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.

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Instagram Tuesday: Blue Skies

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Three New Quad Chairs for Wilmot Mountain

Vail Resorts announced today it will spend $13 million this summer to modernize Wilmot Mountain, which the company acquired in January. ¬†Improvements include three new quad chairs to replace existing lifts. ¬†Wilmot Mountain currently operates eight chairlifts built by Hall, Borvig and Riblet between 1964 and 1978, meaning upgrades are long overdue. Four chairlifts will be removed, three added and three others overhauled. ¬†The three new quads along with two new carpets will increase Wilmot’s uphill capacity by 45 percent.

“We think our guests from Chicago and Milwaukee will be thrilled with the improvements we are making at Wilmot for the 2016-2017 ski season, which represents one of the biggest transformations ever undertaken for a Midwestern ski area,” said Rob Katz, Chairman and CEO of Vail Resorts. No manufacturer was named, but Vail chose Doppelmayr in 2013 to provide Eco-drive quads as part of a $10 million redevelopment at Mt. Brighton near Detroit. ¬†For those lifts, they re-used quad chairs and towers from retired Doppelmayr lifts at Vail and Beaver Creek.

News Roundup: Gearbox Trouble at Sugarloaf


  • Sugarloaf’s Whiffletree high speed quad (shown above) will be down 1-2 weeks while its gearbox gets rebuilt in Michigan¬†for the second time in six months. ¬†Cone Drive rebuilt the gearbox in question last Fall and it was back in action a mere two months before failing on Saturday. ¬†Whiffletree is a 1997 Garaventa CTEC Stealth detachable at a mountain that’s had¬†more than its fair share of lift setbacks.
  • Doppelmayr’s latest Wir magazine is online. ¬†Some article highlights: the Penkenbahn 3S gondola turns 6.5 degrees mid-line and Park City’s new gondola transitions between two different line gauges.
  • Leitner Ropeways will break ground on a two-stage gondola in Berlin March 26th¬†to serve guests of the city’s 2017 horticultural expo. ¬†Doppelmayr built temporary gondolas at similar expos in 2009 and 2011. ¬†Must be nice to spend millions on lifts for four months of temporary operation! ¬†To be fair,¬†Whistler did something similar¬†for the Olympics.
  • Garaventa crews¬†pulling rope 600 feet above Ha Long Bay¬†but they took some time off to¬†celebrate the Lunar New Year.¬† The world’s largest aerial tramway opens next month.
  • The Telluride-Mountain Village gondola transit system, built by CTEC in 1992,¬†has clocked 100,000¬†hours and elected officials are trying to figure out how to modernize it.

Instagram Tuesday: Powder


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Fixed-Grip Chondola Coming to Anakeesta

Gatlinburg is a national park border town in Tennessee’s Smokey Mountains that attracts more than 11 million visitors annually. ¬†This city with 4,000 local residents already includes Boyne Resorts’ Gatlinburg Sky Lift and the Ober Gatlinburg 120-passenger aerial tramway. Doppelmayr also built a¬†quad chair in 2012 called the Wilderness Mountain Chairlift in nearby Wears Valley. ¬†Anakeesta is a new project that brings two acres of retail to the center of Gatlinburg¬†with a 65-acre mountaintop adventure park rising above. A¬†unique fixed-grip chondola lift will connect Anakeesta Village with the park, dubbed AerialQuest.

anakeesta village

Anakeesta’s developers were kind enough to provide me with a few details on this unique lift. ¬†I initially assumed it would be a pulse gondola system similar to the¬†Iron Mountain Tramway¬†that serves a mountaintop adventure park in Colorado. ¬†Anakeesta’s chondola will be¬†the first lift of its kind to feature chairs and gondola cabins. ¬†I’m pretty sure no one else has done this anywhere in the world on a fixed-grip lift. ¬†In order to accomplish the feat, line speed will be very slow – under 200 feet a minute.¬†¬† The system will be 2,032 feet long with a vertical of 528′ and will take about 12 minutes to ride. ¬†It will have 104 quad chairs with 8 six-passenger gondola cabins carrying a total of 1,000 passengers per hour. Since no¬†contract has been signed, the developer is not quite ready to¬†say which lift company they are contracting with. ¬†But if you know your lifts you can identify the terminal in the drawing above. ¬†Anakeesta will open in 2017, crowning Gatlinburg as the lift capital of the southeast!

News Roundup: BMF Builds a Gondola

Does Your State Have a Tramway Safety Board?

As we saw last week in West Virginia, it usually doesn’t take long after a lift-related accident for¬†someone to bring up the issue of regulation. ¬†Operation of ski lifts and tramways in the United States follows¬†the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) B77.1 Standard for Passenger Ropeways. ¬†ANSI is a non-profit organization that oversees the creation of standards for everything from nut and bolt shapes to paper sizes and computer programming language. ¬†States adopt ANSI standards which become the laws of the land. ¬†The idea¬†is whether you ride a chairlift in Alaska or gondola in Florida, everything from the lift’s line speed to the signage in the load area¬†is spelled out¬†by the same document. ¬†You can¬†download your very own copy here for $175. ¬†Update 9/11/2017: There’s a new standard available here, now $200.

By my count, 21 states have some sort of tramway oversight agency as shown in green.

The ANSI standard is updated about every five years and some states are faster than others at adopting the latest version. ¬†Each state also decides¬†whether to back the B77 standard with licensing and inspections. Without question, the most robust oversight agency in the country is the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board, which oversees¬†Colorado’s 275 aerial lifts and countless surface tows. ¬†Colorado is the only state to go so far as to conduct unannounced inspections on every lift every year. ¬†CPTSB has three full-time staff members and eight contract inspectors. ¬†Only a handful of¬†states directly employ lift inspector(s.) Some states hire contract inspectors like Colorado does but many simply require an annual fee and inspection by somebody¬†certified, usually an insurance inspector. ¬†The bottom of this post has a table of each state’s requirements as best I could find.

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