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Loveland Eyes Lift Upgrades Aimed at Maintaining Unique Character

As one of America’s oldest resorts, Loveland Ski Area has welcomed skiers to the Continental Divide continuously since 1937.  Although now surrounded by the likes of Keystone, Breckenridge and Winter Park and with I-70 literally cutting through it, Loveland remains a local favorite with plentiful snowfall and varied terrain served by nine fixed-grip chairlifts.  The first double chair – a Heron – debuted at Loveland Basin in 1955.  A second ski area, Loveland Valley, opened in 1961.  A number of Heron, Heron-Poma and later Lift Engineering lifts were added through 1990.  The first modern Poma quad chair debuted in 1996, followed by a series of Leitner-Poma triple and quad chairs to modernize the fleet.  When Lift 9 opened in 1998, it became the highest-elevation chairlift in North America, a title Loveland held until Breckenridge opened the Imperial SuperChair in 2005.

Loveland now averages more than 300,000 skier visits annually and visitation increased by 45 percent between 2002 and 2010.  The ski area is now implementing projects from its 2013 master plan, a road map aimed at improving the guest experience while maintaining a laid-back vibe.  SE Group prepared the plan and notes, “Loveland has been known for its abundant, high quality snow; fun and diverse terrain; and uncrowded slopes.”  I visited on a bluebird Sunday in January and never once waited in a lift line.

Loveland generally builds lifts below maximum capacity and skier density is much lower than the industry average, with 1,800 acres of skiable terrain and an hourly lift capacity of over 14,000 skiers.  The development plan notes that Loveland’s lift network generally serves the terrain well, but some lifts are approaching the end of a typical 35-year lifespan and a few changes should be made.  Just last week, lifts 1 and 6 had to be closed for multi-day repairs but have since re-opened.

Loveland completed the first big lift project of the master plan in 2015 with the shortening of Lift 2 and installation of a new Leitner-Poma triple chair dubbed Ptarmigan.  On the master plan map below, Ptarmigan is shown as Lift 2b but the final alignment is slightly different.  With the addition, a detachable Poma lift was removed along with the upper half of Lift 2.  Two was previously the longest lift at Loveland, almost 6,000 feet with a 12 minute ride time and mid-stations for both loading and unloading.  Even with two’s two gone, Loveland is still all about the mid-station with mid-unloads on 3, 4 and 9 (though the one on 9 is not in use.)

At Loveland Valley, Lift 7 is proposed to be lengthened and a second beginner lift #11 added underneath Lift 5.  Speaking of 5 – which connects Loveland Basin and Loveland Valley – it would also be shortened and likely replaced with new equipment.  Interestingly, a whiteboard at the return terminal still shows the snow conditions from a Sunday in March 2001, apparently the last day the current Lift 5 spun to the public.  A fleet of shuttle buses replaced the double chairlift, offering frequent service between the parking lots at Basin and Valley.  The new version of Lift 5 would be 3,750 feet long and Lift 7 would be extended uphill to meet it for access to Loveland Basin.

The most exciting part of the plan is a new Lift 10 to the ridge above Chair 8.  This fixed-grip triple would serve popular hike-to terrain with a modest lift capacity of 1,000 skiers per hour.  Notably, the top terminal would sit at 12,900 feet, regaining Loveland the title of highest lift in North America.  Another ridge surface lift called Wild Child would run along the continental divide to the south of Lift 9.  This lift would be so remote it would need to be self-powered.

I’ve skied at nine Colorado resorts for the first time this season and Loveland is definitely one of my new favorites.  It may not be the biggest, but further lift improvements will only add to the already awesome ski experience here.

Article by Peter Landsman

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