Czech Tram Car Falls, Killing One

Another aerial tramway has crashed in Europe, this time in the Czech Republic. The incident occurred on a two cabin reversible system on Ještěd Mountain around 2:00 pm Sunday. An attendant operating the downbound cabin suffered fatal injuries. Thirteen passengers and a dog in the upbound cabin were safely evacuated by ladder truck.

The 4,000 foot long tramway was constructed by a Czech firm and opened in 1933. Each cabin rides on one track rope and there is a single haul rope loop made up of two segments. A major renovation of the system was completed in 1975 with electrical upgrades undertaken more recently. The lift is operated by a government-owned national railway and today was the last scheduled day of operation before a planned seasonal maintenance period. “The cause of this tragic accident is being investigated,” read a statement from the company. “Czech Railways expresses regret over the accident and sends its deepest condolences to the bereaved.”

This is the third catastrophic incident of the year on European aerial tramways. 14 people were killed in May when a haul rope broke on a tram in Northern Italy. Last month, two cabins were destroyed when a tramway failed to stop in France. That mishap occurred during maintenance and no one was injured.

Later in the day, the rail company issued a second statement and acknowledged the haul rope system failed, causing one of the cabins to fall.

We are very sorry that this tragic event has taken place and we want to express our deepest condolences to the survivors of our colleague. At the same time, we would like to thank all those who participated in the evacuation of passengers from the second cabin and took care of their transfer to safety. The cableway to Ještěd has a prescribed system of inspections, checks and revisions, which are regularly performed and records and protocols are kept about them. There is a daily visual inspection of the equipment with testing of safety features and regular maintenance every Monday. Every 14 days, the cable car undergoes a major inspection and once a month a so-called comprehensive inspection with protocol records. Major inspections are carried out on the cable car twice a year, always in spring and autumn between the summer and winter seasons. The ropes have a prescribed diagnostic inspection, which is performed for the supporting ropes every 3 years and for smaller ropes, every 2 years. The last diagnostic inspection of the tow rope took place in November 2020. Another inspection was recommended by an expert by November 2022.

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Sierra at Tahoe Aims to Open with Limited Terrain

As a winter storm heads for California, significant work remains before Sierra at Tahoe can open for the 2021/22 season. It was seven weeks ago the Caldor Fire tore through the majority of the resort’s drought-stricken terrain, damaging lifts and destroying millions of dollars of equipment. Most buildings were saved but Sierra now says extensive damage and supply chain challenges could mean a later than normal start to the season with limited terrain. Parts of the ski area won’t open at all this winter, including the entirety of West Bowl and its two chairlifts.

The season will likely include the Easy Rider Express, Tahoe King, Short Stuff and El Dorado. These lifts are currently undergoing repairs along with normal annual maintenance and inspections. Short Stuff’s fire-damaged haul rope has already been replaced with a spare rope from Mammoth Mountain installed with assistance from Palisades Tahoe. Another lift which needs a new rope, the Grandview Express, will remain out of service until a replacement arrives from Switzerland. “We are focused on making repairs and restoring Sierra to optimal condition, while simultaneously navigating global supply chain and shipping challenges for essential equipment and components,” read an update posted yesterday.

In addition to the West Bowl closure, many tree skiing areas will be off limits the 2021/22 season due to dangerous conditions. Sierra at Tahoe is offering passholders next season on top of this one should they choose to stick it out. This deal also includes a $50 rebate, which can optionally be donated to a fund for Sierra employees impacted by the fire. Resort owners will match $50 donations to make them $100. Passholders who choose not to take the two year season pass options can request a full refund.

“Our opening timeframe for the 2021/22 season is still unknown, as there is a tremendous amount of work to be done in order to offer you the quality ski experience you have come to expect from Sierra,” the resort told passholders. “We are hopeful to have more clarity on an estimated timeframe for opening the resort in the coming weeks.”

Another Chondola Coming to the Smoky Mountains

Developers Mark and Lisa Williford today announced construction of SkyLand Ranch, an entertainment and shopping complex in Sevierville, Tennessee. The $40 million project includes an aerial lift with both chairs and gondolas, a mountain coaster, suspension bridge, zip lines, and shopping. The park will be set on a 100 acre ranch across the street from one of the South’s largest outlet malls. “SkyLand Ranch has been a dream of our family for over 10 years,” said Lisa Williford, owner of SkyLand Ranch and two nearby Rowdy Bear Adventure Parks. “The idea is to form a destination that tells a story of life on the ranch with a spark of amusement, festivals, shopping, dining, and leisure. The Five Oaks area already has outstanding lodging, dining and shopping with the Tanger Outlets — and amusement and recreation is the only thing missing from this area of Sevierville.”

Those who’ve visited eastern Tennessee know the Gatlinburg region’s seemingly limitless entertainment and recreation demand. Boyne Resorts opened Gatlinburg’s original chairlift attraction back in 1954 and the Smoky Mountains’ first ski area/amusement park followed with a tram and four chairlifts in the decades after. Anakeesta came on scene with the region’s first gondola in 2017 and The Hawk Skylift opened on Harper Brothers Mountain just this past summer. A ninth lift was set to open at Pigeon Forge Snow in 2020, although that project was shelved due to the coronavirus pandemic.

SkyLand Ranch construction is already underway and the park is set to open in Spring 2022. A manufacturer for the new combination lift was not announced.

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Leitner-Poma to Expand in Utah

Utah’s Office of Economic Opportunity will support Leitner-Poma of America as it establishes a new base in the Beehive State. Leitner-Poma plans to bring up to 118 jobs over the next 10 years in manufacturing, service, parts, sales and administration with an estimated $30 million capital investment. “Utah has a fantastic pro-business environment and the ropeway market in Utah is growing exponentially,” said Daren Cole, president of Leitner-Poma of America in a press release. “We’re excited to expand our operations to have a more permanent home in the state.”

Since 2016, LPOA has owned fixed-grip specialist Skytrac, operating out of a former Komatsu dealership in Salt Lake City. The balance of Leitner-Poma’s US manufacturing currently takes place in Grand Junction, Colorado, where the French company Poma established an outpost in 1981. Today, LPOA and Skytrac plus groomer manufacturer Prinoth and snowmaking supplier DemacLenko all operate under the High Technology Industries (HTI) umbrella. The new facility will house several HTI brands, providing customers with a wide range of services. The State of Utah will refund a portion of Leitner-Poma’s state taxes for the next decade if certain economic targets are met.

“We’re excited that a global company like Leitner-Poma is bringing the manufacturing and distribution of chairlifts and other transportation systems to the home of The Greatest Snow on Earth,” said Theresa Foxley, president and CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah. “Like other companies in our Outdoor Products industry, they will find our state to have committed and talented workers.”

Current LPOA projects in the Utah market include a set of bubble chairs for Wasatch Peaks Ranch and a six place lift at Snowbasin Resort.