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.”
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 its 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.
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 strange. As someone who operates lifts, I question the practicality of bumping a chair with no bail.
Now four years into building lifts, there are 17 complete SkyTracs at 14 resorts across the US. Last year was a big year for SkyTrac with six new lifts built including some pretty high-profile projects. Crystal Mountain chose Skytrac to replace what remained of the High Campbell double that was taken out by an avalanche. Taos’ new summit lift up the famous Kachina Peak is also a Skytrac.
Everyone wants to know whether Skytrac will get into the detachable game. No American manufacturer has succeeded at building detachables for very long. Riblet and Partek went out of business trying and we all know what happened to Yan. Skytrac already has an agreement to be the North American distributor for the Swiss manufacturer BMF. Whether Skytrac will use BMF detachable grips or develop their own remains to be seen. I could also see Skytrac stick to their niche providing attractively-priced fixed grips lifts. After all, around 70% of lifts built today are not detachable.
2015 looks like a down year for Skytrac with no projects announced so far. One of their repeat customers, the Hermitage Club, went to Doppelmayr for their first detachable going in this summer. It’s still early and I imagine Skytrac will build at least a couple lifts before the snow flies.