Utah ski resorts won’t have to go far to get their chairlifts anymore

Leitner-Poma of America is eyeing alternative transportation, possibly in the Cottonwood Canyons, in addition to ski areas in opening its largest factory, which will mostly make Skytrac lifts.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Early powder enthusiasts ride the Middle Bowl Express lift at Snowbasin Resort, Nov. 21, 2022. Leitner-Poma of America built the lift. The cable transportation company on Tuesday announced it has selected Tooele as the site of its biggest factory.

Chairlifts get skiers closer to the terrain in which they want to be. Now one of the world’s premiere manufacturers of lifts and gondolas is taking the same approach with one of its factories — placing it within a short trek of Utah’s ski resorts.

Leitner-Poma of America announced Tuesday that it has chosen Tooele as the place to build its largest American manufacturing facility. The 130,000-square-foot plant will produce fixed-grip Skytrac lifts and serve as a satellite to LPOA’s American headquarters in Grand Junction.

Skytrac is a subsidiary of LPOA. It was founded in 2008 by then-Salt Lake City resident Jan Leonard and his partners and has been based in Utah ever since. LPOA acquired it in 2016.

“It’s not that Grand Junction is that far,” LPOA president and CEO Daren Cole told The Tribune, “but Tooele and Salt Lake City are just that much closer.”

For the past 20 years, Utah has been home to Doppelmayr USA, another major ropeway manufacturer. Nathan Rafferty, the CEO of Ski Utah, said the addition of more chairlift producers speaks to the rise of Utah resorts within the ski industry.

Leitner-Poma | contributed Chairlift maker Leitner-Poma of America announced Tuesday it will build its largest factory yet in Tooele. It mostly make Skytrac lifts but will also take some production away from from this factory in Grand Junction, Colo.

“It’s natural that this evolution is happening,” Rafferty said. “As you know, we’ve seen over the last several decades our ski industry become more mature here in Utah.”

Rafferty noted that in 2002, the year Salt Lake City hosted the Winter Olympics, skier visits were about 3 million per year in the state. This year he expects the end-of-the-season report will reveal about twice that many. That total may be boosted by the record-setting snowfall the state has received, but it is also a reflection of a surge in interest in the sport since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the number of visitors has grown, so has the appetite for installing new lifts, which can help resorts get more guests on the mountain and disperse them around the terrain faster. That, in turn, can alleviate overcrowding according to an industry-accepted equation known as “comfortable carrying capacity.”

For a nearly 20-year stretch, from 1998-2016, Leitner-Poma didn’t build a single lift in Utah, according to LiftBlog.com. That streak ended in 2017 when it was contracted to produce both the Cecret and Supreme lifts for Alta Ski Area. Now of the 159 lifts in Utah, 10 were produced by LPOA. A Skytrac spokesperson said it has seven of its own lifts in Utah and has made upgrades or modifications to 56 existing lifts in the state.

Since 2020, Cole said, LPOA has seen a 200% uptick in projects.

“We’re starting to see an expanded presence in Utah,” Cole said. “Over the past few years, we’ve built at Alta, we’ve built at Snowbasin and Nordic Valley. So, from a Leitner-Poma perspective, we’ve seen a huge increase.”

Cole said LPOA will move some production — including anything that needs to be galvanized — from its 100,000-square-foot Grand Junction headquarters, which is running out of space. The company has committed to being American made and Tooele’s close proximity to foundries, steel producers and galvanizing facilities helped it rise above other locations the company looked at in Colorado and Minnesota, Cole said. Other benefits included a skilled workforce and incentives from the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity. The factory is expected to have about 120 employees.

In a news release, Gov. Spencer Cox said LPOA’s “new manufacturing facility will complement Utah’s thriving ski industry and give the company access to the diverse and talented workforce that exists in our great state.”

The new factory, which will be on a 25-acre plot in the Tooele Business Park, is slated to have solar panels and a 162-foot-tall wind turbine with a 250-kilowatt capacity, which LPOA says is capable of supplying all the plant’s electricity. If market demand for the turbine develops as expected, according to the news release, similar turbines could also be manufactured in the Utah facility.

In addition to chairlifts for winter and summer use at ski resorts, LPOA makes cable-propelled apparatus — cable cars, gondolas, trams and the like — for use in what Cole calls “urban transportation,” which he expects to buoy the company if the demand in the ski industry slows. He said Los Angeles and Santa Monica are looking at urban lift projects. He said he would also classify the proposed gondola through Little Cottonwood Canyon as an “urban transportation” project.

“We’re very excited about coming to Utah,” Cole said. “We’ve been spending more and more time over there. The market’s been much more aggressive, and we’re just extremely excited to become a much bigger and integrated Utah company.”