By David & Ann Schissler – Talk about counter intuitive! Who among us would have thought that after two pandemic seasons, labor shortages, demographic shifts, supply chain delays, consolidation and rising costs this summer would be the busiest ever for lift construction? Many resorts are willing to roll the dice on the old “if you build it, they will come”. In fact, the two most expensive projects this summer are at Palisades (formerly Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows) where some estimates to connect the two with an ambitious gondola project are approaching $1 billion, and Vail Resorts commitment to spend $320 million, its largest one-year investment ever, over half-a-dozen of its resorts.
Here are the highlights of projects in Eastern North America.
After installing the first 8-passenger chair in the East last summer Loon Mountain Resort in NH, my home mountain, is replacing the fixed-grip Seven Brothers triple with a re-purposed high-speed quad that was formerly the Kancamagus quad. The “new” Seven Brothers quad will follow the same line but the terminals have been completely redesigned.
Visitors to Mount Snow next season will be greeted by two new high-speed lifts. A new high-speed 6-pack will replace two old fixed-grip triple chairs, Tumbleweed and Sundance, increasing capacity by 70% and improve congestion. The Sunbrook area at Mount Snow will also see a substantial upgrade. A new high-speed quad will cut the painfully slow nine-minute ride to less than half of that.
Waterville Valley, NH is replacing the venerable White Peaks Express high-speed quad with a new 6-passenger bubble chair. According to Waterville “As the first chairlift of its kind in the United States, this new lift was specifically engineered for Waterville Valley’s winter weather, designed using specific engineering techniques that have shown to improve issues relating to weather”. The lift has Porsche Design Studio chairs, will cut ride time to six minutes, and boasts integrated child protection. The increased uphill capacity, reduce ride time, reduced wait time, and protection from cold winds due to the aerodynamically shaped bubble cover will greatly improve the riding experience.
Stowe, VT is replacing the Mountain Lift, an old fixed grip triple with a new high-speed 6-pack and is extending it to the Mansfield Base Lodge. In addition to eliminating the hike to access the lift it will also make it easier to reach intermediate and beginner terrain and provide greater protection against the wind hopefully permitting operation on more windy days.
The pandemic stalled installation of a high-speed quad at Magic Mountain, VT is on again. The old Snow Bowl high-speed quad chair from Stratton will become the Black Chair taking riders up to the summit.
Last season Windham Mountain installed the high-speed Westside Six that made the Whirlwind Express unneeded. This season the mountain will relocate the high-speed quad. This means riders will have a choice of two high-speed lifts at the base are. Windham also has a third high-speed lift on East Peak.
Bragging rights for “fastest chair in North America” is technically shifting from Loon Mountain’s Kancamagus 8 or “Kanc 8” To Sunday River’s new Jordan 8. It will replace the Jordan Express and increase capacity by a third. I say technically because the Jordan 8 is only 1.5 feet per second faster.
After a long wait and several mechanical failures preventing operations last winter, Attitash, NH is pleased to announce some major upgrades that will leave the mountain with 5 of it 7 lifts now high-speed. The slow Summit Triple will be replaced by a high-speed quad significantly increase uphill capacity and reducing ride time. It is the longest lift on the mountain. The Borvig fixed grip double chair will become a fixed-grip quad.
Here are the highlights of projects in Western North America
This summer Snowbird, UT is overcoming complications with the installation of its new tram cars. Scheduled for a June debut, the project was stalled when one of the new cars was irreparably damaged when it fell during its installation! One of the old cars is now hanging in its place as a counterweight since it’s incompatible with the rest of the system. Snowbird says the new tram with both cars will be ready for this ski season. The new cars are replacing their 50-year-old predecessors that the mountain says logged over 790,000 miles! The new cars are state-of-the-art with a roof top balcony, floor-to-ceiling windows, and a very interesting 3 ft by 3 ft glass panel floor.
Perhaps the largest single project this summer and the one with the most impact on operations is taking place at Palisades Tahoe, CA. A new 8 passenger base-to-base gondola will connect Palisades (formerly Squaw Valley) with its former neighbor Alpine Meadows. In just 16 minutes it will take 1,400 riders per hour from each mountains saving customers a car ride. There’s also a mid -station at K22 providing access to some of the resorts most desired expert runs. The towers are already installed and the construction of the base areas is full on.
As if this wasn’t enough, the resort is also replacing the original Red Dog triple, which served in the 1960 Winter Olympic Games, with a new high speed 6-pack.
Keystone, CO was planning to develop Bergman Bowl by adding a new high-speed 6-pack which will serve a mammoth 555-acre expansion with 16 new trails accessing mostly beginner and intermediate terrain. It will provide experts will a shorter hike to Independence Bowl and Erickson Bowl. Unfortunately, while excavating the new terrain workers wandered off of the planned area disturbing tundra and cutting trees that were not approved by the US Forest Service which halted the work temporarily.
The resort is also expanding the Outpost restaurant at the top of the North Peak quad. The popular spot will seat and additional 300 inside and 75 more outside.
Arapahoe Basin, CO is installing its first high-speed 6-pack. It will replace the old Lenawee fixed grip triple. The lift is located mid-mountain and reaches the 13,500 ft summit. It will increase ridership from 1,800 per hour to 2,400, will greatly reduce the ride time and be more stable in the wind. The old lift is down and the top station of the new lift is in progress. The lift is expected to operate at the beginning of this ski season.
After more than a decade in the works Telluride is replacing the old Plunge triple chairlift (#9) with a new high-speed quad. The old lift has been in service since 1985 and climbs nearly 2,200 vertical feet with a ride time of twelve and a half minutes. The new lift will cut the ride to under seven minutes. Riders per hour will increase from 1,000 to 1,800. The lift services black, double black, and extreme runs which have become increasingly popular.
“The lift that we have now is really old, and it just struggles with the numbers that we have in that area. A new lift here will just change everything” said Jeff Proteau, Co-Owner of Telluride. The lift is expected to begin operating around December 16th.
Jackson Hole, WY is replacing the Thunder lift, installed in 1994, with a new high-speed quad that will move at 1,000 ftpm cutting ride time from seven minutes to about three-and-a-half. The new lift accesses 1,454 vertical feet of terrain. “The Thunder lift has been the most popular lift on the upper mountain, and it delivers access to some of the legendary terrain Jackson is known for. The new Thunder lift will dramatically cut down on skiers’ and snowboarders’ time spent waiting in line and on the lift,” said President, Mary Kate Buckley. “This substantial investment is being made to improve lift waiting times and give our guests more time on snow.” Jackson expects to finish installing the new lift in October.
As a former resident of Steamboat, CO I’m happy to see the resort is completing the second phase of its Master Plan this summer by installing the lower section of the Wild Blue 8-person gondola, the longest in North America. The new lift will provide access from the base to the mid-station at Greenhorn Ranch in just 5 minutes. As part of the plan, Steamboat is also opening the new Greenhorn Ranch Learning Center which will include the Range Food & Drink Hall and Skeeter’s Ice Rink. The Christie Peak Express is shifting to a new location between Steamboat Gondola and Wild Blue Gondola.
Since Vail Resorts acquired Whistler-Blackcomb in 2017 they’ve invested an amazing $127 million in new lifts and improved amenities. This summer they’re replacing the 6-passenger Creekside Gondola and installing a new 8-person gondola that will increase capacity by 35%. They’re also replacing the Big Red Express high-speed quad with a high-speed 6-pack increasing uphill capacity by almost 30%.
Speaking of Vail, CO since they received “epic” bad press due to “epic” long lines for the last two seasons, they’re addressing the criticism by increasing uphill capacity designed to drastically reduce wait times in popular areas. In Sundown Bowl, the High Noon Express (#5) is getting a new high-speed quad that will run up to the Wildwood restaurant. Game Creek will see its uphill capacity increase 45% when it’s upgraded from a high-speed quad to a high-speed 6-pack.
One of my favorite spot to ski at Breckenridge, CO is Peak 8. The parking is close in if you’re early and it doesn’t get the traffic of some of the other peaks. This summer, uphill capacity at the Peak 8 base area will increase by nearly 70% when the Rip’s Ride fixed grip double, primarily a beginner lift, is replaced with a new high-speed quad. This should reduce congestion on the summit lift and reduce wait time by separating the advanced riders from the newbies.
Whitefish, MT is getting its first high-speed 6-pack this summer. The Snow Ghost Express will replace Chair #4, installed in 1978, and lift riders from the Base Lodge directly to the top of Inspiration Ridge in seven minutes eliminating the two-lift ride up Chair 6 from the Base Lodge then up either Chair 1 or Chair 2 now necessary. The new lift should relieve traffic congestion on the two older lifts. The resort anticipate the new Chair 4 will be open for this ski season.
This summer, Northstar, CA is installing a new high-speed 6-pack to replace the mid-mountain Comstock quad. The lift will double uphill capacity and reduce congestion.
“Our mission is to provide an experience of a lifetime to anyone who visits our resorts — and delivering on that mission requires constant re-imagination and investment into the guest experience,” said chairman and CEO of Vail Resorts, Rob Katz. “Our teams have been hard at work identifying significant opportunities to improve the guest experience and have produced an initial list of exciting lift upgrades, a restaurant expansion and projects that expand access to incredible terrain for next season, with more to be announced”. He went on to say “At some of our mountains, this means new high-speed lifts that will double how fast we can move people out of the base areas, and at others, the projects are all about making it easier for people to explore different sections of the mountain. Overall, our goal is for guests to have more time to enjoy the sport they love.”
Heavenly, CA is upgrading its North Bowl lift from a fixed-grip triple to a high-speed quad this summer increasing uphill capacity by 40%. The new lift will decrease ride time on the Boulder and North Bowl chairs and reduce wait time at the Olympic and Stagecoach lifts.
Deer Valley, UT Is improving the experience for beginners with the installation of the new Burns Express lift in the Wild West beginner area which will provide easy access to Little Baldy Mountain. The $6 million upgrade will improve the ski school learning area on Wild West and provide improvements to the existing Snowflake chairlift.
Mount Shasta, CA has begun construction on a new lift to attract more visitors. The new Gray Butte fixed-grip quad features a vertical rise of 1,154 feet with a ride tie of 10 minutes. It will also create 5 new runs. GM Jim Mullins says only local contractors are only building the lift.”The contractors in the Mt Shasta and Siskiyou counties do concrete work, labor, goods, and services. A lot of the money we are spending on the new lift is being put back here in the Mt Shasta area, and it brings in money, not only for our business but other businesses in the area,” The new lift will double the size of the ski park by opening an additional 200 skiable acres.
Here’s a chart courtesy of The Lift Blog noting all of the new lifts being installed this summer.