Where 41 U.S. Lift Projects Stand as We Head into Ski Season
Checking in as supply-chain struggles and labor shortages set off a scramble to finish key projects.
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It seemed too dumb to be real: Whistler’s new Creekside Gondola, a 6,692-foot-long, 2,116-foot tall, 10-passenger monster, would be delayed several weeks by a rogue haul rope. A part so basic. As though your contractor said, “Whoops we forgot your roof” when building your dream home. And you’re like, “Bro how could you build a house with no roof?” And they’re like, “My Man, we just didn’t think of it, OK? We’re getting you a roof. We had to ship it in from Austrmenistan and it’s held up.” And you’re like, “Damn Bro we can’t build a roof in North America?”
The mountain’s new Big Red six-pack was held up too, also because of the vague and now-ubiquitous “supply-chain issues,” but also because of the now equally common “labor shortages.” Never mind, for now, whose fault this is, whether building steel cables on one continent and shipping them to another continent as a routine matter is a smart use of resources. It’s happening: Vail Resorts’ headline lift projects in its 18-machine (once 21-machine) splurge will not be ready for the resort’s Nov. 24 opening day.
It made me wonder what else was held up. North American operators are installing 66 new or used chairlifts, gondolas, and T-bars this offseason, according to Lift Blog. Two companies – Leitner-Poma and Doppelmayr – are installing nearly all of the new lifts (Skytrac, a subsidiary of Leitner-Poma, is building 10 of them). As part of my research for the Whistler story, I reached out to nearly every ski area in the United States with an active lift project to check on their status. A handful – Whitefish, Mt. Rose, Waterville Valley, Caberfae, Bryce – got back to me by deadline, but responses kept dropping into my inbox over the weekend, and I wanted to share what I had. Here, as of Nov. 9, is where 41 U.S. lift projects stand as the 2022-23 ski season starts in earnest (well, in the West at least):
Mt. Shasta Ski Park – Gray Butte expansion and chairlift
What they’re building: A fixed-grip Doppelmayr quad will rise 1,155 vertical feet on Gray Butte, a new, 211-acre terrain pod with six intermediate and advanced trails.
Where it will be: We don’t have an updated trailmap yet, but Gray Butte sits largely above Mt. Shasta’s existing terrain, which tops out at 6,880 feet (not even halfway up the 14,180-foot volcano). Gray Butte will pull the ski area up to 7,500 feet. Here’s where the new runs sit in relation to the existing trail network:
And here’s last year’s trailmap, for context:
How it’s going:
“The Gray Butte lift expansion is essentially complete,” said Mt. Shasta Ski Park Marketing Director Grace Hornbeak. “We finished the load test early [last] week, so everything is on schedule. Overall the schedule went pretty smoothly with no supply chain or labor issues. The only thing that caused any delay was waiting on specialized equipment from local vendors, but even that didn’t throw us off track very much. We are anticipating an opening date of mid-December, which will include the opening of the Gray Butte lift.”
Lookout Pass – Eagle Peak Expansion and chairlift
What they’re building: Sundance’s old Ray’s lift, a 1995 Garaventa CTEC fixed-grip quad, will serve a 485-acre, 14-trail expansion called Eagle Peak, which will nearly double the size of Lookout Pass. The ski area straddles the Idaho-Montana border and averages more than 400 inches of snowfall annually.
Where it will be: Lookout Pass recently posted one of these overhead trailmaps that are increasingly common (“We are still working to get our trail map updated and finished for public viewing,” Lookout Pass Director of Marketing Matt Sawyer told me). While I like some elements of these maps, the 2D perspective makes it hard to tell which way is up (Sawyer told me that the shorter chairlift rising from the base of the expansion “is Future Chair 6, and is not currently under construction. We actually already have the lift in storage for when the demand needs it.”):
The old trailmap wasn’t great either though. It’s very disjointed, and it’s not clear how each part of the ski area connects with the others:
How it’s going:
“We are indeed still on track with the New Eagle Peak expansion and the quad chairlift that is being installed to service that exciting terrain for its opening to the public on or around the end of the month through mid-December,” said Sawyer. “Although we will likely open the mountain as early as Nov. 18, weather permitting, well prior to this new expansion terrain opening.”
The top terminal and all towers and crossarms are installed, according to Sawyer, and the haul rope has been strung to the summit and back down – but it’s waiting on a key piece of the bottom terminal: Skytrac is installing brand-new motor controls as part of a motor room upgrade at their Utah facility. Delivery is scheduled for this week.
“Once that is moved from the parking lot down the road to the backside of our mountain and then up to the bottom terminal point, it will then need to be lifted into position using a crane,” Sawyer said. “Once in position, things will go quite fast. They will tension the haul rope, complete the Splice, and roll the rope around the system a few times to check all alignments, which have already been done with lasers. Once the chairs are painted, our team will start attaching chairs to the haul rope, then they’ll do the all-important load test.”
The ski area only had to navigate minor supply chain issues, including finding appropriate paint for the chairs and securing paper to print new trailmaps.
With trails cut and graded as of October, Lookout Pass only has to finish installing trail signs. Sawyer estimates that the entire project will be wrapped “just prior to Thanksgiving,” and that “the lift will likely make its maiden run sometime between the end of November and the middle of December.” The opening date will depend upon the persistence of the snow train that’s currently clobbering the Western U.S., since Lookout Pass has no snowmaking.
Sundance – Wildwood expansion and chairlift
What they’re building: A new 40-acre terrain pod featuring 10 mostly beginner and intermediate trails served by a 576-vertical-foot Doppelmayr fixed-grip quad called Wildwood. The terrain sits higher on Sundance, off the back of XXX, and faces south.
Where it will be: The full new trailmap is not ready yet, but here’s last year’s for the setup:
Here’s a close-up of the new terrain, which skiers will access by skiing off the backside of Jake’s Lift. It also connects to the Flathead lift:
How it’s going:
I interviewed Sundance President and General Manager Chad Linebaugh on The Storm Skiing Podcast on Monday. That episode will drop soon, but he told me that the new lift and pod, which has snowmaking, were on target to open with the resort on Dec. 9. That doesn’t mean the ski area hasn’t had to deal with delays.
“Initially, the lift was scheduled to be done in October,” Linebaugh said. “That got pushed into November. And we’re OK. We’ll be fine. Because, again, our opening date is Dec. 9. Doppelmayr is fully committed that this lift will be fully running and commissioned to us by the end of November. So we feel good about where we’re at. It will allow us to then get the snowmaking done, pending the temperatures and the weather and so forth.”
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Jackson Hole – Thunder chairlift
What they’re building: A new, 1,454-vertical-foot, 3,645-foot-long Leitner-Poma high-speed quad
What it’s replacing: A 1994 Doppelmayr quad
Where it will be: The lift, marked “new” below, runs at a slight angle parallel to the tram at mid-mountain, and follows the same line as the lift it’s replacing:
How it’s going:
Jackson Hole has encountered the same problem as Whistler Blackcomb: a missing haul rope.
Below the paid subscriber jump: more on Jackson Hole’s Thunder lift, plus updates on new lift installations at Alta, Grand Targhee, Arapahoe Basin, Palisades Tahoe, and dozens more ski areas.