News Roundup: Stalking Horse

News Roundup: SkyDream

News Roundup: Answers

News Roundup: Affirmation

Vail’s Eagle Bahn Gondola Reopens Following Tower Issue

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Photo credit: CBS Denver

The Eagle Bahn Gondola on Vail Mountain is carrying guests again this afternoon following a nearly six day closure.  Approximately one hour before it was scheduled to open to the public last Wednesday, a monitoring system alerted Vail lift mechanics to a tower joint problem.  Seventy four employees riding the lift at the time were brought down by rope over several hours.   The Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board and Vail Associates were in constant contact following the incident and throughout the repair process according to spokesman Lee Rasizer.  “Repairs have since been completed,” he said in a statement this afternoon.

“The resort worked diligently with lift specialists and experts to resolve the issue,” said Vail Resorts Communications Manager Jessie Vandenhouten in a separate release. “Vail places the highest value on the safety of its employees and guests and extends its apologies to those who were inconvenienced by this event.”

The CPTSB noted it conducted two inspections of Eagle Bahn within the last nine months – a licensing inspection on November 3rd, 2018 and an unannounced visit on February 15th of this year.  All necessary corrections were completed by the ski area stemming from those two inspections.

The gondola was built in 1996 by Garaventa CTEC utilizing 12 passenger CWA X model cabins.  Eagle Bahn operates not only for skiers and sightseers but also for Vail’s Epic Discovery summer program at Eagle’s Nest.  Gondola One in Vail Village provided mountain access together with shuttle buses during the extended Eagle Bahn closure on a busy holiday weekend.

News Roundup: Privatization

Mapping Future Lifts on Vail Mountain

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Vail is a mountain which needs no introduction.  The nation’s third largest resort now attracts more than 1.6 million skiers a season, 60 percent of which are destination visitors from around the world.  Owner Vail Resorts has constructed a staggering ten new lifts in the last eleven years at its flagship, including a new 10 passenger gondola and three six place chairlifts.  While the beast may take a brief break to focus on snowmaking and other enhancements this year, a new master plan suggests more big ticket lift investments are coming.

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Today’s Vail spans 5,289 acres with two gondolas, 20 chairlifts and three surface platters.

Already approved for construction is the upper Golden Peak project, consisting of three new trails and a T-Bar above the Riva Bahn angle station.  This lift will be 2,001 feet long with a vertical of 678 feet.  While built for with ski racing in mind, the new pod will be open to the public with a capacity of 1,400 skiers per hour.  Construction is set to begin as soon as this summer.

At the opposite end of Vail’s front side, the last standing of four 1985 detachable quads is Game Creek Express.  This lift is approved to be replaced in the near future with a six person detachable.  It would be Vail’s fourth such lift following upgrades to the Mountaintop, Northwoods and Avanti Express lifts.  Uphill capacity would rise from 2,800 per hour to 3,200 in popular Game Creek Bowl.

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The Wildwood Express, a CTEC dating from 1995, would be replaced with a modern version.  A similar project would swap the two stage Riva Bahn Express (1996 CTEC) for a new model.  Born Free Express, a 1988 Doppelmayr, would also be replaced.  Next door, the Eagle Bahn Gondola is coming up on 25 years of service.  “Given its year-round, day and night operations, freight hauling duties, and limited capacity, the gondola will need a major overall or potentially an upgrade during the life of this plan,” the MDP notes.

Another proposed front side project is the Ever Vail Gondola, which would move 2,400 guests per hour from a new portal west of Lionshead.  This lift was initially planned to terminate above the bottom of the Pride Express lift.  Newer thinking has the gondola replacing that lift as well with an angle station at the current bottom terminal.  With this option, the lift would have a slope length over 9,100 feet, making it the fourth longest on the mountain.  Riders originating in West Lionshead could ascend all the way to Eagle’s Nest without needing to transfer lifts.

The nearby Cascade Village lift, a 1987 CTEC quad servicing Vail’s westernmost trail and the new Hotel Talisa, would be replaced with a detachable quad under the plan.  This project would leave just two remaining fixed grip chairlifts in a sea of detachable technology at Vail.

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In the Back Bowls, the 1988 vintage Orient Express would be replaced with a new high speed quad, increasing throughput from 2,400 to 2,800 in the process.  I am a bit surprised this is not proposed as a six pack.  In fact, Game Creek is the only additional lift set to become a six place chair under this master plan.

A major new lift approved in 2009 but not yet built is called the Sun Down Express.  This high speed, detachable quad would stretch more than 6,000 feet from the bottom of Lift 5 to the top of Lift 7 with a capacity of 2,400 skiers per hour.  Currently, the Sun Up Express and Teacup Express lifts provide egress for over 4,000 acres of terrain, causing congestion on busy afternoons.  Sun Down would become a much-needed reliever.

On the opposite end of Vail’s Back Bowls, the Mongolia Express is proposed to replace the difficult to access Mongolia platter, which opens only some of the time.  At 5,786′ feet long with a vertical of 1,575′, skiers would be able to spread out and lap this high speed quad without needing to return to the Orient Express.

While no new lifts are proposed in Blue Sky Basin, its operational boundary could be expanded both east and west.  A series of new trails are proposed near Pete’s Express along with groomed access to West Earl’s Bowl.

Vail Resorts announces new lifts for its resorts each December and I expect at least one of the many projects in the new master plan will get the green light for 2020.

News Roundup: Heating Up

News Roundup: Adding More

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.

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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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