Eight new eight-passenger chairlifts debuted this ski season, the highest number in history. Twenty years since the technology debuted, Doppelmayr, Garaventa, Leitner and Poma have now built a combined 78 of these mega chairlifts on three continents and in eleven countries. With 2016 seeing the greatest number of eight-passenger chairlifts constructed, a question on everybody’s mind should be: when will the world’s second largest ski market finally build one?
Doppelmayr debuted eight-passenger chair technology in 1997 (in Norway of all places) and continues to be the market leader, having built two-thirds of those operating today. But for the first time ever the Leitner-Poma Group installed more than Doppelmayr and Garaventa combined last year. In 2006, Leitner built the first combined installation with eight-passenger chairs and 10-passenger gondola cabins and there are now seven of these across Europe. Bubble chairs and seat heating came along in 2000 and nearly every new eight-passenger lift features both these days. In total, 60 percent of eight seaters globally have bubbles and half sport heated seats.
Austria is home to over 60 percent of the world’s eight-passenger chairlifts and exactly five have ever made it out of Europe. Australia and Asia each got their first in 2003 but several leading ski markets have never gone there – among them Japan, Canada, China and the United States.
A record-breaking eight-passenger Poma in La Plagne, France called Le Colosses can move 4,400 skiers skiers an hour. Eight-packs could theoretically reach 4,800 pph. Contrast that with North America, where, out of 3,080 operating lifts, exactly one has a capacity over 4,000 (and just barely; Squaw’s Funitel clocks in at 4,032 pph.)
Before we look at who in North America could buy one of these behemoths, understand that two-thirds of those already built have a capacity at or below the maximum throughput of a six-pack. Some eight-seaters out there move fewer people than a high-speed quad and one even below the standard for a triple chair. In other words, most global operators buy these lifts not purely to move the most skiers but rather for a marketing advantage.
That brings us to North American ski resorts whose brands scream size. Killington is The Beast. Vail is Like Nothing on Earth. Whistler-Blackcomb is number one at everything and Mammoth is Mammoth. The other category is resorts with two, three, or even four lifts running parallel that could all be replaced with one signature lift. Summit West at Snoqualmie, Mary Jane at Winter Park and Snowshed at Killington (again) come to mind.
Most new lift technologies debut in the Alps and cross the pond eventually in a limited way. Among those were bubbles and heated seats, double loading and a lone 3S. Twenty years in with record global construction, I’m going to go out on a limb and predict an eight-pack debuts in the U.S. or Canada by December 2018. Us lift nuts have waited long enough.