Ramcharger 8 at Big Sky Resort is both the first eight passenger chairlift and first Doppelmayr D-Line lift in North America. I headed to Montana yesterday for an update on this exciting project and a related one, the new Shedhorn 4. Touring Ramcharger, it became clear the decision to purchase this lift was not just about the eight passenger chairs, heated seats or loading carpet. D-Line has numerous small innovations made with mechanics and operators in mind that combine to create a new generation of Doppelmayr detachable. A few features I noticed: Every grate and cover is designed to easily open and close for quick access to moving parts. Belts that connect station tires each have individual tensioners. Stairs lead into the terminals rather than ladders. Many spots where metal meets metal are lined with rubber for noise and vibration dampening. Doppelmayr says D-Line has more than 200 improvements overall.
The massive Doppelmayr Direct Drive motor is in place at the top terminal and will be water cooled. It will quietly and efficiently spin at just 13 revolutions per minute. Because a gearbox and related shafts have been removed from the equation, all braking will be directly on the bullwheel. There is a single diesel evacuation drive rather than separate evacuation and standby engines. The west side of the top terminal features a 7,500 square foot parking facility for the chairs in two rows. Part of the floor opens up to an equally-sized basement where bike carriers can be hoisted onto chair hangers come summer. The outside of the barn is being wrapped in plastic for this winter and will be completed next spring.
The first four chairs and hangers arrived during my visit at the end of a long journey from Austria by ship, train and truck (the entire lift came over in containers, not just the chairs.) The 64 carriers are emblazoned with Ramcharger 8 logos, feature heated seats and sport blue bubbles. They are so large that only four fit in each shipping container!
Steel will be set at the bottom tension station over the next 7-10 days, which we will be able to watch live. This terminal’s legs, loading conveyor and gates are already in place. Operators will be able to raise and lower the deck on demand for children to board and capacity will be 3,200 people per hour to start. The 54 mm haul rope is also on site after its trip from Fatzer in Switzerland. The comm line for this lift is completely underground as is apparently common in Europe.
On the south flank of Lone Peak, the old Ramcharger detachable quad is now Shedhorn 4. Some towers and sheave trains are brand new, the low voltage controls are new, station roofs are new and under skins will be too. The lift will meet the 2017 ANSI standard just like a completely new machine. To accommodate an expected increased traffic at Shedhorn, Cow Flats and a few other trails have been widened and regraded with intermediate skiers in mind.
Whenever I write about the Ramcharger and Shedhorn projects, some inevitably question why these upgrades were chosen instead of others. They represent the fourth and fifth new chairlifts at Big Sky Resort in three years and are part of decade long initiative called Big Sky 2025. “The Ramcharger lift (formerly Ramshorn) and Shedhorn lift have a long history of coinciding improvements,” Big Sky Public Relations Manager Stacie Mesuda told me. “With similar tower numbers, vertical rise, and length, these lifts are easily interchangeable. The opportunity to upgrade both lifts, by replacing Shedhorn with the pre-existing Ramcharger lift ultimately allows Big Sky Resort to provide a more world-class lift experience.”
Many on social media have asked about Swift Current, the only out-of-base option to the Bowl following retirement of Gondola One. Big Sky assures me upgrades are coming to this part of the mountain too. “Long-term plans for capital improvements include upgrades to the Swift Current lift from a high-speed quad to the latest and most appropriate capacity lift. Ultimately, the existing Swift Current chair is planned to be relocated to the Moonlight side of Big Sky Resort to support terrain expansion efforts in that area. Planned improvements also include the transformation of the Explorer lift experience from a double lift to a gondola extending to the Bowl to further improve skier access from the Mountain Village base area,” the mountain notes. For now, employees at Big Sky and Boyne Resorts are exceedingly proud of their two newest lifts and can’t wait to share them with guests come December.