Cannon Mountain Guns for a New Tram

New Hampshire State Parks leaders gathered interested public tonight to present alternatives for future lift service on Cannon Mountain’s east side. At issue is the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tram, which turns 43 this year. Cannon General Manager John DeVivo and Parks Director Phil Bryce said the state is at a crossroads because multiple systems are in need of overhaul and parts are becoming more difficult to source.

Franconia Notch State Park, which includes Cannon Mountain and the Tram, generates almost half the annual revenue for the entire state park system with the tram alone generating $1.5 million in ticket sales. The tram’s iconic ketchup and mustard colored cabins are particularly popular in the summer as an accessible way for visitors to enjoy the White Mountains.

Three options are to overhaul the current 70 passenger tram, build a new tram or switch to a gondola. It became clear very quickly at the meeting that everyone wants a new tram, which would cost upwards of $25 million. A detachable gondola was presented as costing more to build, 25 to 30 percent more to maintain while increasing capacity two to five times on the summit. The wind issue was also widely pointed to, particularly acute on a day which saw almost every New England ski area blow down. At one point, a state senator in attendance asked the public to raise hands for a tram or gondola and every single person wanted the tram. “How much cachet does a gondola have?” said one attendee. “Nobody cares about a gondola,” said another.

The questions then turned to what kind of tram and when. Cannon officials presented 80 and 100 person cabins as options with the existing tram buildings likely to be reused. Construction would take two summers and a winter, during which time other lifts could service the summit. As for manufacturer, DeVivo made clear his preference for Doppelmayr-Garaventa, citing a longstanding relationship involving most of Cannon’s lifts. A Doppelmayr sales rep and engineer are visiting Cannon on Monday to move ideas forward. It’s important to note while Doppelmayr has built the majority of North American aerial tramways, Leitner-Poma has examples as well, namely the Roosevelt Island Tram in New York City and the Goldbelt Tram in Alaska. Ultimately the decision whether to go with a sole source contract or a competitive bid process is up to the Governor and his Executive Council. The current Governor is Chris Sununu, a Republican up for reelection who also happens to have intimate knowledge of the lift manufacturer landscape as past CEO of Waterville Valley.

Why now? The current tram is estimated to have 3-5 years of life left before a major overhaul is needed. Also New Hampshire is set to receive $995 million in American Rescue Plan funds which must be used for pandemic related purposes before 2027. Apparently outdoor recreation capital expenses qualify under the program and that is why State Parks officials want to act now. Ultimately the New Hampshire House and Senate will decide how to allocate the ARPA funds. If you have thoughts on the new tram proposal, you can send them to TramComments@dncr.nh.gov through March 1st. If the project gets funded, construction could start in 2023 or 2024.

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Why T-Bars are Trending Again

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The Valar T-Bar opened at Cannon Mountain last year to service an expansive race venue, demonstrating one of reasons resorts are building new T-Bars these days.
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.

Peak T-Bar construction occurred in 1964 (not shown) but the platter remained popular as a beginner lift into the 1990s when the carpet came along.  Peak J-Bar was back in 1967 and those are probably gone for good.

Race Training

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.

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Instagram Tuesday: Stars

Every Tuesday, I feature my favorite Instagram photos from around the lift world.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BQc7fc2gNe5/?tagged=cablecar

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