Vail Resorts to Replace Two Lifts at Stevens Pass

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.

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Brooks is a 1968 Riblet double at Stevens Pass that Vail Resorts will replace with a new chairlift in 2019.

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.

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News Roundup: Friday Night

  • Disney unveils a Skyliner cabin and confirms there will be no air conditioning.
  • Could Vail Resorts or Alterra buy Jay Peak?
  • Friday, December 7th is the big day Vail announces first quarter earnings and capital expenditure plans for next year.
  • The Hermitage Club might be loaned $25 to $30 million next week.
  • Doppelmayr/Garaventa worldwide revenues grow 5.7 percent to $965 million for the 2017/18 fiscal year.
  • American Eagle at Copper is beginning to look like a Telemix.
  • My brother Ben Landsman and Tiffany Wilson are Lift Blog Southeast Asian correspondents this week.  Check out their adventure on the world’s longest and fastest gondola earlier today.

News Roundup: A World Away

  • As Vail Resorts shakes up management in the northeast, outgoing Mt. Sunapee GM Jay Gamble reflects on 20 years of growth including four new lifts and 110,000 annual skier visits.
  • Vail also says goodbye to Sunapee’s Duckling double after 55 years.
  • The owner of Mt. Washington, British Columbia; Ragged Mountain, New Hampshire; Wisp, Maryland and Wintergreen, Virginia takes over operations at Powderhorn, Colorado.
  • Propelled by five major projects in Colorado, Leitner-Poma says 2018 is it biggest year ever in the United States.
  • The $2 billion Salesforce Transit Center in San Francisco, which features a short aerial tramway, is mired in problems unrelated to the lift.
  • Construction begins in Switzerland for the world’s second longest 3S with the most towers – seven.
  • With new six and eight passenger lifts, Big Sky Resort shifts away from the double/triple/quad lift lingo.
  • Alterra names KSL veteran Adam Knox Senior Vice President of Strategy and Corporate Development to lead the company’s acquisitions and resort partnership group.
  • Due to the amount of lift work needed after seven shuttered years, Cockaigne, NY won’t reopen this winter after all.
  • One of the longest Riblets retired from Snowmass turns up in the Pakistani town where Osama bin Laden was killed.
  • A freshly cut lift line is spotted in the Spanish Peaks development adjacent to Big Sky Resort, probably for the planned Highlands chair.
  • The Berkshire Eagle looks at Catamount’s $5 million fall.
  • A judge quashes spending for lift maintenance at the Hermitage Club, which remains in foreclosure.  A new lawsuit against the ski area alleges breach of contract and consumer fraud.
  • Another aerial tramway cabin crashes in Europe, this time on the one year old Bartholet jigback Staubernbahn.  No one was hurt as the cabin that hit the ground was empty.
  • The Boston Globe talks with Mainers about a fourth winter without Saddleback.
  • In New Zealand, The Remarkables is set to build the inaugural D-Line in the southern hemisphere and Coronet Peak announces a Leitner Telemix.
  • The new Bretton Woods trail map indicates the gondola may not be called Presidential Bahn after all.
  • As Copper Mountain and Leitner-Poma crews work hard to finish two big lifts, opening weekend shifts to Super Bee.

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.

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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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News Roundup: Down to the Wire

  • Beaver Creek renames the Buckaroo Express gondola Haymeadow Express, the name of the double chair which ran in the same alignment from 1980 to 2007.
  • Whether the Hermitage Club closes a $30 million loan to catch up on lift maintenance and operate this winter is still an open question.
  • Arapahoe Basin and Leitner-Poma fly steel for the Beavers project.
  • As of yesterday, Vail Resorts officially operates Okemo, Mt. Sunapee and Crested Butte.
  • Vail reports fiscal 2018 resort EBITDA was $616.6 million, an increase of 3.9 percent over the prior year.  2018-19 season pass sales are up 25 percent in units and 15 percent in dollars as of Sunday.
  • West Mountain adds a million dollar chairlift and looks to build another.
  • A New York-based developer receives one of many approvals for Mayflower Village at Deer Valley, which could eventually mean a slate of new lifts.

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  • Doppelmayr is named in connection with an urban gondola eyed for Long Beach, California.
  • Watch a remarkable 3S gondola launch live from Zermatt at 9:15 Eastern tomorrow morning, 6:15 Pacific.
  • The CFO and COO of Peak Resorts open up about their decision to buy Snow Time and note the three new mountains don’t immediately need much capital investment.
  • The longtime owners of Great Divide, Montana plan to sell to another couple next year.
  • Legendary ski resort builder Les Otten remains committed to The Balsams but laments, “time is killing this project.”
  • Mountain Capital Partners releases more details on the Spider Mountain Bike Park project.
  • The damaged Zugspitze cabin is successfully lowered to the valley for disassembly.  The cable car’s operator says damage exceeds $1.2 million and the lift could reopen by year end.
  • Boreal names its new quad California Cruiser.
  • The latest Leitner-Poma six-pack at Hunter Mountain, seen below, will be called Northern Express.

News Roundup: Not Cheap

  • Above: lots more Ramcharger 8 parts arrive in Big Sky.
  • Schweitzer weighs alignment options and manufacturers for two new backside lifts scheduled for construction in 2019.
  • 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.”
  • Disney gives an Orlando TV station a rare official peak into Skyliner construction.
  • Following last week’s mishap, the operator of the Zugspitze Cable Car orders a new 120 passenger cabin, hanger and carriage.
  • Beaver Creek’s big McCoy Park expansion should be official in November and is planned to open in late 2020.
  • The Lewis & Clark bubble high-speed quad at Big Sky will finally see some action in 2021 when a $400 million Montage hotel opens at its base.
  • Ascutney Outdoors is on track to install a T-Bar this fall, anchoring a scaled down version of what was once a five chairlift area.
  • LST builds a T-Bar atop a waste-to-energy plant in Copenhagen for residents to ski on year round.
  • Vail looks to Asia for growth.
  • 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.
  • As it tries to secure a $30 million loan to open this winter, the Hermitage Club lawsuits keep coming.
  • Two major lifts are getting closer to reality at Copper Mountain.

Three New Lifts Rise Across the Wasatch

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Vail Resorts is enhancing the beginner experience at Park City Mountain with a new High Meadow teaching zone above Canyons Village, one of three lift projects in the Beehive State.

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.

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News Roundup: Flames

  • 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.
  • Politicians block Gunstock from borrowing $600,000 for lift maintenance and other offseason projects as some call for a private takeover of the county-owned ski resort.
  • French lift website remontees-mecaniques.net interviews Sigma CEO Yannick Morand about premium Evo & Symphony gondola cabins, air conditioning and why ten passengers are the new eight.
  • Non-Vail Colorado resorts tallied 7.1 million skier visits last season, only 2 percent below 2016-17.
  • The Balsams developers request that the New Hampshire Business Finance Authority delay consideration of its $28 million state-backed loan application.

News Roundup: Possible

  • Vail Resorts net income rises 41.5% over last year’s third quarter with Epic season pass sales up 12 percent in units and 19 percent in dollars through May 29th.
  • The new Lift One will likely be put to Aspen voters in a winter 2019 special election rather than the November general election.
  • The Western Idaho State Fair plans to debut a chairlift for the first time in August – apparently a used Riblet of unknown origin.
  • An urban gondola proposal in Ogden, Utah is back.
  • A great writeup about Heron’s early days answers why Aspen Skiing Company switched from Colorado’s homegrown lift company to Riblet.
  • Now’s your chance to enter to win one of Arapahoe Basin’s retired Norway chairs.
  • 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.
  • Tower 6 of Howelsen Hill’s chairlift  is on the move for at least the third time as city leaders grapple with whether to fix it.
  • Beartooth Basin, the only summer ski resort in the United States, opens for the season as everyone else closes.  An experiment is also underway to run the lifts with biodiesel.
  • The Olympic Regional Development Authority proposes a new chairlift for its Lake Placid ski jumping venue.
  • Another Borvig surface lift bites the dust in favor of carpets.
  • Berkshire Bank says the Hermitage Club no longer has the right to restructure and argues receivership should proceed.  One Hermitage property is scheduled to be auctioned on June 25th.
  • A decision not to create an opportunity zone in Rangeley, Maine becomes yet another reason Saddleback is going nowhere fast.
  • The man accused of lying about spending a night on a Gore Mountain chairlift says he is innocent and may sue the State of New York.

Coast to Coast! Vail Resorts Buys Okemo, Crested Butte, Mt. Sunapee & Stevens Pass

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Crested Butte Mountain Resort operates a dozen lifts in central Colorado, mostly built by Poma.

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.

Okemo is a nearly 100 percent Poma mountain in southern Vermont that competes with the powerhouses of Stratton, Mt. Snow and Killington.

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.

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