Vail Nears Completion of New Sun Up Express

Brian Jorgenson of Timberline Helicopters flies a tower head for the new Sun Up Express lift on the backside of Vail Mountain.  Brian and his team have flown lift parts at Arizona Snowbowl, Big Sky, Grand Targhee, Jackson Hole, Steamboat, Sundance and Vail so far this summer.

With construction underway on a new lift for the ninth time in ten years, Vail Mountain will have only three fixed-grip chairlifts this winter. Adding to what is already the largest detachable lift fleet in the world outside of Europe, Vail and Leitner-Poma are now building the mountain’s 19th high-speed lift in the famous Back Bowls to replace the Sun Up #17 triple.  This is a major milestone for a mountain that in 1984 operated a whopping 19 fixed-grip chairlifts.   Following on the heels of two new six-packs from Doppelmayr USA in 2013 and 2015, Vail switched back to Leitner-Poma for its newest high speed quad, which will be designated Lift #9.  With its production facility down I-70 in Grand Junction, Leitner-Poma also supplied Vail’s Gondola One in 2012 and seven high speed quads in a row before that. Vail regulars will note that number 9 used to belong to the Minnie’s lift from 1972 until it was removed without being replaced in 2008.

Tire banks for the return terminal of the new Sun Up lift await their new home in Vail’s Back Bowls.

The Sun Up Express will achieve 65 percent higher capacity than the 1992 triple version it replaces, which was actually one of the original lifts Doppelmayr built at Beaver Creek in 1980.  Fun fact: B.C.’s Centennial was originally two separate triple chairs.  What became Sun Up at Vail was the upper lift called Horseshoe.  The triple chair is now history and will probably find a third home somewhere in the Vail Resorts empire or beyond.

Sun Up Express’ uphill capacity will be 2,400 skiers per hour which should help alleviate crowding on lifts 5 and 9.  The Back Bowls and Blue Sky Basin will now have a combined seven high speed quads.  Lift 9 will feature 82 quad chairs and 14 towers, most of which were set last week by helicopter.  The lift will have a vertical rise of 1,115 feet and will be 3,865 feet long with a 670 HP AC top drive located near Two Elk Lodge.  Sun Up Express will be Vail’s third lift with the new LPA (Leitner Poma Automatic) grips and terminals.

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Leitner-Poma Wins Staten Island Gondola Design Competition

The Staten Island Economic Development Corporation selected this design by Leitner-Poma to move forward as part of a proposed connection to Manhattan.

New York City’s iconic Roosevelt Island Tramway could soon be joined by a gondola linking Staten Island to Bayonne, New Jersey serving commuters and tourists alike. Staten Island has all the ingredients for a successful urban gondola: a dense (and growing) population, a geographic barrier surmountable by cable, and connections to other transit modes at both ends.  This week, the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation (SIEDC) crowned Leitner-Poma of America the winner of a design competition it launched in January to promote a ropeway solution.  A jury of engineers, architects and business leaders selected Leitner-Poma’s 10-passenger gondola proposal that would cross the Kill Van Kull tidal strait to New Jersey.

In its request for proposals, the nonprofit development corporation floated four possible alignments for a gondola to serve Staten Island.

According to the development group’s request for proposals, subway-less Staten Islanders suffer from some of the longest commutes in the country, averaging 90 minutes to Manhattan by ferry.  A new rail tunnel under New York Harbor is estimated to cost $400 million per mile and would not be completed for a generation, if ever. Despite mobility challenges, $1 billion of redevelopment is currently underway in this suburban borough.  The SIEDC’s competition encompassed 4-6 possible routes, the most ambitious of which would connect Staten Island’s northeast tip with Battery Park in Manhattan over five miles of water.

Leitner-Poma recognized the technical and political challenges of 10,000-foot spans skirting the Statue of Liberty over New York Harbor and instead settled on a shorter connection to New Jersey and its rail network.  Other entrants chose routes from Staten Island to Brooklyn, where the East River Skyway is separately proposed to connect to Manhattan.

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Sunday River Delays Spruce Replacement Until 2017

Things were looking up Aug. 18th, when Sunday River proclaimed “Make Spruce Great Again,” announcing a brand new Spruce Peak triple would be installed as soon as possible to replace the Borvig triple that was heavily damaged in a July foundation failure.  I was optimistic that the announced $2.1 million Doppelmayr triple could be built this fall and open sometime after Christmas.  Unfortunately, yesterday Sunday River revealed that a new lift will not be built until at least next summer, leaving the top portion of Spruce Peak without lift service for the coming winter.

added trail_hollywood

A number of factors led to the setback.  Doppelmayr already had a busy construction season building 17 lifts in the US and Canada this year.  The old lift could not be torn down until the accident could be investigated and MountainGuard could complete its claims process.  Complicating things further, CNL Lifestyle Properties wants out of the ski business, has listed Sunday River for sale and is unlikely to want to invest in capital improvements.  In a letter to pass holders, Sunday River said engineering for the new lift is complete and manufacturing could begin soon but, “decisions from our insurance carrier and commitment from our financial partners” are holding things up.  As reported this weekend, the old Spruce lift is still standing two and a half months after the incident, minus the last tower and top terminal that fell over.

In addition to Spruce, Sunday River will replace the top terminal of the Locke Mountain triple which is of similar design.  The upper portion of Locke Mountain typically opens around Halloween with the first lift-served skiing in the East.  Unfortunately the terminal replacement project means that Locke Mountain will not open until at least Thanksgiving. Instead, Sunday River will attempt to open the much longer Aurora quad as soon as possible.  Even though there will be no lift to the summit of Spruce Peak this year, the trails will remain open for those want to hike and may even get snowmaking and grooming.  Chairs have been removed from the Locke Mountain triple in preparation for the new terminal installation.  A contractor (likely SkyTrans of nearby Contoocook, New Hampshire) will remove the Spruce equipment before the start of the season so it is not a hazard to skiers.

While these developments are disappointing, Sunday River’s release notes, “We remain committed to a new Spruce Peak Triple and will keep you updated on when construction for this new lift will start.”  As the saying goes, it’s always better to be safe than sorry and Boyne Resorts cannot risk another Borvig lift failure in Maine.

News Roundup: Leitner

Instagram Tuesday: Lattice

Every Tuesday, we pick our favorite Instagram photos from around the lift world.

Sunsets have been impressive this week to say the least. #aspenmountain (📷: @zmaraziti )

A photo posted by Aspen Snowmass (@aspensnowmass) on

#seilbahn #ötztaleralpen #sölden #österreich #austria

A photo posted by Werner Marquardt (@bilderwerner) on

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Mexico’s Big Urban Gondola to Open in October

Las Alpes chilangos #mexicable #ecatepunk #apofismediaeverywhere #ropeways

A photo posted by Jorge Estrada (@apofis_media) on

Commuters in a Mexico City suburb will take their first flights on a two-stage, $26 million gondola system called Mexicable in a few short weeks on Monday, October 3rd.  State of Mexico Governor Eruvio Ávila announced the city of Ecatepec will join the growing list of cities in the Americas building ropeways over congested neighborhoods.  The Governor’s Facebook Live test run video has been watched more than 461,000 times. Mexico joins Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela that operate (or will soon open) gondolas for urban commuters.

In Ecatepec, two loops will combine to serve seven stations and up to 3,000 passengers per hour in each direction.  The State of Mexico and its private operators Grupo IUSA and ALFA Group awarded Leitner Ropeways a contract to build the two gondolas in January 2014 and construction began later that year.  The lifts were largely completed in 2015 but station build-out and testing took longer than expected and the opening comes a few months late.

The new lifts will transit three miles over 32 towers in 17 minutes, replacing a bus line that takes 45 minutes.  185 10-passenger Sigma Diamond cabins painted in Mexico’s national colors will move up to 26,000 commuters each weekday.  Line speed is 5 m/s and the span of service will be 17 hours per day.  A ticket will cost eight pesos (43 cents) and the line will complement the Mexibus line 4, a 20-mile Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line currently under construction.

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News Roundup: Losses

  • Wire Austin gets some attention from folks who matter – the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority.
  • Peak Resorts loses $7.9 million in the first quarter (it owns Alpine Valley, Attitash, Big Boulder, Boston Mills, Brandywine, Crotched Mountain, Hidden Valley, Hunter Mountain, Jack Frost, Mad River Mountain, Mt. Snow, Paoli Peaks, Snow Creek and Wildcat.)
  • The deropement and evacuation of the pulse gondola between the Aiguille du Midi and Pointe Helbronner makes CNN.
  • Austria’s Foreign Minister meets with former London Mayor Boris Johnson to talk Brexit.  The mayor says the Doppelmayr cowbell that came with the Emirates Air Line is one of his most prized possessions.
  • Federal receiver hopes to sell Jay Peak in the spring, says resort President Bill Stenger was duped.
  • Laurel Mountain’s new Skytrac is complete.
  • Maine’s Attorney General sues the owner of Big Squaw Mountain for not operating the ski area as promised.
  • Tamarack Homeowners meet to discuss the future of Idaho’s newest ski resort ahead of an October lift auction. Owner Credit Suisse and its operator Replay Resorts appear to be on the way out.
  • The owner of Montana Snowbowl tells the Missoulian he started construction on a new TV Mountain lift a few weeks ago and there’s a chance it will be completed in time for the coming winter season.
  • Preservation group calls abandoned mines in American Fork Canyon a “ticking time bomb,” calls on Snowbird to turn private land over to the Forest Service where the resort plans to build two new lifts.

Instagram Tuesday: Abroad

Every Tuesday, we pick our favorite Instagram photos from around the lift world.

Colorful machinery #HovenLoen #cablecar #Garaventa #Doppelmayr #Loen #Stryn #Nordfjord #visitnorway #fjordnorway

A photo posted by HOVEN LOEN – Opens in 2017! (@hovenloen) on

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Big Sky Flies Towers for America’s Most High-Tech Chairlift

A UH-60 “Black Hawk” from Timberline Helicopters carries a tower head for the new bowl chair at Big Sky Resort September 11, 2016.
With a helicopter flying towers this week and Austrian-built chairs arriving, skiers are just a few months away from riding America’s most technologically advanced chairlift in the bowl at Big Sky Resort.  Featuring blue bubbles, heated seats, headrests and innovative footrests, Big Sky will be the first public ski resort in North America to get Doppelmayr’s six-passenger CS10 chair (the private Hermitage Club in Vermont got them last year.)  The yet-to-be-named Lone Peak lift will initially feature 33 flying couches with footrests between riders’ legs to prevent children from falling.  These chairs are the latest and greatest from Doppelmayr and will be used on future lifts built over the next ten years as part of Big Sky 2025.

33 chairs arrived from Austria last week and feature Big Sky blue bubbles, heated seats, headrests and more.
Brian Jorgenson from Timberline Helicopters began flying 12 lift towers on Sunday and will haul the rest later this week.  The same Black Hawk will also set 17 towers for the new Challenger lift, a Doppelmayr triple chair.  Wind stopped Brian from flying around lunchtime yesterday (and today it’s snowing) but both projects are on schedule thanks to the hard work of Big Sky’s mountain operations team, the Doppelmayr USA crew and their contractors.

The new bowl lift will dramatically improve upon the old Lone Peak Triple, cutting a 6.2 minute ride to just three minutes.  The triple chair opened in 1973 and was among two remaining lifts from the Chet Huntley era.  Challenger and Lone Peak are the first all-new lifts built at Big Sky since 2005 and hopefully the first of many upgrades and additions.  Capacity in the bowl will remain the same at first – 1,800 skiers per hour – with the ability to upgrade the six-pack to 3,200 pph in the future.  Thirty-three six-place chairs running 985 feet per minute will move the same number of skiers as the old lift did with 122 triple chairs!  The bowl lift is designed for 26 chairs to be added as needed for an eventual total of 59.

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Bartholet Completes Zero Gauge Tramway in France

Workers recently hung the two Gangloff cabins on an innovative new tramway in Brest, France. Photo credit: Ouest France

What if you could squeeze a large double-reversible tramway into the footprint of a much smaller single-haul system?  The city of Brest, France and Bartholet of Switzerland will open such a tram in October.  Because its two cabins are never on the same half of the line at the same time, the Téléphérique de Brest has only one dock at each end and cabins pass directly on top of one another near a 270-foot tall center tower. Other lifts have been built with zero-gauge sections before (notably in Caribbean rainforests) but never on this scale or for their entire length.  The new ropeway is also France’s first lift in a true urban environment.


Facing a need connect two points high over The Penfeld river in this Navy port, the City of Brest selected a ropeway instead of a massive bridge or expensive tunnel.  The government held a design competition in 2014 and selected the Swiss firm Bartholet Maschinenbau Flums (BMF) together with the French construction conglomerate Bouygues.  Fellow BMF Group subsidiary Gangloff supplied two ultramodern 60-passenger cabins.  The project cost €19 million versus an estimated €30 to 60 for a new bridge.  BMF also recently built two double-reversible tramways in Mexico.

The City of Brest will open its new tramway in October.  Photo credit: Bartholet

The system has four track ropes, two haul rope loops and four drive motors. The cabins are hung like those on a funitel and can operate in winds up to 70 miles per hour.  Each loop is driven by two 135 horsepower motors but if one fails the loops can be mechanically connected and run using the remaining three motors to ensure near 100 percent uptime.  The slope length of the tramway is a short 1,352 feet with a line speed of 7.5 m/s.  The system will transport up to 1,220 commuters per hour in each direction starting in October.  Check out videos of system testing here.