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Mapping Mammoth’s Next New Lifts

“One hundred million dollars” is how Mammoth Mountain CEO Rusty Gregory responded when asked about capital improvements in the wake of the recent purchase of Mammoth Resorts by Aspen Skiing Co. and KSL Capital Partners this spring.  While I can’t find a comprehensive online version of the 2007 Mammoth Master Plan prepared by Ecosign, the vision includes 17 lift additions and replacements including up to four new gondola stages.  A vast majority of the changes are likely to be realignments and capacity upgrades of existing lifts rather than the opening of new terrain.  Still, the possibilities are exciting at this already monster mountain.

Mammoth currently operates the largest second largest lift fleet in the United States, with 27 machines averaging 27 years old.  All 14 lifts built before 1995 are Yan, while the 13 added post-1996 are exclusively Doppelmayr.  Remarkably, every lift Mammoth has built since 1998 has been detachable, 15 in a row with DT grips (the two Yan detachables got them in 1996.)  At some point, Mammoth’s impressive fleet commonality will have to end, but the streak may not be over just yet.

As Mr. Gregory said in April, a major goal is adding a second multi-stage gondola on the Canyon side of the mountain to mirror the popular two–stage Panorama Gondola.   “Take Eagle Express and turn that into the gondola it is,” he told the local paper.  The second, longest stage would stretch from the top of the current Eagle to the summit of the new High Five Express.  A short but spectacular third stage would soar to the 11,060-foot summit, meeting Panorama Stage 2 and creating a five stage link.  An option in Ecosign’s plan adds a second stage to the 15-passenger Village Gondola from Canyon Lodge to the Eagle Gondola’s first mid-station, creating a seven-gondola network unmatched in North America.  Mammoth’s gondola goals raise some interesting technical questions – whether Eagle Express could be converted to a gondola and whether a second stage could be compatible with a 20-year old Village system.  I think the answer to both questions is yes, with caveats.

Mammoth was relatively slow to join the six-pack club with only the Eagle Express and Cloud Nine Express built to date.  That is set to change, with the possibility remaining for Mammoth to build North America’s first eight-passenger chairlift(s.)  The mountain’s two Lift Engineering-turned-Doppelmayr machines – Canyon and Broadway – serve the hearts of their respective pods and are likely to be replaced sooner rather than later with higher-capacity models.  The 1997 Stump Alley Express is also poised to go big.

Chair 25 is planned to be replaced with a high-speed quad in a new alignment starting at the base of Cloud Nine.  High-speed quad replacements are also eyed for Chair 12 and Chair 14, both built in 1972 on the backside with the latter project a higher priority.  Chair 7 at Canyon could also go detachable to supplement the successful Schoolyard Express addition.  New, shorter beginner lifts are planned for the Main Lodge, Canyon Lodge and both ends of the Eagle Express.

Really the only all-new lift is a surface lift with a big turn on the cirque above Cloud Nine. There’s also a short new chairlift planned next to Stump Alley for skiers only seeking to return to the Main Lodge.

The multi-billion dollar Aspen-KSL-Mammoth-Intrawest deal is expected to close soon, paving the way for the first crop of capital investments in summer 2018.

My thoughts on the rest of the soon-to-be-acquired resorts are here, but you can bet that Mammoth Mountain will be near the top of any new lift agenda.

Article by Peter Landsman

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