Breckenridge May Have the Most Interesting Lifts in the World

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The Snowflake lift at Breckenridge, CO is the only lift of its kind, making a 45-degree turn.
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.

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Even with the option to ski back to town via the Four O’Clock ski run, the BreckConnect is an immensely popular transportation solution.
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.

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The Peak 8 SuperConnect links Peaks 9 and 8 with an angle station in between.

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.

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Skiing under the light side of the T-Bar is strange; there’s nothing else around.
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.

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Imperial SuperChair is not a long lift but introduced a huge amount of new terrain.
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.

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Quicksilver has two separate mazes that never merge, each with its own loading ramp.
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.

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5-chair makes a subtle turn after tower 10.
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.

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The Snowflake monstrosity from above.
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!

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10 thoughts on “Breckenridge May Have the Most Interesting Lifts in the World

  1. Kyle W. January 10, 2017 / 5:23 pm

    I remember riding the South Ridge Triple at Killington when it was open and thinking that was a crazy one. Definitely a unique charlift for the Northeast. Wish it was still around.

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    • Joe L January 10, 2017 / 10:46 pm

      Re: high speed lifts accessed by only fixed grip lift, WA has two: Liberator Express (Chair 2) at Mission Ridge, and Couloir Express at White Pass.

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    • ah January 10, 2017 / 10:59 pm

      I remember that one as well . . . a nice neck-snapping jerk as you turned the corner at the midstation!

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  2. Doppelmayr FTW! January 11, 2017 / 8:29 am

    big sky has one as well. however there is limited road access through the private club

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  3. John April 13, 2018 / 1:34 pm

    Chair 5’s bend came about in 1986 when they were building the original Colorado SuperChair. They apparently *had* to place the bottom of the shiny new lift where the original bottom of 5 was, so they moved the lower half of 5 and had Riblet engineer the bend.

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  4. Joe Blake January 10, 2019 / 9:17 pm

    Any explanation for Snowflake?

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    • Michael January 11, 2019 / 7:31 am

      The basic explanation is they needed a way to get from the bottom terminal to the top terminal without infringing on any other property rights. This was the only way to do it on property that was in their Permit area.

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  5. Donald Reif October 3, 2019 / 3:39 pm

    I personally count the Kensho SuperChair among “detachables you have to take a fixed grip lift to access,” since although the Wanderlust traverse does exist from the top of the Independence SuperChair, it’s not very well marked and I don’t think it’s groomable, at least from what I’ve seen of YouTube videos of it, making it experts only, and thus the Zendo Chair is the primary gateway to Peak 6.

    The Kensho SuperChair also is North America’s highest high speed six pack, although the resort doesn’t seem fit to advertise that fact. I would say that it also bears some uniqueness as far as lift credits go for being the only six pack in Colorado (and maybe the US) to not start with a depression tower/integrated depression sheaves (someone fact-check me on that one).

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