New Fake Snow and New Ways to Get to It
We at conSKIerge generally do not post during the “off” season. Call us not true fanatics if you want, but there you have it. Yes, Charlotte and I do have some other interests that slightly distract us when we can’t ski. And isn’t there something about not being able to ski that makes the winter just a tad more special? Perhaps as Joni said, “That you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone.” Before you call us ski wannabes, we do indeed miss it, and we think of deep powder days when the temp hits 90. And that makes us keep track of off-season developments. Speaking of which…we are wowed by the amount of money invested in basic infrastructure in the ski industry every year – most notably in snowmaking and lifts.
Fake Snow. We haven’t seen total dollar numbers for this year that were deposited into systems that manufacture snow, but there are endless articles and news releases from areas all over North America highlighting these developments. Suffice it to say that this summer saw mega investments in snowmaking, particularly in the east, which is understandable given the increasingly perilous condition of eastern skiing. What was more alarming though is the investment by western areas in fake snow and them proudly posting pics of them making snow early this season. We remember the days when the western resorts would poke fun of their eastern brethren for manufactured snow! As I sit here writing this I can see snow guns blasting at Snowbird. It is sunny but manmade clouds cover half the mountain. And the trend will no doubt continue. For example, Park City Mountain has already announced significant investments are to be made in their snowmaking capabilities in 2024. Ironically, you can find an update on this in the Powder publication. See Park City Snowmaking.
New Lifts. Fake or real, we need a way to get to the snow, and the last two years have seen a remarkable jump in new lift construction in North America. Before we get into specifics…a slight detour. We love some older classic lifts. We were ecstatic when Mad River Glen in VT lost its mind and decided to refurbish its antique single chair instead of inserting a replacement. (Just in case you missed it see our article on skiing Mad River Glen Ski It If You Can). To us, the comparable lift in the west is Alta’s Wildcat double chair. Unlike the MRG single, “The Kitty” (as the Wildcat lift is affectionately called) doesn’t even deposit you at the top of Alta. But the ride itself separates one from the sadly increasingly hectic main Alta mountain and gives you a panoramic view of some of Alta’s deepest and steepest – High Rustler, Lone Pine, Stonecrusher and West Rustler. Word has that Alta has a permit to replace The Kitty so hop on it while you can.
Ok, with that frolic and detour out of the way, onward to recent lift construction. In order to track these developments we rely on the “SAM Ski Area Management” publication so if you want all the gory details see SAM Lift Report. The down and dirty is as follows… For the 8 years prior to 2022 an average of 30 new lifts were built per year in North America. In 2022 an astounding 58 lifts were built and that was followed by 57 lifts being built this last off season. Some of this can of course be attributed to resorts needing to replace older outdated lifts. The rest, for better or worse (you can guess which we think) are largely to increase uphill capacity which of course puts more folks on the mountains. SAM uses an interesting statistic – vertical transport feet per hour (VTPH). The VTPH increase for the each of the last two years is more than double the amounts of prior years. By VTPH the two largest lifts built this year are a 3.16 mile Gondola at Steamboat (Colorado) and a top to bottom 6 pack at Sun Valley (Idaho). The sexiest (yes, ski lifts are sexy to us!) new lift is perhaps the new Lone Peak tram at Big Sky. The 75 person tram replaces the tiny 15 person tram that was most well known for notoriously long wait times and has easier access since it starts lower down the mountain than its predecessor. If there is enough snow the terrain up top on Lone Peak is very impressive.
Be Well; Ski Well