Talking Wire Austin with Designer Jared Ficklin


Jared Ficklin and Michael McDaniel are co-creators of The Wire, a brand and concept for urban gondolas in what Forbes calls America’s next big boom town.  Designers by trade, they began speaking about their vision to tech conferences and business groups in 2012, leading to a TED Talk in early 2013.  If the lifts in Zillertal, Austria can move up to seven million people a day, they asked, why haven’t gondolas entered the transportation picture in our densest landscapes?  The presentation was enthusiastically received and Jared gave it a second time at TEDx Kansas City in 2013 to a crowd of more than 4,000.  Three years later, Jared and the team at argodesign are at work on a plan for Austin’s first line, Wire One. This week, Jared graciously answered my questions about the project and what comes next.

Peter: How did your background as a designer shape your vision for urban cable in Austin? 
Jared: First it gave me access to amazing people like Michael McDaniel and the whole group of other designers that worked on the original Wire Vision for Austin at frog design. It also gives me more designers here at argodesign that are working on the current vision for the first pilot line in Austin, Wire One.  It takes a group of designers to come up with something like The Wire, there has been many who contributed, they are all awesome.
Product design is my specialty and really good product design figures out how a technology seamlessly improves the lives of those using it.  By contrast, often it seems modern transportation planning begins with a technology looking for a place to be, followed by hoping users will make use of it.  As product designers, we came to urban cable from an experiential point of view arrived at using the tools of Design Research & Experience Based Design.  After talking to users (people driving around the city) we saw that urban cable is a technology that matches closely the transportation experience Austinites and others in the U.S. are looking to have.  Most importantly, urban cable with its unique fitment into the second story and ability to span obstacles can achieve routes people actually want to use.  It does this without displacing routes they currently use.  We call this principle of doubling the carrying capacity of a route Additive Supply.  Culturally, urban cable also offers the personal space and quiet environment people said they would be comfortable in while allowing them to maintain their habits of transportation on demand (also known as not wanting to follow schedules.)  By starting with the experience the rider is looking for, we hope to drive adoption and avoid unrealistic costs per rider that ultimately burden the community.  I believe the most expensive form of mass transit you can build is the one that nobody uses.
Being a designer has given me a chance to work professionally on feasibility studies in partnership with Engineering Specialties Group and others.  The experience of studying system feasibility have greatly clarified the current vision for The Wire.  This will sound like a plug, but I mean it as advice to those undertaking this design and engineering challenge.  Combining the skills of design research & product design with the traditional skills of architecture and engineering is a great mix for designing systems.  That mix can bring to bear a full arsenal of knowledge allowing one to really study routing, ridership, cost & experience in very detailed fashion.   Anyone doing any kind of transportation feasibility should seek out design researchers and really talk to users from a product standpoint.  The end results of system deployments will improve.
Peter: Cities in South America, Europe and Asia have urban cable operating today. Which example globally is most similar to The Wire proposal?
Jared: Medellín, Caracas or La Paz.  All are purpose-built as mass transit to connect neighborhoods with the city center.  They leverage the ability to utilize eminent domain in the least intrusive manner to gain the most benefit per dollar on routes that have a meaningful impact.  They considered cultural impact in their design yielding adoption and ridership.  These are all things we have envisioned The Wire to have in Austin.

Continue reading

Sunday River to Build New Lift on Spruce Peak

Sunday River announced this morning a $2.1 million Doppelmayr fixed-grip triple will replace the Spruce Peak triple, where a terminal literally fell over last month.   Willis MountainGuard and Boyne Resorts deemed the lift a loss after suspected grout failure sent the top station sliding from the bedrock it was anchored to the weekend of July 9th.  The 1986 Borvig triple was Sunday River’s second oldest lift and the new version will re-use its new Chairkit loading conveyor.  Doppelmayr will also replace the top terminal of Sunday River’s other Borvig triple on Locke Mountain.

added trail_hollywood

Exactly when the new lift will open is unclear.  Doppelmayr already has a packed summer building 17 lifts across the US and Canada.  In the meantime, most of Spruce Peak can be accessed from the Chondola and Aurora lifts.

This is far from the first (and won’t be the last) late-season lift replacement after unexpected disaster.  On June 11, 2012, a wildfire burned through Ski Apache in New Mexico, damaging two chairlifts and a gondola.  The Native American tribe that owns the mountain announced a $15 million deal with Doppelmayr on September 5th and three new lifts were completed by January.

Continue reading

British Columbia Approves up to 16 Lifts at Valemount Glacier


Oberto Oberti is a man who doesn’t give up.  Less than two months after the province of British Columbia revoked authorization to build his controversial Jumbo Glacier Resort, Mr. Oberti won approval today to build a 12,000-acre ski resort in the Premier Mountains west of Jasper. The resort’s master plan lays out 16 lifts surrounding Mt. Pierre Trudeau, named for the father of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.  Mr. Oberti’s storied history in Canadian skiing includes designing Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, building resort hotels in Whistler and proposing Jumbo Glacier.

The lift layout envisions building 4 gondolas, 8 quad chairlifts and 4 T-Bars over ten years.

Valemount Glacier could eventually rise 7,415 vertical feet with the only lift-served, year-round glacier skiing on the continent.  Its vertical drop would be third longest in the world, rivaled only by Zermatt and Chamonix. Total acreage could reach 12,348, nearly twice the size of the new Park City.  “You have to picture this as a series of gondolas on mountains, one after another,” Mr. Oberti’s son Tommaso told Business Vancouver today.  “Each mountain is taller than the preceding one.”  Lifts could reach an elevation of 10,515 feet – 1,500 feet higher than Canada’s current loftiest lift at Sunshine Village.

Continue reading

News Roundup: Commonwealth

Grand Targhee Begins Construction of Blackfoot Quad

Blackfoot looks to be getting Doppelmayr’s Tristar drive station.

Last time I stopped by Grand Targhee, I could still ski down Chief Joseph Bowl as the Blackfoot double was being deconstructed to make way for a new Doppelmayr quad chair.   Three months later, workers have finished removing the last of the old Riblet and prepped both station locations for modern terminals.  The new Blackfoot will move up to 1,800 skiers per hour 1,200 vertical feet in seven minutes.  When completed, Grand Targhee will operate four Doppelmayr and CTEC quad lifts, all built after 1996, with a third high speed quad coming soon.

Re-bar for towers staged near the bottom of Blackfoot.

The new Blackfoot will start a little higher up and further north, though it’s tough to tell where the old base stood with how much dirt has been moved.  The new top station is just about in the same spot as the previous one.  Lots of rock is getting pushed to make a large unload area in place of the steep wooden ramp at top of Blackfoot since 1974.  This week Doppelmayr is tying re-bar for towers and both terminals.  The project is still in its beginning stages but will ramp up over as concrete gets poured and steel arrives this fall.

Tower 1 ready to be poured adjacent to the drive station.

Continue reading

Instagram Tuesday: Euro Cities

Every Tuesday, we pick our favorite Instagram photos from around the lift world.

View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Ma(yve)n (@occipitalcreations) on

Continue reading

Powder Mountain Plans Two New Lifts for Winter 2016-17

Lefty’s Canyon from near the summit of Hidden Lake with the new Powder Mountain Village under construction earlier this summer.  The Village Lift will rise through the trees in the center-right of this photo.

Powder Mountain will build new lifts in Mary’s Bowl and Lefty’s Canyon this fall if all goes according to plans filed with Weber County last month.  The Village lift will be a Skytrac fixed-grip quad with a design capacity of 2,000 pph and line speed of 450 fpm.  It will be 3,680′ long with a vertical rise of 582′, 105 chairs and 14 towers.  A second lift called Mary’s will serve the other side of the new Summit Powder Mountain Village and top out near the Sunrise Platter.  Design details for this lift have not yet been filed with the county but it will be similar in length and vertical to Village.  “The plan is to have them open to the public and operating for this ski season,” Summit Powder Mountain COO Jeff Werbelow told the Ogden Standard-Examiner.  Both lifts will be located entirely on private land but still must pass design review with Weber County.  Future plans call for a third lift called Lefty’s linking the bottom of Village to the top of Sunrise.

New runs and skier bridges have already been completed in Lefty’s Canyon.
The new lifts will be behind the current ski area, not visible on Powder Mountain's current trail map.
The new lifts will be behind the current ski area in areas not visible on Powder Mountain’s current trail map.

Skytrac will also build a new quad chair at Christmas Mountain Village, Wisconsin this fall, bringing the company to seven new lifts for 2016.  Combined with Leitner-Poma, that makes 18 new lift projects in North America compared with 17 for Doppelmayr thus far. You can see a full rundown of  new lifts for 2016 here.

Venezuela Opening Record-Breaking Aerial Tramways to 15,633′

Four Garaventa tramways ascending more than 10,000 vertical feet are set to open in Sierra Nevada National Park, Venezuela.  Photo credit: El Estímulo

The highest, longest and most expensive aerial tramway system in the world will open this month at the Sierra Nevada National Park in Northwestern Venezuela. Teleférico de Mérida, as it’s known in Spanish, is really four separate jig-backs built in series totaling a crazy 40,735 linear feet with a vertical rise of 10,464 feet.  Garaventa won a contract in 2011 to replace ropeways built along a similar route in the 1950s that closed down due to safety concerns in 2008.  The world-leader in tramways spent the last four years building four lifts that would each be notable but combine to form an unparalleled 7.8-mile journey from the town of Mérida to 15,633-foot Pico Espejo.  Of note, the world record for the longest tramway in a single section still belongs to the 3.5-mile Wings of Tatev, also built by Garaventa and completed in 2010.

The original trams and visitor center fell into disrepair and closed in 2008 after 48 years of operation in a high-alpine environment.  Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons

The four original ropeways at Mérida were built by Haeckel of Germany and Habbeger of Switzerland and opened in March 1960.  Interestingly, both of those companies came under ownership VonRoll and later the Doppelmayr Garaventa Group.  Seven 36-passenger cars carried riders to Pico Espejo until 2008, when Doppelmayr advised the Venezuelan government the tramways had reached the end of their useful life and needed to be replaced. The Venezuela Ministry of Tourism, which owns Teleférico de Mérida, opted to invest $468 million towards modern tramways and all-new facilities.

The original fourth section was a single-haul tramway built by Habegger and opened in 1960.  Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons

Continue reading

News Roundup: South America

This is an open thread.  Feel free to leave a comment on anything lift-related.

Instagram Tuesday: CWA Omega

Every Tuesday, we pick our favorite Instagram photos from around the lift world.

Continue reading