Breck has been on my bucket list for a long time. Not because of the skiing, necessarily, but because its collection of 23 lifts is among the most unique anywhere. Nowhere else can you find so many lifts with turns (5), lifts that cross other lifts (4), not to mention North America’s only double-loading detachable and its highest elevation chairlift. This weekend I made a break for Breck and the three other Colorado Vail Resorts to see what Epic is all about.
I’ll start with the BreckConnect Gondola, which first connected one end of town to Peaks 7 and 8 in 2006. The Leitner-Poma gondola is free and operates both winter and summer. Locals I talked to can no longer remember life without it. Although it has two mid-stations each with an angle change of more than 40 degrees, the entire system operates with one haul rope. It’s way cooler than taking a bus from the parking lot.
On the mountain, the Peak 8 SuperConnect is another Poma detachable with an angle station. Its second stage replaced Lift 4 in 2002 but Vail Resorts decided to start the lift way over on Peak 9 to make it easier for guests to move laterally. Along its route, the SuperConnect passes over both the Beaver Run SuperChair and C-Chair before descending to the angle station. Loading gates at the base leave some chairs empty for guests at the mid, where all chairs briefly jog out and back into the alignment. From here, it’s a short jaunt to the heart of Peak 8.
Then there’s the Horseshoe Bowl T-Bar, better known simply as the T-Bar. This is the only Doppelmayr lift at Breck, the land of Poma. It also makes a turn, but only on the heavy side. As with the triangle Platter at Sun Peaks Resort, the uphill side must be more carefully routed for skiers, while the down bound side takes the straight path. To accomplish this, the T-Bar has five bullwheels – three at the bottom, one along the uphill path and one up top. Fortress Mountain, Alberta had one of these as well. As we’ll see with Snowflake below, it’s much easier to make a turn on only one side of a fixed-grip lift rather than both sides. The T-Bar is a crowd favorite, serving some of Breck’s best high-alpine bowls.
New on the above treeline scene is the Imperial SuperChair, built in 2005. It’s one of those rare detachable lifts you must ride a fixed-grip lift to get to, in this case either 6-Chair or the T-Bar. Imperial tops out at 12,840 feet, making it the highest lift in North America. At one point it even had both the Express and SuperChair monikers. Now everyone just calls it Imperial. It was built with storms in mind; most towers are beefed up with three-section tubes and all but the first and last two have combo assemblies on both sides. A detachable was selected so the chairs could be parked on a rail at the bottom.
The Quicksilver Super6 carries on the legacy of the original Quicksilver lift, the world’s first detachable quad. The next-generation is a 1999 Poma six-pack servicing the heart of Breckenridge’s sprawling beginner complex. Due to the clientele, the lift was designed with two 90-degree loading platforms, each serving every other chair. Gates open and close between each chair to send them to the proper place. As a result, this is the only chairlift you’ll find that is permitted to have its chairs out of order. Unfortunately, the lift still slows often and could use double unloading ramps as well.
An honorable mention goes to 5-Chair, a Riblet double with a turn that’s not on the trail map. Using canted sheaves, it makes a slight deflection over towers 10A-10B just before a summer-only mid-station unload used for an alpine slide. A bunch more modern lifts turn in this manner but 5 was to my knowledge the first. Judging from the tower numbering, I’m guessing this turn was added sometime after initial construction.
The mother of all Breck’s quirky lifts is a double chair named Snowflake. It too has a mid-station but that’s not what makes it stand out. Just after the mid-load, the heavy side makes a sweeping right turn using horizontal sheaves. Unfortunately Poma engineers couldn’t do the same on the light side so they had to design two bullwheels and two crossings for the downhill side. It is hard to understand without seeing it. As such, if you enjoy reading this blog, a trip to Breckenridge is a must!