Tragedy struck yesterday at Granby Ranch, Colorado during what is normally a celebratory week at American ski resorts. A 40-year old woman and her two daughters, ages 9 and 12, fell from a chair on the Quickdraw quad at approximately 9:30 am. Kelly Huber, of San Antonio, Texas died, while one of her children remains in stable condition at a Denver hospital. The older sister was treated and released. In a statement today, the resort noted, “All of us at Granby Ranch are deeply saddened by yesterday’s tragic incident at our resort. We extend our heartfelt condolences to the family of our guests. Our focus right now is on supporting those affected by this tragedy.”
Quickdraw is one of only three Italian-built Leitner detachable chairlifts in the United States, debuting at Granby Ranch in 1999. Leitner and Poma merged their North American operations in 2002. While some reports indicate the lift stopped frequently before the accident, those of us who work around lifts know that is not unusual this time of year and often not due to any mechanical problem. There’s no indication the detachable grip failed and the fourth spot on the chair was apparently empty. Quickdraw’s chairs are equipped with both restraining bars and footrests. The Colorado Passenger Tramway Board is investigating and Quickdraw remained closed today.
According to the NSAA, the last fatal fall from a U.S. chairlift occurred on December 18, 2011 at Sugar Bowl, when a 7-year old boy fell 60 feet. Non-deadly falls are more common, however, with 227 reported in Colorado alone between 2001 and 2012. 86 percent of those were found to be a result of rider error, with 4 percent due to medical problems and just 2 percent attributed to operator/mechanical issues (the rest were never classified.) Yesterday’s accident was the first deadly chairlift fall in Colorado since 2002, with 1.7 billion safe rides in the years between, according to Colorado Ski Country USA.
Nevertheless, as I write this, a family is in mourning and the story occupies the fourth spot on CNN.com. With more holiday weeks to come, let this terrible accident be a reminder that no matter how statistically safe they are, ski lifts can become dangerous in an instant. Already this year, we’ve seen falls from chairs at Mt. Hood Meadows, Seven Springs and Whistler with near misses at Sundance and Mt. Ashland. Many more never make the news. Be safe out there – especially with kids on lifts.
In its home country of France, Poma Ropeways has won a $56 million tender to realize the first 3S gondola designed entirely for public transport. Téléphérique Urbain Sud (South Urban Cable Car) will link two hospitals to Paul Sabatier University in the city of Toulouse. You may know France’s fourth largest city, with 1.2 million inhabitants, as the global headquarters of the Airbus Group.
The gondola’s 1.9 mile route will ascend a 300-foot hill called Pech David before crossing the Garonne waterway. Factors leading to the selection of a 3S over a MGD were the need for long spans between towers (just 5 required instead of 20), the ability to more easily transport wheelchairs/bicycles as well as wind tolerance. Fourteen 35-passenger Sigma Symphony cabins will circulate between three stations with an hourly capacity of 1,500 passengers per direction. At 5 m/s, the system will achieve headways of just 90 seconds and a trip will take ten minutes each way, a 20-minute improvement from today in a car. Like other successful urban gondola projects, riders of the 3S will be able to use existing fare media and easily transfer to and from metro trains or buses. Additional stages are likely to be added to the ends of the new gondola in the future.
Kimberley’s Easter double got new chairs over the summer, the leftovers from Fernie’s new Polar Peak lift and Nakiska before that.
The Nakiska Gold Express saga continues, with 3,000 feet of new rope to be spliced into the haul rope, which is seven years old and was last spliced just two weeks ago. You can watch repairs in real time here.
Jay Peak hopes to have its tram running by Christmas weekend following its own rope problems.
After sustaining damage due to swinging chairs in a windstorm, Schweitzer’s Basin Express will be down for at least the next few days.
Take a virtual tour of the first Doppelmayr D-Line chairlift, Waidoffen, with Direct Drive and solar arrays.
Telluride Ski Resort, which crested 500,000 skier visits for the first time last season and operates 14 chairlifts, released a new master development plan this month aimed at upgrading key lifts and adding a few new ones over the next decade. At opening in 1972, Telluride had just five double chairlifts but now, together with the town of Mountain Village, is home to North America’s largest gondola transit system and one of the most successful destination resorts.
Telski’s last MDP from 1999 included several lift projects that are still approved but not yet completed. Most notably, the Palmyra Basin lift would rise 1,165 vertical feet lift to serve intermediate terrain above the Prospect Express, which itself was built as part of a four-lift expansion in 2001. Also in this area, a new 1,500′ surface lift is approved to serve the Gold Hill chutes above the Revelation lift, which debuted in 2008 as Telluride’s only Leitner-Poma lift.
More lift upgrades are added in the latest master plan. The first is bringing Gold Hill Express capacity from its 1,500 pph to 2,200 by adding more chairs. This lift was initially approved as two separate lifts with 1,200-1,500 pph each, but was combined into one lift with a higher design capacity. Gold Hill is a 2001 Doppelmayr, one of four Telluride built in one very busy summer.
Another planned project that will surprise no one is a Plunge lift replacement. The existing 1985 CTEC triple has had a reduced hourly capacity of 1,042 pph ever since safety bars were installed, due to their added weight. At 6,260 feet slope length, a ride takes nearly 13 minutes. A 1,000 f.p.m. detachable quad is proposed to replace Plunge with an initial capacity of 1,800 pph and designed to reach 2,400.
With strong Epic Pass sales and early snow blanketing its properties, Vail Resorts revealed today it will go big on new lifts in 2017, adding additional six-place chairlifts at Vail, Keystone and Breckenridge as part of a $122 million capital program. In the company’s first quarter results, CEO Rob Katz noted, “we remain committed to reinvesting in our resorts, creating an experience of a lifetime for our guests and generating strong returns for our shareholders.” The news follows construction of four new lifts at Vail mountains in both 2015 and 2016.
On Vail Mountain, the Northwoods Express #11 will be replaced, leaving only three CLD-260 first-generation detachables in service. The new Northwoods will also become the mountain’s 10th new lift in 11 years. At Breckenridge, Vail will upgrade the Falcon high speed quad on Peak 10 to a six-person detachable, allowing more guests to experience some of the best intermediate and advanced terrain on the mountain. The Falcon SuperChair is a 1986 Poma high speed quad also approaching the end of its useful life. At Keystone, the 1990 Doppelmayr Uni-model Montezuma chair will be replaced with a six-pack version.
Leitner-Poma is likely to build Breckenridge’s newest lift, which would extend a 16-lift streak for the manufacturer at Breck. Vail and Keystone operate a mix of Leitner-Poma and Doppelmayr lifts and could plausibly sign with either company. Noticeably absent from today’s release was any mention of new lifts for Park City or the newly-Epic Whistler-Blackcomb. Vail Resorts will detail further capital improvements in the spring but these three projects are a huge start.
Update 1/23/17: Leitner-Poma will build and install all three of these lifts.