Rebuilding Mad River Glen’s Single Chair


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.

The Single Chair during fall foliage season.
The Single Chair during fall foliage season.

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.

A mid-station with a view!

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.

View down from the top.
View down from the top.

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 bottom terminal is all-new but still has the original vault design.
All three terminals have pull to stop cords that run their entire length.

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.

The top terminal has a standard CTEC bullwheel but retained counterweight tensioning.
The top terminal has a standard CTEC bullwheel but retained counterweight tensioning.
You would never know from the controls that this is a single chair with lattice towers.

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.


11 thoughts on “Rebuilding Mad River Glen’s Single Chair

  1. tjskiloaf17 October 6, 2016 / 9:31 am

    can you do another one of these soon?


    • Doppelmayr FTW! October 6, 2016 / 2:13 pm

      yeah I like these comprehensive lift profiles. not just of old lifts!


  2. tjskiloaf17 October 11, 2017 / 4:09 pm

    more lift profiles please!!!!


  3. tplewak February 6, 2018 / 2:27 pm

    I’m late to this blog post, but enjoyed reading it! I thought some readers might be interested to know – the old chair had one modern pole tower, and as part of the renovation they replaced it with an old fashioned latice one! In addition to the capital campaign, the mountain received a Historic Preservation grant from the Preservation Trust of Vermont. This grant requires that the lift be maintained in its historic state for another 50 years!


  4. tjskiloaf17 August 17, 2018 / 1:05 pm

    Peter, would really love more of these specific lift based posts!!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Austin Armanini December 11, 2018 / 8:00 pm

      Please bring these lift profiles back… Interesting seeing all the unique lifts.
      Please do Ramcharger 8, Powder seeker 6, Challenger 3 , American Eagle and Flyer

      Liked by 1 person

  5. tjskiloaf17 October 24, 2019 / 12:13 pm

    Hey Peter….time for my annual post asking for more of these! Its been four years!


  6. skier72 May 12, 2020 / 12:10 pm

    The old Riblet tower:


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