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.

News Roundup: Colorado

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Likely new lifts for 2017 are pacing 39 percent ahead of last year, when 28 new lifts had been announced on this date.  I’ve identified 39 lift projects for 2017 and if last year’s pattern holds, lift manufacturers will build approximately 57 new ropeways in N. America in 2017, the most since 2004.  We’ll know by about July 1.

News Roundup: Inaugural

News Roundup: Setbacks

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Snow King’s latest master plan concept abandons a lift east of Rafferty in favor of a south-facing lift.  The Summit double would be replaced with an 8-passenger gondola.

Seven New Lifts Approved for Expanded Northstar California Resort

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Northstar California has expanded rapidly over the past two decades with nine new lifts since 2000, including the Highlands Gondola serving a new Ritz-Carlton hotel.  More lifts are coming with this week’s approval of the Northstar master plan by Placer County.

Vail Resorts got welcome news yesterday that went largely unnoticed with the big Stowe buy. The Placer County Board of Supervisors finally and unanimously approved a new master plan for the 3,200-acre Northstar Resort on the northwest shore of Lake Tahoe.  Booth Creek Ski Holdings started working on this plan way back in 1990 before eventually selling the mountain to Vail in October of 2010.  Today’s approval includes seven new lifts: a gondola, two detachable chairlifts, one surface tow and three additional fixed-grip chairs.  Two of those lifts would have mid-stations and three will serve an exciting 550-acre expansion called Sawtooth Ridge.

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Master plan map showing 14 existing lifts and seven new ones.

“The plan is designed to help lengthen current guest stays and solidify Northstar as a premiere destination resort,” Vail Resorts said in a statement.  “It provides guests with a wider, more diverse array of terrain offerings and recreational activities, facilitating an improved and extended vacation experience for the destination and day-use guest.”  Northstar’s current fleet stands at 14 lifts, nine of which are detachable.  The proposed additions are:

  • Castle Peak Gondola: A six-passenger gondola to Northstar Village that wouldn’t serve any ski trails but would reduce traffic on Northstar Drive by diverting more vehicles to the offsite Castle Peak parking lots.  The gondola alignment would require two stages and an angle station to the east of Northstar Village.  It would serve a similar function to the Vail-owned BreckConnect Gondola.  Upon completion of Castle Peak, Northstar will operate a whopping four gondolas.
  • Lift C: A fixed-grip or detachable chairlift east of the existing Vista Express serving three new intermediate trails above Sawmill Lake.
  • Lift J (Lookout Mountain Access): A long new detachable quad or six-place chairlift starting near the bottom station of the Highlands pulse gondola and ending near the Lookout Vista surface lift providing increased out-of-base capacity.  A mid-load station would serve new trails to the north of the Tahoe Zephyr Express pod.
  • Lift V: A bottom drive fixed-grip lift starting near the Backside Express/Promised Land Express rising into the new Sawtooth Ridge expansion area.
  • Lift W: A second fixed-grip chairlift serving Sawtooth Ridge.  No trails would be cut in this pod; it would be dedicated to serving natural tree skiing.
  • Lift Z: Surface tow similar to Lookout Vista providing access to “backcountry-style” terrain beyond lifts V and W.
  • Lift Q: A second lift on Lookout Mountain to the west of the Martis Camp Express.  This one would be fixed-grip and top drive.

Build out of the ambitious plan is expected to take two decades and Doppelmayr stands to gain, having built every lift at Northstar since 1985.  I’m guessing we might see the Lookout Mountain access lift and Sawtooth Ridge lifts first.

Vail Resorts Buys Stowe for $50 Million

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Vermont’s Stowe, which operates a mixed fleet of Leitner-Poma and Doppelmayr chairlifts along with two gondolas, will join the Vail Resorts family this spring.

In a move that should surprise no one, this morning Vail Resorts officially went east, agreeing to buy the mountain operations of Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont for $50 million from a subsidiary of insurance giant AIG.  The move had been rumored for months and was signed on Friday.  Stowe will join Vail Resorts’ hugely popular Epic Pass next season and will become the second mountain newly-acquired by Vail to abandon the Mountain Collective following Whistler-Blackcomb.  Like Whistler, Stowe will probably also abandon its SKIDATA RFID lift access technology in favor of the proprietary Epic system.

“We’re thrilled to add Stowe Mountain Resort to our family of world-class mountain resorts. With the investments in both mountain infrastructure and base area facilities that AIG has made over the years, Stowe Mountain Resort has become the premier, high-end resort for East Coast skiers and snowboarders. We look forward to working with AIG to continue enhancing the guest experience and to ensure the resort’s long-term success,” said Rob Katz, chairman and chief executive officer of Vail Resorts.

Like the flagship Vail Mountain, Stowe has invested heavily in new lifts from both Doppelmayr and Leitner-Poma in recent years, adding six new lifts since 2004.  Four of those additions are located on the redeveloped Spruce Peak at Stowe.  The addition of Stowe’s eight chairlifts and two gondolas brings Vail Resorts to operate more than 260 lifts across 13 mountain resorts.  Vail has already announced four new high-speed lifts (three Leitner-Poma, one Doppelmayr) to be built at Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Vail for next winter.  The purchase of Stowe is expected to close sometime this spring.

News Roundup: Behind the Scenes

News Roundup: Building

  • talk six-packs with the Vail Daily.
  • Heavenly’s Comet Express remains closed following a Jan. 1st rope evacuation, apparently due to a gearbox issue.  This is one of the reasons Vail Resorts is replacing its fleet of 1980s-vintage detachable quads.
  • Doppelmayr and the United Nations are hosting a week-long urban mobility ropeway class in April.
  • The New York Times tells the tale of Big Sky Resort.
  • Ski patroller severely injured in fall from chair at Terry Peak.
  • Gondola proposed to serve airport in Vietnam’s congested largest city.
  • BC Parks considers a gondola to Mt. Seymour to alleviate parking and traffic problems.
  • Ski Area Management‘s lift construction survey dropped this week.  Highlights from its outlook for 2017:
    • “We’re off to a strong year for ’17, there are lots of people asking about lifts…It’s very positive compared to the previous two years.” – Jon Mauch, Senior Sales Manager at Leitner-Poma
    • “There’s a lot of enthusiasm about what could happen under a Trump administration.  People expect deregulation and a more business-friendly climate.” – Mark Bee, President at Doppelmayr USA
    • “We’re seeing lots of requests quotes, lots of major modifications and retrofits…It’s all being driven by the age of the existing lift infrastructure.” – Carl Skylling, General Manager at Skytrac
    • I’ve already identified 29 new lifts likely to be built in 2017, pacing well above the last few years for mid-January.
  • Slovakian manufacturer Tatralift debuts its third detachable lift using a Wopfner grip.  That makes seven companies capable of building a detachable lift globally – BartholetBMHRI (China), Doppelmayr/Garaventa (Austria), LeitnerPoma (Italy), LST (France), STM (Turkey) and Tatralift (Slovakia.)

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A Look Forward to 2017

This New Year’s Day, I thought I’d review Lift Blog’s second year and make a few predictions for 2017.  In 2016, North American lift construction reached a post-recession high, with large new lifts debuting at Arizona Snowbowl, Big Sky and Jackson Hole.  In April, we learned Leitner-Poma acquired Skytrac, changing the manufacturer landscape in North America again.  LST built its first detachable lift in France (although it’s not quite finished yet) bringing another player to the global market.  2016 also saw number of lifts catch fire and others fall apart.  Here’s a rundown of our most-clicked-on posts of 2016:

10. Yan High Speed Quad Retrofits 20 Years Later
9. In His Own Words: Carl Skylling of Skytrac on the Leitner-Poma Acquisition
8. New Owner Plans to Reopen Stagecoach, Colorado in 2017
7. First Look at Big Sky’s Powder Seeker Six and Challenger 2.0
6. Big Sky 2025: A $150 Million Vision for the Next Decade on Lone Peak
5. Sweetwater Gondola September Update from Jackson Hole
4. Construction Underway on New Lifts at Big Sky
3. Ober Gatlinburg Survives Fire, Sky Lift Fate Unknown
2. Sunday River Lift Severely Damaged as Terminal Falls
1. Big Sky Flies Towers for America’s Most High-Tech Chairlift

Blog wise, readership increased five-fold with more than 700 reader comments in 2016. Lift Blog now has 750 Instagram followers and almost 500 likes on Facebook.  I even started Tweeting.  Now a few predictions for 2017…

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There was a lot less purple on this map on 1/1/2016, particularly in the Northeast.
  1. North America will build more than fifty lifts for the first time since 2007.  I’ve already identified 28 likely to be built this construction season with the announcement window really just beginning. American consumer confidence is at its highest level since 2001 and the snow is deep in every major ski region of North America.
  2. An American or Canadian city will commit to building a purpose-built gondola for public transportation.  New York City, Washington, Albany and Vancouver are likely candidates but there are dozens more possibilities.
  3. Vail Resorts will go East.  Since October 2010, Vail has acquired a new ski resort every nine months on average.  That puts the next purchase approximately May 2017.  A major New England or Mid-Atlantic mountain going Epic seems only a matter of time.  Wherever it goes, Vail Resorts will invest heavily in new lifts.

Tune in over the next year to see how I do.

Vail Resorts to Build Three New Six-Packs in Colorado for 2017-18

With strong Epic Pass sales and early snow blanketing its properties, Vail Resorts revealed today it will go big on new lifts in 2017, adding additional six-place chairlifts at Vail, Keystone and Breckenridge as part of a $122 million capital program.  In the company’s first quarter results, CEO Rob Katz noted, “we remain committed to reinvesting in our resorts, creating an experience of a lifetime for our guests and generating strong returns for our shareholders.”  The news follows construction of four new lifts at Vail mountains in both 2015 and 2016.

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The Northwoods Express #11 on Vail Mountain will be replaced at the end of this year, the resort announced today.

On Vail Mountain, the Northwoods Express #11 will be replaced, leaving only three CLD-260 first-generation detachables in service.  The new Northwoods will also become the mountain’s 10th new lift in 11 years.  At Breckenridge, Vail will upgrade the Falcon high speed quad on Peak 10 to a six-person detachable, allowing more guests to experience some of the best intermediate and advanced terrain on the mountain.   The Falcon SuperChair is a 1986 Poma high speed quad also approaching the end of its useful life.  At Keystone, the 1990 Doppelmayr Uni-model Montezuma chair will be replaced with a six-pack version.

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The six-place Avanti Express #2 at Vail replaced an older high speed quad in 2015 as part of Vail Resorts’ ongoing initiative to replace high-traffic lifts in recent years.

Leitner-Poma is likely to build Breckenridge’s newest lift, which would extend a 16-lift streak for the manufacturer at Breck.  Vail and Keystone operate a mix of Leitner-Poma and Doppelmayr lifts and could plausibly sign with either company.  Noticeably absent from today’s release was any mention of new lifts for Park City or the newly-Epic Whistler-Blackcomb.  Vail Resorts will detail further capital improvements in the spring but these three projects are a huge start.

Update 1/23/17: Leitner-Poma will build and install all three of these lifts.