Yan High Speed Quad Retrofits 20 Years Later

Twenty years ago this spring, 15 resorts faced near-disaster when the high-speed lifts they spent more than $50 million to build proved to be of faulty design and had to be retrofitted or replaced just a few years later.  Lift Engineering, the company founded in 1965 by Yanek Kunczynski and more commonly called Yan, entered the detachable lift market in 1986 at June Mountain, CA reportedly after just one year of development.  Yan built a total of 31 detachable quads in the US and Canada between 1986 and 1994.  The majority of Yan’s customers were repeat clients such as Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation, which bought three high speed quads and the Sun Valley Company, which purchased seven.  Whistler’s general manager would later write to Lift Engineering describing his team as the “unwitting recipients of a research and development project.”

IMG_8958
Frenchman’s is one of seven high speed quads on Bald Mountain built by Yan and retrofitted by Doppelmayr after accidents elsewhere.  The original Yan teardrop chairs are some of the most comfortable I’ve ever ridden.
Three incidents in two years sealed the fate of Yan detachables and eventually forced Lift Engineering to liquidate.  On April 4, 1993, a 9-year old boy was killed and another child injured when loose bolts and a subsequent derailment caused two chairs to stack up on Sierra Ski Ranch’s Slingshot lift.  The same lift had sent an empty chair to the ground two months prior when a grip failed.  Lift Engineering settled a wrongful-death suit after the accident for $1.9 million. Sierra Ski Ranch’s marketing director would later state, “we found they just didn’t withstand the test of time” when the company committed $6 million to replace its three Yan detachables in 1996.

svlifts 007
A Yan type-11 grip with marshmallow rubber springs on a bubble chair from Whistler’s Quicksilver high speed quad.
On December 23rd, 1995, a routine emergency stop on the Quicksilver high speed quad at Whistler Mountain initiated a chain reaction crash of four down-bound chairs, plunging skiers 75 feet onto the Dave Murray Downhill course below. 25-year old Trevor MacDonald died at the scene, nine people were seriously injured, 200 had to be evacuated and a second guest died 12 days later.  The coroner’s investigation revealed Yan’s design failed to maintain the required 15-degree lateral swing clearance over towers, causing damage to grips over time.  The type-11 grips could not maintain adequate clamping force for the maximum 38-degree rope angle on Quicksilver between towers 20-21 (Quicksilver was the only lift built with Yan’s type-11 grip owing to its heavier chairs with bubbles, the rest had the type-7 grip.)  On two prior occasions, empty chairs had fallen from Quicksilver’s line, including one time three weeks prior to the deadly accident and in the same location.  Leading up to December 23rd, mechanics were getting grip force faults 20+ times a day and had reportedly stuffed paper into the corresponding alarm.  At the time, detachable lifts were relatively new and not required to stop automatically as a result of a grip force fault.

Shortly after the Whistler accident, mechanics at Schweitzer in Idaho found cracks in its Yan type-7 detachable grip jaws and shut the lift down for the remainder of the season.  “There were a lot of quality control problems,” Schweitzer’s mountain manager told the Wall Street Journal in 1997.  The loss of a workhorse lift at the height of ski season through the following Christmas and resulting $1 million retrofit by Doppelmayr forced Schweitzer into bankruptcy.

schweitzer 200
Schweitzer’s Great Escape Quad retains Yan towers, operator houses, control systems, electric motor and gearbox while using Doppelmayr chairs, detachable grips and line equipment.
Yan type-7 grips used at Schweitzer/Sierra and type-11 grips on Quicksilver utilized rubber “marshmallow” springs manufactured by Firestone rather than the helical, metal springs that are industry standard.  Rubber proved susceptible to changing temperatures in mountain environments.  Both grips relied on gravity such that grip force would be reduced when the line would bounce.  Les Okreglak, a former Yan engineer, formed a company called Pol-X-West to develop a replacement grip using four coil springs compatible with Yan terminal equipment.  Pol-X-West replaced grips on four lifts at Lake Louise and Silver Star in time for the 1996-1997 ski season.

june mountain retrofit
The 1996 retrofits were such a massive undertaking that June Mountain operated its quads for a season without covers on the tire banks.
Most customers opted to completely replace Yan detachable equipment, in part due to the US Forest Service requiring replacement of Yan detachables operating in National Forests. Quicksilver never re-opened and Whistler Mountain spent $6.2 million to replace the lift with a Poma gondola the following summer.  Eight other high speed quads were replaced with brand new lifts in 1996.  Poma retrofitted six additional Yan detachables, all of which happened to be at American Skiing Company resorts in the northeastern US.  They got TB-41 grips, new sheaves and upgraded terminals.  In an ironic twist, it was a job with Poma that brought Mr. Kunczynski to the United States 30 years prior.

sun valley retrofit
Everything that could be salvaged was kept at Sun Valley while the grip-related components were replaced with Doppelmayr equipment.
The Sun Valley Company announced a retrofit program together with Doppelmayr in May 1996.  Doppelmayr replaced 652 grips and hangers, line gear on 134 towers and tire banks/contours in 14 terminals on Bald Mountain at a total cost of $9 million.  General manager Wally Huffman called the episode as an “almost devastating financial blow to the company.” Doppelmayr faced a huge backlog that summer refitting 12 lifts with DT-104 grips and new terminals in addition to building ten other lifts.  Due to limited manufacturing capability in St. Jerome, 75 percent of the equipment came from Austria and many of the retrofits weren’t completed until January 1997.

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At Sunday River and four other New England resorts, Poma re-built terminals and provided new sheaves/grips for six Yan detachables.
Lift Engineering built its last lifts in 1994 and filed for bankruptcy in July of 1997.  The four Yan high speed quads in Canada that remained in operation have since been replaced (Silver Star’s in 2002, Lake Louise’s in 2003-2004.)  At least two Lift Engineering detachable quad lifts still operate abroad. One is called La Roca at a ski resort in Spain that still has the original marshmallow springs that failed at Whistler, although they are the smaller type-7 size.  The other is at the Nazhvan Forest Park in Iran, a re-installation from Silver Star with the safer Pol-X-West grips.

 

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26 thoughts on “Yan High Speed Quad Retrofits 20 Years Later

  1. TJ March 15, 2016 / 5:55 pm

    It would be cool to see more yan bubble chair pics!!!

    Like

    • Peter Landsman March 16, 2016 / 6:43 am

      It’s funny, I came across the Quicksilver chair in a field mountain biking near Sun Valley a few years ago. I’d be interested to hear why it ended up there. SV also has all 7 of their Yan motor room enclosures and hundreds of teardrop chairs in their boneyard.

      Like

  2. Jerry March 15, 2016 / 8:27 pm

    At Killington the Superstar Express lift has Poma chairs and grips, but Snowshed Express appears to still have the original Yan chairs and grips. The Summit and Golden Express lifts at Pico appear to have the original Yan chairs and grips as well.

    Like

  3. Cameron March 15, 2016 / 10:22 pm

    Nice article Peter!

    Like

  4. Chip March 15, 2016 / 10:44 pm

    The Snowshed, Golden and Summit Express lifts have the original Yan chairs retrofitted with Poma grips.

    Like

  5. RMurphy March 15, 2016 / 11:44 pm

    Great article. It was nice to have the table showing what happened to all 31 lifts.

    Like

  6. tingwald March 21, 2016 / 2:25 pm

    Awesome article Peter. Wish there were more photos of pre-retrofit YAN HSQs around. An interesting/sad period in ropeway tech for sure.

    Like

  7. Jerry March 21, 2016 / 6:37 pm

    I was at Killington over the weekend. Chip is right the Snowshed Express quad has Poma grips and the original Yan chairs.

    Like

  8. Collin March 22, 2016 / 3:47 pm

    I wonder why they couldn’t have used the Pol-X-West grips on all the lifts, or something similar that worked in the SA.d terminals. It would’ve saved the resorts millions of dollars if they only had to replace grips and not replace all of the line gear and terminal machinery. Did those grips have problems too? All the lifts they got them are gone now.

    Like

    • Peter Landsman March 22, 2016 / 7:50 pm

      My understanding is at Whistler there were more problems than just the grips. When Sun Valley decided to replace all seven of their HSQ’s, they were concerned not only about Yan’s ability to deliver new grips on time but also public perception after Teller and Quicksilver.

      Like

  9. Philip Keeve October 12, 2016 / 1:27 am

    I’d be curious to see/read more about the gondola at Keystone and the QMC tram at June in addition to these.

    On another note, I always hated riding the Great Escape Express at Schweitzer. And it nearly threw some family and friends off of it in 2007 on an emergency stop.

    Like

  10. m November 1, 2016 / 11:01 am

    Hi
    Friends and dear colleagues in the form of interest to the system YAN can from this page see below.
    engineering-rope-way

    Like

  11. Mo November 1, 2016 / 12:12 pm

    Friends and dear colleagues in the form of interest to the system YAN can from this page see below.
    engineering-rope-way

    Like

    • Doppelmayr FTW! November 1, 2016 / 12:39 pm

      where is this lift?

      Like

  12. M s November 1, 2016 / 12:14 pm

    Like

  13. Mo November 1, 2016 / 12:16 pm

    Like

  14. Max Hart December 28, 2016 / 8:18 pm

    Here’s a video I just stumbled upon on youtube of a Yan detachable located in Spain WITH ORIGINAL GRIPS, SHEAVES, AND TERMINALS, as well as the towers. The Chairs have been replaced.

    Like

  15. kris April 29, 2017 / 2:41 pm

    Thanks for this interesting blog article, Yan lifts with all their unconventional engineering wee always very fascinating for me.

    Since I came across it, and for those interested, I made a tiny documentation about the Yan chairlift in Isfahan / Iran:

    https://www.bergbahnen.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=2278

    Like

  16. Jeff Lynne August 29, 2017 / 10:48 pm

    One thing I am confused about is why Yan didn’t build any lifts in 1995. If the big accident was in 1996, wouldn’t they’ve kept making lifts until then?

    Like

  17. Andy August 30, 2017 / 4:57 am

    The Whistler YAN accident was Dec 23, 1995. I will let others in the industry make statements about why no YAN high speed quads were build in the summer of 1995.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Steve Roebke March 3, 2018 / 5:18 pm

    Fun reading, I worked on Sierra’s replacement on the electrical, the Yan’s were 600 volt and the Doppylmeyers were 480.

    Like

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