Across resorts in the United States and Canada, a staggering 14 loading conveyors are to be installed across 13 ski areas in the coming season. Record visitation numbers across American resorts in the 22/23 have promoted investments across ski resorts in North America. While it is great to see so many resorts investing in their infrastructure, many Americans could be forgiven to wonder what has caused the rise in loading conveyors being installed.
This last season was one for the record books with historic levels of snowfall, resorts having their longest seasons in history, and all-time-high skier attendance levels. The National Ski Areas Association (‘NSAA’) reported a total of 64.7 million skier visits in the United States in 2022/23 which is a 6.6% increase over the 21-22 season. Those numbers are the highest since the 1978/79 season when the NSAA started to keep track of skier visits.
It is a great sign that the American ski industry is strong and growing, which has prompted many resorts to make huge capital investments moving forward. This past year, we learned of ski resorts investing hundreds of millions of dollars into their operations over the next few years. Resorts are focusing on the guest experience, terrain, and increasing lift capacity to accommodate an increased number of guests, as shown by the record number of nationwide skier visits last year.
- Related: The 11 Most Anticipated Upgrades and Expansions Coming to North American Ski Resorts This Season and Beyond
It is no secret that Europe has been ahead of the U.S. for decades concerning its lift capacity and ability to get skiers and riders up the mountain. U.S. resorts have taken notice and now it seems every day we see a new press release with news of lift upgrades around the country. Resorts are not only adding new lifts but also adding conveyor belt loading systems at the bottom of some of those lifts. These conveyor systems are intended to improve the speed and safety of guests as they get on the lift.
- Related Article: Top 5 Longest Chairlifts in North America
For those who have never come across one, you might ask what exactly the point of a lift conveyor belt system is. According to Maynard Russel, the purpose of a conveyor is to “index passengers for proper loading of your chairlift and reducing the stops and slows for design speed and carrier spacing of the chairlift.” The first loading conveyors in the U.S. were installed in 1995 in Crystal Mountain, WA, but the history of the loading conveyor began in 1987 when Doppelmayr started developing the technology in native Austria.
How do you use a loading conveyor system? While it may seem simple and obvious, ironically, advanced skiers have more difficulty using them than beginner skiers. According to Russell’s paper, the reason for this is that beginner skiers tend to approach the system more slowly and cautiously. Advanced skiers tend to approach the system much faster and sometimes get stuck at the gate or are going too fast to get on the lift correctly and overshoot it.
Sun Peaks, BC, Canada has a loading conveyor system at its resort and has a detailed list of instructions posted on its website on how to properly use a conveyor system. The main objective of these instructions is for skiers to take their time when approaching the conveyor system, ask questions to lift operators to explain how the conveyor system works, and to let the conveyor do the work and do not move once you are on it. Sun Peaks posted this on its website for tips for skier and snowboarders using the conveyor because it is a little different.
Skiers – The process of gliding through the gate and transitioning onto the conveyor will likely feel pretty easy for you. When the gate opens, simply glide down onto the conveyor and be mindful of your poles. It’s that easy.
Snowboarders – Here’s our number one piece of advice: when the gate opens, scootch forward and place your back foot on your board like you would when you’re unloading at the top of a chairlift. Keep that back foot on the board while you’re on the conveyor, and refrain from stepping off of your board onto the conveyor surface. If you follow this tip, you’re all set. If not, well, you may find yourself sliding around a bit, losing your balance, and bumping into your chairlift buddies.
The million-dollar question is: is the investment in these systems justified, or are they a waste of money? European resorts have had these conveyor systems for years, and the reviews on social media are mixed. Conveyor loading systems are designed to be easy for users and decrease the amount of time you spend in a lift line. However, comments on Twitter or Facebook can be scathing from those who have used them, calling them “Jerry’s worst nightmare”. The fact of the matter is, evidence by resorts utilizing these system shows they work. Mount Snow, VT, for example, reports the detachable quad loading conveyor it installed reduced its lift stops by 50% and slowed by 70% from previous years.
The future of loading conveyor systems in the United States should increase over the future, according to Russell’s paper on conveyor systems. Plans to install conveyors to assist skiers in loading the lift are scheduled at 13 different mountains in North America at this time. According to LiftBlog, those ski resorts are:
- Mont Sutton, QC
- Boyne Mountain, MI
- Brighton, UT
- Gore Mountain, NY
- The Highlands, MI
- Loon Mountain, NH
- Marmot Basin, AB
- Mt. St. Louis Moonstone, ON
- Perfect North Slopes, IN
- Snowshoe, WV
- Sommet Olympia, QC
- Sunday River, ME
- Whistler Blackcomb, BC
Boyne Mountain, MI, is adding two new lifts for the 2023/24 season, and it will have a conveyor system at the base of both. The new construction of these lifts is part of Boyne Mountain’s plan for the next decade of operation, which it hopes elevate the experience at the resort. The installation of the new eight-person lift will be the Midwest’s first, and Boyne calls it a part of its “Renaissance” moving forward.
Ski Marmot Basin in Jasper, Canada, is opening a new lift that is anticipated to be open for 2023/24 called the New Knob Quad Chair. It will give riders access to the peak as well as new expert terrain and will carry 1,200 people an hour and take less than eight minutes to reach the summit. It will have a conveyor loading system that will assist riders, and Marmot Basin is calling the new lift a game changer.
Snowshoe Mountain, WV, also added a new lift to the mountain this year, and it has a conveyor loading system to assist riders to get on the lift. Snowshoe is one of 16 resorts operated by Alterra Mountain Company and announced Snowshoe is part of the $500 million investment announced this year, which also includes upgrades to Mammoth Mountain, CA, Steamboat, CO Crystal Mountain, WA.
For the first time since 2006, Snowshoe’s mountain operations team will be installing a brand new chairlift. Powder Monkey lift, a fixed-grip triple installed in 1977 as one of Snowshoe’s original lifts, is being replaced with a fixed-grip quad ahead of the 2023/24 winter season. The new lift from Leitner-Poma & Skytrac will feature a conveyor loading system that will shorten ride times as well as increase the mountain’s lift capacity, ease congestion in the Basin area, and improve access to the Western Territory. The new lift is currently on track for a mid-December opening.
Regardless of what many critics may think of these loading conveyors, experts like Russell believe they are here to stay. He concluded his study by saying that the units are particularly useful on heavily used lifts, and their use will become commonplace in North America in the next few years. With resorts investing hundreds of millions of dollars to improve guest experiences and increasing lift capacity, it is safe to say most skiers will someday see themselves riding a lift conveyor system.