How Many Lifts Might Alterra Buy in 2019?

At just 15 months old, Alterra Mountain Company finds itself with over 200 chairlifts, gondolas and tramways in two countries.  The 13 Alterra mountains mirror the broader ski industry with places like Deer Valley and Crystal Mountain sporting many newer lifts while the average chairlift at June Mountain is 45 years old.

On a Monday last March, the fledgling company based in Denver simultaneously unveiled its very first lift investments at Stratton, Tremblant and Winter Park along with other improvements like snowmaking at Snowshoe and a new restaurant at the base of Steamboat.  Importantly, Alterra committed to spending $555 million in total capital over five years.  That was before it bought Solitude and Crystal Mountain, which could mean even more money flowing over the next few construction seasons.  While last year’s budget only included three new lifts, could we see more in 2019?

Colorado

With the September approval of major projects by the Forest Service, Steamboat is poised for a comprehensive on-mountain transformation.  Although the timing is fluid, a new Rough Rider learning center at mid-mountain will eventually be serviced by a new gondola from the village.  Here, skiers and snowboarders will be able to choose from three new carpet lifts, a new and improved Bashor lift and a second fixed-grip chair replacing the Rough Rider surface tow.

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A second initiative Steamboat could undertake in 2019 is the Pioneer Ridge expansion, which includes a 7,000 foot detachable quad and a dozen new trails.  Other possible upgrades include adding chairs to Pony Express (currently at only 1,200 skiers per hour but designed for 2,400)  or new cabins for the Silver Bullet.  Wouldn’t it be cool for the new gondola and original one to have similar cabins?

The average lift at Alterra-operated Winter Park Resort is 27 years old.  Six are early model detachable quads coming up for replacement.  In the case of 32 year old Pioneer Express, an upgrade is overdue and I expect coming in 2019.  A new version could add a snowboarder friendly mid loading station above the last section of Big Valley.

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Pioneer is one of only four remaining Poma detachables in North America with separate Alpha drive units.

A second project I hope to see is a second stage of the new gondola from Sunspot to Lunch Rock, truly uniting Winter Park and Mary Jane.  Sunnyside should be a high speed quad or six pack.  A high speed replacement of Challenger would be a nice upgrade at Mary Jane.  Looking Glass is tied for the oldest operating chairlift in Colorado.  After Pioneer, High Lonesome is the next Poma detachable up for replacement if we go solely by age.

The above Intrawest era master plan earmarked Gemini Express to be converted into an eight passenger gondola with a new learning center surrounding its top station.  Endeavor could go detachable as part of this project and/or Discovery made into a fixed grip quad.  Finally, a lift is envisioned to expand Vasquez Ridge Territory with four new intermediate trails. With all of these ideas on the table, I expect Winter Park to get at least one lift in 2019 and hopefully two.

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News Roundup: Rope Time

  • Searchmont, Ontario sells to Wisconsin Resorts, the firm behind Pine Knob, Mt. Holly and Ski Bittersweet in Michigan as well as Alpine Valley, Wisconsin.
  • Mike Solimano of Killington reveals what three lifts he would upgrade if given $100 million to spend at The Beast.
  • The new Winter Park gondola is creatively named Gondola.
  • Grand Junction’s NBC affiliate takes viewers inside the factory where Leitner-Poma lifts are created.
  • The two stage Blackcomb Gondola is almost finished; thanks Max for these pictures.
  • Next up for Ramcharger 8 at Big Sky: installation of an in-terminal video wall and the haul rope, which is going up right now.
  • Beech Mountain commissions its twin fixed grip quads.
  • Freeskier looks at Alterra’s whirlwind growth and future trajectory.
  • Rope pulling commences tonight at Walt Disney World, 24 years to the day since the Disneyland Skyway cable was taken down for good.
  • This week’s new trail map comes from Hunter Mountain.
  • In an act of sabotage, someone cuts into three haul ropes at a Pyrenees ski resort.

News Roundup: Decisions, Decisions

  • With approvals inked, Steamboat considers whether to build a second gondola or the Pioneer Ridge expansion first.
  • The Kohlmaisbahn in Saalbach, Austria becomes the first gondola spotted with Omega V cabins.
  • The Hermitage may miss Christmas.
  • Catch a glimpse of the new Winter Park gondola cabinsKillington too!
  • The eight urban gondolas in La Paz transported a 318,532 riders last Wednesday – a crazy new single day record.
  • Thanks to community support, Antelope Butte is poised to reopen with two chairlifts.
  • After having its summer camp shut down by the state of New Hampshire, Granite Gorge likely won’t open for downhill skiing this winter.
  • The ex-Gore Mountain employee who claimed he was left on a lift overnight last winter is convicted of making a false statement to police and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine.
  • Mont Gleason, Quebec will build a fixed grip quad with loading carpet next summer.
  • The Iron Mountain Tramway in Glenwood Springs is carrying its final riders next Sunday as Leitner-Poma mobilizes to build an improved gondola this winter.
  • Thanks to Jared Emerson for taking me around the newest North American lift by LST Ropeways at Waterville Valley.  She’s a beauty!

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.

The Gondola Era Arrives at Winter Park

Winter Park guests will soon enjoy direct gondola access to Sunspot in place of the Zephyr chairlift.

When holiday crowds catch a Cabriolet to The Village at Winter Park Resort this year, the second lift they’ll see is the resort’s first true gondola.  Capable of hauling 3,600 skiers per hour out of the base area, the new Zephyr lift replaces a 1990 high-speed quad that could do only 2,600 in a perfect hour.  Announced in March, the Leitner-Poma system will be similar to Vail’s Gondola One but with something totally new to the North American market: DirectDrive.

Sigma is fabricating 79 ten passenger Diamond cabins with the fresh Winter Park logo unveiled on Monday.  The $16 million gondola and new brand are just part of a $28.2 million capital drive this year in cooperation with Winter Park’s operator, Alterra Mountain Company.  Amazingly for a resort of WP’s size, this is the first new lift in ten years.  Snowmaking is also seeing mega upgrades and a new heated village plaza will lead seamlessly to the bottom gondola terminal.  The old Zephyr had 20 four passenger cabins used for restaurant access at night but the new version will be fully ADA accessible and operate day and night.

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News Roundup: Nine Figures

  • wild wind video from South America makes the internet rounds.  Anyone know why are there double and quad chairs on the same lift?
  • A founding partner of the hugely successful Sea to Sky Gondola looks at building a similar lift along the Trans-Canada Highway near Chilliwack, BC.
  • 9News checks in on Winter Park’s major gondola upgrade.
  • Mexicable’s second gondola line could be a $105 million monster: 5.2 miles long with six stations carrying an estimated 35,000 riders each day.
  • I usually write about lifts and not myself but Skytrac recently interviewed me.
  • A BC court will hear the case of a skier injured when a Mueller lift de-roped four years ago. Crystal Mountain never reopened following the incident, which was blamed on multiple factors.
  • A local photographer is posting weekly pictures of Killington’s three simultaneous lift installations.
  • Fatzer releases more details on the US debut of Compacta at Big Sky.
  • The Balsams withdraws its application for a $28 million state loan guarantee, effectively shelving redevelopment for now.
  • LST’s American lift number two looks sharp at Waterville Valley.
  • Another Blackcomb Gondola update courtesy of Rob at WB shows how giant UNI-G XXLs are.

News Roundup: Gondolas on Gondolas

“Ever since the company went public in 2014 it has taken advantage of its improved access to capital to finance large infrastructure projects that may have led to growth in visitation and revenues, but haven’t resulted in better earnings or cash flows.”

As LiftDigital Spreads, Are We Viewing the Future?

Freddie Peyerl, Gerrit VandeKemp, and Jeff Connors are on a roll.  Their company, Alpine Media Technology, recently raised a million dollars to bring its digital guest engagement technology to ski resorts, including to chairlifts and gondolas.  I’ve been following this project (with a dose of skepticism) since it launched and got the chance to catch up with the founders as LiftDigital’s first winter season wraps up.

Peter: What are your backgrounds and how did you guys come up with the idea for digital screens on chairlifts?

Gerrit: Our backgrounds are in Pharmaceutical & Biotech Consulting (Peyerl), Financial Services (VandeKemp), and Aerospace Engineering (Connors). So, we are definitely newcomers to the ski industry. The three of us were on a ski trip together, and a simple discussion on the growing presence of gas station media systems led to a weekend long brainstorming session surrounding the idea that digital information systems on chairlifts could provide a great number of benefits to maximize guest experiences. Ironically, our idea was hatched while skiing the very same resort we are now wrapping up our beta test on – Winter Park.

Peter: Your trial included displays on some of the Super Gauge Express chairs.  How did it go this season?

Gerrit: Our beta test has surpassed all expectations, and a lot of the credit for this has to be given to the entire team at Winter Park. From Executive Management all the way to Lift Operations, we have benefited from an “all hands on deck” approach to making this season a success.

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Peter: What do ski area operators like about the technology?  What about the skiing public?

Freddie: For operators, it’s all about communication with resort guests. Our digital information system starts with LiftDigital, the restraint bar platform, and extends out onto indoor & outdoor kiosks around the mountain as well as a mobile app catered and branded specifically for each resort. These collective elements provide resort operators the opportunity to communicate real time information to guests including lift open/closed status, emergency notifications, lift line wait times, resort events and more. Our objective goes way beyond providing maps to guests – we want to help resorts provide their guests with as many resources as possible to maximize their time on the mountain. Consumer feedback from our beta test in Winter Park has supported our belief that we are accomplishing this, as resort guests have been very excited about the new access to information.

Peter: Your non-digital competitors are probably on less than 10 percent of American chairlifts.  Why do you think that is?

Gerrit: Plastic map systems on chairlifts were definitely a novel breakthrough when they came out, and useful at that. But, advances in digital trends over the last decade have shifted the approach & strategies of marketing teams, ad agencies, and brands to gravitate more towards digital connection with consumers. Map systems would have probably achieved significantly more than 10 percent market share with a better head start over digital advancement. This is where we feel our company is primed to sync with current trends and partner with a high volume of resorts going forward.

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Alterra Building New Lifts at Stratton, Tremblant and Winter Park

Alterra Mountain Co., the new operator of eleven leading North American mountain resorts, today announced a transformational capital investment of $130 million to be followed by hundreds of millions more over the next five years.  New lifts will debut at Winter Park Resort in Colorado, Mont Tremblant in Quebec and Stratton Mountain Resort in Vermont in time for next winter.  Competitor Vail Resorts revealed a similar $150 million plan for 2018-19 with six new lifts across its resorts last December.

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Goodbye massive lines at Zephyr, hello gondola.

The largest single project for Alterra is a 10-passenger Zephyr Gondola at Winter Park replacing the current 1990 high-speed quad, the key people mover out of The Village at Winter Park.  The new $16 million Leitner-Poma lift will be capable of moving 3,600 guests per hour to Sunspot, up from 2,600, and is the first new lift at the resort since 2007.  It will feature Leitner-Poma’s DirectDrive technology, reducing energy consumption and the number of moving parts that can lead to down time.  The new lift may also get a new name.  “Zephyr is certainly on the table but nothing’s been decided yet,” said Steve Hurlbert, a spokesman for the resort.

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Winter Park’s first true gondola will sport Sigma Diamond 10 cabins.

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News Roundup: Study

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I’m in Colorado for a few days checking out this year’s new lifts. There are six!