The single chair at Mad River Glen in Vermont is not the only single chair around but it’s certainly the newest, nicest and most famous. Originally built in 1947-48 by American Steel & Wire Company, it has hauled skiers up Stark Mountain for the past 65 years. The chair at MRG was AS&W’s 15th and cost $75,000 not including installation. Originally powered by a diesel motor, it had no electrical circuit at all during the early years. Safety systems on towers and bullwheels were added later. In 1995, Mad River Glen became the first ski area member-owned co-operative in the United States and it still does not have any slopeside lodging nor does it allow snowboarding.
By 2005, the diesel-powered single chair had become too expensive to maintain. Chairs were failing NDT, the lift had no cable catchers or bullwheel retention and replacement parts were no longer available (except ones cannibalized from the AS&W single that had been replaced at nearby Stowe.) Doppelmayr CTEC was brought in by the co-operative’s Board of Directors and developed two proposals – a $1.54 million rebuild of the single chair or an all-new double chair for $300,000 less.
Not surprisingly, Mad River Glen’s 1,700 shareholders voted by an 81 percent margin in March 2006 to modernize the single chair while retaining its basic design and historic character. A capital campaign raised the $1.5 million to save the single chair through private donations. Today, towers and chairs have plaques with the names of the donors who made the project possible. Most of the 158 original chairs were also sold to raise money.
The original chairs carried their last skiers on April 8, 2007. Doppelmayr CTEC crews got to work flying towers off the mountain, sandblasting and repainting them while pouring new foundations. Parts of both terminals were retained but everything touching the haul rope and everything electric was replaced. The obsolete diesel prime mover was subbed with a 200-HP electric one. New chairs were fabricated in order to be compatible with new CTEC grips. Doppelmayr went all in on the historic aspect of the project, using 1980’s CTEC spoke sheaves to match the look of the old as closely possible. They even replaced a Riblet tube tower that was added sometime over the years with a brand new lattice tower so all 22 towers would match. The entire system was brought up to current ANSI code.
The result is modern (and most importantly safe) lift that still looks pretty darn close to the original. The single chair is just under a mile long and rises 1,972 feet in 8.7 minutes. Code allows a single chair to run as fast as 600 feet a minute; at that speed it can deliver 480 skiers per hour to the summit of Stark Mountain. A grand re-opening of the lift was held on December 15, 2007. Doppelmayr’s rebuild will allow Mad River Glen to run the single for at least another fifty years.
Much of the background for this post came from an essay by the late Jan Leonard who was President of Doppelmayr CTEC during the rebuild and took great personal interest in the project. His entire piece can be read here.