Pending government approval, one of the closest ski resorts to Mt. Washington and its famous cog railway will open a 6,000-foot base-to-summit gondola in 2018. Bretton Woods’ director of ski operations Chris Ellms appeared before a local planning board last night to unveil plans for the all-season lift and a new summit lodge.
The relatively low-capacity gondola will circulate 36 8-passenger cabins, making it the largest gondola in the state by cabin size. Loon Mountain’s gondola seats only four. Both the Bethlehem Express quad and Fayban’s Express triple chair will remain in place for winter skiers but the 1,300 vertical-foot gondola will spin other seasons as well. Fayban’s top terminal will be moved downhill to make room for the gondola station and the new lift will cross over Bethlehem. Ellms said the approximately five minute gondola ride will serve skiers, sightseers, hikers, diners and wedding parties. “What we are proposing is it is not all about skiing, it is what the resort is about which is four seasons.” Total project cost for the gondola and new restaurant is approximately $15 million and Bretton Woods’ owner, Omni Hotels & Resorts, hopes to open the new lift next ski season. The mountain’s current fleet includes mostly Doppelmayr and Garaventa CTEC lifts, though a manufacturer for the new gondola was not named.
Seventy percent of the 1,277 T-Bars, J-Bars and platter (sometimes called Poma) lifts built in North America to date are no longer in service. That would suggest the traditional surface lift is a dying breed in the age of beginner-friendly carpets, which go in by the dozen every year of late. But over the last two seasons, a bit of a renaissance has emerged, with more mountain resorts adding brand new T-Bars and platters. Four T-Bars being completed right now represent the highest number in North America since 1987. Even more resorts are considering building these classic surface lifts, although the reasons why have little to do with learning to ski.
Yesterday I visited both Burke Mountain, Vermont and Cannon Mountain, New Hampshire, where local ski clubs recently partnered to build dedicated surface lifts on terrain used for racing. In some cases, these types of lifts are open to the public but other times not. New T-Bars are relatively cheap with costs typically covered by donors and/or program fees. Another reason for this application is speed; every T-Bar built since 2011 can move at least 550 feet per minute, significantly faster than most fixed-grip chairlifts. The Franconia Notch Ski Club’s new T was built by LST Ropeways and goes up to 690 fpm; Burke Mountain Academy’s nearly-finished one is a Leitner, shown below.