Giants Ridge is about to tackle its aging lifts problem with a huge grant from Minnesota’s state economic development agency. Last Tuesday, the Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) approved $5.7 million to buy new detachable and fixed-grip quad chairlifts for the 200-acre mountain resort it owns. Giants Ridge’s fleet of five Riblet chairlifts and a Borvig J-Bar date back to 1984, 1987 and 1997. As with hundreds of other small American ski areas, Giants Ridge’s lifts are orphaned, meaning the original manufacturer is no longer in business. Tram Support, Inc. still supplies parts for Riblet lifts but the fact remains that many of these lifts have exceeded their useful life. Giants Ridge Executive Director Linda Johnson told the board, “the company that made our lifts is no longer in business. We can be down for hours and skiers are longing for a high-speed lift experience.”
The IRRRB’s mission is “to promote and invest in business, community and workforce development for the betterment of northeastern Minnesota, providing vital funding, including low or no interest loans and grants for businesses relocating or expanding in the region.” The board bought Giants Ridge outright in 1984 to enhance the quality of life and create jobs for the people of the Iron Range. This news is a win-win for a ski operation that generates an estimated $43 million in community economic impact each year. Of course, not everyone is happy about the government owning a ski area that’s lost more than $40 million. There is a middle ground, however, between government ownership of ski areas and private mountains going out of business. The National Ski Areas Association is currently at work on an initiative urging governments to provide low- or no-interest loans to ski areas investing in infrastructure such as the replacement of older lifts. It’s really no different than state governments providing economic incentives for manufacturing plants or call centers.
The new Calgary Express high speed quad at Giants Ridge will reduce a 5.6 minute ride to 2.3 minutes. A fixed-grip quad will replace a second lift but it’s unclear which one (educated guess is the Helsinki double.) Both new lifts will be completed by November 2017 and there’s no word yet who will build them.