News Roundup: More Than a Mechanic

Breckenridge Ski Resort confirms at approximately 10:35 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 22, a chair dislodged from the haul rope of the Peak 8 SuperConnect as it was reaching the top terminal. One guest was on the chair at the time and fell approximately 13 feet. Ski patrol responded immediately. No injuries were reported and the guest declined further care.  

The Peak 8 SuperConnect was closed for the remainder of the day on Thursday. The resort’s lift maintenance team was on site at the time of the incident and worked with the Colorado Tramway Safety Board to report the incident.  

At the time of this event, the resort was following all standard operating procedures. The wind direction was predominantly favorable for operation of the Peak 8 SuperConnect when it opened for the day at 10 a.m., however an abnormal wind gust across the top terminal, in addition to the chair coming into contact with components of the upper terminal, created the circumstances of this event. 

Since the event, the resort’s lift maintenance team has conducted a thorough inspection of the Peak 8 SuperConnect and consulted with the Colorado Tramway Safety Board. The lift resumed operations at approximately 12:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 23.

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New Whistler Lifts Delayed due to Supply Chain and Labor Challenges

The top executive at Doppelmayr Canada apologized Friday for delays in completing the new Big Red Express and Creekside Gondola on Whistler Mountain. While both new lifts were originally scheduled to be commissioned before the resort’s November 24th opening day, Big Red is now expected to open in early December with Creekside’s timing to be determined. The new 10 passenger gondola’s 13,000 foot haul rope has not yet arrived in Whistler.

Doppelmayr agreed to build the new six passenger chairlift and 10 passenger gondola at Whistler in November 2021. The ambitious project is the largest in the Epic Lift Upgrade initiative to build new lifts across a dozen Vail Resorts. Contracts for all 18 lifts were split roughly evenly between the two largest manufacturers, both of which face supply challenges amid high demand. “We would like to apologize to all who plan to visit Whistler Blackcomb and the impact they may experience as the result of the delayed opening of both Big Red and the Creekside Gondola,” said Luc Guy, CEO of Doppelmayr Canada. “We experienced significant global supply chain and shipping challenges, and did not anticipate delays to this degree. We understand the importance of these projects, and how this delay will impact uphill access and the overall guest experience out of Creekside. We are doing everything we can in partnership with the Whistler Blackcomb team to complete the gondola as safely and quickly as possible. We will move with urgency and align to all safety protocols once the haul rope arrives, and we are confident that the new Creekside Gondola will truly provide an improved experience for visitors to these beautiful mountains.”

In addition to supply chain delays, Doppelmayr also faces a labor shortage. Whistler Blackcomb employees have been providing extra support to the installation team and Vail Resorts is bringing in additional lift mechanics from its recently-closed Australian mountains to assist. “We appreciate Doppelmayr’s commitment to this project and their partnership,” said Whistler Blackcomb Chief Operating Officer Geoff Buchheister. “We are disappointed that these projects are delayed and I want to reiterate my gratitude for the incredible Whistler Blackcomb team and all they have done – and continue to do – in service of these projects and the guest experience. We are focused on what we can control and remain resolute on finishing these projects as quickly as possible, while still providing a great start to the season for everyone who joins us.”

Whistler Blackcomb will modify its opening strategy with a focus on offering as much terrain as possible, particularly on Blackcomb Mountain where all lifts are operable. The resort will also offer free and frequent bus service from Creekside to Whistler Village until the new lifts open. Guests arriving from Creekside will be offered priority access to both the Whistler Village and Blackcomb Gondolas. Base area lifts will also open 15 minutes early – at 8:15 am – conditions permitting until Big Red and Creekside are completed.

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Vail Resorts to Install Deferred Park City Lifts at Whistler Blackcomb

In its earnings report today, Vail Resorts announced new six and eight passenger lifts will be built at Whistler Blackcomb in 2023, replacing the aging Jersey Cream and Fitzsimmons high speed quads. The project will utilize Doppelmayr equipment originally purchased for Park City Mountain but not installed due to a successful permit appeal by four local residents. On Blackcomb Mountain, Jersey Cream will become a six passenger detachable and on Whistler Mountain, Vail Resorts’ first eight place D-Line will replace the Fitzsimmons Express. Jersey Cream services the heart of Blackcomb’s mid mountain and Fitzsimmons provides out-of-base capacity to Whistler Mountain along with servicing the world’s largest bike park. Jersey Cream capacity will increase 29 percent and Fitzsimmons capacity will jump 73 percent. Fitz will also become the first eight place and first D-Line in Canada.

The two lifts were originally slated to become Eagle and Silverlode, respectively, at Park City. Vail said it remains “committed to resolving our permit” for the new Park City lifts in the future. “When that happens, we plan to purchase the lifts and equipment needed,” the company said. Vail Resorts appealed the permit revocation in July but no resolution has been reached. Due to continued uncertainty, lift equipment was placed in storage in Utah over the summer and will be re-engineered and modified for Whistler Blackcomb. An intermediate unloading station built for Eagle likely won’t be utilized in Whistler. Despite the Park City situation, 18 other lifts that are part of the 2022 Epic Lift Upgrade are proceeding on schedule, including two at Whistler Blackcomb.

“We are excited to continue investing in the guest experience here at Whistler Blackcomb, and the opportunity to upgrade the Fitzsimmons Express and Jersey Cream chairlifts reinforces our commitment to excellence, especially as a world-class destination resort,” said Geoff Buchheister, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Whistler Blackcomb. “Following approvals and installation, these upgrades will reduce lift line wait times and create easier access and flow for all who visit our beautiful mountains,” he continued.

The Whistler Blackcomb projects bring Vail Resorts to at least six new lifts for 2023, including three previously announced investments and the delayed Keystone Bergman Bowl expansion. In July, Vail unveiled plans to replace Summit at Attitash, 5-Chair at Breckenridge and Kehr’s Chair at Stevens Pass for 2023. The Attitash and Breckenridge projects will be detachable quads while Stevens Pass will see a fixed grip quad. Manufacturer(s) for those lifts have not been announced. At Keystone, Bergman Bowl will feature a six passenger Leitner-Poma detachable.

Vail also reported season pass sales increased approximately 6 percent in units and 7 percent in sales dollars through September 24th as compared to a year ago. However, full Epic and Epic Local unlimited season pass sales declined roughly 10 percent. The company’s total 2023 capital plan is expected to total $191 million to $196 million, significantly less than this year’s $323 to $333 million. Those numbers reflect approximately $10 million in capital deferred from 2022 to 2023 as a result of the Park City and Keystone lift delays.

In addition to the six 2023 lift projects, Vail also plans to debut new technology allowing guests to use phones as lift passes via Bluetooth Low Energy connectivity next season.

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