374 Lifts That Aren’t Where They Used to Be

In any given year, about a third of ski areas’ “new lifts” are actually lifts removed from other locations that are finding a new home.  There are entire websites dedicated to the buying and selling of second-hand ski lifts.  By my count, at least 374 lifts in the US and Canada have been re-engineered and re-installed at new places, either at the same ski resort or clear across the country.

Jackson Hole's Sweetwater lift, originally built by Yan in 1983, is in its second state and third location.  Along the way it picked up some Poma chairs and Doppelmayr controls.
Jackson Hole’s Sweetwater lift, originally built by Yan in 1983, is in its second state and third location.  Along the way it picked up some Poma chairs and Doppelmayr controls.

The ski area that has sent the most lifts to other places is, not surprisingly, Whistler-Blackcomb. Ten of its former chairlifts live on at ski areas across the US and Canada.  Some resorts operate fleets of lifts pieced together entirely from other places.  Big Sky Resort operates nine used lifts, many of them hand me downs from other Boyne Resorts.  Removed lifts that don’t get snapped up by other ski areas often end up at amusement parks and zoos.

The Raptor shuffle.  A single Garaventa CTEC fixed-grip quad was installed three different times at The Canyons in just five seasons.
A single Garaventa CTEC fixed-grip quad was installed three different times at The Canyons over just five years in what I call the Raptor shuffle.

A handful of lifts have been moved multiple times.  The Dreamscape lift at Park City (formerly Canyons) is in its third location on the same mountain.  Originally installed by Garaventa CTEC in 1996 as the Saddleback quad, it was replaced the very next season by a detachable quad.  The fixed-grip quad became Raptor, which served the runs between Super Condor Express and Golden Eagle for three seasons, after which it was removed (and still not replaced.)  That same summer, Raptor went to the opposite side of the mountain to anchor a major expansion called Dreamscape.  I would not be surprised to see Vail Resorts replace Dreamscape this coming summer, giving the still-not-that-old quad chair a chance at a fourth life.

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Flying Gondola Towers in Park City

Doppelmayr flew towers for the Quicksilver Gondola in Park City yesterday and today.  I wasn’t able to make it but Instagram has us covered!  Quicksilver has 27 towers but a few had already been set by crane.  Check back next week for more updates from America’s largest ski resort.

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Park City’s New Pinecone Gondola

It's not hard to figure out where the new gondola goes.  This is looking down from the top of Crescent.
It’s not hard to figure out where the new gondola goes. This is looking down from the top of Crescent.

I found myself near Park City this week and had to check out all the construction creating Utah’s largest ski resort.  It’s one thing to read Vail Resorts’ press releases touting $50 million in improvements but it is quite another to see hundreds of workers scrambling to complete a long list of projects spread over 7,300 acres.  This post will focus on what is perhaps the most exciting part – the new Pinecone Gondola that will link Park City to Canyons.

PCMR terminal and Snow Hut Lodge under construction.
PCMR terminal and Snow Hut Lodge under construction.

The 8,200′ long gondola starts adjacent to Park City’s Silverlode six-pack where a new Snow Hut lodge is also being built.  The terminal and first two tower footings have already been poured.  From this point, the line crosses over a modest ridge and descends before beginning the climb to Canyons in earnest.  There is a break halfway up Pinecone Ridge where the liftline moderates before a steep section to the summit.  Most of the holes for the towers in this portion have been dug including the two breakover towers just before the ridge-top mid-station. I was surprised at how sharp the midstation’s angle will be – around 30 degrees.

Looking up the lift line from tower 4.
Looking up the lift line from tower 4.

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Pulse Lifts

These days building a detachable lift means a capital investment of at least $3 million plus around $100,000 in annual maintenance.  A so-called ‘pulse’ lift offers the speed of a detachable system with similar infrastructure to a traditional fixed-grip lift.  Chairs or cabins are grouped together into ‘pulses’ and the entire lift slows down for loading and unloading.  When comparing types of aerial lifts there are always trade-offs; here they include low capacity and long headways.  Most pulse lifts can only move 300-600 passengers per hour and headway – the time a passenger has to wait for a carrier to show up – can be minutes instead of as low as six seconds.  Perfect for certain applications but unsuitable in most.

Pine Ridge lift at the Yellowstone Club, Montana.
Pine Ridge lift at the Yellowstone Club, Montana.

There are currently 17 pulse lifts operating in the US, Canada and Mexico; all but three are gondolas.  Nearly all were built in the last 15 years.  Panorama Mountain Village, Northstar California, Steamboat, Snowmass, Canyons Resort, and Le Massif all use pulse gondolas to connect village areas.  These lifts are usually less than 3,000 feet long and convenient for skiers and non-skiers alike.  Other pulse gondolas are attractions in their own right such the Iron Mountain Tramway at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, SkyTrail at Trees of Mystery, the Gondola at Royal Gorge Bridge Bridge & Park and the Riverfront Park SkyRide in Spokane.  There is also a new Leitner-Poma pulse gondola in Orizaba, Mexico with tripod towers that are hundreds of feet tall.

Spokane Falls SkyRide, built by Doppelmayr.
Riverfront Park SkyRide, built by Doppelmayr.

Snow Valley in Edmonton, Alberta has a very unique pulse chairlift built by Doppelmayr in 2008.  Instead of having groups of 3-5 chairs, it has just two groups of 20 closely-spaced quad chairs.  Because it is only 850 feet long, the lift can move 1,378 skiers per hour at up to 5 m/s, the same speed as most detachable lifts.  In fact the ride is only about a minute.  The lift slows to a beginner-friendly 0.8 m/s for loading and unloading.  Because of the low speed, skiers ride around the bullwheel at the top and unload facing down the hill.  It’s the only lift I know of with 180-degree unloading.

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Bubble Chairs: Making a Comeback?

Orange Bubble Express at Canyons Resort.
Orange Bubble Express at Canyons Resort.

Growing up in the rainy Pacific Northwest, I happen to love chairs with bubbles.  I can get the comfort of a gondola without taking my skis off or enjoy fresh air like on any other chairlift.  Lifts with bubbles are technically very cool too.  Electronic eyes in the lift terminals know when chairs are empty and the bubbles lower automatically.  Chairs stay dry and lifties don’t have to sweep them or flip chairs at night.

Bubbles everywhere at the Yellowstone Club.
Bubbles everywhere at the Yellowstone Club.

Despite their added comfort, bubbles haven’t really caught on in North America.  Europe is a different story where 30+ lifts are built with them every year.  In the US and Canada, Doppelmayr has built 16 lifts with bubbles since 1985.  You can find them at Whistler-Blackcomb, Sun Peaks, Mont-Saint-Anne, Big Sky, Canyons and Stoneham.  The Yellowstone Club also has bubbles on all six of their quad chairs.

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The New Park City Mountain Resort

PCMR                        CanyonsMasterLogo1_RGB

Yesterday was the last day anyone will ever ski at a place called Canyons Resort.  For those who have been living under a rock, most of the land that both resorts sit on has been owned by Talisker Corporation for decades.  Most of that time Canyons was operated by American Skiing Company and Park City by Powdr Corporation.  In 2013, Vail Resorts came to Utah, signing a long-term deal with Talisker to operate Canyons.  Two years earlier, Powdr Corp. had forgotten to renew their lease to the Talisker land that PCMR sits on.  Talisker evicted them and after a lengthy legal battle, Powdr Corporation sold Park City Mountain Resort to Vail last September.

Now under a single operator, the two resorts are about to become one.  Construction is beginning now on an interconnect gondola that will connect the Flat Iron lift at Canyons with the base of the Silverlode lift at Park City.  The Doppelmayr gondola will have an angle station on the ridge that separates the two resorts, from which guests can ski off either side.  The gondola will be approximately 7,000 feet long with 27 towers and 60 eight passenger CWA cabins.  The Canyons station will be at about 8,400 feet next to White Pine Lake in The Colony.  The angle station will be just below 9,000 feet on Pine Cone Ridge with the Park City station a thousand feet lower at Snow Hut Lodge.  Vail is also building a six pack, detachable quad and new lodge on the Park City side this summer.

James Niehues paints the new PCMR trail map.
James Niehues paints the new PCMR trail map.

The combined lift stats for the new PCMR are impressive.  A single ticket will include 37 aerial lifts including 4 gondolas, 6 six-packs,  9 high speed quads and 18 fixed grip chairs.  Nearly 85 percent of the resort’s lifts will be GaraventaCTEC or Doppelmayr.  Only 5 Yans will remain in addition to the Red Pine Gondola, one of Utah’s only Poma-built lifts.  Combined uphill capacity will be 78,410 skiers per hour. (For comparison Vail’s is just under 55,000.)   The total lift length is 29.5 miles with 35,607 feet of vertical rise.  There will be 78 loading/unloading stations and 625 lift towers.  I tried but failed to calculate an exact number of chairs/gondola cabins but it will be somewhere on the order of 3,000.

It will be interesting to see how thoroughly Vail can merge two large resorts in one summer.  I haven’t heard yet whether they plan to keep Park City’s white and red branding or start fresh.  Canyons still has lifts painted in their old green color scheme from the ASC days as well as new orange branding.  I have to believe it will take a few years to paint every lift and change every trail sign.  Regardless, Park City will be a 7,300 acre monster ski resort next year.  No word yet on what Big Sky plans to do with its Biggest Skiing in America™ trademark.