This winter, 57 lifts in North America will feature loading conveyors, a higher number than ever before. Since the first carpets debuted in 1995, the technology has improved as resorts seek to increase comfort and loading efficiency. The Austrian-based market leader, Chairkit (formerly ChairkiD) has installed more than 460 carpets worldwide. Another manufacturer called Emmegi built more than a dozen in the United States before going out of business in 2010. Italian conveyor company Compac has dabbled as have Rocky Mountain Conveyor (maker of Magic Carpet®) and Doppelmayr with its own version called LaunchPad. As with bubble chairs, loading carpets are ubiquitous in Europe but not so much around here.
The logic behind a carpet is simple. It helps beginner skiers who struggle to move quickly enough to the load point and reduces the relative speed between skier and chair on fixed-grip chairlifts. The goal is fewer mis-loads/stops/slows and increased loading efficiency. Some Chairkit carpets add a lifting table so that a lift operator can raise the entire loading platform by about four inches to safely load small children. Bridger Bowl, Crystal Mountain (WA) and The Summit at Snoqualmie opted for this feature on their respective beginner lifts.
The vast majority (84 percent) of carpets in North America are the longer type designed for fixed-grip lifts. They stretch about 30 feet from the wait here board to well past the load point and move slightly slower than the lift’s rope speed. Eight high speed quads and six-packs in the United States now have shorter carpets designed for detachables. Vail Resorts operates five of these on its newest six packs at Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Park City and Vail. Boyne Resorts is another major adopter of loading carpets with seven of them across its mountains.
South Ridge B, a Poma Alpha fixed-grip quad at Okemo has the distinction of being the only lift with both loading and unloading conveyors. The top ramp is barely a ramp at all with a long conveyor inclined only slightly to move riders away. This system was installed by Emmegi in 2008 and hasn’t been replicated. My complaint would be the noise associated with such a fast belt – see the video below.
A fixed-grip lift with a loading carpet can be a lower-cost alternative to a detachable lift. Take the Skyline example at Sugarloaf, Maine. In 2011, Boyne Resorts needed to replace an aging lift that had a high-profile accident the previous winter. At 3,750 feet long, it could have been replaced with a relatively short detachable quad. Instead, Boyne opted for a fixed-grip quad capable of spinning 485 feet a minute with a carpet (without one, fixed-grip quads can only go 450 fpm by code.) Sugarloaf likely saved a couple million dollars and settled for a ride time only 3.8 minutes longer.
A loading carpet reportedly costs around $100,000 and can be added underneath an existing terminal or installed with a new lift. So far, 27 lifts have debuted with carpets from day one while the rest were retrofits. 2012 and 2014 were the biggest years for loading carpets with 8 built each year. Only three such carpets have ever been removed – a testament to their effectiveness. I see the use of carpets continuing to grow on short- to medium-length fixed-grip lifts, especially ones serving beginners.