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!

If Aspen & KSL Go Lift Shopping, What Will They Buy?

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Although both KSL and Aspen have bought lots of new lifts lately, aging machines at many of their new and existing properties could be replaced over the next few years, including this 1989 Poma at Squaw Valley.

It’s been two weeks since the bombshell news that Aspen Skiing Co. and KSL Capital Partners are joining forces to bring twelve ski resorts under a new entity rivaling Vail Resorts.  While the deals won’t close for months, the new partners already say they plan to invest heavily in the guest experience.  “We have earmarked a lot of capital for improvements to be able to continue to reinvest significantly in the communities and the mountains,” KSL CEO Eric Resnick told the Denver Post.  “What’s exciting is being able to bring new opportunities with these communities and with these mountains to those customers who are already so passionate.”  This could come in the form of new lifts ahead of the 2018-19 season and beyond.  Below is a summary of announced plans and my speculation of what might be in store for KSL and Aspen’s upcoming resorts.

  • Alpine Meadows, CA:
    • Alpine Meadows applied for and received approval to replace the Hot Wheels chairlift in a new, longer alignment back in 2012.  A mid-station offload would allow beginner and intermediate skiers to access the lower mountain while others could continue to an unload near the top of Sherwood, providing direct access to Sherwood and Lakeview.  Approval for this lift likely expired in September 2015 but there’s no reason to believe Placer County would not approve it again.

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      The top station of Hot Wheels at Alpine could one day be home to a mid-station with a new high-speed quad continuing to Sherwood Ridge, where this photo was taken from.
    • Speaking of Lakeview, it is arguably the largest remaining pod at Alpine Meadows without detachable access.  This 1984 CTEC is older than Sherwood and with approximately the same vertical rise.  A high-speed quad is likely to replace it eventually.
    • Doppelmayr and CTEC have both built lifts at Alpine Meadows while Leitner-Poma has not.  That could change with the unification of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows.
    • I’ve written before about the Base-to-Base Gondola which is still on the table but still requires multiple government approvals.  It would traverse the White Wolf property between Squaw and Alpine with two angle stations along the way.

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      Uncompleted lift towers on Troy Caldwell’s White Wolf property between Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows could become home to a public gondola between the two mountains.

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Instagram Tuesday: Splicing

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The Ten Shortest Detachable Lifts in North America

I”ve written a few times about the longest lifts of different types but what about the shortest? The considerable expense of a detachable lift is usually justified for long profiles where speed makes sense.  The average detachable lift in this part of the world is over 5,200 feet long while the average fixed grip lift is under 2,800 feet.  However, the slow loading speed of a high-speed lift also make sense for beginners and foot passengers regardless of the length of the line.  Hence there are plenty of very short detachable lifts that cost millions and take less than two minutes to ride.  Below are the ten shortest ones in the US and Canada.

Beaver Creek's Buckaroo Gondola is among the shortest detachable lifts but makes for a perfect beginner lift.
Beaver Creek’s Buckaroo Gondola is among the shortest detachable lifts but makes for a perfect beginner lift.
  1. Cabriolet – Mont Tremblant, QC – 1994 Doppelmayr detachable 6-passenger cabriolet

Slope length: 1,100 feet, ride time 1.4 minutes.

  1. Easy Rider Express – Sierra-at-Tahoe, CA – 1996 Doppelmayr detachable quad

Slope length: 1,165 feet, ride time 1.3 minutes

  1. Chair 3 – Horseshoe Resort, ON – 1989 Doppelmayr detachable quad

Slope length: 1,400 feet, ride time 1.6 minutes

  1. Super Glide – Alpine Valley Resort, WI – 2011 Leitner-Poma detachable quad

Slope length: 1,421 feet, ride time 1.4 minutes

  1. Valley Flyer – Alpine Valley Resort, WI – 1999 Poma detachable quad

Slope length: 1,426 feet, ride time 1.6 minutes

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New Roundup: Ouch!