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.
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.
Riblet, Poma and Carlevaro-Savio all tried bubble chairs through the years. Poma introduced them in 1986 on a handful of chairs on the American Flyer at Copper. They only lasted a couple years. Bubbles are also partly to blame for Lift Engineering’s infamous Quicksilver accident at Whistler in 1995. The added weight of the bubbles required unique grips that turned out not to be strong enough.
Bubble chairs have drawbacks to consider in addition to their initial cost. Vail, Alyeska and Steamboat got rid of theirs in the early 2000’s. More surface area can mean more chair swing in high winds (Crazy video here.) Polycarbonate tends to become scratched and faded over time, particularly in the harsh environment of a ski mountain. The Yellowstone Club’s bubbles from 1998 got so bad they bought completely new chairs last year.
Most bubble lifts are now being built with indoor chair storage. The Canyons reportedly voided their Doppelmayr warranty on the Orange Bubble Express by not building a barn for their chairs. Leitner-Poma’s two new bubble six packs in Vermont both have large storage facilities. Two more bubble lifts with heated seats will be built this summer at the Hermitage Club in Vermont and at Sunshine Village, Alberta. Both will also have heated seats. And if you’re curious, Doppelmayr’s bubble color options are gray, orange, blue and yellow.