This afternoon couldn’t have been a more beautiful one for unveiling what will be America’s biggest lift. Over the next nine months, Big Sky Resort and Doppelmayr will create Ramcharger 8, a machine packed full of technology on Andesite Mountain. The current Ramcharger high-speed quad will move to Shedhorn and replace one of Big Sky’s most popular high-alpine lifts while a two-stage North Village gondola and more will eventually follow as part of Big Sky 2025. “The Biggest Skiing in America is getting bigger and better, again,” said Big Sky Resort General Manager and President Taylor Middleton before the bombshell announcement. Never before has America seen an 8-passenger chair of any kind, let alone one packed with every bell and whistle available.
I was lucky enough to be invited by Big Sky Resort and the Kircher family to be part of this momentous day in the Mountain Village, where Boyne Resorts’ Stephen Kircher detailed plans for being the North American ski industry’s D-Line launch customer. Kircher emphasized Big Sky’s lengthy path to this point and how the community has really come together in the past decade. “My family is proud of its 42-year commitment to southwest Montana and will continue the momentum that is underway at Big Sky Resort,” he said. “We are excited to bring the biggest chair in the world to Big Sky, and to work with the resort team and community to recognize the Resort’s full potential – rivaling the best of the Alps and our North American brethren.” With a huge snowpack, the Biggest Skiing in America is on track to have its best season ever with more than 500,000 skier days – a feat once only dreamed of here.
Following in the footsteps of Powder Seeker, Big’s Sky’s two-year old six-pack with bubbles and heated seats, the new Ramcharger 8 will feature an in-terminal multimedia display and automated underground parking. “A fully integrated high-resolution LED screen at the lower terminal will provide up-to-date guest information and engagement,” Big Sky says. The new lift will move 3,200 passengers per hour initially at 5 m/s with an ultimate capacity of 3,600 with 8-second chair spacing. The chairs will weigh some 2,200 lbs. each and, according to Kircher, “cost as much as a Porsche.” They will be highly wind-resistant to somewhere around 60 miles per hour. Safety bars will be auto locking and unlocking but will not lower unless initiated by the rider. We all know even one fall from a chair is too many and this lift will be the safest on the continent, particularly for children. Ramcharger’s loading carpet will be the only in North America to raise and lower for guests of varying heights. Both the chairs and bubbles will be totally unique in Big Sky blue with powder coated bails rather than being galvanized. The 65 chairs will be heated, of course. “We’re building this for the long term,” Kircher noted.
According to Big Sky, Ramcharger 8 will be one of the largest lift in the world with a direct drive and no traditional gear reducer. The controls will be Doppelmayr’s next-gen system with tablets called Doppelmayr Connect. Towers will even feature public address to communicate with riders in the event of an emergency. VIP-style gondola cabins are an option for a later date (there’s an awesome restaurant at the top) and summer ops will feature bike-specific carriers. The whole thing is being imported from Austria with tapered towers and is the first eight-seater D-Line chair on the planet. I probably forgot something amid all the innovations.
You know it’s a wild day when a new high-speed quad is an afterthought. The new, speedier Shedhorn will include components from Ramcharger with new Uni-G enclosures. Ride time will decrease from ten minutes to around five. Any local who doesn’t care about the new Ramcharger will surely love the new Shedhorn.
After this construction season, Big Sky will continue its sustained commitment with a two-stage gondola to the Bowl replacing Explorer around 2020-21. By 2025, there could be a new tram, Iron Horse, Lone Moose, Headwaters and more. Asked by a local reporter how much all this will cost, Kircher replied simply, “More than the first chair we brought back from Sun Valley.” That set his father back $5,000.