Lift Profile: Couloir Express at White Pass, WA

The Couloir Express is on the upper right of the White Pass trail map.
The Couloir Express is on the upper right of the White Pass trail map.

Located on the edge of Mt. Rainier National Park in the Washington Cascades, White Pass Ski Area has been operating continuously since 1956.  Until 2010, the entire ski area could be accessed from a single lift with a 1,500 foot vertical rise.  An ambitious expansion opened on December 4, 2010, doubling the size of the resort 33 years after it was first proposed to the Forest Service.  The 767-acre Paradise Basin addition includes two new Doppelmayr quads called Basin and Couloir Express as well as a new lodge and trails.  Both lifts were built mostly over snow to avoid road building in this former wilderness area.  Construction took place over two springs, taking a break for the summer and winter of 2009-10.

Building lifts over snow in 2010 with a unique construction schedule due to environmental concerns.
Building the Couloir Express over snow with a unique construction schedule due to environmental concerns.  Photo credit: White Pass Ski Area

The Couloir Express is the last Uni-GS model detachable that Doppelmayr built.  Designed specifically for North America, 44 GS detachable quads and six packs were built between 2003 and 2010.  Some resorts like Beaver Creek continued to order the Austrian-designed Uni-G so the GS never fully caught on.  Presumably it was phased out in 2010 to simplify production in a market with limited demand.

Building the bottom terminal over snow in May 2010.
Building the bottom terminal over snow in May 2010.

White Pass completed terminal/tower footings and put up tubes in 2009 but worked with Doppelmayr to delay installation of the rest of the lift until spring 2010.  During the 2009-10 winter, backcountry skiers got to explore the new trails and ski between brand new lift towers with nothing on them.

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The Couloir Express is just over 4,000 feet long with a 911′ vertical rise.  The name is questionable considering the mellow terrain and lack of any nearby couloir.  Despite that, it’s a sharp-looking lift in a stunning high-alpine setting.  Couloir’s design capacity is low at 1,600 skiers per hour with chairs 150 feet apart.  It takes skiers to White Pass’ summit elevation of 6,500′ in just 4.1 minutes.  The lift has a 300 HP drive at the top terminal, 12 towers and 55 quad chairs.  The bottom tension terminal has a long chair parking/maintenance rail.

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White Pass now has a fleet of modern lifts and over 1,400 acres of terrain.  Yet lift tickets remain only $45!

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