Utah ski resorts are proving this season that lifts need not be giant to positively impact guest experiences. I got to visit the state’s three newest chairlifts this week, which are all short but sweet with beginner skiers in mind.
High Meadow Express – Park City Mountain
The High Meadow Express is the centerpiece of re-imagined teaching terrain above Park City’s Canyons Village. With mellow loading and unloading speeds, a quick ride time and an improved alignment, the high speed quad marks a significant step up from the fixed quad it replaces. High Meadow Park is now wide open with perfectly pitched beginner trails. Expanded snowmaking rounds out the freshened up beginner zone.
Homestake Express – Deer Valley Resort
Homestake Express launched this morning at Alterra-owned Deer Valley, becoming the resort’s 13th detachable quad. Ride time is now under two minutes between Silver Lake Lodge and Bald Eagle Mountain. There are only eight towers now, down from 12, freeing up space on the busy Silver Link ski run. The new Homestake also features slatted backrests for wind resistance.
Snowpine – Alta Ski Area
In Little Cottonwood Canyon, the new Snowpine Quad carried its first skiers yesterday. The Skytrac Monarch was manufactured just 30 miles away in Salt Lake. While it only has two towers and a dozen chairs, the new lift serves dual functions. It will provide ski-in, ski-out access to the new Snowpine Lodge, which opens January 30th. Alta’s first fixed grip quad also provides a beginner-friendly alternative to the surface tow it replaces. The return terminal is height adjustable for the big snow years.
The most expensive gondola system ever built in the United States will debut sometime between September and December next year. Bob Chapek, Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Consumer Products made the announcement this morning in a keynote address at the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions Expo, which Doppelmayr and CWA are attending. Competitor Leitner-Poma is also there. “Next fall, Disney Skyliner will not only efficiently move you to your location, it’ll also offer a whole new way to experience Walt Disney World with amazing views only available from the sky,” the resort said in a blog post. Construction began on the three gondola lines in July of 2017.
Crews are working across the resort to complete the network, which will link two of the most visited theme parks in the world with four major hotels and replace a significant number of Disney Transport bus routes. A mural was recently added to the gateway station at Epcot and the second angle station now has its Doppelmayr D-Line enclosure.
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.
Walt Disney World Resort’s Skyliner is beginning to look a lot like a gondola – actually a system of gondolas unlike anything ever built in North America. Before I get to construction pictures, two significant developments occurred within the past week. First, Disney Parks announced that water taxi service between certain destinations will be suspended for 21 days beginning November 28th, likely so haul ropes and communications lines can be pulled between the eight gondola stations and 50 or so towers. Second, the first Skyliner-specific job posting appeared last Thursday. More on that in a minute.
The station at Epcot International Gateway is getting close and scaffolding shown below may be for applying the graphics shown in this artist’s rendering. The rear end of the terminal is getting a steel structure over the turnaround area where guests will load and unload.
The non-boarding station to the southwest of Epcot now looks similarly complete. Some of the D-Line windows are transparent while some are opaque, breaking up visually this very long station. Unfortunately the three awesome red bullwheels are being covered with terminal skin as well. Notice the stub rails on both sides which will ensure no cabin is ever more than two stations away from somewhere it can be removed. The primary parking and maintenance bays will be at Caribbean Beach South, two stops away from this angle change. The Epcot line has a total of four stations.
The most state-of-the-art chairlift in the world went vertical today under wispy Montana skies. Teams from Doppelmayr, Big Sky Resort and Timberline Helicopters flawlessly executed 71 trips to hundreds of thousands of pounds of steel to Andesite Mountain in under six and a half hours. Thanks to good weather and an even better crew, that’s an average of one pick every 5.5 minutes, including refueling. As fly days go, it was amazing to watch Ramcharger 8 take shape.
Two of the five biggest American ski areas without detachable lifts will leave the club this year. They are Loveland and Taos, both coincidentally adding bright blue Leitner-Poma high speed quads to serve as out-of-base workhorses. Along the Continental Divide at Loveland, the newly-named Chet’s Dream is the third chairlift to follow the Lift 1 line, carrying on the legacy of a Heron double and later a Lift Engineering triple. Family-owned Loveland ordered this lift early as 1 is usually among the first in the country to open for skiing in October. “It’s a big deal for both us and our guests,” Marketing & Communications Director John Sellers told me when I visited last week. “This lift will be in operation for the next few decades and we are excited to offer the increased speed and reliability to our customers for years to come.” With towers all flown and the rope going up shortly, the project is right on schedule.
Chester “Chet” Upham, Jr. joined Loveland in the 1950s and was instrumental in building the original Lift One, the third chairlift in Colorado. He bought out his partners in 1972 and the Upham family continues to own Loveland today. Chet’s Dream is the work of former Loveland ski patroller Terry Henningson, who submitted the name as part of a contest this spring that received nearly 3,000 entries. “Chet’s Dream stood out immediately as a way for us to honor a ski industry pioneer and the patriarch of Loveland Ski Area,” said John. I’m told the most popular entry was Lift 1 followed closely by Lifty McLiftface.
Ride time will fall from eight minutes to three and the number of towers is down by four. 49 quad chairs will circulate on the bottom drive lift. “Lift 1 was our workhorse and it had served us well for over 30 years. It was time for an upgrade and it was exciting to learn that our owners were considering a high-speed lift for its replacement,” John told me. Will it be the only high speed ride at Loveland? “Lift 6 will be our next upgrade and that will remain a fixed grip. As for future upgrades and any new potential lifts, we will have to wait and see what happens.”
A third detachable quad is poised to please beginners and experts alike this season at Wolf Creek Ski Area. The Forest Service approved the Meadow lift as part of a 55 acre project in late 2017 and construction commenced in June. This learning playground will feature almost a dozen new trails through low angle forests near Alberta Lake. But the lift will also appeal to expert skiers coming from the Knife Ridge Chutes, Horsehoe Bowl and Spooner Hill areas, who won’t need to hike after their powder lines anymore.
The 2,100′ Doppelmayr has eight towers and will deposit riders near tower nine of the much longer Alberta fixed-grip quad. (that’s right, Wolf Creek’s longest chairlift is still fixed-grip but its second shortest will be high speed.) There are now three lifts in the Alberta zone, which could be a ski area all itself at 900 acres.
The new 30 chair quad will be named Charity after late Wolf Creek owner Charity Jane Pitcher. This growing ski area, which sees the most natural snow in Colorado, is up to seven chairlifts and ten lifts overall. The mountain’s total lift-served vertical will increase slightly with the addition of Charity.
Steep chutes, natural glades, a couple cruiser trails and wide open faces. When Arapahoe Basin drops the ropes on The Beavers this year, there will be something for everyone. Just under 350 new acres make it the largest lift-served terrain expansion on the continent for 2018-19, ahead of Mt. Spokane’s backside development and Hunter North. The Beavers debuted for an earn-your-turns preview last season along with the Steep Gullies, totaling 468 acres of new terrain. Installation of a Leitner-Poma fixed-grip quad chair, the Basin’s sixth chairlift, was in high gear when I stopped by yesterday.
Topping out at 12,475′, The Beavers drainage is beyond beautiful and A Basin is taking great care to implement the project with as little disturbance as possible. The quad drive terminal is the closest you can get by road and dozens of workers are readying the expansion by foot, helicopter and spider excavator. Arapahoe Basin opted to do the development carefully over two years rather than rushing it in one, and it shows. The two blue trails were traditionally cut while the rest of the new stuff is either above tree line or was thinned by hand.
When holiday crowds catch a Cabriolet to The Village at Winter Park Resort this year, the second lift they’ll see is the resort’s first true gondola. Capable of hauling 3,600 skiers per hour out of the base area, the new Zephyr lift replaces a 1990 high-speed quad that could do only 2,600 in a perfect hour. Announced in March, the Leitner-Poma system will be similar to Vail’s Gondola One but with something totally new to the North American market: DirectDrive.
Sigma is fabricating 79 ten passenger Diamond cabins with the fresh Winter Park logo unveiled on Monday. The $16 million gondola and new brand are just part of a $28.2 million capital drive this year in cooperation with Winter Park’s operator, Alterra Mountain Company. Amazingly for a resort of WP’s size, this is the first new lift in ten years. Snowmaking is also seeing mega upgrades and a new heated village plaza will lead seamlessly to the bottom gondola terminal. The old Zephyr had 20 four passenger cabins used for restaurant access at night but the new version will be fully ADA accessible and operate day and night.
Eight is the magic number of gondola terminals now vertical in Florida. Three haul ropes will soon connect these stations at two iconic theme parks and four distinct resorts to create the Disney Skyliner network. With innovative loading capabilities and huge capacity, the Skyliner is poised to become a world showcase of gondola technology in 2019.
The gateway of Walt Disney World’s gondola system is being assembled this month at Epcot. Like most of the Skyliner stations, cabins will likely transit two separate loading zones to accommodate throngs of passengers of all ages. Each Skyliner building features a different theme and the outside of this one is going to be dark gray.