News Roundup: Ripple Effect

  • Saddleback demolishes the Rangeley double to make room for its upcoming high speed quad.
  • Debt-laden Ski Granby Ranch lays off all its employees and won’t issue refunds to guests with canceled vacations.
  • The $2.2 trillion phase three stimulus package passed by Congress doesn’t include assistance specifically for ski areas but there is hope phase four might.
  • Vail Resorts borrows more than $500 million from existing lines of credit in order to increase its cash position and maintain financial flexibility during the outbreak.
  • While many Leitner-Poma staffers work from home, a skeleton crew continues production.
  • Even in hard-hit Italy, one major lift customer plans to commence construction as soon as the immediate health danger has passed.
  • Many Doppelmayr employees are also working from home and production continues in Wolfurt.
  • Aspen Snowmass intends to complete all capital projects as planned this summer including the $10.8 million Big Burn chairlift.
  • Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz personally donates $2.5 million to mountain community charities and an employee assistance fund.
  • Yet another lift project cancelled by Vail Resorts: replacement of Peachtree at Crested Butte this summer.
  • NSAA estimates costs from early closings and lost pass sales will exceed $2 billion in the United States and forecasts capital spending will plunge 50 percent this year.
  • Magic Mountain’s Geoff Hatheway offers a small ski area perspective on COVID-19.
  • Coronavirus may impact the review timeline for Snow King Mountain’s proposed expansion and other projects on Forest Service lands.
  • Katharina Schmitz officially takes the reigns of Doppelmayr USA from Mark Bee, who retired on March 31st.
  • Boyne Resorts estimates $22 million in lost revenue as a result of this winter’s abrupt end.
  • The Vietnamese developer behind both the world’s longest and tallest 3S gondolas plans another island-hopping 3S in the country’s north.

Vail Resorts Cancels All 2020 Lift Construction

Ski industry fallout from the global pandemic continues.  Vail Resorts today announced the deferral of lift construction projects slated for Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Okemo due to a dramatic decline in revenue, which is expected to continue into fiscal year 2021.  The suite of projects was first announced last December, the same month COVID-19 first appeared in Wuhan, China.  While the virus spread across Asia, lift manufacturers were gearing up to build lifts that now won’t happen this year.  Beaver Creek had planned a major expansion into McCoy Park and Okemo earmarked a new bubble six pack for Jackson Gore.  Both Breckenridge and Keystone planned new chairlifts to increase uphill capacity in high traffic areas.

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McCoy Park, Beaver Creek’s deferred terrain expansion, would include two new lifts and 15 trails.

Vail said weeks ago coronavirus will cost the company between $180 and 200 million in March and April alone.  Eliminating lift construction, terrain expansions and discretionary base area improvements will save the publicly-traded company $80 to 85 million while allowing the vast majority of maintenance capital projects to proceed.  “The circumstances surrounding COVID-19 are unprecedented and the financial impact to our Company and the broader travel industry has been significant,” noted Rob Katz, Chief Executive Officer of Vail Resorts.  “We are taking proactive steps to align our capital spending and return of capital approach to ensure that we remain positioned for long-term success.”  Other steps revealed today include the furlough of nearly all year-round hourly employees, suspension of the company’s shareholder dividend, salary reductions for non-hourly employees and elimination of cash compensation for the CEO and board of directors.

The decision to postpone lifts is a blow to both major lift manufacturers but particularly Leitner-Poma, which like Vail itself, is Colorado-based.  The firm had been awarded contracts to build three detachable chairlifts and move another this summer.  Doppelmayr USA had planned to install the two machines at Beaver Creek.

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The second largest Vail project this summer was to be replacement of Quantum Four at Okemo with a larger bubble lift.  The existing quad was slated to move over to Green Ridge.

As goes Vail, often go others.  While I’m hopeful some lifts (and the jobs that come with them) are safe, more deferrals are possible.  Rival Alterra Mountain Company planned to add only two lifts this year, both six place chairlifts at Mammoth Mountain.  The privately-held group has not announced any changes to its capital plan thus far.  In tough times, every company is understandably revisiting capital budgets and commitments, however.

The sudden onset of such deep uncertainty in this critical period of the lift production cycle is unprecedented.  With the elimination of Vail Resorts projects for 2020, announced US and Canada complete new lifts stand at 24, fewer than Doppelmayr built by itself last year.

News Roundup: In This Together

  • Citing the pandemic, Hermitage Club founder Jim Barnes seeks to delay today’s auction of resort assets.  A judge orders the auction to proceed at 10:00 am via telephone.
  • A group intends to sue to stop the State of Alaska from awarding a new lease of public land to Arctic Valley Ski Area.
  • For the first time since it opened, the Disney Skyliner gondola lines are completely devoid of cabins.
  • Vail Resorts reveals Coronavirus will cost at least $180 million and the company is reviewing preciously announced capital expenditures including six planned lifts.
  • The Indy Pass will include at least 47 resorts for 2020-21.
  • Though the Alaska cruise ship season is delayed until at least July 1st, Icy Strait Point still plans to welcome passengers aboard its new gondola system.
  • The website is live for Saddleback 2.0.
  • Timberline Mountain now plans to unveil its reopening lift plans early next week.
  • Construction continues on New Zealand’s first D-Line and a three station gondola at Thredbo, Australia.
  • One of Colorado’s Senators asks the Forest Service to waive remaining 2020 rent payments for 122 ski areas located on National Forest lands.
  • Skyline Investments, owner of two ski resorts and many other hospitality businesses, reports record revenue but warns Coronavirus will have significant impacts including the possible closure of resorts through summer.
  • Skytrac is the low bidder for all three quads proposed for Gore and Whiteface Mountains.

 

Coronavirus Shutters Vail Resorts, All of Alterra and Many More

North America’s ski industry is following in the unfortunate footsteps of its counterparts in Asia and Europe, forced to end winter operations early to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.  Among the first to pull the plug the past two days were Berkshire East, Jay Peak, Taos and Nub’s Nob.

What started as a trickle became a deluge Saturday.  In Colorado, Governor Jared Polis issued an executive order compelling all resorts to close following outbreaks in Eagle, Pitkin, and Summit counties.  Even before the order, the continent’s two largest resort companies almost simultaneously announced complete shutdowns effective tomorrow.  The 37 Vail facilities will remain closed until at least March 22nd and will continue to pay scheduled employees.  Many independent mountains are staying open for now.

This is uncharted territory but I’m certain the ski business will be okay.  Unlike other industries, we are used to doing this between seasons, albeit under very different circumstances.  The United States government has promised help to small and mid-sized businesses along with hourly employees who are missing work and pay.  Canada and governments around the world will likely do the same.  Hopefully many full time, year rounders can keep working and get important maintenance done.

Normally March on this blog features announcement after announcement of exciting new projects from lift manufacturers and their customers.  At this point, already formalized projects are pacing about the same as last year and none have been publicly canceled.  Hopefully production can continue and this mess abates in time for construction to get going as snow melts.  There are many unknowns, however.

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Glacier Bowl Express yesterday at Alyeska Resort, my 417th ski area.  Alyeska and most of Alaska’s ski resorts remain open.

Those of you on Instagram know I’m in one of the world’s most amazing places right now: Alaska.  Operations at resorts were normal across the board the past few days and the weather was perfect in a state with only one confirmed case of COVID-19.  Tomorrow I will attempt to fly home and reassess.  As of this writing, Jackson Hole intends to stay open and I will be in on Monday if there is work to go to.

With so many resorts shut down and the global economy struggling, there may not be much lift news to report for awhile.  When there is, I’ll write, and will get back to exploring as soon as I can.

News Roundup: Viral

News Roundup: Millions

News Roundup: Across Canada

Vail to Build New Lifts at Four Resorts in 2020

Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Okemo will all add new lifts next year in a mix of expansions and replacements.  Parent company Vail Resorts made the project announcements alongside a quarterly earnings report this afternoon.  “We remain committed to reinvesting in our resorts, creating an experience of a lifetime for our guests and generating strong returns for our shareholders,” said Vail Chairman and CEO Rob Katz.

At Beaver Creek, a new detachable quad will service the high alpine McCoy Park learning zone.  “This new lift accessed beginner and intermediate bowl experience is a rare opportunity to expand with highly accessible terrain in one of the most idyllic settings in Colorado and will further differentiate the high-end, family focused experience at Beaver Creek,” said the company.  A second quad chair will provide egress to the top of the Strawberry and Upper Beaver Creek Mountain Express lifts.

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The Peru Express opened in 1990 and will be supplanted by a higher capacity lift.

At Keystone, the Peru Express will be replaced by a six pack subject to government approval.  The new machine will increase out-of-base capacity and improve overall circulation.  Also in Summit County, a new detachable quad on Breckenridge’s Peak 7 will enhance uphill capacity near the Independence SuperChair.  “This additional lift will further enhance the guest experience at the most visited resort in the U.S. and will significantly increase guest access and circulation for the intermediate terrain on Peaks 6 and 7,” said Vail.

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News Roundup: Glass Floors

News Roundup: A Late Addition

  • Big Sky’s two new lodging access lifts are on the map, bringing The Biggest Skiing in America to 37 lifts.
  • Sasquatch Mountain Resort needs help naming its shiny new Leitner-Poma quad chair.
  • Mont St. Mathieu will expand with a 3,100 foot Doppelmayr surface lift set for commissioning in January 2020.
  • The Sea to Sky Gondola confirms 9 cabins were undamaged in the August incident and will be used to shuttle workers this winter.  With 30 new cabins on the way from Europe, the company will be able to easily take the lift to final capacity (40 cabins) in the future.
  • Crested Butte’s new trail map shows the adjusted Teocalli alignment.
  • In Bolivia, the largest gondola operation in the world reopens following a week of shutdowns due to civil unrest and the resignation of President Evo Morales.  The general manager of the gondola company also resigned.
  • Win Smith of Sugarbush chats with Vermont Public Radio about why now was the right time to sell.
  • Mt. Timothy, BC is officially back in business.
  • On December 9th, Vail Resorts will report fiscal first quarter earnings, traditionally accompanied by guidance on capital investment plans for the year.
  • Thanks to Collin Parsons for these awesome photos of the gondola construction at the Lake Placid Olympic Ski Jumping Complex.