Forty five years to the day since Chet Huntley welcomed the first skiers to Big Sky Resort, Boyne Resorts today debuted North America’s most technologically-advanced chairlift on Andesite Mountain. The eight pack is a bold but logical move for Michigan-based Boyne, which once pioneered the world’s first triple and quad chairlifts. Not only is Ramcharger 8 the first of its kind in North America, it’s also the first Doppelmayr D-Line eight place chairlift in the world.
“Doppelmayr and Boyne Resorts have been collaborating for over 40 years, and together have introduced many firsts to the ski industry,” said Stephen Kircher, President of Boyne Resorts at a mid-morning ceremony. “We are incredibly proud to bring the first eight-seat chairlift to North America, setting a new standard for lift technology in the world.”
Mark Bee, President of Doppelmayr USA, presented the Big Sky Resort team with a customary bell from Austria to celebrate. He also thanked the construction team, led by Jamie Kanzler, for a successful project delivered on schedule. “Without Jamie and his team, we wouldn’t be here today,” said Bee, noting the contract for this ambitious project was signed on March 5th. “Ramcharger 8 is the culmination of everything we have learned so far, and incorporates many firsts for the North American market; first eight-passenger chairlift, first direct drive motor, first locking restraint bar, first height-adjustable loading carpet, first high resolution video display, and the first of our newest generation detachable lifts,” he continued.
D-Line is Doppelmayr’s fifth-generation detachable, the product of more than three decades of engineering experience. There are dozens of innovations and patents; some may not be obvious but will make big differences for operations and maintenance staff.
Big Sky, Doppelmayr and Radius Displays partnered to create the largest-ever video wall on a chairlift. The high resolution LED display will feature video content, snow conditions, lift status and even social media posts that tag #bigskyresort. You can’t miss the 30 foot wide screen in the base area!
Like with older sister Powder Seeker, Big Sky spared no expense for passenger comfort. Ramcharger 8 includes heated seats, blue bubbles and extra wide upholstered seats. New for this lift, the safety bar locks in place once lowered and raises automatically upon entering a station. There is also a height adjustable Chairkit loading carpet.
I learned D-Line terminals come in a few widths and many lengths. Both of Ramcharger 8’s terminals are the 18 meter length and as wide as they come. The bullwheels are almost 24 feet in diameter and line gauge is over 25 feet. Doppelmayr builds D-Line stations in increments of two meters as short as 12 and as long as 36 meters. Ramcharger features the D 5000 grip, the larger of two D-Line grips. The slip force of one is 38 kN.
The number of cabinets below the top operator house gives an idea of how complex this machine is.
The parking structure isn’t quite finished but carriers can also be parked in the stations. Once complete, the barn at the top will house all the chairs in two rows. The rails are slightly inclined so that parking and feeding is completely automated. Lift capacity can eventually be increased from 3,200 people per hour to 3,600 with additional chairs.
There is just one chain conveyor for parking and feeding. Rough spacing is located at the end of it.
Ramcharger 8 is the second North American lift to open with a direct drive and the first for Doppelmayr USA. This one has three rings which weigh more than 13,000 lbs. each. The motor is water cooled and incredibly quiet. As Stephen Kircher noted, a direct drive eliminates the biggest Achilles heal of a modern lift – the gearbox. Ramcharger’s direct drive spins at just over 13 revolutions per minute when the lift is moving 5.1 m/s. There is a Caterpillar auxiliary engine that can be coupled to the bullwheel if necessary. Two service brakes and two emergency brakes act directly on the drive bullwheel.
Minimized noise, dampened vibration and overall smooth operation are an obvious focus of D-Line. Even grip rollers are lubricated automatically!
At the return terminal, the section of tires that does fine spacing operates independently of the PTOs with its own electric motor. It was pointed out to me this little motor might be louder than the direct drive for the lift! Roof vents in both terminals are opened and closed electronically based on ambient temperature and weather doors can be lowered with the push of a button. Welcome to first class!
Ramcharger’s terminals currently have two charging rails for seat heating, which can be automatically adjusted based on outside temperature. Wiring for the seat heating goes through the chair hanger arms rather than outside with the bubble and restraint bar cables. Two more charging rails can be added in the future if needed. Three of Ramcharger’s 65 carriers have cleaning brushes for the copper rails. All of the grips have RFID tags for the Doppelmayr Connect control system to keep track of carrier locations. D-Line grips even come in multiple color options.
Grip force is checked in a dedicated spot on the light side of the return terminal. The testing rail can be moved out of the way when carriers are being parked in the terminal.
Doppelmayr Connect takes ropeway controls to a whole new level. Ramcharger includes touchscreen desk displays, outdoor pedestals, VoIP telephones, Android-based tablets and wireless remote operator controls.
Electrical prints and manuals are also accessible through Doppelmayr Connect.
The system has cool operator features. Marked carriers can be set to slow the lift automatically when they arrive at the next station. The display shows precise countdowns in minutes and seconds until arrival.
Big Sky got to create 65 different backs for the chairs. There are no repeats!
Towers 6 and 7 are approximately 70 feet tall in order for the lift to span the Ambush ski run. The old Ramcharger had a tower right in the middle of this popular groomer. The new tapered towers were flown in multiple sections and spliced together.
The communications line and fiber are underground rather than on top of the lifting frames. It makes the lift look sleek and clean.
The Kirchers had one last surprise in store before the gathered crowd got to load Ramcharger 8. Big Sky plans to introduce three Omega V gondola cabins to the lift for winter 2019-20. Two will be dedicated dining cars, allowing guests to sit around a table installed in the cabin for a premier dining experience. Another car will be reserved as a VIP cabin. The CWA gondola cabins will be the first of their kind in North America.
As impressive as Ramcharger 8 is, Big Sky still has a whole other lift to debut before Christmas. Much of the old Ramcharger high speed quad became Shedhorn 4, replacing the Shedhorn double. Stay tuned for a report on that lift when it opens. After that, I can’t wait to see what Boyne Resorts and Doppelmayr dream up next.