Doppelmayr, which is located not far from the Salt Lake City International Airport, has a history in Utah going back to the 1970s. One of its predecessor companies, CTEC, was founded here. It later morphed into Garaventa, and then became a part of Doppelmayr, an Austrian company with a history going back 125 years.
Utah is a big customer itself for the company, with over a hundred lifts in the state including the Garaventa-built Snowbird tram, now over 50 years old and still one of the most iconic ski lifts in the world, and the brand new Outlaw Express high-speed quad that opened at Sundance Mountain Resort just before Christmas.
Katharina Schmitz on snow.
A passionate skier herself, Katharina Schmitz grew up in Austria, coming to America with her engineering degree to forge a career in the automotive and aerospace industries, before landing in Utah with Doppelmayr in 2018.
It’s a fascinating interview that will explain current trends in uphill transportation, showcase future innovations and even take a look into the proposed Little Cottonwood Canyon gondola and how Doppelmayr’s triple-cable 3S technology could make a difference. She even speaks to the growing importance of WiFi in lift cabins!
Katharina, tell us more about Doppelmayr.
We have around 3,500 employees, about half of those are in Austria. The rest of us are scattered throughout the world across about 50 subsidiaries. The North American market is a key part of that, so we typically make up around 15 percent of the group's revenue. In really strong years, we were a little bit closer to 20 percent, so we certainly have a lot of attention from our group's headquarters and a lot of support as well.
Why is Utah a good home for a lift company like Doppelmayr?
Having a very business-friendly environment certainly is a factor now. In addition to that, having several world-class resorts right in our backyard is a real benefit. It helps us to collaborate closely with customers, not only in Utah but throughout the West. And having a Delta Air Lines hub here is really nice to visit the rest of our customers throughout the country.
The history of aerial tramways in Utah goes back to hauling mining ore in the 1800s. How has the ski lift industry evolved from there?
Yes, it started with material transport and Doppelmayr still has a material transportation segment. But the core market for us is transporting people. We have seen a lot of evolution from the first surface lift in, I think, 1937, that Doppelmayr built in Austria that really started the company's ropeway business. Then if you look from there and how fast we came to the first detachable around 1970 or so, the innovation since then has just been mind-blowing. So I think it shifted the profile as to what ropeways are used for or used in.
What’s the coolest lift installation you’ve seen in the world?
I have a personal favorite, which is the Stoosbahn in Switzerland. It is a funicular and it has barrel shaped compartments that have a leveling floor, so you always stay horizontal. It's the steepest funicular in the world and it is the most unique ride. You're going up this amazing incline and then through a little tunnel and come out on the other side. It serves as public transport, as well as access to a smaller ski area that's car free. And it's just an amazing installation, a really fun ride.
In your three seasons here in Utah, any favorite runs?
Well, I'm not as territorial since I'm not native Utahn, but I very much enjoy long runs. So I really do like some of the runs up at Snowbasin Resort - off John Paul or Needles - that are just making for a good, long, fast run.
With the move from quads to six-packs and now to eight-packs, what are the important factors?
Terrain and alignment certainly are the big and obvious ones. Capacity is a big topic these days. And how many people do you want to move up the mountain per hour comes with a few different factors. Lift speed is certainly a factor, but also how many carriers you have. While you typically want to go up the mountain fast, you want to be really slow going through the terminal. And so we found in recent years that having slower carriers through the stations, having longer loading intervals really helps with keeping the lift running and not having any misloads as you go. So that also explains a little bit why you see lifts with, let's say, six or eight seater chairs so you can have fewer carriers, longer loading intervals, and you would still have the same capacity doing that.
So it’s not just about capacity?
In essence, with an eight seater, you would have a higher ultimate capacity. Most resorts don't strive for that per se. They're trying to get a certain capacity. And then it's a question on how comfortable you want your load interval to be. Increasing the load interval is a big topic and it ties into one of these other big factors - the level of skier that really uses that lift. If you have a beginner area, that's maybe one of the most important factors is making sure you can load them. If you have, you know, an alignment where it's all expert skiers, that's probably not your concern and you'll be looking for some other factors.
I recall the old Park City gondola being a great place to develop a relationship with a 25-minute ride. Modern lift technology has really changed that, hasn’t it?
<laughing> Yes, you have to be efficient about your conversation, that's for sure.
Listen in to this episode of Last Chair, the Ski Utah podcast, with Doppelmayr USA President Katharina Schmitz to learn more.
Tom Kelly |00:00:00| And we are here today at the headquarters of Doppelmayr USA, not far from the Salt Lake City International Airport and with us Katharina Schmitz and Katherina, thank you so much for joining us on Last Chair.
Katharina Schmitz |00:00:12| Thank you, Tom, for having me. It's a real pleasure.
Tom Kelly |00:00:14| You know, I have been looking forward to this one because being a skier for many, many years, I've become infatuated with ski lifts and not just for skiing, but just for mountain and urban transportation. And we're going to cover a lot of topics here. But just to get things going on this before we start to get into the nitty gritty of ski lifts. Tell us a little bit about Doppelmayr USA and how it came to be located right here in Salt Lake City.
Katharina Schmitz |00:00:38| Sure. So Doppelmayr USA has been in the area since right around 1978, 1979. We had one of our predecessor companies, CTEC, founded here, which was later morphed into Garaventa and then became part of Doppelmayr. Today we are the U.S. headquarters here in Salt Lake City, and we are dedicated to serving the U.S. market and also our Canadian customers. We have local engineering, construction, production service and sales staff here. Most of our 200 employees are right here in Salt Lake City, but we also have folks that are scattered throughout the rest of the country in sales and service roles mainly. And we do operate a really neat installation out in Portland, Oregon, which has a separate team there as well.
Tom Kelly |00:01:29| Now the origins of the company I know are European rooted, it's over 125 years old. Give us a sense of the global scope of Doppelmayr.
Katharina Schmitz |00:01:39| Global scope of Doppelmayr, I think we have around 3,500 employees, about half of those are in Austria, The rest of us are scattered throughout the world. I think there's about 50 subsidiaries throughout the world. The North American market is a key part of that, so we typically make up around 15 percent of the group's revenue in really strong years. We were a little bit closer to 20 percent, so we certainly have a lot of attention from our group's headquarter and a lot of support as well.
Tom Kelly |00:02:08| So what was it that brought the company here to Utah? I know it predates you, but what are the attributes of Utah that's made it really good for dopamine to be here?
Katharina Schmitz |00:02:19| I think a couple of the key factors that come to mind due to having a very business friendly environment is probably was a factor back then. Certainly is a factor now. In addition to that, having, you know, several world class resorts right in our backyard. It's a real benefit. You know, it helps us to collaborate closely with customers not only in Utah, but throughout the West and then having a Delta hub here is really nice to visit the rest of our customers throughout the country,
Tom Kelly |00:02:45| You know, just coming in here and looking out in the yard and there's a lot of lift components over there. You're in a business where your raw materials are big and they're heavy and they're bulky. How do you manage all of that?
Katharina Schmitz |00:03:00| Well, there's a lot of logistics aspects. We, you know, really look at ourselves as a kind of a globally connected company. We buy a lot of materials all over the place brings some challenges for the teams at times, but it also really ensures us to have centers of excellence that focus on a specific thing. And that way we can make sure we remain a technology leader and bring everything together in a not just successful way.
Tom Kelly |00:03:25| Now, Doppelmayr USA is responsible for America. I know that you also are involved with Canada, but how collaborative is the company as a whole? Are you in communications with your units around the world frequently?
Katharina Schmitz |00:03:37| Yes, I would say with our Canadian colleagues probably every day, with our European colleagues, at least several times a week. And then there's also other facilities that support us as things come up. It's a truly rewarding environment for me and to be able to see people collaborate and step up and find an optimum solution for our customers. So that's one of the fun aspects I really enjoy being part of this group.
Tom Kelly |00:04:02| Speaking of finding solutions, all of us have been involved in the pandemic now over almost the past two years, and certainly I'm sure it has impacted your business. How did you roll with that over the last 18 to 24 months at Doppelmayr?
Katharina Schmitz |00:04:19| I would say, like most tourism related businesses and we clearly are a tourism related business, 2020 was tough, especially the first few months where everything came to a pretty grinding halt very fast for our ski area customers, especially as we navigated as well as we could. We collaborated closely with our customers to find alternatives in terms of plans for execution and timelines for their execution. We had four projects that moved into this year from last year, which we're very happy that they're now wrapped up, but there certainly was an impact on our team and of course of our customers as well.
Tom Kelly |00:04:58| You are dealing with very big projects that cost millions of dollars, so were you able to work effectively with the resorts to kind of make that transition, moving a project from one year to the next work for everybody?
Katharina Schmitz |00:05:12| Yeah, absolutely. I think our customers have been great. I think you're very committed to finding a solution that works for everyone. You know, for some of them, it meant they had a little bit more planning horizon, which actually turned out beneficial. But these projects are now in service, and we're very excited that they're buttoned up.
Tom Kelly |00:05:31| When you look back over the pandemic year that we all came through, we learned how to ski with masks and a variety of other things. We learned some new technologies, but at the end of the day, it was pretty much a record season last year and in particular right here in Utah. And I imagine that springboarding off of that record year has been good for your business in terms of resorts looking ahead to new lift development.
Katharina Schmitz |00:05:56| Absolutely. And I think we already started in 2021, where there has been a very swift recovery of the U.S. ski market. Specifically, I think it was the fifth best season in the country and like you said, you know, one of the best for Utah. And so certainly we have seen a very strong interest in new investments for new roadways for 2021, but even more so for 2022. So it's very exciting times for us and I think very exciting times for skiers right here in Utah to see some new lifts coming.
Tom Kelly |00:06:28| Well, later on, we're going to talk a little bit more about lift technology and some of the things that may be coming here in Utah. Let's look a little bit at your background. I know you're relatively new to Utah. You've been here for about three years. You are an avid skier. First of all, tell us a little bit about growing up, and I know it was a long way from lift development. But as a young girl growing up in Austria, how did you eventually get into these industrial businesses that you've been in?
Katharina Schmitz |00:06:58| Sure. So I grew up in a small town called Aflenz in Austria, has about 1,200 people, so it's a fairly small place. We have a local mountain called Bürgeralm, where I learned to ski, probably around four or five years old. It has about six lifts and except for two they are all surface lifts. You get an idea of it being a pretty small, family oriented place. It does have world class mountain huts so in case you're interested. And then I went to engineering school at a fairly young age, went to boarding school, got a business degree later on and decided that I would want to move abroad, work abroad. And I moved to California in 2005, have lived in the U.S. ever since, and I have really enjoyed working in engineering environments and production environments. So I've worked in automotive for about three years and then joined the fairly large aerospace business in California, where I worked for about 10 years, mainly on new product development with large engineering teams pretty much all over the world.
Tom Kelly |00:08:04| When you were growing up in Austria, I know you lived very close to a small mountain, but did you get around Austria? Did you get around the Alps to ski in different places?
Katharina Schmitz |00:08:14| A little bit. Not as much as I probably wish I should have, but the closest big mountains to my hometown would be in the Salzburg region. So certainly I went there on a few trips with my parents, but the really world famous Ischgls and Arlbergs were kind of on the far side of the country. So I've actually now had more chance to go back since I'm visiting our headquarters in Wolfurt, which is much closer to that part of Austria.
Tom Kelly |00:08:39| So when you were a young girl in Austria, did you ever ride up a ski lift thinking that someday you would be in a position to be designing and selling and merchandising these amazing lifts?
Katharina Schmitz |00:08:53| I don't know. Growing up, I was dreaming about being a pilot, so it's close. It's close to aerial transportation. But yeah, it's been just a wonderful experience, and I'm very glad I'm here with Doppelmayr today.
Tom Kelly |00:09:08| What did you do in the aerospace industry?
Katharina Schmitz |00:09:11| I worked for Zodiac Aerospace. We designed integrated interior and systems for pretty much any large aircraft manufacturers or for Boeing or Airbus or Bombardier. And I was working on the development side. So anything you could see or touch in a cabin, whether it's seats, overhead bins, laboratories, galleys like any kind of pallet or cabin feature would be part of our work scope.
Tom Kelly |00:09:37| Yeah. Given that you have an engineering degree in your role here at Doppelmayr, are you run the business and how much of that causes you to draw on that engineering experience? I'm at least going to assume that you're not up there designing the lift, so to speak. But does it help you really to have that engineering knowledge when you're running the overall business?
Katharina Schmitz |00:09:57| Absolutely. I think the key benefit is really knowing to us a certain kind of question, like the answers clearly comes from our technical staff, but being able to critically review information and and tailor, you know, the right kind of question to get to the bottom of whatever the issue might be has been very helpful to have some engineering background.
Tom Kelly |00:10:19| Yeah. Let's talk a little bit about lift technology and its evolution. I was thinking about this before the interview that as skiers, we know ski lifts as a means of getting from the bottom up to the top and then and then skiing down. But the same technology was used here in Utah by the miners going back really a hundred and fifty years ago, where they used aerial tramways to haul the ore from the mines down to the trains. I know that this is well before you've been involved with this, but can you give us a little sense of the importance of the engineering of lift technology has been for mankind over the last maybe 150 years or so? We're looking at ski lifts, but it really has gone much further than that.
Katharina Schmitz |00:11:07| It has, and like you said, it started with material transport. And actually, Doppelmayr still has material transportation segment, so it remains an important part of our business. I think the core market for us clearly is transporting people these days. But I think even there, we have seen a lot of evolution from, let's say, a first surface lift in, I think, 1937 or so, that Doppelmayr built in Austria that really started the company's ropeway business. They've been around for about 40 years or so before not working on roadways, but another kind of industrial products. And then if you look from there and how fast we came to a first detachable around 1970 or so, and then the innovation since then has just been mind blowing. So I think it shifted the profile as to what ropeways are used for or used in. But you know, these are the origins of it are still present, I think, and in today's world and clearly the material transportation side still is as well, right?
Tom Kelly |00:12:10| Can you define the term ropeway? I think as skiers, we look at chair lifts and they're on this cable, but we don't know the terminology. The terms that involve wire rope and rope ways, can you tell us a little bit more about the origins of that and what it means?
Katharina Schmitz |00:12:27| Yeah, I think in terms of ropeways, it's really, you know, think of any means of transportation that involves a rope pulling a carrier of some sort. And that carrier could be looking like a little train, which we have some applications in Las Vegas or, you know, other amusement type of rides. I think the one that we are most familiar with is an aerial ropeway where you're on a chairlift or a gondola. But there's also surface lifts where you still have a rope pulling you up the hill in the form of a T-Bar or a platter lift. So there's different types. I think the most common ones for sure for our group, but also for our customers, are surface lifts or platters or T bars, fixed grip chairlifts or gondolas where the carrier moves around the installation at the same speed. So the grip is permanently fixed to the rope, which means the lift is not running very fast because you have to be able to load without any incidents. And then really, the detachable segment where the grip opens as it enters into a station slowly moves through the station, which allows passengers to comfortably load. And then you have a high speed ride back up the mountain once the grip reengages as it leaves the terminal. And so those are kind of the big ones you see, but there's lots of speciality lift types - there's larger systems called tri-cable systems that would be for high capacity, very long distance type of applications you have for you have funiculars, funitels you have big trams, obviously like we have at Snowbird, and these have just really unique specialized applications.
Tom Kelly |00:14:05| For those of us who are old enough to remember this, the old rope tows the old T bars, the old platter lifts. Do you still do installations like that in some locations?
Katharina Schmitz |00:14:16| We do. We typically do about a couple of T bars or platter lifts a year. We're not too much into rope tows anymore, but certainly a T bar or a platter lift is something that we do, both in Europe as well as here in the U.S..
Tom Kelly |00:14:31| What's a typical installation? I'm sure that it's a unique environment that you put those in, but what's a typical situation at a resort that would call for a T bar?
Katharina Schmitz |00:14:41| There's a few different kind of considerations. One of them is wind. So if you have a very exposed lift line, some customers like to tuck in a T bar with a very low profile and and just keep the skier on the ground. That tends to be beneficial if you're in a really harsh environment. Where we see it more often is really training hills because it allows for fast laps. And so that's really the ones here in the U.S. that we have seen in the last few years is for ski racing programs where they're a great option. And cost is certainly a factor, too. They're a very cost effective way of getting up the hill. And so that's another reason you might want to consider T-Bar.
Tom Kelly |00:15:26| We're going to explore this a little bit more. When we come back from the break, we're going to learn about new technologies and lifts up ahead of us and also look at mountain transportation and what role that lifts play in various forms all over the world. We're with Katharina Schmitz of Dopppelmayr USA, and we'll be right back on the Last Chair.
Tom Kelly |00:15:48| And we are back on Last Chair, the Ski Utah podcast. Today we are talking ski lifts with Doppelmayr USA President Katharina Schmitz and Katharina, you've introduced us to a few new technologies. We've talked about some old technology like platter lifts and T bars, but I want to talk now about the different products that you have as Doppelmayr, but also other companies have as well. But the different products that we, as skiers see at resorts, when you get into discussions with resorts and with resort planners, how do you guys all work together to figure out what types of lifts are going to work better for different situations, be that terrain or volume of skiers and so forth? There's probably a lot that goes into it that we as skiers don't think about.
Katharina Schmitz |00:16:42| I think you touched on two very important points of terrain and alignment, certainly being the big and obvious ones. Capacity is a big topic these days. And how many people do you want to move up the mountain per hour that, you know, comes in a few different ways you can address that lift speed is certainly a factor in that, but also how many carriers you have. While you typically want to go up the mountain fast, you want to be really slow going through the terminal. And so we found in recent years that, you know, having slower carriers through the stations, having longer loading intervals really, really helps with keeping the lift running and not having any mis loads as you go. So that also explains a little bit why you see lifts with, let's say, six or eight seater chairs so you can have fewer carriers, longer loading intervals, and you would still have the same capacity doing that. I think another big factor …
Tom Kelly |00:17:40| Can I just stop you here? I want to go back to the six and the eight person lifts and are we going to see 10 someday maybe?
Katharina Schmitz |00:17:45| Maybe someday.
Tom Kelly |00:17:47| We'll hold that one for the future. But I am curious about how it works. And you know, you touched on those points here that ultimately it's a part of the overall capacity. But when you go from a six to an eight, I imagine you're also changing the loading time structure and how many lifts are actually on the ropeway.
Katharina Schmitz |00:18:10| Sure. I mean, in essence, you know, with an eight seater, you would have a higher ultimate capacity. Most resorts don't strive for that per se. They're trying to get a certain capacity. And then it's a question on how comfortable you want your load interval to be. Of course, if you look at an eight seater there are other constraints to like the amount of space you have and other factors that you want to consider before you just say, Hey, I'm going big and I'm going eight seater, I think we'll certainly see more, I think, this year and especially in next year. There is a real uptick in six seaters and eight seaters as well. We're just, you know, increasing the load interval is a big topic and it ties into one of these other big factors is, you know, the level of skier that really uses that lift. If you have a beginner area, that's maybe one of the most important factors is making sure you can load them. If you have, you know, an alignment where it's all expert skiers, that's probably not your concern and you'll be looking for some other factors.
Tom Kelly |00:19:10| I think as a skier, it's interesting because when we look at those lifts, we just think, Oh, there's an eight pack, and that means there's just a lot more people. But from what you're saying, there's a lot more to it. It's really more the convenience and making sure you can get those people on the lift, get them on safely and comfortably.
Katharina Schmitz |00:19:27| Exactly. I think that to me is actually the bigger factor is just achieving exactly that.
Tom Kelly |00:19:33| Have you put any eight pack installations in yet?
Katharina Schmitz |00:19:36| Yes, there's one at Big Sky. The Ramcharger, it went in in 2018, and we'll see some more coming. There's actually one at Loon that was installed this year, and we'll see more coming next year,
Tom Kelly |00:19:48| That Ramcharger. While I haven't been on it, I know the lift and I know where it goes and it really is an extraordinary lift. But what have the reviews been like on that? Has that really helped with that whole loading process?
Katharina Schmitz |00:20:00| Absolutely. And it also has really factored into the decision making for future lift for the Boyne Group as well in terms of, you know, going with a long load interval because they've had such a good success in loading that lift.
Tom Kelly |00:20:15| When you're talking to resorts about upgrades like this or new lift installations. What kind of a timeframe lead time are you looking at? So this year in the 21-22 season, are you talking about lifts that might go in this summer or a couple of years out? Or does it just vary with the situation?
Katharina Schmitz |00:20:35| It varies with the situation. I think it varies with the year, more so than anything. So historically, the U.S. market has been pretty unique in terms of pretty short lead times for our resort customers who would, you know, go through a good part of the winter season and see how they're doing and say, Hey, you know, the season has been pretty good. Can I have a lift? Now we have seen this change a lot within the last two years where, you know, we're getting much earlier inquiries, which is certainly the right thing to do. It allows for much better project planning on both sides. It gives the local mountain teams much more time to prepare them on, whether it's road or major earthworks or snow making or things that typically happen in conjunction with the lift construction. And so I think right now we're seeing a trend towards, you know, 18 to 24 months type of window for lift planning, much more than what we used to see where it's like nine to 12. And of course, there's always special circumstances with, you know, special time constraints. But in general, I think it's a step in the right direction for a successful project execution, and we're very happy to see that the industry is catching on that.
Tom Kelly |00:21:47| We're talking about high speed lifts from the six pack up to the eight pack. Let's talk a little bit about fixed grip lifts. Do they still fill a niche at resorts?
Katharina Schmitz |00:21:57| Absolutely. So we actually our core competency here in Salt Lake City is manufacturing fixed grip lifts, so that's what our shop focuses on. Again, the U.S. market is a little bit unique in respect of having a real strong demand for fixed grip lifts. Same in Canada. And so it remains a core part of our business, and we have a lot of customers for that. Still a suitable application. You know, fitting their needs, fitting their budgets and fitting what they're trying to accomplish on their mountain.
Tom Kelly |00:22:28| And again, as we talked about with the high speed six packs and eight packs, what are some of those unique characteristics that you would find where a fixed lift, fixed grip lift would really be the way to go? Is it kind of depend on maybe the volume of skiers looking at a particular area or different types of terrain?
Katharina Schmitz |00:22:50| Are you asking like in which situation you would favor a fixed grip over a detached? I think first and foremost on a budget consideration, that's a big driver for a lot of our customers. And then the second one is capacity. If you have a part of your mountain that sees, you know, a very manageable number of skiers, you might up that route. Also lift lengths is an important factor on a fixed group. You know, if you looked at some of our older, longer lifts, you might be on a lift for 20 minutes to get up the hill and you really have to gauge. And is that something that your customer wants or not? But there's a lot of great applications, especially shoulder lifts, where it's just a very suitable product. It's a very reliable product. And I think one big factor, it's a simple product. So depending on the type of staff and expertise you have in your specific ski area, you know, on a fixed group lift, there's just a lot less moving parts, obviously, and it's a simpler control system. And there's, you know, just a factor of ease in operation and maintenance that goes up quite a bit when you switch to a detachable product.
Tom Kelly |00:23:59| You know, when I was growing up, you could be on a lift for a long time. I mean, I remember the Park City gondola that used to be and there was a 25 minute lift from base to top. That's not tolerable today. But you used to have time to develop relationships on chairlifts with the people you would meet. Now you have to condense that into a six minute ride.
Katharina Schmitz |00:24:15| You have to be efficient about your conversation, that's for sure.
Tom Kelly |00:24:19| It was interesting looking at your catalog and looking at some of the types of lifts that you have. I'm familiar with some of them, but we've been talking traditional chairlifts and your inventory of products goes way beyond that. What are some of the other innovative lifts that you have out there now?
Katharina Schmitz |00:24:38| I think one innovative product that's been around for a little while but would be a chondola where you have a detachable lift that would have open chairs or chairs and gondola cabins. That's a really great solution. If let's say you have night dining on a mountain where you might have some guests that would want to ride at nighttime, not necessarily in ski outfits or other great applications, it's also a really good solution for ADA excess. We have level walk in cabins so you can comfortably get into a cabin if there's some mobility constraints. That's, you know, one unique one that we do see a little bit more here in the states as well.
Tom Kelly |00:25:16| I'm going to go to the Snowbird tram because it's just so iconic for us here in Utah, that's a lift that's 50 years old now. And I think that you still actually, your team actually does service on that. There aren't a whole lot of those in the world, but that also is a really amazing conveyance to get skiers up the mountain.
Katharina Schmitz |00:25:40| Absolutely. Like any tram that's out there, just more or less immediately becomes an icon. I mean, you look at the Jackson tram or you look at Snowbird. And so they just have this really, you have uniqueness about them that people are attracted to. It makes for an amazing ride. You typically have pretty long spans, pretty impressive terrain where you find them. They're very windy stable so you can keep them running in pretty bad weather. So, yeah, absolutely, we're very much proud of being part of the Snowbird tram and continued to work on the installation and we hope to have it around for many more years.
Tom Kelly |00:26:17| From a gondola perspective, we don't have a lot of gondola installations here in Utah, but we do have a few. What are some of the innovations that you have as we look forward to the future of gondola transportation?
Katharina Schmitz |00:26:30| I think both gondola and chairlift future, we are really making a step to the next generation of these detachable lifts. Doppelmayr has developed our D Line product line. So this is the first time that the detachable technology was completely revamped first time since the seventies. There's some 200 innovations and new developments in this product line. And so when it comes to gondola specifically, there's a lot of focus on connectivity. There's features like Wi-Fi, there's a lot of development in terms of what we call autonomous ropeway operation. So you could have a gondola system that doesn't require an attendant. There's a first system in Switzerland that basically allows you to run like a metro system where the cabins just come, people get on in and off they go unsupervised. There are, you know, features like seat heating, audio and video type of integration. Just a lot of, I would say, tech type of content that's going into new gondola cabins.
Tom Kelly |00:27:39| You know, the Wi-Fi aspect is really interesting, and I'm sure if you threw this out a few years ago, and no one would really understand the value of that, but people today they look for that, they look for it in buses, they look for it in airplanes and now they're looking for it in gondolas, right?
Katharina Schmitz |00:27:54| It's very true. You know it when you book a campsite in the national park system these days, I think they actually have a little rating if you have Wi-Fi at the campsite, which you know, one could have different opinions about that. But it just highlights the importance, I think, for the customers that are using these systems. And certainly we want to be part of that next step of bringing this technology to the guests.
Tom Kelly |00:28:17| You know, I'm curious to get into the mechanical side of things and get away from Wi-Fi for a minute. How do these roadways work? And is it a similar technology from a basic fixed grip double chairlift all the way up to maybe your three s product and others? Is it basically the same thing just with a little bit more oomph?
Katharina Schmitz |00:28:41| There's a few features that are scalable, and then there's others that are just really unique technologies. On a 3S you would have two track ropes and a haul rope. The track rope, in essence, supporting a lot of the weight, which allows for these really long spans. On a fixed group, obviously, that would be a bit of an overkill. But there are certainly some features that are, you know, you find in every, let's say, aerial ropeway where you have a grip, you have a carrier, you have a rope, you have towers typically involved and those are scalable and adapt that to the specific need. And then there's other very unique features on some of these bigger installations.
Tom Kelly |00:29:19| From an engineering perspective, what are some of the innovations that you've had to put in place as you do get to some of the more sophisticated lifts that you've talked about?
Katharina Schmitz |00:29:29| I think we're seeing a lot more in terms of safety features, whether it's, you know, rope position detectors or other safety sensors that there's been a lot of innovation in that area. There has been, you know, features like automated locking restraint bar. So if you have an eight seater chairlift right that runs at high speed, providing a feature like that will allow you to have, let's say, a whole bunch of kids on a chair, you know, with or without supervision because they're safely contained with their restraint bar down. So there's been, you know, just a slur of innovations that allows these ropeways to perform at a higher speed or higher capacity or other type of things. And then you have a lot of development in the actual drive of the lift. You could have a conventional drive as a motor and the gearbox, or you could also opt for a direct drive, which is a very quiet solution. There's a few of them in the U.S., and I think we'll see more of those. But yeah, it depends on the product, what type of innovation you find on a fixed grip lift in general. You know, if you looked back a few generations, you're going back to your two seater from maybe nineteen sixty nine. There I would say, there is a lot that's still the basic technology concept is the same. Obviously, it's been upgraded, but there's still some features that are tried and true and that we still use today.
Tom Kelly |00:30:54| I was curious about the concept of safety sensors and are you able to, with today's technology, monitor many more features and safety elements than you could 10 or 20 years ago?
Katharina Schmitz |00:31:10| Absolutely. And that also means that the control systems really have evolved a lot when one is having a signal come from somewhere along the left line or the terminal. And then the second piece of that is how the controls process and visualize that to the attendants so they can respond accordingly.
Tom Kelly |00:31:28| Let's talk about lifts here in Utah. And you mentioned before we started the interview how many lifts you have in Utah. What's that number?
Katharina Schmitz |00:31:38| I think last time we counted, it was 103, and that's probably about a year ago. So there are certainly lots of them about, various generations, various lift types. But we're very integrated in the local skiing community, and we're very happy to be a partner to a lot of our local resorts.
Tom Kelly |00:31:58| I know that you have projects ongoing almost all the time here in Utah, along with the rest of the United States, but Sundance was a big project for you this summer. Can you tell us a little bit about what was put in at Sundance? Because I think a lot of us who've been skiing there for years are really anxious to hear about the next iteration of Sundance.
Katharina Schmitz |00:32:20| I think there's no reason to be anxious. There's a lot of reason to be excited. They're getting a beautiful four seater, detachable lift out of base with a mid station, so it'll be a really great ride. The lift is on a slightly different alignment than what guests would have known from the past. There's also a new fixed grip lift that is going in at the. Same time, so Sundance now has two brand new lifts, and I think together with all the other improvements that the Sundance team has put in last summer, this really transforms the mountain and will just be an amazing skier and rider experience.
Tom Kelly |00:32:58| Well, I think a lot of us are actually really excited about that, that possibility. It is a great place to ski and now having some new lifts there will make that even more enjoyable. Do you have any other Utah projects that you can talk about at this time?
Katharina Schmitz |00:33:12| We have a lot of them coming next year. I think a couple of them have been announced. A couple of them have not been announced. So the one that certainly has been announced is the Utah Olympic Park is getting a new detachable lift and we are also going to bring the first D-Line to Utah. So we're very excited about that, but more to come on that in the near future.
Tom Kelly |00:33:33| Can you tell us a little bit more about D-Line? You touched on it earlier, but I wanted to learn a little bit more about what sets that apart from other lifts.
Katharina Schmitz |00:33:42| I think the real differentiator is it being a complete clean sheet design. So imagine you take 40 years worth of learnings and improvements suggestions that were accumulated throughout the history of detachable lift technology and that was really rolled into a brand new product. So we really see it as a brand new generation of detachable lift technology that's geared towards customer or passenger comfort. First and foremost, it has wider seats. It has different seat configurations. It just has a ton of new safety features. It is also really geared towards ease of maintenance in terms of the summer activities that the local staff has to go through. And it's just been a great product introduction for us. We're going to do six next year, so it's very exciting times for us.
Tom Kelly |00:34:39| You mentioned summer and I think again going back in time, lifts were used at ski areas in the winter, but now more and more lifts at more resorts are being used in the summer as well. Have you adapted to that new type of usage or relatively new?
Katharina Schmitz |00:34:55| Absolutely. And that's really one of the other great features of the D-Line. It has a fully integrated by carrier solution where you have bike clips, so imagine you have a carrier where you pop up your bike and push your front wheel into a bike clip that opens up, and then you can self unload at the top of the mountain so you don't need someone to pull off your bike for you. The bike carrier will stop, held back by a clutch. Your carrier will scoot up to it. You unload your bike and off you go. So it really allowed us to think through all these aspects of having a four season resort, not just having a ski lift. And if you think about that at the conceptual design phase, you just have a lot of options and how you can integrate these different use cases. So we really encourage that to be part of the planning process.
Tom Kelly |00:35:43| I want to move now into looking at lifts as mountain transportation. Regional transportation. Maybe a little bit less specific to ski areas and one concept that's close to home right now that a lot of us have been hearing about over the last couple of years is the potential or the opportunity, perhaps, of putting a gondola up Little Cottonwood Canyon. Can you talk a little bit about lifts like that as regional transportation, not just ski lifts, but conveyances to move people around areas without doing it in their cars?
Katharina Schmitz |00:36:18| Yeah, absolutely. I mean, there has been just some great flagship installations in Europe and other parts of the world that aim towards integrating other transportation modes with a gondola 3S system to access mountains. And really, that's what they're designed for - they're just very suitable for mountainous terrain. You know, we just see a slur of benefits when this integration happens where, you know, getting up the mountain in a sustainable energy, energy efficient way is just what I think. In general, the trend is in mountain transportation. It's a very low impact solution compared to a lot of other options. You're not tunneling, you're not blasting for additional roads. It's very accessible and I think one of the key features when I think of Little Cottonwood Canyon or other similar situations is that having cabins circulate continuously really allows you to feed small quantities of people into the locations you're transporting them to. So you avoid waiting times, you avoid queuing times and you can really scale capacity. So I think looking at some global installations that have accomplished that very successfully, one that comes to mind would be Grindelwald in Switzerland. They have put in a really unique infrastructure solution where they have an maybe a or they have a multimodal terminal where you have a train station, a bus station, a 3S station and the bottom station of a 10 passenger gondola all leave from the same point and you still have a car parking structure for about 1,000 vehicles, so there's still an option for some people to to come with their cars as well and park there and then continue in a different mode of transportation. And I think, you know, these fully integrated systems just have so many benefits in terms of not only moving people but also evacuating people out of avalanche passes and things like that. If your road isn't functional, you can transport cargo very, very easily. There are some fully integrated cargo systems that load pallets automatically into some of these cabins, so it's just an exciting flagship project that we're stopping by are very excited about, and I think it's very applicable to a lot of the transportation challenges throughout the world and especially here in our canyon situation to safely grant access on especially avalanche days and have the right flow of people, whatever that might be. There's different ideas on what the ride capacity is, but these systems are very scalable. You can decide on how many cabins you want to put on so you can really manage people flow depending on meter or other circumstances.
Tom Kelly |00:39:19| Tell us a little bit more about your 3S product, and this is one that many skiers if you've been to Whistler before the peak to peak lift is a 3S installation. Can you tell us a little bit more about that cabin capacity, how that lift moves from terminal to terminal?
Katharina Schmitz |00:39:35| Yeah, absolutely. So a 3S stands for a tri-cable system, so you'll have to track ropes and one haul rope. The track ropes, in essence, are carrying a lot of the weight the haul rope is what's pulling up the cabins. Cabin size typically run somewhere between 25 to 35 people. It can be configured according to the needs of the specific installation. The system runs at pretty high speed, and the nice thing is it can operate in sustained winds up to 60 miles an hour. So you really can have, you know, pretty bad weather conditions and it will run reliably. It does offer obviously all the tech aspects that we talked about in terms of, you know, cabin features, heated seats and Wi-Fi integration and so on. But I think that, you know, sets it apart in terms of being a sustainable, safe way of accessing mountain and mountainous terrain.
Tom Kelly |00:40:36| The installation that you talked about in Grindelwald is it's quite an amazing region and having traveled there, places like Wengen Interlaken and Grindelwald going up to the Eiger, it's it's quite a combination and you don't use a car there, you don't need a car there. You can take rail, you can take bus, you can take various tramway systems. And the culture has really revolved or evolved around this type of transportation. And do you see that around the world, in other regions as well?
Katharina Schmitz |00:41:10| I think we see it a lot in Europe. We're seeing other integrated transportation systems that include roadways, also in South America. A lot of these are urban type of installations. And I honestly feel we'll see a lot more. It's a fairly efficient product in terms of moving people, especially in challenging terrain or very developed terrain. And so we're, you know. Certainly embracing the trend towards point of interest, urban and especially urban to an interconnected transportation, and the whole Doppelmayr team is making that a priority in terms of how our our lift technology evolves and is is being used throughout the world
Tom Kelly |00:41:53| Getting away from ski areas. You were telling me earlier that Asia, Southeast Asia in particular, is one of your biggest areas of growth.
Katharina Schmitz |00:42:00| Yeah, in terms, especially in terms of 3S systems, so very large type of installations, there's a lot of point of interest tourism focused ropeways there. There's some of our world record installations in terms of tallest towers and largest spans and so on are located in Vietnam, where you can grab a 3S ride to a series of islands. Also China is a very active market when it comes to pretty sizable gondola and serious installations. But yeah, there's a lot of world records to be found in in that part of the planet.
Tom Kelly |00:42:39| Well, this has been a fascinating discussion on ski lifts, and I know we've only touched the surface, but I want to thank you for your time here, and we're going to move on to our final section called Fresh Tracks, and I've got a few what I hope will be simple questions for you, and I just want to start it out because I don't want to leave the the whole lift installation thing yet. I know you've only been with dopamine for about three years, but if you think about all of the amazing things that the company has done around the world, is there any one really innovative lift installation that you can think of that really comes to mind that really tests the boundaries of technology to offer new means of transportation to skiers?
Katharina Schmitz |00:43:20| I have a personal favorite, which is the Stoosbahn in Switzerland. It is a funicular and it has a barrel shaped compartments that have a leveling floor, so you always stay horizontal. It's the steepest funicular in the world and it is the most unique ride. You're going up this amazing incline and then through a little tunnel and come out on the other side, it actually serves as public transport, as well as access to a smaller ski area that's car free. And it's just an amazing installation, a really fun ride.
Tom Kelly |00:43:56| I love that, you know, of course, we have our own funicular here in Utah at the St. Regis. In fact, I think it's one of your installations.
Katharina Schmitz |00:44:02| Absolutely.
Tom Kelly |00:44:04| It's a fun lift. I know you've only been in Utah for three years, but have you found a favorite ski run or favorite place to ski?
Katharina Schmitz |00:44:15| I like them all.
Tom Kelly |00:44:18| The diplomatic answer? Ok, we'll get that one down.
Katharina Schmitz |00:44:20| Well, I'm not as territorial since I'm not native Utahn, but I very much enjoy a long run. So I really do like some of the runs up at Snowbasin, but it's off John Paul or Needles that are just making for a good, long, fast run.
Tom Kelly |00:44:36| Beautiful. Do you have summer or winter - favorite thing for you to do in Utah?
Katharina Schmitz |00:44:42| Anything outdoors? So my husband and I absolutely love to camp the backcountry, hike, to off-road to anything else you can think of. So it's been just wonderful for us to have this already in our backyard, and we're very grateful for that.
Tom Kelly |00:44:58| Yeah, there's a lot to do here outdoors. Yeah, there is. Have you been down to the desert?
Katharina Schmitz |00:45:02| Absolutely.
Tom Kelly |00:45:03| Everybody comes to Utah for the skiing and then they go down to the desert. Now that you are here in Utah. Have you developed a favorite High West whiskey brand yet?
Katharina Schmitz |00:45:15| Not quite yet, but I just received my very first bottle as a gift the other day, and I'll certainly keep sampling until I find it.
Tom Kelly |00:45:24| They're, of course, a sponsor of Last Chair. We appreciate that. But I'm sure you will become a devotee. And then lastly, and this is always a tough one for people and I I didn't prep you on that. But if you think about all the dopamine does to help skiers enjoy the experience on the mountain, what's one word? One word that comes to mind that you and Doppelmayr bring to all of us to make our mountain experience even better? One word?
Katharina Schmitz |00:46:07| I'm not very good with one word questions, I guess. I don't know, for me personally, it would be like freedom related, just, you know, being able to get out into terrain, but I don't know that I can pick a good word for that.
Tom Kelly |00:46:23| Freedom. Just pick freedom. I love that.
Katharina Schmitz |00:46:29| Is that good?
Tom Kelly |00:46:29| It's great. You bring freedom. Katharina, thank you so much for joining us and lightening us a little bit on lift technology. We, as skiers, really appreciate the fact that you have these great conveyances to get us up the mountain and do what we love to do up on the hill.
Katharina Schmitz |00:46:47| Thanks so much, Tom. I hope to see you up there on the mountain very soon and thanks again.