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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Highland Mountain Bike Park is closed this week as crews reinforce a 1987 Borvig triple top terminal foundation, surely as a result of the Sunday River Spruce Peak incident. The bike park, which is no longer a ski resort in the winter, hopes to re-open tomorrow.
- At Sunday River, Spruce Peak’s haul rope has reportedly been cut. Its sister lift, the 1984 Borvig Locke Mountain triple had its rope removed from the top bullwheel.
- Cardrona Alpine Resort in New Zealand will build a Doppelmayr 6/8 chondola for next season.
- Splicer Bill Alsup died last Tuesday in a crane accident at the age of 78. He started working for Poma in 1959, ran the Poma distributorship in Vermont for more than 25 years and was also an Indy Car driver.
- Steamboat inches towards two new gondolas.
- Leitner-Poma of America is designing the huge gondola from Queenstown to The Remarkables that would have three stations, 80 towers and cost approximately $36 million.
- Italy’s first heated-seat chairlift will be an 8-pack.
- Ski Magic, LLC signs purchase agreement for Magic Mountain and will immediately begin work required by the Vermont Passenger Tramway Board to make lifts operational. First priority is the Pohlig triple chair that’s sat idle the past two seasons. Geoff Hathaway, President of the new ownership group commented, “it was either Magic or Whistler Blackcomb. I think we got the better deal.”
- Aspenites continue to argue over the placement of 1A’s new lower terminal.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 White River National Forest conditionally approves new lifts at Arapahoe Basin including a Beavers chair, Zuma surface lift, replacements for Molly Hogan/Pallavicini and removal of Norway.
- The Science Channel profiles the Palm Springs Tramway, which has the largest vertical rise of any lift in North America.
- Two more American urban gondola ideas pop up: Uptown Gondola in Cincinnati and Honolulu Aerial.
- Austrian ski pass merger creates a ticket valid for a record 925 lifts.
- Dubai will get a gondola to serve a $1.6 billion artificial peninsula called Blue Waters Island.
- China reverse-engineers the Doppelmayr Uni-G, with poor results.
- A consortium led by Poma beats out Doppelmayr in the bidding to build a two-stage urban gondola over water in Guayaquil, Ecuador with a second line in the works.
- South America now makes up 17 percent of Doppelmayr’s global revenue, approximately equal to North America.
- Peru’s President recently visited the ancient fortress of Kuelap, where Poma is 90 percent finished with a new 8-passenger gondola. The only problem? The haul rope hasn’t been installed yet. So crews slung cabins from towers for the Presidential photo-op to make it look closer to being done!
- 2017-18 reopening of The Balsams is an open question.
- Burke Mountain Academy will buy a T-Bar to replace the 1956 Mountain Poma at Vermont’s Burke Mountain in 2017.
- Echo Mountain sells to a 27-year old D.U. grad for $3.8 million.
- Jay Peak Resort seeks loan in “extremely tight cash situation” after $2.5 million payment to Doppelmayr/Garaventa for tram upgrades.
- Montana Snowbowl begins work on TV Mountain expansion, to include a used Riblet from Snowmass.
- The Vancouver Sun reveals Vail courted Whistler Blackcomb for months, will cut season pass prices in half.
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