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.”

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.

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.



99 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!!!


    • 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.


      • Will Partridge March 12, 2022 / 4:18 am

        Interesting. How many did you find, just one? If so any idea where the rest are? Probably somewhere around Whistler if they still exist.


      • liftnerd May 25, 2023 / 3:39 pm

        Peter, do you have any other pictures of the stored Quicksilver and SV Yans? If so, would you please post them?


  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.


    • Walker Boardman June 5, 2021 / 2:02 pm

      No Yan retrofit maintains the original rubber spring grips. They are all TB-41 for Poma retrofits and DT-104 for Doppelmayr retrofits. Some chairs did not need to be replaced (in the case of Summit, Golden and Snowshed Expresses) while some did need to be replaced like on the Superstar Express, which received Poma Omega chairs.


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

    Nice article Peter!


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

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


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

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


  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.


  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.


  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.


    • 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.


  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.


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

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


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

      where is this lift?


  11. 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.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. 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:



  13. 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?

    Liked by 2 people

  14. 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

  15. 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.


    • pbropetech June 6, 2021 / 8:05 am

      I heard somewhere that the YAN detaches had locomotive motors as their prime movers. Would that explain the 600-volt power supply? I don’t know much at all about locomotives’ drive systems aside from the fact that they’re diesel-electric.


      • Kirk June 6, 2021 / 8:12 am

        That’s true. The DC motors came from Texas. High torque low rpm motors. All new locomotives are AC Drives now.


        • Steven M Roebke June 7, 2021 / 2:46 pm

          Yep, 600 volt DC drives. We worked on the rebuilds of three Yan’s at Sierra at Tahoe and had to add conductors going to 480 volt.


      • liftnerd May 23, 2023 / 6:14 pm

        How did they adapt horizontal-axis traction motors, designed to be squeezed into the locomotive’s trucks, to a vertical-axis bullwheel?


        • Steven Roebke May 23, 2023 / 8:30 pm

          The Yan HSQ at Sierra Ski Ranch had 600 VDC drives, adapted from locomotive motors. Very reliable and probably cheep.


        • liftnerd May 24, 2023 / 8:08 am

          That is a good idea, the technology had been around since at least the 1920s.


        • pbropetech May 24, 2023 / 6:54 am

          I would guess they were tipped on end.


        • Kirk May 24, 2023 / 5:56 pm

          The electric motors were vertical. The motor drove the first stage planetary of the double planetary gearbox, no ring & pinion angle reducer. Maybe the 1985 first attempt towards the Direct Drive??


        • pbropetech May 24, 2023 / 9:19 pm

          Certainly sounds that way. I should throw that into my class tomorrow as we’re discussing prime movers :) My students would get a kick out of that.

          Liked by 1 person

      • liftnerd May 29, 2023 / 8:11 am

        How does one pronounce Janek Kunczynski’s last name?


        • Michael May 29, 2023 / 11:24 am

          I always pronounced it ‘Kun chin ski’. He never game me sh*t about it…


    • Kai Glidden November 7, 2018 / 7:01 pm

      Just watched the whole thing! Thanks for sharing Collin!


  16. V3 March 27, 2019 / 9:45 pm

    According to our french brethren the last Skyrail/Yan detachable quad, La Roca, will be replaced with a six pack this summer.

    Liked by 1 person

    • themav March 28, 2019 / 8:29 pm

      Considering that the chairs fell off in classic Yan detach failure fashion, this isn’t a surprise. What is a surprise is that it lasted this long. Considering Lift Engineering was an American company, it’s kind of surprising they have an installation in Europe.

      Liked by 1 person

      • magicwizard423 May 23, 2023 / 7:37 pm

        I don’t understand why this lift lasted so long ! But like it was predictible a chair fell off and the Last Yan with & grips is now gone.


  17. Mark October 2, 2019 / 6:19 am

    My huge question is what the YAN Gondolas that lived very short lives at Keystone and Squaw Valley looked like and what their specs were. I believe they were both built in 1984 and replaced in 1985 by a VonRoll and Poma gondola respectively, with 6 person cabins and the usual statistics. 1984 and before were interesting for detachable lifts because 1985 was when things got arguably modern in terms of specs and design.

    I remember reading an archived newspaper about how the quick replacement of the Squaw Valley YAN Gondola caused a falling out between Jan Kunczynski and the owners of Squaw Valley.


  18. Mountaineer November 25, 2019 / 2:27 pm

    “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.”
    Unfortunately that’s not correct. LE built 15 detachable chairlifts with “Yan 11” grips and 23 with “Yan 7” grips. The lift in Spain was equipped with Yan 11 grips as well as six LE chairs in Japan.


    • Paul Manafort November 26, 2019 / 11:26 am

      I’m really curious about the the Yan detachables in Japan. When did the last one get removed?


      • kiroro November 26, 2019 / 12:19 pm

        was it 6 ya high speed or was it 4 high speeds and 2 fixed grips


        • Mountaineer November 27, 2019 / 5:44 am

          6 HSQ named Short and Long at Kitz Meadows (today called Sun Meadows), Taro 2 and Davos at Sugadaira, #2 at Takasu and #6 at Tsumagoi plus one fixed double at Kitz Meadows.

          Liked by 1 person

      • kiroro December 8, 2019 / 4:42 pm

        the same company mitsubshi also made garaventa quad chairs, how many garaventa quad did they make in japan?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Mountaineer December 10, 2019 / 12:20 pm

        They were all gone by the late 90s.


  19. kiroro November 26, 2019 / 12:18 pm

    Can I see pictures of the Japanese yan high-speed quads and all six of them


    • skier72 December 2, 2020 / 5:30 pm


      • Bob July 26, 2022 / 9:35 pm

        Interesting that the bottom picture seems to have the Yan Pentagon chairs, like the ones on J6 at June Mountain. Was that lift new, or relocated from somewhere else? I thought J6 was the only Yan detachable with that style of chairs.


  20. kiroro November 27, 2019 / 12:39 pm

    is there a picture of sugadaria kogens yan chair


    • kiroro November 27, 2019 / 12:40 pm

      if there is put a link on the comment


  21. kiroro November 27, 2019 / 12:48 pm

    because I saw pictures of Kitz Meadows, Takasu, Tsumagoi but I never even seen a picture of Sugadaira Kogen yan quad


  22. Brady December 6, 2019 / 1:32 pm

    The new La Roca chairlift in Spain is a Leitner high speed quad, and it opened today! Capacity is around 2,400 pph.


  23. conradmward January 29, 2020 / 7:39 pm

    According to Kunczynski’s LinkedIn, Yan built “close to 1,000 arial tramways in 11 countries.” I’d be curious what other countries besides US, Canada, France, Japan, and maybe Iran are. Also be curious if they actually got close to 1,000 or if that’s just salesmanship.


    • MOUNTAINEER January 30, 2020 / 11:57 am

      Your list is missing three other countries: Chile (2 lifts: 1 tramway and 1 platter), Poland (1 quad) and Spain (1 hsq). The installations in Iran are relocations.


  24. randomguyu February 9, 2021 / 11:14 am

    it would be cool to see what yan would have done if they didn’t go out of business.

    Liked by 1 person

    • skitheeast February 9, 2021 / 12:24 pm

      The biggest thing Yan did was drive down the price of chairlifts, as they were quite often the cheapest option and forced the rest of the market to compete. To compare relatively similar detachable quads, Yan charged Sunday River $1.5 million to build Barker in 1987 (about $3.5 million today with inflation). In the past couple of years, Doppelmayr has charged Stratton and Saddleback about $7 million each to build Snow Bowl Express and Rangeley, respectively. These prices are what enabled mountains like Sunday River to afford massive expansions in the late 80s/early 90s and Sun Valley to afford seven high-speed quads in seven years. These days, Doppelmayr and LPA can offer only premium features with high margins due to the lack of low-end competition in the detachable market.


      • Utah Powder Skier February 9, 2021 / 12:28 pm

        Doesn’t Skytrac have plans to build detachables? Supposedly they bid against Leitner-Poma for Nordic Express.


        • Tyler February 9, 2021 / 12:39 pm

          Leitner-Poma bought SkyTrac a few years ago, so whatever plans they might have had to build detachables would have been taken over by L-P


        • Donald Reif February 9, 2021 / 12:48 pm

          Because of that, they’re where Letiner-Poma does all the detachable projects, while fixed-grip lifts are split between Leitner-Poma and Skytrac. (Gore’s new fixed grip quads this year were split, with one being entirely Leitner-Poma and the other being Skytrac with Leitner-Poma towers)


        • magicwizard423 May 23, 2023 / 7:42 pm

          Now there’s MND Ropeways that built a first HSS at Waterville Valley.

          Matbe Partek one day wil go bigger and try to develop detachables.


    • Ben Eminger May 19, 2021 / 9:56 pm

      Kinda crazy to think that all the Yan Doppelmayr & Poma retrofits are actually still in place today, the two at Mammoth almost went away, but they seem to have gone another direction.

      Liked by 1 person

  25. Ryan June 8, 2021 / 3:21 am

    I really do wish Yan would have been successful with the HSQs. They earned a lot of respect for their fixed griped lifts, and they knew how to sell them. I was a bit jealous as a boy back in the 80s seeing Yan/LE lifts all over the place up in Park City and Deer Valley, Alta, and then coming to Colorado and finding even more of them at Loveland, Copper, , Keystone, and A-Basin, and the 5 at Winter Park and the ones at my favorite in Colorado, Steamboat. Then I skiied in California. GOOD GRIEF! Yans all over the place! I was jealous. I wanted to see more of the lifts that I grew up learning to ski on, the ones i felt comfortable on and liked the ride on, which were mainly the Thiokols, CTEC, and the 2 Stadeli twins at Snowbasin. And then.. I discovered the joy of riding on brands that I had not yet been on. Namely Riblet, & Heron Poma and Hall. And it was fun discovering that those were like. I avoided YAN lifts when I could but as I grew up and matured, I realized that they were actually great solid lifts and looked pretty good. And when I talked to a Liftie who told me they were easier to work on vs many others out there, and they held up well overall, I humbled myself and realized YAN/LE knew something about making lifts. But when it comes to going the route of HSQ.. some mistakes happened that should not have happened and likely would not have happened if they would have taken more time for R&D and testing. They took a gamble to try to get out ahead of what Doppie, CTEC/VonRoll, and Poma were going to be bringing to the table, and already were in some areas.. and it bit them in the ass in a way they could not recover from. Such a shame. I know have deep respect when I ride and see a Yan lift.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. skier72 November 15, 2021 / 11:13 am

    Fun fact: The Iranian company that bought all the yan detachables in Silver Star and Lake Louise partially installed another Yan detachable chairlift in Iran. All the towers and terminals are up, but the project looks like it is perminantly halted.


    • Mountaineer November 15, 2021 / 12:18 pm

      The lift was installed on the northern slopes of the Sabalan next to the Shabil Hot Mineral Spring (38.325578, 47.846921). Due to Covid and the economic situation in Iran, the lift couldn’t be completed.

      It’s also in this video at 1:52:

      And the top terminal at 6:28:


        • liftnerd May 25, 2023 / 3:37 pm

          Does that company have the rest of the Yans in storage?


  27. moein sharifi November 27, 2021 / 2:15 pm

    For more information on the fate of chairlift yan equipment in Iran , visit Instagram



  28. Bob July 26, 2022 / 9:49 pm

    Does anybody have any close-ups of the original Yan detachable grips or the Pol-X-West grips?


    • kiroro July 29, 2022 / 10:07 am

      link does not work unfortunately


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