First Look at Big Sky’s Powder Seeker Six and Challenger 2.0

Powder Seeker will be the Rockies’ first six-passenger chairlift with bubbles and heated seats when it debuts this winter.

Lone Peak is a happening place this November as crews from Doppelmayr USA and Big Sky Resort work to finish not one, but two of America’s largest new lifts this year.  I’ve been following these projects since April, when the aging Lone Peak triple and Challenger double chairlifts were torn down to make way for new versions that will greet lucky guests when the snow flies.  Mike Unruh, Director of Mountain Operations at Big Sky, kindly gave me a sneak peak of the shiny new lifts today.

Powder Seeker

A six-pack dubbed Powder Seeker is the new the crown jewel of Big Sky’s 26-lift fleet, with blue bubbles, heated seats and headrests.  Servicing the above treeline terrain in the Bowl, Powder Seeker is just over 2,600′ long with 14 towers and an 823′ vertical rise.  With a 6.1 meter line gauge and 45 mm haul rope, it should be able to spin through all but the harshest Montana winds.  In addition to a chair parking rail that will eventually be enclosed, the Uni-G-M stations feature tire banks that can raise hydraulically to park chairs.  Thirty-one carriers will go on the line initially; Big Sky also bought two spares and can add more as as needed.

The lower station features Chairkit gates, 90-degree loading, an AC prime mover, Doppelmayr-Lohmann gearbox and two Cummins diesel backups.  The seat heating system can be seen in the pictures above with yellow charging rails and black contacts attached to the DT grips.  Another cool feature is a headset in the motor room connected to the lift’s phone system so that mechanics will be able to hear communications, like a helicopter pilot can.

The Powder Seeker top station houses its hydraulic tension unit and a large lift house that will be shared with Ski Patrol.  The building is angled so operators get an unobstructed view down the lift line and of the ramp.  This sounds like a no-brainer but you’d be surprised how bad the sight lines are in many lift shacks out there.  A lot of thought has gone into the design of this lift, from the improved terminal locations to maintenance access and even the paint scheme.

Powder Seeker’s first bubble chair took a lap yesterday and the rest are ready to go any day now off the parking rail.  After final wiring and terminal alignment, it’s on to load test, likely next week.  Mike showed me the wall of foam and plastic he has staged to protect the seat heating elements during testing!


The 1,672′ vertical Challenger triple features many of the same thoughtful design elements as Powder Seeker with Chairkit gates, custom operator houses and new terminal locations.  A loading carpet at the Tristar drive station will enable the fixed-grip lift to run 25 percent faster than the original Challenger.

Construction is a little behind where Powder Seeker is but the sand line is strung and the haul rope and comm line will be pulled any day now.  Chairs are on site and wiring ongoing.

Both Powder Seeker and Challenger will be welcome additions serving the heart of Big Sky’s vast terrain with the latest in lift technology.  This $10 million investment marks the first step in a ten-year capital plan called Big Sky 2025.  Thanks to Mike Unruh and Chelsi Moy from Big Sky for showing me around!

15 thoughts on “First Look at Big Sky’s Powder Seeker Six and Challenger 2.0

  1. skidude22 November 11, 2016 / 11:45 pm

    How do you get to all of these places at the right time?


  2. Mike Turley November 12, 2016 / 1:11 am

    How is the line gauge & haul rope size gonna help these huge bubbles spin thru Montana winds ?


  3. Doppelmayr FTW! November 12, 2016 / 8:16 am

    Great post! these lifts are sweet!


  4. tjskiloaf17 November 12, 2016 / 4:21 pm

    Uni-G M?


    • Peter Landsman November 12, 2016 / 4:25 pm

      The Uni-G comes in three lengths. M=Medium. On second look, the top terminal is actually a Uni-G-S. There’s less space up there and no need for a long tension carriage on a 2,600′ lift.


      • Doppelmayr FTW! November 13, 2016 / 12:52 pm

        there is actually a fourth size, the XL series( like on the centennial chondola)


  5. skidude22 November 12, 2016 / 5:22 pm

    Why is Powder Seeker using DT grips rather than Agamatic?


    • Peter Landsman November 12, 2016 / 5:30 pm

      Probably because Swifty, Southern Comfort and Lewis & Clark already use the DT-104. Also every lift Doppelmayr has built in the US and Canada with heated seats uses DT grips.


  6. Alex Melton November 13, 2016 / 10:06 am

    seems like an expensive lift for such a short climb


    • Doppelmayr FTW! November 13, 2016 / 10:36 am

      indeed but it is just the beginning! And if you’ve ever seen European lifts, like in ischgl, they have two six pack bubble chairs with heated seats running side by side up a similar length to this one. I don’t know about you but having that attitude towards lifts sounds awesome to bring here to the US


  7. powderforever21 August 21, 2019 / 4:20 pm

    Since this has a Uni GS Terminal as its top, can it not spin as fast as a six pack that has a Uni GM Terminal?


    • Collin Parsons August 21, 2019 / 4:54 pm

      Top speed is the same at 1000 feet per minute.


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