Chairs Collide on Opening Day at Tussey Mountain

Multiple media outlets are reporting chairs full of skiers and snowboarders slid into each other near the top of Tussey Mountain, Pennsylvania today, the first day of the season for the area. It appears four grips slipped down the haul rope and were stopped by a fifth grip and chair.  All of the chairs were occupied but thankfully, injuries to five people are being described as non-life threatening.  Passengers on the entire lift were brought down by rope.  A spokesman for the mountain told CBS News that an operator manually stopped the lift, which is a 1982 Borvig center pole model and one of two Borvig chairlifts at the ski area near State College.

Borvig brand lifts have been involved in at least six recent incidents including a deropement causing serious injuries at Sugarloaf in December 2010, a rollback at the same mountain in 2015, a tower separation in West Virginia in February 2016 and a foundation grout failure at Sunday River later that year.  Also in 2016, two chairs slid into each other on a relocated Borvig double at Granite Gorge, New Hampshire, sending two people to the hospital.

Continue reading

Advertisements

News Roundup: Commonwealth

Sunday River Lift Severely Damaged as Terminal Falls

SunRiv-Lift8-Web2
A Borvig return bullwheel lies in ruin Tuesday after a strange series of events in Western Maine over the weekend. Photo Credit: Sunday River

A truly bizarre incident came to light tonight when Sunday River revealed the top terminal of its Spruce Peak Triple chairlift slid downhill and flipped on its side over the weekend. Scott Crowell, the resort’s lift maintenance manager discovered the damage on Sunday. From the pictures, it appears the foundation and return bullwheel moved together, with the tension of the lift and gravity sending the line to the ground. Thankfully, the lift does not operate in the summer and no one was injured.

According to Weather Underground, Bethel, Maine received nearly an inch of rain in the four days leading up to the discovery of the damage.  Sunday River said the lift in question was last load tested in Fall 2015.

SunRiv-Lift8-Web3
Photo Credit: Sunday River

Spruce Peak is one of two Borvig triples remaining at Sunday River and its second oldest lift, built in 1986.  Chairkit added a loading carpet at the bottom station in 2014.  Spruce is 4,382 feet long and rises 1,211 feet with 17 towers and 177 chairs.  In a statement, Sunday River noted, “Decisions on repairing or replacing the lift have not been made at this point and will depend on several factors, including the results of the investigation. The resort is committed to moving forward as quickly as possible.”  The mountain is working with its insurance company, Willis MountainGuard, and state investigators.  Presumably there is still time to get a brand new lift built in time for the coming 2016-2017 winter season if the order is placed soon.  Alternatively, a lift manufacturer could come in and replace just the top terminal and any damaged chairs. Continue reading

New England Gets a Lift: Suicide Six to Build New Quad Chair

Vermont’s Woodstock Inn & Resort unveiled plans Thursday for a new quad chairlift at its Suicide Six Ski Area.  Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, but it marks the first (and possibly only) major lift project in the Northeast United States for 2016.  Over the last ten seasons, Northeastern ski resorts have built an average of ten new lifts each year, testament to this year’s huge departure from normal in the wake of a rough winter.

Suicide 6 Trail Map 2016.jpg
Suicide Six is replacing the longer of its two chairlifts.

The new Lift #1 will replace a 1975 Borvig double and be built by Leitner-Poma of America.  The Laurance S. Rockefeller Fund will foot the bill for the $1.5 million project.  The Rockefeller Family’s RockResorts once owned Suicide Six and the Woodstock Inn and spun them off as the nonprofit Woodstock Foundation in the 1980s.  Vail Resorts bought RockResorts in 2001.

The 2000′ Borvig double chair being replaced closed in February after the ski area found tower cracks following the Timberline, WV crossarm failure.  Although the two lifts’ towers were of different design, the State of Vermont ordered inspections of all Borvig-brand lifts.  The new quad will be Suicide Six’s first new lift since Poma built the 1,600′ chairlift way back in 1978.  The mountain first opened for skiing in 1936 and currently has two double chairs, a J-Bar and 24 trails.

Woodstock President and General Manager Gary Thulander said in a news release, “We recognized the need to upgrade this chairlift as part of the long-term support of the regional ski community including local schools, season pass holders, the Woodstock Ski Runners program, and visiting skiers.  Increased chair capacity means a dramatic upgrade to the overall experience of the mountain by all levels of skiers, racers and snowboarders.” Removal of the old chair is already underway.

Out with the old.  Photo credit: Green Mountain Control Systems.
Out with the old Borvig. Photo credit: Green Mountain Control Systems.

This is Leitner-Poma’s eighth new lift project for 2016, up from seven last year.  With this news from Suicide Six and other recent announcements, the total new lift count for North America stands at 39, up 11 percent from last summer’s 35.

Red Lodge Mountain Mixes Past and Present

Red Lodge Mountain, located near the famous town of the same name and the northeast corner of Yellowstone, is Montana’s fourth largest ski area.  You wouldn’t know it pulling up to the classic lodge and old school lifts out front.  Opened in 1960 as Grizzly Peak, it now skis like two distinct resorts – the original mountain with 1970s-era double chairs and a huge expansion served by dual high speed quads that opened in 1996. Approaching its 60th anniversary, the mountain faces dueling challenges of prolonged drought and competition from the booming Big Sky region.

rlmtrailmap

Grizzly Peak opened with one lift, now called Willow Creek, in 1960.  This classic Riblet double has since been shortened to start above the base area and only operates on peak days.  In 1970, the resort added two more Riblet doubles that also still operate – a beginner lift dubbed Miami Beach and another to the summit called Grizzly Peak.

In 1977, Red Lodge added a rare Borvig double at a western ski area called Midway Express.  It served no new terrain but allowed skiers to return to mid-mountain without having to ski all the way to the base area.  With just five towers and a vertical rise of only 400 feet, this lift proved too expensive to operate and was abandoned in 2010.  Most of the chairs were auctioned to raise cash and the sheaves, comm-line and haul rope were dropped to the ground and left.  The terminals and towers still stand today.

IMG_5231
The Midway Express double six years after closing for good.

Continue reading

Fallout from Timberline

Timberline Four Seasons Resort plans to have the Thunderstruck lift re-opened Saturday after last weekend’s incident with help from Partek, Aerial NDT and Ropeway Construction.  A new crossarm will be installed to replace the one that fell from tower 12 and the lift will be load tested before it re-opens.  “We have assembled a world-class team of manufacturers, engineers, and safety inspectors who have been working diligently since the event took place to assess and repair the lift, with multiple levels of oversight at every step in the process,” the resort said in a statement posted to Facebook.

Sugarloaf temporarily closed its Snubber lift (a 1985 Borvig triple) for inspections Monday after news of the incident at Timberline.  Sugarloaf notes it completed Borvig’s recommended reinforcement of towers on affected lifts in the late 1980s, as did Sunday River.

IMG_8547
In this photo from Sunday River, you can see the U bolts that were added in the late 1980s as a second connection between crossarm and tower tube on this 1986 Borvig triple (the same year and make as Thunderstruck at Timberline.)  Borvig issued a bulletin in 1987 calling for this modification on certain lifts.

The State of Vermont ordered the closure of the 2,000 foot double chair at Suicide Six after cracks were found on two of its towers.  This lift was manufactured by Borvig in 1975 and has a different tower design than the ones at Timberline with no lifting frame. Because this particular lift provides the only access to the majority of the mountain’s terrain, the resort is closed until the towers can be repaired.

By my count there are 176 Borvig lifts remaining in operation in 26 states and 3 Canadian provinces.  The company built 260 lifts from 1962 to 1991.

Added 2/25/2016: Sugarloaf announced today they performed non-destructive testing on the Skidway double’s towers this week in addition to inspecting Snubber.  Skidway is a 1988 Borvig double.  While the NDT found no problems, Sugarloaf will voluntarily install U-bolts connecting Skidway’s tower tubes and crossarms this week out of an abundance of caution.

Falling Crossarm Injures Nine at Timberline, WV

Nine people were injured and 100+ others evacuated when a crossarm fell completely off a tower at Timberline Four Seasons Resort around 9:15 this morning, causing skiers to contact the snow.  Thankfully, only two of those people required hospitalization despite the fact that numerous chairs fell 10-20 feet during public operation. The lift in question is called Thunderstruck and was built by Borvig in 1986.  It has Leitner chairs and is just over 4,100 feet long with 17 towers. Tower 12 is the one that failed. The pictures are harrowing and this incident could have been much worse.  Sugarloaf’s two recent high-profile accidents involved Borvig lifts – a de-ropement with chairs contacting the ground in 2010 and rollback in 2015.

 

Sugarloaf Announces Lift Safety Upgrades and Website

Yesterday Sugarloaf Mountain Resort, the site of two of the worst lift accidents in recent memory, announced $1.3 million in lift safety upgrades including a new Doppelmayr drive terminal for the lift that rolled back in March.  The mountain will also launch a new website devoted solely to lift safety and maintenance with a tip line for anyone to submit questions and concerns about lifts.  All of this is moving forward despite Sugarloaf’s looming sale.

The King Pine Quad's bottom drive terminal will be replaced with a new Doppelmayr one.
The King Pine Quad’s bottom drive terminal will be replaced with a new Doppelmayr one.
In December 2010, the Spillway East double, built by Borvig in 1975, experienced a de-ropement that caused numerous chairs to hit the ground and drag approximately 40 feet.  Eight skiers were injured and the last legal claim was settled just last week.  The State of Maine’s investigation found inadequate maintenance records, poor training, high winds, and component failure as probable contributing factors.  The full report is here.  Spillway was replaced by a Doppelmayr quad the following summer and renamed Skyline.

The King Pine Quad, a 1988 Borvig, rolled-back approximately 460 feet on March 21, 2015, resulting in numerous injuries.  Skiers went around the bottom bullwheel at high speed and many others jumped off.  Sugarloaf’s internal investigation found that the drive bullwheel’s drop dog failed to deploy due to a faulty switch and the lift was eventually stopped by an operator who manually activated the lift’s emergency brake.  The state has not yet released its investigation into this incident.  King Pine and its sister quad called Timberline were both closed for the remainder of last season.

King Pine's new drive terminal will be similar to Skyline's.
King Pine’s new drive terminal will be similar to Skyline’s.
Continue reading

Lifts by State (and Province)

Ever wanted to know how many lifts are operating in each state?  Read on.  Colorado has the most operating lifts of any state with 275.  California is close behind with 263 followed by New York (189) and Michigan (165).  There are only 9 states with more than 100 lifts each.  The majority of states have fewer than 20 lifts today.  Five sad states have no aerial lifts at all to my knowledge – Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Hawaii and Louisiana.  (Louisiana used to have a 6-passenger Poma gondola called MART that crossed the Mississippi River.)

Each one of Canada’s 10 provinces has at least 3 lifts used for skiing.  Only the Nunavut and Northwest Territories do not have a lift.  Quebec has the most lifts by far with 226 followed by British Columbia (165), Ontario (162), and Alberta (87).

The average age of lifts varies significantly by region.  Maryland’s 7 lifts average 17 years old while Ohio’s 33 lifts are more than twice as old at 34.4 years.  Utah and Montana stand out as having new lifts averaging 19.4 and 19.9 years old, respectively.  Places with really old lifts tend to be in the East and Midwest.  Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio and New York all have lifts that average more than 30 years old.

It’s also interesting to look at which brand has the most operating lifts in each state/province.  25 states/provinces are dominated by brands which disappeared decades ago – Yan, Riblet, Borvig and Hall.  Borvig dominates in 5 eastern states – IL, VA, IA, ME, and PA.  Hall lifts are pervasive in many eastern states – ND, CT, MA, NY, WI, MN, OH, and SC.  Riblet still dominates all of the northwest and some of the midwest – MO, OR, WA, SD, AK, NM, IN, MI, and KY.  Yan takes its home state of Nevada and neighboring California and Arizona.

Doppelmayr is the most common lift brand in surprisingly few states – MD, GA, MT, NJ, NH, ID, and NC.  The story is different in Canada where Doppelmayr is the top brand in most of the country – BC, MB, SK, AB, QC, and NB.  Despite being gone for a decade, CTEC and GaraventaCTEC are still the most popular in Utah, Wyoming and West Virginia (thanks solely to Snowshoe Resort.)  Finally Poma and Leitner-Poma take their home state of CO plus VT and ON, NL, PEI and NS in Canada.