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.

worldbook
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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News Roundup: 80 Years

The 3S Gondola

A “3S” is a detachable gondola with two track ropes and one haul rope.  It combines the speed and stability of a tram with the capacity of a gondola.  Cabins generally hold about 30 passengers.  3S systems can move up to 4,500 passengers per hour at up to 8.5 meters per second.  They can withstand high winds and traverse long spans between towers.  These highly capable lifts are also expensive.  Only 12 3S gondolas have been built.  Perhaps the most famous of them, Whistler’s Peak 2 Peak, cost $51 million!

3S Gondolas are huge machines.
3S Gondolas are huge machines.

The 3S was developed by VonRoll of Switzerland.  The first one to open was the Alpin Express at Saas-Fee in 1991.  A second section opened in 1994.  When Doppelmayr merged with VonRoll in 1996, they inherited the 3S technology.  Doppelmayr built its first 3S in 2002 at Val d’Isere, France.  Called L’Olympique, it accesses the famous ski area of Escape Killy.

Kitzbuhel, Austria opened the 3S Bahn in 2004.  It connects two ski areas across a valley with an 8,200 foot-long unsupported span.  Four years later, Doppelmayr connected Whistler and Blackcomb with the Peak 2 Peak, featuring an even longer unsupported span of 1.88 miles.  Peak 2 Peak’s highest point above ground is an incredible 1,427 feet.  It remains the only 3S gondola outside of Europe.

Whistler-Blackcomb's Peak 2 Peak Gondola.
Whistler-Blackcomb’s Peak 2 Peak Gondola.

Leitner got into the 3S business in 2009 with a system in northern Italy.  The towns of Renon and Ritten were connected by a 2.8 mile-long 3S.  This was the first 3S built outside of a ski resort.  Another urban 3S was built across the Rhone River in Koblenz, Germany in 2010.  This Doppelmayr system moves 3,800 passengers per hour in each direction.  Also in 2010, Doppelmayr built the Gaislachkogl 2 at Solden, Austria.

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