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.

Number of operating lifts with bubbles by season since 1985.
Number of operating lifts with bubbles by season since 1985.

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.

The Hermitage Club is building chair storage at the base of their new bubble six-pack.
The Hermitage Club is building chair storage at the base of their new bubble six-pack.

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.

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9 thoughts on “Bubble Chairs: Making a Comeback?

  1. Ralf W (@Snowman55403) November 30, 2015 / 9:05 pm

    The bubble lifts at Spirit Mountain in Duluth, MN were not very successful. There was one lift that for the first generation of bubbles, you had to slouch if you wore a helmet or you were touching the bubble (and conveying all the noise and vibration, not to mention feeling squeezed).

    A couple years ago I rode the Canyon’s Orange Bubble and it was a far better experience than the 90s era implementations.

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  2. tjskiloaf17 November 8, 2016 / 5:24 pm

    hey

    thinking in my head if sugarloaf were to upgrade the fixed grip skyline quad with bubbles, how much would this cost? Any ideas of how much 1 bubble quad costs? Add that onto the added weight, would they just have to drop the capacity or change the sheaves? Thanks!!!

    TJ

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    • Peter Landsman November 9, 2016 / 2:17 am

      Five figures per bubble chair. I don’t believe it’s possible to add bubbles to a fixed-grip lift due to the opening/closing rails.

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      • tjskiloaf17 November 9, 2016 / 7:09 am

        in sochi, poma built 3 fixed bubble chairs. there were not any rails, the riders must open the bubbles themselves

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      • Camnoger September 14, 2018 / 3:01 am

        Many many years ago in Australia, we had the world’s longest chairlift (well that’s what they claimed but technically it was two separate fixed-grip doubles) and it had bubbles. There isn’t too much info on it anymore though as it was only open for two years however the destroyed mid station still sits in ruins.

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  3. Max Hart December 19, 2017 / 4:22 pm

    Hall experimented with Bubble chairs as early as 1969 on Onset, NH’s (now Crotched, NH) Valley Double ( http://www.newenglandskihistory.com/lifts/viewlift.php?id=380 ).

    Borvig also installed bubbles in 1968 on the Blue Double at Mountain Creek, NJ ( http://www.chairlift.org/pics/mtcreek/mc18.jpg ).

    Carlevaro & Savio made two detachable double bubble chairs (G1 in 1964 and G2 in 1969) at Mount Snow, VT. Instead of the bubble opening over the rider’s head, two doors would open on the front of the chair. For this reason, they were often referred to as “skis-on-gondolas”, but nowadays they would be called bubble chairs. ( http://www.newenglandskihistory.com/lifts/Vermont/mtsnow/g2-1960s-0000a.jpg ).

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  4. Collin December 20, 2017 / 7:11 pm

    Windham, NY used to have a Carlevaro and Savio bubble chair. It was a double dating back to when the mountain first opened as a private club and was removed in 1993 and replaced with a CTEC high speed quad. A couple years ago they hinted at installing a bubble quad or 6-pack to replace the F lift VonRoll triple which is right next to the main high speed quad and seldom runs. If it were replaced the quad would become the backup lift. It’s possible that they’ll announce it for 2018 especially with enclosed lifts in the Catskills being a thing again with the gondola at Belleayre.

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