Instagram Tuesday: Drone

Every Tuesday, I feature my favorite Instagram photos from around the lift world.

Sweetwater looking good with a nice green backdrop! ūüö†

A post shared by Chris Eckerson (@ceckerson) on

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The Biggest Gondola You’ve Never Heard of is in Oregon’s Wallowas

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You probably don’t know about this lift, even though it has the largest vertical rise of any gondola in North America. ¬†Yes, more vertical than if Vail had a top-to-bottom lift¬†and more than the (much newer) gondolas¬†at Revelstoke, Kicking Horse, Silver Mountain and Aspen. ¬†You wouldn’t know how cool this lift is from the tiny ticket booth and parking lot, or from the tramway’s Facebook page, which lists it¬†as “permanently closed.” ¬†Despite all signs pointing to a lackluster roadside attraction, the Wallowa Lake Tramway, as it’s known, is¬†incredible.

Situated at¬†the far shore of its namesake, past¬†the end of an abandoned railroad and at the dead-end of a 13-mile road, it feels like a trip to the Alps with high mountain peaks all around. ¬†Opened in 1970 after two years of construction at a cost of $700,000, the tramway was conceived as the launch point for a large ski area, so the cabins have ski racks. ¬†Although skiing never materialized, nearly fifty years later the gondola serves as a scenic throwback for the lucky few who venture six hours from Portland or 4.5 from Spokane or Boise (the¬†local Lions Club opened¬†a ski area nearby called¬†Ferguson Ridge¬†in 1983.) Those who trek to the Wallowas¬†are rewarded with a 3,700′ vertical lift¬†to 8,256′ Mt. Howard with monster mountain views along the way and a¬†shimmering¬†blue lake below.

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Stoneham Replacing Two Lifts with Doppelmayr Quad

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Stoneham, Quebec will build a new quad chair to replace this fifty year-old double and the T-bar next to it.
Finally, some news from Canada!  Resorts of the Canadian Rockies has announced two relics at Stoneham will be replaced with a Doppelmayr carpet-load quad in time for 2017-18.  The 1967 Poma double La Bord√©e and 1986 Doppelmayr T-Bar Le Chinook will be retired.  The new lift will be approximately 4,700 feet long with a vertical of 1,250′.   Stoneham’s other lifts include a Doppelmayr bubble detachable and two Poma fixed-grip quads.

stoneham-01This is big news as the last new lift built at Stoneham is 28 years old!   Thanks to Julien C. for the head’s up.

Not So Happy: Reopening Spout Springs Just Got Tougher

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The Happy chair at Spout Springs, Oregon seen May 28th, 2017 after a rough winter not operating.
I was expecting a typical recently-lost ski area scene as I drove toward Northeastern Oregon this morning.  Located in the Blue Mountains where Idaho, Oregon and Washington converge, Spout Spring Ski Area once featured three Hall lifts: two doubles and a T-Bar. When I arrived at the first lift, called Echo, I was pleasantly surprised at the shape it was in, looking as if it had operated this season with ANSI signs neatly stacked and chairs flipped.  After all, it has only been 15 months since these lifts hauled skiers.

Next I rounded the corner to the base-to-summit Happy double, which looked anything but happy.  Surveying the scene above, I instantly assumed vandals had somehow knocked over the building that houses the 1965 double chair’s bottom drive bullwheel.  But another clue was all around me.  The massive snow load from this winter in the Blue Mountains was probably too much for the almost 55-year old building to handle.  Not only did it fall on top of the terminal, wood got hung up in a chair which bent like a pretzel and caused the light side to de-rope in two places.

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The Echo double is the only lift at Spout Springs remaining in operable condition. Its bottom terminal building is similar to the one that fell on the Happy chair this winter.
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News Roundup: Replacements

  • Suit filed against Ski Liberty by family of boy who dangled from a chair for seven minutes after mis-loading.
  • Mi Telef√©rico’s four gondola lines transported 194,971 passengers last Wednesday, an impressive single day record.
  • Squaw|Alpine now wants an extension¬†of permit for replacing Hot Wheels.
  • Doppelmayr remembers¬†past CEO Artur Doppelmayr, who died May 12th.
  • Apparently the Utah Olympic Park is adding two new chairlifts this summer, although I am still trying¬†to confirm.
  • Steamboat’s gondola rebuild is taking longer than expected and reopening has been pushed back two weeks to July 15th.
  • Vail Resorts will re-use chairs and towers from Keystone’s Montezuma Express in building the new Red Buffalo Express at Beaver Creek.
  • Saddleback Mountain Foundation needs $11.2 million to purchase Maine’s third largest ski area, including $3.2 million to replace the Rangeley lift with a fixed-grip quad. ¬†So far, the group has only raised a fraction of that amount.
  • Sunday River’s new Spruce Peak triple will be a Doppelmayr Tristar, Boyne Resorts’ fourth.
  • Schweitzer works toward $6-8 million Snow Ghost replacement.
  • ‚ÄúIt is not rocket science about lift geometry,‚ÄĚ Aspen Council member¬†says in frustration¬†re: Lift 1A. ‚ÄúThere is enough expertise in this community to know where a lift goes.‚ÄĚ
  • Mont Ripley offers $1,000 for information leading to the arrest of arsonist(s) who¬†damaged lift.
  • Longtime Whistler Blackcomb COO and Peak 2 Peak visionary Dave Brownlie¬†is leaving to pursue new opportunities just seven months into Vail ownership.

Instagram Tuesday: Pulling

Every Tuesday, I feature my favorite Instagram photos from around the lift world.

A chilly -4.5 right now, a light dusting and a cracking sunrise…#winteriscoming #Hotham

A post shared by Hotham (@hothamalpineresort) on

#rakusko #lyzovacka #stubai #leitner #3s #stubaiergletscher @gretka_k

A post shared by Juraj MeŇ°ko (@jurajmesko) on

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Six Months After Flames, Gatlinburg Sky Lift Returns Friday

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This new and improved Gatlinburg Sky Lift replaces a Riblet double chair destroyed by wildfire on November 28th, 2016.  Photos credit: Everett Kircher

Two days shy of six months since an intentionally-set wildfire killed 14 people and destroyed more than 2,000 buildings near Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the iconic Gatlinburg Sky Lift will reopen this Friday.  On November 28th, 2016, Sky Lift employees left the lift running on its auxiliary diesel as they fled the fire, saving the haul rope.  However, the top terminal and some towers were so severely burned that the entire lift needed to be replaced.For 62 years, Boyne Resorts has operated a chairlift on Crockett Mountain and the company chose a Doppelmayr Alpen Star triple chair for its third incarnation.  Previous versions were a Heron double recycled from Sugar Bowl in 1954 and Riblet double brought to Tennessee in 1991.

Boyne Resorts announced construction of the new $2.4 million lift in early February and received its operating permit less than three months later on April 27th. ¬†Doppelmayr and Boyne collaborated¬†to re-create the Sky Lift’s iconic appearance with 11 orange towers and 92 yellow chairs with wooden slats in place of galvanized ones. ¬†Although guests cannot yet get off at the top due to ongoing construction, the new lift is sure to be as popular¬†as it has been for generations. ¬†When Boyne sold and leased-back the Sky Lift operation in 2005, it¬†attracted 400,000 annual visitors and was valued at $19.9 million. ¬†Not bad for a 1,300′ double chair!

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Loen Skylift – World’s Steepest Tramway – Opens in Norway

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A new Garaventa aerial tram opened today along a Norwegian Fjord with a vertical rise of more than 3,000 feet and only one tower.  Photo credit: Hoven Loen AS

From Fjord to Sky in Five is the tagline for¬†the Loen Skylift, a spectacular¬†new sightseeing tramway and adventure destination in Norway that debuted this morning. ¬†Rising from the sea to 1,011-meter Mt. Hoven, the brand new Garaventa aerial tram becomes the steepest¬†jig-back built in modern times and is already being hailed as¬†one of the world’s great lifts.¬† “The Loen Skylift is the quickest and easiest way to explore the best of what Norwegian mountains have to offer,”¬†said Richard Grov, general manager of Loen Skylift. “The trip from the fjord to the mountain only takes a few minutes.”

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The Loen Skylift is 2.5 times steeper than the mechanically similar Jackson Hole Aerial Tram, which only averages 19.1 degrees. Photo credit: Hoven Loen AS.

An¬†ascent from dock to dock is 3,248 feet over a slope length of 5,021 feet, yielding an insane average grade of 53 degrees. ¬†That’s much steeper than every lift in North America, the steepest of which averages only 34.3 degrees. ¬†At seven meters per second, a Skylift ride takes just five minutes and the machine¬†can transport 460 passengers¬†each hour in two 45-passenger CWA Kronos cabins. ¬†As the Doppelmayr¬†annual brochure notes, “[The Skylift] features one strongly-overhanging tower standing on two feet and anchored back with a tie bar. ¬†The tramway has two sets of track ropes and no track rope brake.”

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Forest Service Green Lights Big Lookout Pass Expansion

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In a plan approved today, Lookout Pass will upgrade Chair 1 to a quad and add two new lifts serving a 650-acre Eagle Peak expansion.

Lookout Pass is the only ski resort in America spanning¬†two states, two National Forests and two time zones. ¬†While markedly low-key, this local favorite on the Idaho-Montana border has grown rapidly from one lift to four¬†since 2002. ¬†A Record of Decision published today by the Idaho Panhandle and Lolo National Forests gives Lookout approval to build¬†two new¬†lifts on Eagle Peak, upgrade Chair 1 and add 15 new trails spanning¬†654 acres. ¬†Vertical rise will increase more than 40 percent to 1,650′ as the lift-served summit moves¬†from Runt Mountain to Eagle Peak. ¬†Taken alone, the expansion will be¬†larger than all but four ski areas in the Eastern United States. ¬†When combined with current terrain, once little Lookout will provide¬†more than 1,000 acres of terrain for a growing number of skiers¬†in the Inland Northwest.

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Lift 1, a 1982 Riblet double, will be upgraded to a fixed- or detachable-grip quad in the existing alignment. ¬†A new fixed-grip double, triple or quad chair on Eagle Peak dubbed Lift 5 will be 5,200′ long by 1,300′ vertical with¬†around 24 towers. ¬†A smaller 2,800 x 800′ Lift 6 was approved as a double chair ending on the same summit. ¬†A 12,000′ power line¬†will need to be trenched to both relatively remote new bottom drive terminals. ¬†“The new lifts will incorporate components recycled from the Lift 1 upgrade as well as used components purchased from other ski areas to promote resource conservation and to reduce costs,” the ROD notes. ¬†Lookout Pass already operates four Riblet fixed-grips, three of which were relocated from other resorts. Fittingly, one of the new lifts will be located in Idaho and Pacific Time, the other in Montana on Mountain Time.

Not wasting a moment, Lookout Pass said in a statement, “Phase One projects will be initiated starting this summer.¬† Specific projects are subject to logging bids and contracts¬†plus additional ski lift and building plan review.¬† We will announce the¬†proposed projects timeline as soon as possible.” ¬†You can learn more and follow the progress¬†here.

News Roundup: Turnover

  • Squaw seeks extension for permit to replace Red Dog lift.
  • MND Group turnover increases¬†15.1 percent year-over-year. ¬†The company aims to double sales by 2020 partially through LST Ropeways subsidiary. ¬†Referencing the new Cannon Mountain T-Bar in the latest¬†magazine, MND notes¬†“success has enabled LST to penetrate the US market, paving the way for other promising opportunities.”
  • Doppelmayr will begin building its¬†next tri-cable gondola in December. ¬†Who would have guessed¬†Kenya would get¬†a 3S before the United States!
  • Forest Service gives final green light for Breckenridge and Keystone six-place upgrades.
  • A slow landslide continues to move tower 6 of the Barrows lift at Howelsen Hill.
  • SE Group will study placement¬†of Aspen Mountain’s future¬†Lift 1A.
  • Denver Post¬†publishes¬†two¬†part interview with Larry Smith of the CPTSB re: Granby Ranch.
  • The LiftDigital safety bar display system with integrated Wi-Fi will launch in Colorado for 2017-18.
  • New PomaLink¬†newsletter features the Grand Canyon Express and a six-station¬†gondola at a zoo in China.
  • Poma’s 2016¬†Reference Book includes LPOA installations but not Skytrac ones.
  • Mountain Creek files for bankruptcy protection¬†with debts totaling $40+ million including $500,000 balance on 2012 Partek chairlift loan.
  • One of Heavenly’s original 1962 tram cars is for sale. ¬†Email me if you’re interested.
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  • Artur Doppelmayr died Friday at age 95. ¬†May he rest in peace.