Rebuilding Mad River Glen’s Single Chair

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The single chair at Mad River Glen in Vermont is not the only single chair around but it’s certainly the newest, nicest and most famous.  Originally built in 1947-48 by American Steel & Wire Company, it has hauled skiers up Stark Mountain for the past 65 years.  The chair at MRG was AS&W’s 15th and cost $75,000 not including installation. Originally powered by a diesel motor, it had no electrical circuit at all during the early years.  Safety systems on towers and bullwheels were added later.  In 1995, Mad River Glen became the first ski area member-owned co-operative in the United States and it still does not have any slopeside lodging nor does it allow snowboarding.

The Single Chair during fall foliage season.
The Single Chair during fall foliage season.

By 2005, the diesel-powered single chair had become too expensive to maintain.  Chairs were failing NDT, the lift had no cable catchers or bullwheel retention and replacement parts were no longer available (except ones cannibalized from the AS&W single that had been replaced at nearby Stowe.)  Doppelmayr CTEC was brought in by the co-operative’s Board of Directors and developed two proposals – a $1.54 million rebuild of the single chair or an all-new double chair for $300,000 less.

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Lift Profile: Vail’s Gondola One

Riding Gondola One to Vail Village.
Riding Gondola One to Vail Village.

When Vail opened the 10-passenger Gondola One in 2012, it marked the return of gondola service to Vail Village for the first time since 1976.  Gondola One is named after the original Bell gondola at Vail, which opened fifty years earlier in 1962.  After a de-ropement on that gondola the Lionshead gondola that killed four, various chairlifts served Vail Village for the next thirty years.  Gondola One replaced the Vista Bahn, one of Vail’s original detachable quads from 1985.  The Vista Bahn was a beast of a lift – over 9,000 feet long with 216 bubble quad chairs that could move 2,650 skiers per hour to the heart of Vail Mountain.  By 2011, the Vista Bahn had reached the end of its useful life and needed replacement.

The bottom terminal is located in the heart of Vail Village and has a spacious loading area.
The bottom terminal is located in the heart of Vail Village and has a spacious loading area.
The Mid-Vail station houses the drive and cabin parking.
The Mid-Vail station houses the drive and cabin parking.

Gondola One is an impressive upgrade, full of modern features and an example of how the gondola is staging a comeback.  Built by Leitner-Poma, it has 120 10-passenger Sigma Diamond cabins with heated seats, LED lighting and Wi-Fi.  Cabin 50 is painted gold to celebrate Vail’s 50th anniversary which was celebrated the year it opened.  Exterior ski racks on the cabins have space for ten pairs of skis or six snowboards and bikes can fit inside the cabins in the summer.

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Lift Profile: Casper at Jackson Hole

The Casper quad at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort replaced a triple chair in 2012.
The Casper quad at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort replaced a triple chair in 2012.

Jackson Hole’s Casper lift is an example of how the right lift can revitalize an entire section of a mountain.  Prior to 2012, Casper was a 1974 Heron-Poma triple chair with a 10-minute ride time.  The lift and nearby trails felt like no-man’s land in between the much newer Bridger Gondola and Apres Vous high speed quad.  Casper had a race course and restaurant, but few people wanted to ride the lift.

Old Casper without many people around.
Old Casper looking pretty deserted.

In the summer of 2012, Jackson Hole invested $5 million to build a new Casper high speed quad and re-grade three major runs in the Casper pod.  The race course was moved elsewhere and the entire area dubbed “all new, all-blue.”  The new Casper opened December 6, 2012 and completely changed intermediate skiing at Jackson Hole.

Casper has the best lift shacks on the mountain with lots of space.
Casper has the best lift shacks on the mountain with lots of space.

Casper is one of Leitner-Poma’s first dozen lifts to utilize the new LPA terminals and grips, which debuted at Vail in 2010.  While not without the usual hiccups, Casper is a machine well-liked by mechanics, operators and skiers.  The lift shacks and terminals are spacious with many thoughtful features.  For example, the chairs have clips that prevent seats from blowing up in high winds.  The lift can auto-slow and auto-stop at pre-set wind speeds.  A touchscreen at the return terminal gives operators just as much information as at the drive.  Tower ladders extend all the way to the top of the lifting frames.

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Lift Profile: Tote Road Quad at Loon Mountain

Looking back towards Loon Mountain on the Tote Road Quad that connects to South Peak.
Looking back towards Loon Mountain on the Tote Road Quad that connects to South Peak.
When Loon Mountain in New Hampshire’s White Mountains designed their South Peak expansion a decade ago, they needed a way to move skiers between Loon Peak and South Peak over terrain too flat to ski.  Doppelmayr CTEC engineered the Tote Road quad, a two-way chairlift to transport skiers between the mountains.  This was a cheaper solution than building heavily-graded ski trails or a detachable gondola.

Doppelmayr CTEC Uni-Star drive terminal and loading area.
Doppelmayr CTEC Uni-Star drive terminal and loading area.
The drive terminal was sited along the Upper Bear Claw trail near the summit of Loon.  After loading here, the lift rises sharply to allow skiers coming from the other direction to cross underneath.  Tote Road descends modestly before climbing to the summit of South Peak.  The return terminal is located adjacent to the top of the Lincoln Express which also opened for the 2007-2008 season.  On the return trip from South Peak, skiers unload at a ramp well before the drive terminal but still close enough for the loading and unloading ramps to share one set of controls and a single lift shack.  To my knowledge, each end of Tote Road is always staffed by two operators even though Loon could theoretically get away with just one.

Tote Road has loading and unloading at each end.
Tote Road has loading and unloading at each end and three split towers.
Tote Road has 11 towers; the first three are split towers with different heights on each side. Its 89 chairs move 2,400 skiers per hour in each direction at 450 feet a minute.  Because the lift goes down before it goes up, the vertical distance between terminals is only 95 feet.  Slope length is just under 2,000 feet with a ride time of 4.3 minutes each way.  By these numbers, Tote Rode is a small lift but it is a very important link at one of the most visited resorts in the East.

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Lift Profile: Collins at Alta Ski Area

Most skiers who ride Collins have no idea they area actually riding two different lifts joined in the middle.
Most skiers who ride Collins have no idea they area actually riding two different lifts joined in the middle.

When it opened at Alta Ski Area in 2004, the new Collins lift was the 66-year old resort’s first base-to-summit lift.  It replaced two older Yan fixed-grip lifts and dramatically improved the skiing experience at Alta.  Collins is actually two detachable quad lifts joined in the middle at a 29-degree angle.  Its four Stealth III terminals were the last off the line following Doppelmayr and CTEC’s merger two years earlier.

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The lower section replaced the Collins double in a completely new alignment from the parking lot level of Alta’s Wildcat base area.  The Wildcat double’s bottom terminal was also moved downhill the same summer to be adjacent to Collins.  Stage I is only 2,727 feet long with a vertical rise of 741 feet, nine towers and ride time of 2.7 minutes.  It was designed to be able to operate independently at night with gondola cabins to serve events and dining at the Watson Shelter although this has yet to be realized.

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Approaching the 29-degree Collins angle station.

The angle station adjacent to Watson Shelter houses 500-HP drive motors for both sections.  There is no unloading at the angle station but skiers can load empty up-bound chairs.  Automated gates prevent skiers (remember this is Alta – no snowboarders) from attempting to load occupied chairs.  The last time I was at Alta, there was no loading at the mid-station until after 10 am to allow maximum capacity out of the base area.  After that, every 6th chair was left empty at the base to allow for loading at the mid-station.

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Lift Profile: Portland Aerial Tram

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The Portland Aerial Tram, opened in January 2007, is one of only a handful of urban commuter lifts in the United States.  It connects the campus of the Oregon Health & Science University with Portland’s up-and-coming South Waterfront neighborhood.  The tram was built for $57 million during Doppelmayr-Garaventa’s North American golden years when they completed three projects worth $150 million in less than two years (the others being Jackson Hole’s new tram and the Peak 2 Peak Gondola.)  The Portland tram now carries more than 3,300 passengers a day, far exceeding initial projections.

Leaving the bottom terminal on Portland's South Waterfront.
Leaving the bottom terminal on Portland’s South Waterfront.

The tram only rises 496 feet but it crosses a light rail line, eight lanes of Interstate 5 and eleven other roads.  The bottom terminal houses the 600 HP drive motor and tram offices while the 80,000 lb. counterweight sits underneath the top station.  Slope length is only 3,437 feet, allowing quick three-minute trips at 2000 feet per minute or 7 m/s.  This achieves a capacity of 1,014 passengers per hour, per direction.

A tram cabin approaches the top dock.
A tram cabin approaches the top dock.

Why did a tram one quarter of the size of Jackson Hole’s cost $25 million more?  Two words: politics and aesthetics.  Designers wanted the system to be unique to Portland and aesthetically pleasing.  The city held an international design competition and selected AGPS Architecture of Zurich to design the terminals, tower and cabins.  The 197-foot tower is entirely covered in steel panels and lit up in colors at night.  Gangloff custom-designed the tram’s two 78-passenger cabins to look like flying reflective bubbles.  The top station is perhaps the most complex piece of the project, sitting 140-feet above ground and supported by angled columns.

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Lift Profile: Iron Mountain Tramway

Three cabins near the summit of the Iron Mountain Tramway in Glenwood Springs, CO.
Three cabins nearing the summit of the Iron Mountain Tramway in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

The Iron Mountain Tramway provides the only public access to the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park located in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.  Built by Leitner-Poma in 2002, it was one of the first pulse gondolas to open in North America.  The system debuted with four sets of two CWA Omega III cabins and now has six pulses of three for a total of 18 cabins.  Ultimate design capacity is 36 cabins in groups of three which would achieve a capacity of 543 passengers per hour per direction.   With a top speed of 1,000 feet per minute, the trip takes about seven minutes including two slows along the way.  If more pulses are added, the trip time will increase as the system slows to a crawl whenever cabins are loading and unloading.  This is one of the disadvantages of pulse systems.

Notice the entire center loading platform and guides move hydraulically with the motor room above.
The entire center loading platform and guides move hydraulically with the motor room above.

The gondola rises 1,351 feet and has a slope length is 4,432 feet.  The bottom drive terminal is a Poma Alpha model with a 400 HP electric motor.  Because this is also the tension terminal, the entire loading platform moves hydraulically with the motor room and bullwheel.

Bottom terminal adjacent to Interstate 70.
Bottom terminal adjacent to Interstate 70.

A unique feature of this installation is that the 18 towers also support water, natural gas and sewer lines for the summit facilities.  All three lines are suspended from a 3/16″ cable attached just under each tower’s crossarm.  The water line supplies 42 gallons per minute to a tank located at the summit.  The Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board approved transport of natural gas along the line because the fiberglass pipe used has a safety factor of 30 relative to the pressure of the gas.

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Lift Profile: Centennial Chondola at Beaver Creek

Centennial is the world's only 6/10 chondola lift.
Centennial is the world’s only 6/10 chondola lift.

Beaver Creek Resort faced a unique challenge last year when they needed to replace their aging workhorse lift.  The original Centennial Express was one of Doppelmayr’s first high speed quads, built in 1986.  Vail Resorts wanted the new lift to serve skiers as well as private events at the Spruce Saddle Lodge while at the same time achieving a high hourly capacity.  Originally announced as a regular six pack, Vail and Doppelmayr later decided to build the world’s only chondola with six passenger chairs and ten passenger gondola cabins.

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This is the longest Uni-G terminal I have ever seen.
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During summer operation the loading carpet is covered but queuing gates remain.

The result is an impressive lift nearly 8,000 foot long that moves 3,400 passengers an hour.  25 10-passenger CWA Omega gondola cabins alternate with 125 chairs in a 5:1 ratio.  The old lift had 195 quad chairs but moved 35 percent fewer people.  The new Centennial rises over 2,000 vertical feet in 7.9 minutes at 1,000 fpm.  It has 25 towers, five fewer than the original.

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Lift Profile: Couloir Express at White Pass, WA

The Couloir Express is on the upper right of the White Pass trail map.
The Couloir Express is on the upper right of the White Pass trail map.

Located on the edge of Mt. Rainier National Park in the Washington Cascades, White Pass Ski Area has been operating continuously since 1956.  Until 2010, the entire ski area could be accessed from a single lift with a 1,500 foot vertical rise.  An ambitious expansion opened on December 4, 2010, doubling the size of the resort 33 years after it was first proposed to the Forest Service.  The 767-acre Paradise Basin addition includes two new Doppelmayr quads called Basin and Couloir Express as well as a new lodge and trails.  Both lifts were built mostly over snow to avoid road building in this former wilderness area.  Construction took place over two springs, taking a break for the summer and winter of 2009-10.

Building lifts over snow in 2010 with a unique construction schedule due to environmental concerns.
Building the Couloir Express over snow with a unique construction schedule due to environmental concerns.  Photo credit: White Pass Ski Area

The Couloir Express is the last Uni-GS model detachable that Doppelmayr built.  Designed specifically for North America, 44 GS detachable quads and six packs were built between 2003 and 2010.  Some resorts like Beaver Creek continued to order the Austrian-designed Uni-G so the GS never fully caught on.  Presumably it was phased out in 2010 to simplify production in a market with limited demand.

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Lift Profile: Sunshine Village Gondola

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Sunshine Village is one of two ski resorts in North America with access provided by gondola rather than road, the other being Silver Mountain in Idaho.  Visitors park at the end of Sunshine Road and transfer to a Poma gondola for a 17 minute ride to Sunshine Village.  Along the way there are two angle stations, one where doors stay closed and the other with loading/unloading at Goat’s Eye Mountain.  All three sections share one haul rope driven by a 2,000 HP electric motor underneath the top terminal.  The Goat’s Eye angle station has indoor cabin storage and there are additional maintenance rails at each end.

When opened on November 22, 2001, Poma claimed the Sunshine Village Gondola was the world’s fastest 8-passenger gondola with a max speed of 1,200 feet per minute.  I don’t believe this was ever true as Whiteface’s Cloudsplitter Gondola opened two years earlier and can run 1,212 fpm.  There are now at least 15 gondolas in North America that can do 1,200 feet a minute or faster.  Regardless, Sunshine’s gondola is an impressive machine that moves 2,800 people per hour in each direction 15+ hours per day.  It cost $16 million to build.

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