Arrow Bahn might make it a bit longer.img_4153

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Nowhere to Go But Up: The Keystone Master Plan

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Keystone Resort in Dillon, Colorado hosts more than one million skiers and snowboarders annually and plans to add up to eight lifts to accommodate growing demand in Summit County.

Of the dozen North American skier visit champions, only one mountain operates fewer than 15 lifts.  Number one Vail has 25, number two Breck 23.  Whistler and Mammoth spin even more. But the fourth most-visited ski area on the continent has only 13 lifts. That mountain is Keystone, an intermediate skiing mecca under 100 miles from Denver International Airport.

In 2009, Vail Resorts and SE Group updated the resort’s master plan, a road map for expansion over the coming decades.  With eight new lifts planned for Dercum Mountain, North Peak and The Outback, Keystone’s plan outlines significantly more growth than slated for Vail’s other Colorado resorts.  Much of the expansion would come above current lift service, adding high-alpine terrain to attract a broader spectrum of skiers and snowboarders to Keystone.

Dercum Mountain

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  • Ski Tip Gondola.  A new Ski Tip portal is planned with a 3,400′ x 1,154′ two-way gondola that could transition approximately 18 percent of skiers away from the crowded River Run and Marmot portals.  Skiers would ride the gondola to a point above the River Run Gondola mid-station and return there at the end of the day to ride back down.  Critics have suggested this gondola is merely a real estate play.
  • Two-stage Argentine high-speed quad.  A new high speed quad could replace Argentine and continue to a point near the Dercum summit with a mid-load angle station in the vicinity of the former Saints John and Ida Belle lifts.  Three new trails would be cut between Peru and Montezuma.  The mid-station would take pressure off the crowded Lower Schoolmarm trail and Peru Express.
  • Summit Learning Center Lift.  A new fixed-grip triple chairlift is proposed to connect the top of the new Argentine to the top of the mountain between Ranger and Montezuma. This would be the seventh lift to serve the summit of Dercum Mountain.  With the new triple’s 1,000 skiers per hour, a whopping 16,800 people could theoretically unload at the Summit House in one hour.

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News Roundup: Shuffle

News Roundup: Interalpin

  • Revelstoke homeowners aren’t happy lift development has stalled for almost ten years now.  The resort’s response identifies master plan lifts 1 and 11 as the highest priorities but notes construction of them is subject to market demand.
  • In an interview, new Crystal Mountain owner John Kircher says he wants to build a second gondola to Campbell Basin.
  • NY State Fair gondola continues to be targeted as an example of government waste.
  • Whaleback’s T-Bar project is a go.  The lift came from Plattekill, NY and will be installed by SkyTrans.
  • New Gatlinburg Sky Lift looks to be almost finished.
  • Poma reaches agreement to build new gondolas in Vietnam with the first next-generation Sigma Diamond EVO cabins introduced yesterday at Interalpin.  The new cabins offer more natural light and feature doors that slide rather than opening out.
  • Move over D-Line: the new Leitner Station is here.
  • LST gets another detachable contract.
  • Leitner launches urban gondola in Berlin.
  • Skier visits at Vail Resorts were down 2.8 percent this season but lift ticket revenue increased 7.4 percent.
  • Mi Teleférico opens $1.5 million Operations Control Center with 22 people monitoring 1,300 surveillance cameras on 66 screens and lightning detection system for four gondola lines.
  • Purgatory will add a mid-station to its Needles triple this summer.