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.

Every high speed quad built since 1990 is still operating, although not necessarily in its original location.  The only exception is Marble Mountain’s Governor’s Express, which burned down last August.  Even most of that machine is being re-used at Marble or Powderhorn in Colorado.  An impressive 431 out of the 473 high speed quads built in the US and Canada are still operating in their original locations.  When you take out the Yan detachables (which were mostly scrapped for obvious reasons,) 17 out of 29 removed detachable quads are still operating in a new location.  In other words, only 12 of the 450 high speed quads built by Doppelmayr/CTEC/Leitner/Poma have been scrapped.  Even one of the Yan detachable quads from Silver Star lives on; you can ride it at Nazhvan Park in Iran where faulty grips may be the least of your worries.  Other older detachable quads like Snowmass’ Fanny Hill and Stowe’s FourRunner were converted into fixed-grip chairlifts in new locations rather than being scrapped.

The detachable building bubble in the late 1990s will probably be followed by a replacement bubble around 2022.
The detachable building bubble in the late 1990s will hopefully be followed by a replacement bubble around 2022.

So what is the future for the 200 aging high speed quads that were built in the 1990s?  If you figure the average detachable is replaced at 23.8 years as mentioned above, the peak year for replacement of these machines will be in 2022.  Even if only half of the detach quads built in 1998 are replaced in 2022, that’s a huge 16 new detachables.  Pretty significant when you consider lots of high speed lifts replace fixed-grips or go in new locations altogether.  Just three older high speed quads are being replaced in 2015 so there’s a long ways to go if we are going to see those numbers in five years.

10 thoughts on “The Lifespan of a High Speed Quad

  1. dmcreif September 21, 2015 / 11:35 pm

    Then you sometimes have to factor in that some of these detachable lifts have been modified, like, new chairs, or new infrastructure, even the older ones.


  2. RMurphy October 25, 2015 / 1:08 am

    Would the detachables built in the 1990s have longer lifespans than the ones from the 1980s? Many of the early fixed grips had shorter lifespans than more modern chairs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Peter Landsman October 25, 2015 / 2:41 pm

      I think you may be right but we’ll have to wait and see. The chain-driven terminals of the 80s were trouble from the start.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Dave February 2, 2017 / 12:25 am

    Might be of interest to note the Horse Hill detachable *triple* chair which was ordered from Doppelmayr for Mt Buller in 1979 then cancelled at the last minute. I wonder if it was the first order in the world?

    Then of course Mt Buller is still operating the Blue Bullet detachable quad built in 1983/84 by Doppelmayr. It’s based on the original Breckenridge Quicksilver SuperChair model and was actually ordered by Breckenridge when Mt Buller ‘commandeered’ it in Nov 1983 (Breck had time to get a new one ahead of 1984/85). It’s done somewhere upwards of 35,000 hours (after its sister chair was cannibalised for grips).

    My question is – is Blue Bullet the oldest detachable or Doppelmayr detachable still operating in the world?


  4. Ryan February 2, 2017 / 4:33 pm

    How about the high speed 8-person gondolas? The one at Steamboat is the first 8 person built in the US and is 31 years old this year.


    • Peter Landsman February 2, 2017 / 8:51 pm

      No question Steamboat should be looking at replacement. River Run at Keystone was also an ’86 and was replaced in 2008.


  5. Ryan February 3, 2017 / 10:57 pm

    Yeah, I drove up there in 08 when all the old gondolas were in the parking lot. It was the only Von Roll lift that I had ever ridden before, I really liked her.


  6. KS January 5, 2020 / 11:58 am

    Just an FYI for readers that the Governor’s Express at Marble Mountain (Steady Brook, Newfoundland) caught fire due not to a mechanical fault, but because of a lightning strike.

    Liked by 1 person

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