News Roundup: Settling Up

Indianhead Lift Closed Following Incident

An occupied chair fell from the Leelinaw lift at Indianhead Mountain in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula yesterday according to multiple sources. When reached for a statement, Big Snow Resort, which operates Indianhead along with Blackjack Mountain, confirmed there was an incident but declined to comment on specifically what happened. “We are working with the skiers. The lift is operational but not in use today and will be re-inspected tomorrow,” a representative said.

Leelinaw became one of the world’s first triple chairlifts when constructed by Riblet in 1964. Like most Riblet lifts, it features clips which are inserted into the haul rope rather than grips which clamp onto the rope. Earlier this season, another chair with a Riblet clip fell at 49 Degrees North in Washington State.

I have contacted the Ski/Amusement Division of the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, which licenses ski lifts in the state, and will update this post if I get further information on this incident.

Update 1/12: The family of one of the injured skiers asked me to post the following statement: 

My brother has been transported to another hospital with very serious injuries. I would like to thank everyone for their concerns especially those who saw it happen and reported the details to prevent any further injuries. The hospital is closed to visitors and a very close family member at another location is sick in a very bad way with the covid virus. We in the family appreciate  everyone’s thoughts and prayers at this very difficult time.

News Roundup: Busy Season

Gearbox Failure Cripples Kimberley, BC

Kimberley Alpine Resort will operate differently for awhile without its key out-of-base lift. This afternoon, staff noticed unusual noise coming from the Northstar Express and cleared the line of skiers. Upon inspection, they found a bearing had failed in the gearbox. It will likely be a week or more before the lift can be repaired and reopened.

Northstar is a bit of a rarity – one of only nine high speed quads Leitner built in Italy and shipped to North America. “We have our team on this and industry experts are inbound to help us, but unfortunately we will not be able to run the Northstar Quad until it gets fixed,” read a statement from the resort. “Our current best estimate is that this may take a week or more to get repaired. We understand this will be very challenging for many people living in and visiting the community, but please know we are already doing our best to get it up running safely as soon as possible.”

The Northstar Express is Kimberley’s only out-of-base lift which provides access to the rest of the mountain. Three parallel reliever lifts were removed in 2001, 2003 and 2006, leaving no redundancy. Kimberley is making the most of the situation, however. First, the ski area will keep its backside Tamarack and Easter chairlifts running through at least tomorrow for those willing make the 1,000 foot gradual uphill trek to access them. Skinning and hiking aren’t for everyone, so parent company Resorts of the Canadian Rockies will allow passholders to visit sister resorts Fernie, Kicking Horse and Nakiska throughout the closure.

Readers of this blog will note gearbox failures occur occasionally at resorts of all sizes. Kimberley said Northstar’s gearbox was fully rebuilt less than two years ago. A handful of newer lifts in North America feature direct drive motors which remove the gearbox and some possible points of failure from the equation.

News Roundup: Hello 2021

Lake Louise Announces New Learning Area

Lake Louise owner Charlie Locke shared a hopeful year end message today, detailing among other things construction of the mountain’s eighth lift. Known as Lower Juniper in the Lake Louise Long Range Plan, the quad chair will eventually be joined by a second lift to form a new route from the Whiskyjack base area to the Top of the World. Lower Juniper is expected to transport 2,200 guests per hour and service 75 acres of beginner and low intermediate terrain.

Contract signing for a new lift in 2021 is the latest in a string of good news from Lake Louise, which just debuted West Bowl terrain along with a new Doppelmayr fixed grip quad. The manufacturer for Lower Juniper was not specified.

“As this challenging year draws to a close, we would like to give our heartfelt thanks to all our guests, staff, community members, and healthcare workers of all kinds who have supported us during this difficult time,” said Locke. “We have shown how resilient, creative and collaborative we are when faced with adversity and uncertainty. We are all looking forward to a New Year that will be safe, happy, healthy, and secure for all of us as the light at the end of this dark tunnel becomes ever brighter.”

Reflecting on a Year Like No Other

At this time last year, 2020 was destined to be busy in North America with more than 30 ropeways already scheduled for construction. As the 2019/20 winter went on, more announcements came seemingly each week. Vail Resorts, Alterra and Boyne all unveiled ambitious plans including multi-lift projects at Beaver Creek, Mammoth and Okemo. Yet in the background, the Coronavirus was advancing around the world. The situation came to a head the weekend of March 14th, when hundreds of North American resorts closed in order to protect public health. Facing uncertainty about summer and beyond, many businesses decided to postpone expansion capital entirely.

Despite immense challenges, US and Canadian resorts did add a total of 28 new lifts in 2020. Most companies which went ahead were small- to medium-sized, ones often forgotten in this era of consolidation. In Maine and West Virginia, mountains which had sat idle for years revved back to life with brand new lifts to welcome back guests.

Saddleback, Maine’s new Rangeley quad replaced a Mueller double which was no longer operable.

Almost all this year’s lifts directly replaced older machines. The average age of a lift retired in 2020 was 40 years as resorts said goodbye to Halls, Riblets, Borvigs and more. Some replacement projects simply couldn’t wait for the pandemic to be over.

Expansion lifts make up about 40 percent of the total most years but in 2020 they were just 20 percent. Sun Valley forged ahead with Sunrise, a 380 acre addition near Seattle Ridge. After skiing the new terrain, guests will enjoy a high speed ride back to the Roundhouse on a new Doppelmayr quad. Other expansions include Lake Louise’s West Bowl project and Nordic Valley’s yet-to-be-named southward expansion.

Broadway at Sun Valley, a mile long detachable quad in a new alignment.

Arapahoe Basin replaced not one but two Yan fixed grips with modern Alpha models, including the legendary Pallavicini double with a new double. Aspen Skiing Company purchased its first direct drive lift from Leitner-Poma, a replacement for Big Burn at Snowmass. The State of New York committed millions to upgrade three fixed grip chairlifts at two mountains.

Pallavicini 2.0 at Arapahoe Basin.