Lift Profile: Spokane Falls SkyRide

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The only lift I know of that crosses under a major bridge.

The $2.5 million Spokane Falls SkyRide is one of only a handful of lifts in North America owned by city government.  Doppelmayr CTEC built the pulse gondola in 2005 to replace a Riblet version that debuted in 1974.  Riders board at the drive station in downtown Spokane’s Riverfront Park.  The gondola travels down through the park, across the Spokane River and under a four-lane bridge before turning around.  All this happens in only 1,120 feet.  It takes 15 minutes to ride round-trip at a painful 150 feet per minute (the design speed is 600 fpm.)  The gondola’s turnaround station on the far bank of the river does not have loading/unloading or even an operator.  A ticket for the SkyRide costs $7.50 and it operates year-round.

Looking down at one of five pulses of cabins.
Looking down at one of five pulses of cabins.

Spokane’s original Riverfront SkyRide, built by Riblet, ran in a similar alignment from 1974 to 2005.  (Riblet built over 500 lifts in a shop three miles away.)  The Riblet version of the SkyRide had open air cabins but the new one has 15 CWA Omega 6-passenger cabins.  Because the cabins are enclosed, the SkyRide shuts down when the temperature exceeds 85 degrees, which happens fifty days a year in Spokane.  Last year Doppelmayr developed a plan to retrofit cabins with larger opening windows but so far these have not been installed.  Despite this issue, over 70,000 people ride the SkyRide every year.

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The Next Big Resort?

Last Wednesday, New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan signed a bill that may create the largest resort in the east out of a tiny, closed ski area called The Balsams.  The resort hotel and Wilderness ski area have been closed since 2011 when the owners began renovations and ran out of cash.  Now Les Otten, founder of American Skiing Company, has partnered with the Balsams ownership group to create the next big eastern ski resort.  The bill the governor signed allows the state to back $28 million in development loans for the $143 million project.

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The Balsams Wilderness ski area has been closed since 2011. Photo credit: NH Public Radio

Otten is perhaps best known for turning Sunday River from a one-lift operation to a 525,000 skier visit beast of the east.  Circa 2002, his empire included Sunday River, Sugarloaf, Cranmore, Attitash, The Canyons, Killington, Sugarbush, Mount Snow, Heavenly and Steamboat.  After leaving the ski industry, Otten created a renewable energy company and ran for Governor in Maine.  He lost.  Now, six years after selling The Canyons, he’s back in the lift business.

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The master plan includes 22 lifts in three phases.

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News Roundup: Lifts in Strange Places

Chair 7 at Mt. Baker, WA
Chair 7 at Mt. Baker, WA

Snow King Rafferty Construction

Dopperlmayr's new
Dopperlmayr’s new “Alpin-Star” terminal.

I got to check out the Rafferty lift construction at Snow King Mountain this weekend.  This project is on track to be Doppelmayr USA’s fastest lift installation ever. Snow King actually sells more alpine slide rides in the summer than they do ski tickets in the winter so the lift needed to be completed quickly in between seasons.  Construction began in April and will be done by June 15th.  Snow King is also building a Wiegand Alpine Coaster that will open in August.

New and old Rafferty lift lines.
New and old Rafferty lift lines.

The old Rafferty was a Hall double installed in 1978.  It will find new life at the Bearizona Wildlife Park in Williams, Arizona.  The new Rafferty quad goes 400 vertical feet higher than the old one but the load- and mid-stations are pretty much in the same spots.  The bottom drive-tension terminal is a brand new design from Doppelmayr called the Alpin-Star.  It is a single-mast terminal that looks a lot like SkyTrac’s Monarch design to me.  Check out more pictures below of this $8 million project.

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Summer’s Heating Up

It’s been a great couple of weeks for Leitner-Poma since my last new lifts update.

South Face Village at Okemo is moving forward with its first lift.
South Face Village at Okemo is moving forward with its first lift.
  • The $200 million Timber Creek real estate development at Okemo is moving forward with their first lift which will be an Alpha quad.  Also at Okemo the Jackson Gore Express is getting bubble chairs to match the Sunburst Six that went in last summer.
  • For the first time since 1966, Snowmass will be Riblet-less.  Aspen Skiing Company moved the High Alpine replacement up by a year to this summer.    It will be an LPA detachable quad in a new alignment.
  • London Ski Club at Boler Mountain in Ontario is replacing their main lift, Columbia, with an Alpha fixed quad.
  • New Mexico’s James Coleman bought four ski resorts last winter and now he’s gone lift shopping.  Sipapu in New Mexico will get a new L-P beginner lift and Purgatory (No longer Durango Mountain Resort) announced the replacement of the Legends triple with an L-P detachable quad.
  • Squaw Valley is replacing the Siberia Express with an L-P six-pack.
  • Loveland announced a major lift realignment.  Chair 2 (Yan triple) will lose its upper half and be shortened to its mid-station.  The parallel 1970 detachable Poma lift will also be removed and Leitner-Poma will build a new “Ptarmigan” lift from the base of the Poma to the old summit of Chair 2.  I am not sure yet if this will be a triple or a quad.

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2015 Doppelmayr Worldwide

The 2015 Doppelmayr Worldbook is out!  It’s 150 pages of statistics and pictures of the 83 lifts Doppelmayr and Garaventa built last year.  The book comes out every spring and the last seven of them are available online.

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CWA’s new Titlis cabin is on the cover.

Some of the projects I found interesting:

  • Universal Studios’ Hogwarts Express, a modern funicular designed to look like a train from Harry Potter.
  • Oakland’s airport connector which is the first Doppelmayr CableLiner Shuttle to have multiple haul ropes and detachable cars.  $484 million buys a pretty cool train.
  • Three gondolas in China including one to the Great Wall with heated seats.
  • The world’s longest chondola at Beaver Creek (also the first with 10 passenger cabins.)
  • World’s tallest 3S gondola in Ischgl, Austria.
  • A two-section system in Greece which runs as a gondola at the bottom and chondola at the top with every 4th cabin making the entire trip.

News Roundup: That’s a first

Flooded lift at Avoriaz.  Photo Credit: Avoriaz Facebook page.
Flooded lift at Avoriaz, France. Photo Credit: Avoriaz Facebook page.

SkyTrac Lifts

For most of the last 25 years, there has been no major American lift manufacturer.  Sure, Leitner-Poma and Doppelmayr/Garaventa have significant manufacturing here but they are indisputably European.  Before the early 1990’s, prolific American lift builders like Riblet and Hall built more than 500 lifts each.  Then Garaventa bought CTEC in 1992.  Riblet built its last lift at Cooper Spur in Oregon in 2002 and closed the next year. The last remaining US manufacturer, Partek, sold to Doppelmayr in 2005.  Ski Area Management’s headline at the time was “Then there were two.”

2011 SkyTrac Quad at Beaver Mountain, Utah.
2011 SkyTrac Quad at Beaver Mountain, Utah.

That all changed in 2010 when a group of CTEC veterans started SkyTrac in Salt Lake City.  One of them was Jan Leonard, the former president of Doppelmayr CTEC who “retired” in 2007.  SkyTrac’s first major project was a replacement drive terminal for a Hall double at Monarch Mountain in Colorado.  In tribute to their first customer, SkyTrac named their drive terminal models the Monarch and Monarch XL.  SkyTrac’s strategy seems to be to build simple and economical lifts that appeal to smaller resorts.  All of their lifts feature the Monarch drive/tension terminal with a fixed return.  One can’t help but notice the resemblance to CTEC’s lifts.

SkyTrac Controls.  They look like a CTEC!
SkyTrac Controls. They look like a CTEC!

I couldn’t talk about SkyTrac without bringing up their chairs.  For some reason they abandoned the classic bail chair for a Euro-style chair.  I think they look terrible.  As someone who operates lifts, I question the practicality of bumping a chair with no bail.

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Lift Profile: Northway at Crystal Mountain, WA

Crystal Mountain made headlines in 2007 when it decided to serve its largest-ever expansion with a brand new, $3 million fixed-grip double chair.  For perspective, 1985 was the last time a new double as long as Northway was built.

The Northway pod at Crystal is as big as most ski resorts.
The Northway pod at Crystal is as big as most ski resorts.

The Northway expansion added lift service to 1,000 acres of advanced tree skiing and bowls, an area bigger than most US ski areas.  “Northback,” as it was known had been open for years but required an epic traverse or bus ride back to the base area.  John Kircher of Boyne Resorts decided to build a lift but keep its capacity and speed low.  Only a handful of trails were cut in the Northway pod with no grading or grooming.  The result is awesome powder skiing with virtually no crowds.  There isn’t even a maze at the bottom of the lift.

The base terminal was built by helicopter and has no electricity.
The base terminal was built by helicopter and has no electricity.
All 19 towers were delivered by a K-Max helicopter.
All 19 towers were delivered by a K-Max helicopter.

The Doppelmayr CTEC double moves only 1,200 skiers per hour (Crystal’s workhorse six-packs move 3,600.)  Because it services exclusively advanced terrain, Crystal can get away spinning Northway at a quick 550 feet a minute.  That means 1,843 vertical feet in less than 10 minutes.  The bottom of the chair is located in the middle of nowhere with no road access or electricity.  With the exception of the top terminal, the entire lift was built with a spider excavator and helicopter.  As you crest the first ridge after boarding Northway, you realize how long it is.  At 5,422 feet, there are plenty of longer lifts out there but few that access such varied terrain.  Only once you reach the top do you feel like you are back at a ski area.

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Bubble Chairs: Making a Comeback?

Orange Bubble Express at Canyons Resort.
Orange Bubble Express at Canyons Resort.

Growing up in the rainy Pacific Northwest, I happen to love chairs with bubbles.  I can get the comfort of a gondola without taking my skis off or enjoy fresh air like on any other chairlift.  Lifts with bubbles are technically very cool too.  Electronic eyes in the lift terminals know when chairs are empty and the bubbles lower automatically.  Chairs stay dry and lifties don’t have to sweep them or flip chairs at night.

Bubbles everywhere at the Yellowstone Club.
Bubbles everywhere at the Yellowstone Club.

Despite their added comfort, bubbles haven’t really caught on in North America.  Europe is a different story where 30+ lifts are built with them every year.  In the US and Canada, Doppelmayr has built 16 lifts with bubbles since 1985.  You can find them at Whistler-Blackcomb, Sun Peaks, Mont-Saint-Anne, Big Sky, Canyons and Stoneham.  The Yellowstone Club also has bubbles on all six of their quad chairs.

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