Leitner-Poma and Ski Industry

This Denver Post article has several topics beyond local ski areas. I removed a section of local stuff.

Colorado-made ski lifts to give four of state’s resorts long-awaited upgrades
New tax incentives, health of ski industry have boosted Grand Junction manufacturer’s output

By ALDO SVALDI | asvaldi@denverpost.com | The Denver Post
PUBLISHED: October 28, 2018 at 6:00 am | UPDATED: October 28, 2018 at 10:05 am
Colorado’s ski resorts are upgrading their lifts in a big way this year, hoping to provide visitors a smoother experience on the slopes this winter and keeping manufacturing workers in Grand Junction extra busy this summer and fall.
A need to replace aging equipment, a desire to sweep guests up the mountain faster and more comfortably, and more favorable tax breaks from Congress have all combined to create an unprecedented boom in lift manufacturing and installations this year.
“Our business right now couldn’t be better. We are having the biggest year we have ever had in the United States,” said Jon Mauch, sales manager for Leitner-Poma of America, which set up shop in Grand Junction on Colorado’s Western Slope in 1981.
The company might build a lift or two for Colorado resorts in a normal year, or three in a really good one. Some years no lifts are installed. But Colorado ski areas have purchased five lifts and the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park is shutting down so it can put in a new tram.
Mauch attributes the big jump in orders to changes in the tax code that allow capital investments to be expensed more quickly. Leitner-Poma, a subsidiary of Leitner Group in northern Italy, has taken advantage of the tax breaks to buy new machine tools.
Although more generous depreciation allowances may be at play, Melanie Mills, president and CEO of Colorado Ski Country USA, said the industry has enjoyed several years of healthy revenues, which is allowing areas to make major upgrades.
“Lifts are multi-million dollar pieces of equipment. They are major capital investments,” she said. To stay competitive, resorts are also upgrading their snow-making equipment, restaurants and on-mountain amenities and summer attractions.
The new Ikon Pass, promoted as an alternative to Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass, is also a big motivation. Some ski areas expect a surge in new customers and don’t want to turn them off, something a 15-minute or longer wait to get on a lift at the base of the mountain on a chilly Saturday or Sunday morning could do.
“It has been a long time since we added a lift. The biggest thing for us is that this was the first season of the Ikon Pass,” said Steve Hurlbert, spokesman for Winter Park Resort.
Cooper Mountain’s owner, POWDR Corp., spent $20 million ahead of last season replacing a beginner’s lift, putting in a mountain coaster and opening four new restaurants. This season it is spending a similar amount to upgrade two of its lifts.
“We are very tuned into how guests perceive Copper and the things we can do to improve,” said Taylor Prather, public relations manager at Copper Mountain.
Age is definitely behind the upgrades. Lift 1 at Loveland dates back to 1981, the American Eagle to 1989, the American Flyer to 1987 and the Zephyr Express to 1990. Maintenance costs rise as lifts age. Some of the lifts are so old and worn they can’t be resold. They are being scrapped or used for spare parts. Visitors to Fraser and Winter Park can expect to see a bunch of the old cabins serving as bus stops in retirement.
Added speed and capacity are other reasons to go new. Hurlbert likens the lift system at a resort to the circulatory system in a human body. The more people the lifts can take on and the faster they can whisk them to the top, the less time is lost waiting. More runs on the mountain represents a better value for the pass or lift ticket.
And while skiing hasn’t ever been the most comfortable of sports, consumers are demanding a better experience. Bubble chairlifts, for example, felt out of favor because passengers sometimes struggled to operate them properly and because of maintenance. But today’s designs are now automated and much improved, Mauch said.
Copper Mountain is bringing one back, hoping to eliminate the American Flyer’s nickname — the “American Freezer.”
Comfort is another consideration in transporting nonskiers to the increasing number of amenities on the mountain, both in winter and summer. Gondolas are a preferred method for doing that, especially at night.
Three of the five new lifts will include “DirectDrive” technology from Leitner, which has come to dominate new installations in Europe and is making its debut in the United States.
Given the limited market for chairlifts in the United States, big motor makers like General Electric didn’t specialize in making equipment for them. For decades, lift manufacturers added gear boxes to slow down the revolutions
But Leitner Group developed a drive system about 10 years ago that turns at a speed to match what the bull wheel and passengers can handle. Gone are the gear boxes, which in turn reduces energy consumption by 10 to 15 percent and quiets noise and simplifies maintenance, Mauch said.
“They can keep running if something goes wrong and there is very little additional cost. The payback comes in a few years,” he said.
Mauch said the surge in orders, including several from outside Colorado, have allowed Leitner-Poma’s Grand Junction plant to run two shifts and keep 130 workers busy. Suppliers to the factory in the region are also staying busy.
Normally work slows when the weather turns colder, but this year orders are spilling into the winter months as well. And the company expects another big year for upgrades and new lifts in 2019, Mauch said.
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