Oldest Operating Lifts in the US & Canada

1. Single Chair, Mad River Glen, VT – 1948 American Steel & Wire Single Chair

The single chair at MRG still has its original towers and terminal structures but everything else was replaced by Doppelmayr CTEC in 2007.  As part of that project, towers were removed, sandblasted and repainted before being flown back to new foundations with new line gear.  Doppelmayr also replaced the bullwheels, chairs, grips, drive and haul rope.  This begs the question of ‘when is an old lift a new lift?’

2. Gatlinburg Sky Lift, Gatlinburg, TN – 1954 Riblet double

Everett Kircher of Boyne fame bought this chairlift from Sugar Bowl, CA for $3,000 in 1954.  Originally it was a single chair built in 1939.  Modified sheave assemblies were machined at the Kircher’s car dealership in Michigan when the lift went to Tennessee.  At some point it appears to have gotten newer-style Riblet towers.  Boyne Resorts still operates this lift 800 miles from their nearest ski resort. (edit: JP notes in the comments below that this version was replaced by a Riblet double in 1991.  Thanks JP!)

3. Chair 1, White Pass, WA – 1955 1962 Riblet double

This lift only operates on busy weekends and holidays but it’s an old one and a good one .  A classic Pacific Northwest center-pole double with very few modifications from its original design and no safety bars! (edit: Brian notes in the comments that this lift was actually installed as Chair 2 in 1962.  The original chair 1 operated 1955-1994.)

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Chair one at White Pass lives on despite an adjacent high speed quad.

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News Roundup: Tower Time

Sugarloaf's oldest lift towers come down. Photo credit: Sugarloaf Mountain Resort
Sugarloaf’s oldest lift towers come down. Photo credit: Sugarloaf Mountain Resort
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Instagram Tuesday: Fall

There it is. Golden Peak living up to its name! P: @_toddharper #VailFall

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The ride to the top is worth it. (📷: @stevegoffphoto )

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Chairs Going on the Teton Lift

The Teton lift got its haul rope and commline in the last few weeks and Doppelmayr started launching chairs on Saturday.  Agamatic grips were being attached to each chair before going onto the maintenance rail at the bottom terminal.  Doppelmayr was launching chairs in groups with the lift running slowly in reverse.  All 80 chairs should be on by this afternoon.  Next up: adjustments and load test.  Impressive to see this project nearly finished two and half months before its scheduled opening (which is December 19th.)

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Chairs going on in reverse.
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Towers 13-15 just below the top terminal.

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Two Big Gondolas Opening South of the Border

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Sigma Diamond cabins in France waiting to be shipped across the pond.  Photo credit: Sigma Cabins

Park City and Lutsen Mountains in Minnesota won’t have the only new gondolas in this part of the world come December.  Leitner Ropeways is in the final stages of building a $72 million gondola system in Ecatepec near Mexico City.  Two connected gondola lines will include seven stations and 184 10-passenger cabins.  They will feature the first Leitner DirectDrives in North America.  DirectDrive technology eliminates the need for a gearbox and associated points of failure.

Map of the two lines and seven stations.
Map of the two lines and seven stations.

The longer of the two lines will have a slope length of 9,577 feet while rising 180 feet in 10.5 minutes.  It will have 20 towers and 108 Sigma Diamond 10-passenger cabins.  The second line will be 5,922 feet long with a slightly larger vertical of 203 feet and ride time of 7.5 minutes.  This one will have 76 cabins and 16 towers.  Both lines will travel at a max speed of 1,181 feet a minute and transport 3,000 riders an hour each way.  With five mid-stations, it would be difficult for cabins to be shared between the two haul ropes.  A fault or stop at any of the seven terminals would halt the entire system which is just one of the reasons it is being split up with cabins turning around in the middle.

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News Roundup: Modifications

  • Apparently Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire will get the first LST Ropeways lift in North America.  Manufactured in Germany, it will be a T-Bar for the Mittersill racing area which has an existing Doppelmayr CTEC double chair.  SkyTrac will be doing the installation.  LST Ropeways is owned by the MND Group which also owns Gazex (avalanche release systems) and Sufag (snowmaking systems) with a North American facility in Eagle, CO.
  • Leitner-Poma will re-engineer and modify towers on the Grey Mountain lift at Red Mountain, BC this fall.  The quad chair was built in 1992 at Alyeska and moved to Red in 2013.  The re-installation was done by Summit Lift Co. of Fernie, BC and the lift has 18 towers in its current configuration.  No word on the exact reason for the re-design.
  • The Camelot chair at Boyne Highlands is losing its vault drive terminal that is literally part of the ski area’s base lodge.  In its place will be a used CTEC drive terminal.  Does anyone know where it came from?
  • The Aspen Daily News reports on the all new High Alpine detachable quad at Snowmass.
  • Snow King debuted Doppelmayr’s new ‘Alpinstar’ terminal this summer and now Caberfae Peaks, MI will debut the ‘Ministar’ in 2016.  The new triple chair will replace the Clubhouse double which is a 1967 Hall.
  •  Developers are still trying to figure out how to get a new Lift 1A back into downtown Aspen like the original single chair.

Instagram Tuesday: Still Building

The progress on our new Barnstormer #doppelmayr 6 person heated bubble lift continues. #towerofpower #hermitageclub #haystackmountain

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Footings ready for new chair storage structure at base of Quantum Four.

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The Lifespan of a High Speed Quad

When detachable lifts were invented, no one knew exactly how many years they might last before having to be replaced.  Now at 35 years since the first high speed quad went in at Breckenridge, we are getting an idea of what that number is.  Twenty-two early high speed quads built in the 1980s have been removed and replaced so far at an average age of 23.8 years.  The oldest of these was the Siberia Express at Squaw, removed this spring after 30 years of service.  There are six more detachable quads built the same year as Siberia that are going into their 31st winter season.

The John Paul Express at Snowbasin is one of 31 high speed quads built in 1998. What happens when they are all 25 years old?
The John Paul Express at Snowbasin is one of 31 high speed quads built in 1998. What happens when they are all 25 years old?

Some would say that rather than looking at a lift’s model year and the associated technology, what really matters is operating hours.  A machine that runs winter- and daytime-only will accumulate around a thousand hours a year while the Whistler Village Gondola will rack up 3,500 hours in the same year spinning 18 hours per day all winter and all summer.  Since there’s no way for me to know how many hours most lifts have I will have to stick with looking at them by model year.

Many components on Copper's American Flyer have been upgraded but it still could use a complete replacement either with a modern detachable quad or six pack.
Many components on Copper’s American Flyer have been upgraded but it’s still an almost 30-year old lift that could use replacement.

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The Ten Longest Lift Rides in North America

The average lift ride in the United States and Canada takes just under five minutes.  In fact, only about four percent of lifts (fewer than a hundred) take more than ten minutes to ride. You wouldn’t know it hearing the average skier complaining about long and slow lifts at just about any ski area.  Below are the ten longest lifts by actual ride time at design speed.  Of course lifts do not always run at their design speed but this gives a pretty good idea of the longest rides.  Two of the top ten are detachable lifts that are so long that they take more than 15 minutes.

Silver Mountain's Gondola is one of only three lifts on the continent that takes more than 15 minutes to ride at design speed.
Silver Mountain’s Gondola is one of only four lifts on the continent that takes more than 15 minutes to ride at design speed.

1. Burfield Quad – Sun Peaks Resort, BC – 1997 Doppelmayr Fixed-grip quad

9,510 feet at 453 fpm = 21 minutes

2. Cyclone – Sunrise Park Resort, AZ – 1983 Yan Fixed-grip triple

7,982 feet at 450 fpm = 17.7 minutes

3. Gondola – Silver Mountain, ID – 1990 VonRoll 8-passenger gondola

16,350 feet at 1,000 fpm = 16.4 minutes

4. Castlerock – Sugarbush Resort, VT – 2001 Poma fixed-grip double

4,707 feet at 300 fpm = 15.7 minutes

5. Wallowa Lake Tramway, OR – 1968 Hall 4-passenger gondola

9.650 feet at 650 fpm = 14.9 minutes

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News Roundup: Tragedy in Oklahoma

A work chair on the Skyride at the Tulsa State Fair failed earlier this week causing two mechanics doing line work to fall.
A work chair on the VonRoll Skyride at the Tulsa State Fair failed earlier this week causing two mechanics doing line work to fall.
  • OSHA is investigating the death of one of two mechanics who fell while doing line work on the Skyride at the Tulsa State Fair.  A work chair on the 1965 VonRoll gondola appears to have failed below the hanger, dangling both men from their harnesses.  Steve Shelton, 43, died of trauma as a result.  His family set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for funeral expenses.
  • Poma is setting steel for Europe’s new highest lift in Russia.  The three-stage, two-passenger gondola on Mt. Elbrus will reach 3,847 m/12,621 feet (Breckenridge’s Imperial Express SuperChair goes 350 feet higher.)
  • Sugarloaf begins removing its oldest lift as part of a ‘lift safety’ initiative.  I guess a lift that doesn’t exist is safer than one that does.
  • Hidden Valley, New Jersey’s three Borvig lifts are out and two new Partek lifts are going in.  The ski area which closed in 2013 also has a new name – the National Winter Activity Center.  Follow the progress live here.
  • The city of Cali in Colombia will open MIO Cable, a 10-passenger Poma gondola, on Friday.  The 6,800′ system has four stations and 60 Sigma cabins that move 2,000 passengers per hour each way.
  • Deer Valley Resort, SkyTrac and the NSAA will host an evening program honoring Jan Leonard on October 14th at Snow Park Lodge.
  • Doppelmayr crews fly 11 towers for a new gondola at Lutsen Mountains, Minnesota.  The $7 million system is going up alongside the resort’s Hall gondola, which will run through October 18th.
  • It’s looking like Saddleback, Maine will have a ski season without a new lift.