As we suggested in Blue Pages last month, many of the lifts installed in the 1960s, '70s and '80s are approaching retirement or refurbishing. Those that remain in service will require greater and continuing care and attention to maintenance and repair. (That's the subject of "Give Your Lifts a Hand.)
In either case, the fact remains that the era of low capital costs for lifts is closing. Many lifts have been in that sweet spot where they have been fully paid for, but are still new enough that they haven't required a great deal of maintenance. As they age further, though, they need more TLC. Tower and sheave alignment, gearboxes, bullwheels, chair grips, electronics, chairlifts have a lot of moving parts. Whether resorts invest in new or rebuilt lifts, lift expenses are headed up. The alternative is an increasing incidence of lift failures and the attendant costs of settling those-and then paying the costs of repair or replacement, too.
There has been much grousing about the lack of competition among lift companies and resulting higher prices for new chairlifts. The complaints are understandable, lifts are a major expense. However, there are pressures keeping prices from skyrocketing, too. The manufacturing capabilities of Doppelmayr CTEC and Leitner Poma, coupled with that of the new Skytrac, surely exceeds demand. Resorts have some leverage over pricing still.
And new lifts can be a sound investment. New designs are even more reliable than the older ones; the industry has learned a great deal in the past 50 years. And technology has brought improvements as well.
Make no mistake, the quality of your lifts is vital. Lifts are the ultimate guest convenience and that's why we sell "lift tickets."
The bad news, from an accounting standpoint, is that chairlifts are major expenses that must be depreciated, and that impacts the bottom line. That's not fatal news by any means. It's also one of the true costs of doing business as a ski resort, one that sure beats having no lifts, or poorly functioning, fear-inducing lifts.