Towers Take Flight for Big Sky’s Swift Current 6

North America’s fastest six passenger chairlift is on track to open this Thanksgiving at Big Sky Resort. For the past three days, teams from Big Sky, Timberline Helicopters and Doppelmayr placed 23 towers and removed another set from the previous Swift Current quad. The new, conical towers are so burly it took nearly 200 heli trips to complete installation.

Swift Current ranks among North America’s largest new lifts this year and will complement Ramcharger 8, the trailblazing eight place bubble chair on neighboring Andesite Mountain. Swifty 2.0 features the same three ring Doppelmayr Direct Drive motor and 125 Big Sky Blue bubble chairs with heated seats. The previous Swift Current detachable quad will be placed in storage for re-installation somewhere within the Boyne Resorts portfolio.

The nearly complete bottom terminal sits just uphill of the old loading point, freeing up space the base area. The bottom is also no longer the drive station, increasing efficiency and reducing noise in the village. Together with Ramcharger, two D-Line lifts will lift up to 6,600 skiers per hour out of Big Sky’s Mountain Village.

Like at Ramcharger, an indoor parking facility is taking shape adjacent to Swifty’s top terminal, which will will feature 90 degree unloading and totally reimagined flow. Skiers and snowboarders coming from Shedhorn will enjoy a wider skiway around the top terminal instead of dodging unloaders from Swift Current. Snowmaking will reach the top of Swifty for the first time ever this season, a welcome addition to a high traffic spot subject to sun and wind. Come summer, 38 bike carriers will come out of the parking facility and carry four mountain bikes apiece.

Big Sky will now feature four distinct bubble chairlifts on Andesite Mountain, Lone Peak and Spirit Mountain. Along with the Swift Current project, the Lewis & Clark high speed quad is in the process of receiving new blue bubbles and a capacity increase to coincide with the planned Christmas opening of Montage Big Sky.

With seven new lifts in five years, there’s always something exciting going on at Big Sky. As Swift Current 6 nears completion, I can’t help but wonder what this mecca for modern lifts will build next.

First Disney Skyliner Cabins Revealed

In addition to becoming one of the most-ridden gondola systems when it opens this fall, we now know the Disney Skyliner will also be among the most colorful.  After nearly two years of construction, cabins are finally out and about on all three new gondola lines spanning Walt Disney World Resort.

The cabins crisscross between the world’s seventh and ninth most-visited theme parks plus four resort hotels.  Last week, Disney and Doppelmayr removed protective covers from 55 cabins that will service Hollywood Studios, revealing a cornucopia of colors and characters.

There are eight core colors including multiple shades of blue and red.  Some cabins are monotone while others feature Disney icons from across nine decades.  Beauty and the Beast, Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Wars, Toy Story and Winnie the Pooh are just some of the storied franchises highlighted on gondolas.

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Disney Skyliner Proving Runs Underway

The first of Walt Disney World’s three Skyliner lines is looking a lot like a gondola these days with cabins moving along at a brisk clip during test runs.  Line speed appears to be at least 5 m/s with cabin interval around 10 seconds, translating to a 3,600 per hour capacity.  We’ll have to wait and see what the final spacing and speeds are but it’s clear these gondolas are going to move a ton of people.

One of the many cabins now flying between Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort and Hollywood Studios was recently uncovered, providing some clues to how the system will look when completed.  The landing below the cabin doors is wider and squarer than normal for easy loading and unloading.  There are three windows that open out on the front of the cabin, one on the tower side and two at the rear.  Additional vents at the bottom ensure there will be plenty of air flow.  While gondola number 251 is a simple yellow with glazed windows, many other cabins will feature Disney character graphics.

The Epcot line, which stretches some 8,200 linear feet with two angle changes, is not far behind on its way to completion.

At the first angle station, landscaping is underway and stairs are being erected for worker access to the terminal.

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Gondola Cabins Arrive at Walt Disney World

A rainbow shipment of CWA cabins is now stateside, earmarked for the skies above Central Florida.  Construction continues on the three line Disney Skyliner system, which is set to open this fall and sure to become a showcase for high capacity lift technology.

In addition to the row of cabins now staged at the Caribbean Beach hub, cabins have also been spotted in the Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Pop Century and Art of Animation stations.  While the gondolas are covered in protective wraps, you can see they come in a variety of colors with Disney character art on the windows.

There are interesting looking electrical boxes on the cabin roofs.  I’m curious to see what sort of infotainment the Skyliner carriers feature, if any.  It does not appear that power is derived from solar panels, as is the case with some other urban gondolas.

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Three New Quads Debut in Utah

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The brand new Homestake Express seen on opening day at Deer Valley.

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

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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

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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

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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.

 

Disney Skyliner to Open in Fall 2019

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.

A second angle station will service the sprawling Riviera Resort, seen below.  Can you spot the lift?  Guests will find themselves just a few minutes from both Hollywood Studios and Epcot by gondola.

In the below photo, you can see the last of more than 50 towers being completed.  Parking rails for hundreds of cabins are also being pieced together at the massive Caribbean Beach hub.

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Meet Big Sky’s Innovative New Lifts

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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.

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Skyliner Update: Hiring Begins, Ropes Soon?

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.

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Pioneering Ramcharger 8 Takes Flight

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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.

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Loveland Takes the Detach Plunge with Chet’s Dream

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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.”