Inside the Sweetest Parking Around

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For the first time since their journey across the Atlantic, Jackson Hole’s newest gondola cabins slept inside last night.  With a parking and storage facility officially commissioned at Sweetwater‘s Solitude Station, 48 luxury vehicles that cost tens of thousands of dollars each now have a world-class home that brings together the latest lift technology with proven principles.

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort opened its Bridger Gondola barn in 1998 and 84 cabins have been going inside for twenty years there.  The CWA X models are in incredible shape for their age and number of hours, a testament to their quality construction, dedicated maintenance staff and indoor storage.

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Sweetwater’s new cabin storage building is located in an underutilized area adjacent to the middle station.

JHMR launched gondola number two in December 2016 and its CWA Omega IV cabins remained on the line continuously until yesterday.  The winter of 2016-17 proved to be a monster in the Tetons and while the cabins performed well, fifty feet of snow often turned to ice on flat roofs.  Frozen chunks would bounce up and down, making sounds that mimicked falling metal.  Jackson Hole sometimes goes weeks or even months without a thaw and ice would also accumulate on the cabin floors and in ski racks (other fun liquids would freeze too!)  Ice storms that can cripple door mechanisms and plague detachable grips thankfully never materialized last year and the days of worrying that storm would come are now over.

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Construction began on the new parking facility as soon as the gondola closed last April and was completed just a few weeks ago.  Teams from Doppelmayr installed the rails and switches that hang from the second floor ceiling and wired the cabinets and controls to make it all work.  The new building also houses a mountain sports school locker room, break room and restrooms.

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Four white buttons control the rails that allow switching between parking, feeding, and normal operations.
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To feed cabins, the straight rail in this photo raises up and out of the way and the narrow curved rail slides into place.
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Two chain conveyors – one for parking and one for feeding – automatically transfer cabins between the terminal and barn.

Parking at an intermediate station is unique but not unheard of; the WhistlerVillage Gondola has a mid-station parking and the new Blackcomb Gondola will too.  At Sweetwater, cabins come out the side of the Uni-G station at a 90-degree angle and transfer to a chain conveyor that brings them into to the barn.  The mid-station is composed of two Uni-G-Ms and the parking split occurs between the last downhill deceleration tires and the door opening rail, meaning anyone who boards at the drive station after last cabin is in for a sweet ride through the barn!

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A peek inside the heated tunnel that connects the parking and mid terminal.
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The chain conveyors and tires normally run automatically but can be manually driven as well.
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Large steel doors are opened during parking and feeding, otherwise they stay shut to keep the building warm.

The new system is similar to the Poma one at Bridger with some nice upgrades.  Both utilize tire elevators at the beginning to raise cabins a few feet and the remaining rails gradually descend.  With gravity doing most of the work, lift staff help cabins around corners and prevent them from colliding too quickly.  Many people don’t realize the black bumpers on the corners of Omega cabins have clever handles hidden inside for the dozens of human hands which often touch a gondola before skiers arrive each morning.

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When parking, cabins initially make three 90-degree turns, propelled by a mix of tires and chain.

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The last cabin comes off the line after a successful parking operation.

Sweetwater has six parking rows for up to 62 cabins, though we only have 48 right now.  There are three grip maintenance bays that branch off from the first row.  Currently the work carrier is in one bay, a cabin with our first broken window in another (sometimes gondola cabins break and it’s nice to now have a place to repair them.)  One of those bays has a floor-to-ceiling garage door in case a cabin ever needed to be completely removed onto a trailer.  The back of the barn also has offices for the growing gondola maintenance department.

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A series of three panels control the switches and elevators inside the parking facility.
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Often certain rows are not needed when parking and feeding, so two shortcuts bypass them.  We affectionately call these unelevators.

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Sweetwater’s parking system seamlessly interfaces with the lift.  We can park and feed at 3.5 m/s but if the lift speed changes, the conveyors and tires adjust to match.  Numerous parking stop buttons located throughout the facility also stop the lift outside.  Bridger’s system is comparatively old school and the lift and barn don’t talk to each other, requiring more staff.  One disadvantage of Sweetwater’s setup is you cannot park and feed cabins at the same time because the park and feed rails share the same tunnel (we sometimes park and inject simultaneously at Bridger, which is pretty wild.)  Sweetwater is half as long as Bridger, however, and the entire line can be parked or launched in about 20 minutes.

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Strange sight: a gondola without gondolas.

We plan on leaving three cabins on at night to transport workers to the base and, perhaps more importantly, bring them back up in the morning.  Would-be cabin pushers hop out at the mid-station on the uphill side and have about ten minutes to get ready before the three cabins make it back down and into the barn.  Once the line is clear, a second chain conveyor is started to launch cabins into the downhill side of the terminal.  One person roughly spaces cabins into the conveyor and a clutch at the end automatically adjusts the spacing.  The sound of the feed conveyor stopping and then advancing a waiting cabin at just the right moment is magical!

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Advantages of the serpentine setup are cabins stay in numbered order and we rarely have to run the lift in reverse.  Other parking setups use dead end rows and feed with the lift running backwards.  Like everything in the lift world, there are advantages and disadvantages to both concepts.

Many American gondolas have limited parking and we feel extremely lucky to now have two of the finest facilities in the country.  Over the next decades, the significant investment at Sweetwater should prove worthy time and again.

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19 thoughts on “Inside the Sweetest Parking Around

  1. Ryan January 27, 2018 / 11:08 pm

    Those cabins look well maintained and clean and waxed.. what is your process for cleaning them?

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    • Peter Landsman January 29, 2018 / 8:19 pm

      Minimal cleaning during the year outside. We covered them over the summer except for the eclipse week. Not allowing skis or snowboards inside goes a long way towards keeping cabins nice.

      Like

      • Jim Marrott January 30, 2018 / 8:53 am

        The cabins were washed and we had Sunshine Polishing come to apply their proprietary sealant to the cabins before we put the covers back on after the eclipse. We periodically reapply the sealant as needed to keep them looking good.

        Like

  2. Auston January 27, 2018 / 11:13 pm

    This is a fantastic post! Very detailed and love all the photos, thanks for posting. I just skied at Snowbasin for the first time this week and I noticed that the Needles gondola and John Paul express both have a sloped building adjacent to the bottom terminals. I asked one of the Guest Service employees that was standing in the plaza if there was underground parking for the cabins and he said yes, there was an extensive underground parking area for the cabins from Needles and also the chairs from JP express. I would love to see pics of this underground parking facility but couldn’t come up with anything in Google searches. Do you know if there are photos anywhere? Thanks!

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  3. Chip Olson January 28, 2018 / 6:05 am

    Nice facility, though that restroom could use a significant upgrade. (see the “unelevators” picture)

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Colorado jim January 28, 2018 / 6:17 am

    A large cardboard box has been ordered.

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  5. TME January 28, 2018 / 7:33 am

    Just a note, Sunshine also parks at midstation.

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  6. ALEX January 28, 2018 / 7:33 am

    Peter – A bit off topic but I was wondering if you have ever done a post on Jackson Hole’s master plan? I would be curious since I would think you would know alot about the plans. A couple questions I have are: (1) will Thunder and/or Sublette ever get upgraded to high speed, and (2) has there ever been thoughts about a lift to serve the Hobacks? Alex

    Like

    • Max Hart January 28, 2018 / 9:03 am

      Skyeship at killington also has parking at its angle station.

      Like

    • Peter Landsman January 28, 2018 / 10:10 am

      I have no inside knowledge but would love to see Thunder and Hoback high speed quads. I think Sublette will stay as is with the wind situation. Thunder could logically move to become a new Eagle’s Rest. Cody Bowl is in JHMR’s permit area and could be the next frontier.

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      • Mike Turley January 30, 2018 / 5:37 am

        Jackson Hole needs some more lift mechanics before we add anymore lifts

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    • Collin January 30, 2018 / 8:56 am

      What about having the Thunder replacement HSQ extend down to the top of Union Pass to serve the Hogbacks. Would need a slight line turn to avoid the tram tower that’s right next to it. Would be about 5900 feet long and 2700 vertical. Very steep.

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      • Peter Landsman January 30, 2018 / 9:04 am

        My opinion is any Hobacks lift should go to the Sublette area.

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  7. Collin January 28, 2018 / 11:10 am

    Belleayre’s new gondola has zero parking. They really need to add one of these. Probably would be at the top because space at the bottom is extremely limited.

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  8. Cooper January 28, 2018 / 11:44 am

    At snowbasin Utah John paul quad and Needles gondola both share their underground parking. The underground garage sits right underneath the ski shop and ski/board tuning shop building! Ive been in the garage myself and its quite cool to look around. There is a gondola that has leather seats and a microphone. Technically a VIP gondola. Strawberry has a parking garage in the building where the bottom termial is. Also has a small cafe. The X model cabins are quite beat up on both gondolas and could use some newer cabins. Also John paul could use some bubbles too.

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    • Ryan January 28, 2018 / 6:42 pm

      If they are able to get a new HSQ in for Strawberry, hopefully it will have bubbles. They’ll need it with the wind that they get there.

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  9. Daphne Pavsek February 3, 2018 / 10:40 am

    So there is a clutch that spaces cabins at launch? Or do you have to eyeball spacing in the morning when you put cabins back on line and let the fine spacing work out the errors?

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    • Peter Landsman February 3, 2018 / 2:31 pm

      There is a clutch that spaces them just after the feed conveyor. Eyeball spacing into the conveyor.

      Like

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