With a helicopter flying towers this week and Austrian-built chairs arriving, skiers are just a few months away from riding America’s most technologically advanced chairlift in the bowl at Big Sky Resort. Featuring blue bubbles, heated seats, headrests and innovative footrests, Big Sky will be the first public ski resort in North America to get Doppelmayr’s six-passenger CS10 chair (the private Hermitage Club in Vermont got them last year.) The yet-to-be-named Lone Peak lift will initially feature 33 flying couches with footrests between riders’ legs to prevent children from falling. These chairs are the latest and greatest from Doppelmayr and will be used on future lifts built over the next ten years as part of Big Sky 2025.
Brian Jorgenson from Timberline Helicopters began flying 12 lift towers on Sunday and will haul the rest later this week. The same Black Hawk will also set 17 towers for the new Challenger lift, a Doppelmayr triple chair. Wind stopped Brian from flying around lunchtime yesterday (and today it’s snowing) but both projects are on schedule thanks to the hard work of Big Sky’s mountain operations team, the Doppelmayr USA crew and their contractors.
The new bowl lift will dramatically improve upon the old Lone Peak Triple, cutting a 6.2 minute ride to just three minutes. The triple chair opened in 1973 and was among two remaining lifts from the Chet Huntley era. Challenger and Lone Peak are the first all-new lifts built at Big Sky since 2005 and hopefully the first of many upgrades and additions. Capacity in the bowl will remain the same at first – 1,800 skiers per hour – with the ability to upgrade the six-pack to 3,200 pph in the future. Thirty-three six-place chairs running 985 feet per minute will move the same number of skiers as the old lift did with 122 triple chairs! The bowl lift is designed for 26 chairs to be added as needed for an eventual total of 59.
I got a sneak peak of the new chairs that just arrived from Austria and they look incredibly comfortable – even cushier than the Orange Bubble Express or the Tee Pee Town LX chairs – with higher backs and dividers between seats. The CS10 footrests are lower-profile and the first of their kind in North America. I asked Director of Mountain Operations Mike Unruh about Big Sky’s decision to go with a six-pack with premium chairs over a traditional high speed quad. He said the decision stemmed from “a desire to offer our guests the best lifts possible.”
Big Sky’s bowl lift will join just four others in North America that feature heated seats at the Hermitage Club, Vermont; Park City, Utah; Okemo, Vermont and Sunshine Village, Alberta. Doppelmayr and Leitner-Poma have built hundreds of such lifts in Europe since 2004. It’s worth noting that Leitner-Poma offers the Leitner Premium Chair with leather seats to compete with Doppelmayr’s CS10.
The new Lone Peak lift will feature contour loading in an improved location and significantly more space at the unload underneath the tram line. “It’s all about space and ease of access,” says Mike Unruh. “The lift will have 90 degree loading with load gates and guests will be able to exit right or left after getting off the chair.” He also told me they’ve created a couple more runs in the bowl that will be groomed using winch cats this winter. The drive station at the base will have parking for the bubble chairs and an indoor storage and maintenance facility will be constructed next summer.
The Big Sky 2025 website proclaims Boyne Resorts is “Creating the American Alps” in southwest Montana. Even the operator houses for the new lifts will mark a departure from the past with modern designs and updated finishes. The state-of-the-art bowl lift, designed and built largely in Austria, begins the 2025 vision serving some of the finest above-treeline skiing in America with the best lift money can buy.