First Look at Big Sky’s Powder Seeker Six and Challenger 2.0

Powder Seeker will be the Rockies’ first six-passenger chairlift with bubbles and heated seats when it debuts this winter.

Lone Peak is a happening place this November as crews from Doppelmayr USA and Big Sky Resort work to finish not one, but two of America’s largest new lifts this year.  I’ve been following these projects since April, when the aging Lone Peak triple and Challenger double chairlifts were torn down to make way for new versions that will greet lucky guests when the snow flies.  Mike Unruh, Director of Mountain Operations at Big Sky, kindly gave me a sneak peak of the shiny new lifts today.

Powder Seeker

A six-pack dubbed Powder Seeker is the new the crown jewel of Big Sky’s 26-lift fleet, with blue bubbles, heated seats and headrests.  Servicing the above treeline terrain in the Bowl, Powder Seeker is just over 2,600′ long with 14 towers and an 823′ vertical rise.  With a 6.1 meter line gauge and 45 mm haul rope, it should be able to spin through all but the harshest Montana winds.  In addition to a chair parking rail that will eventually be enclosed, the Uni-G-M stations feature tire banks that can raise hydraulically to park chairs.  Thirty-one carriers will go on the line initially; Big Sky also bought two spares and can add more as as needed.

The lower station features Chairkit gates, 90-degree loading, an AC prime mover, Doppelmayr-Lohmann gearbox and two Cummins diesel backups.  The seat heating system can be seen in the pictures above with yellow charging rails and black contacts attached to the DT grips.  Another cool feature is a headset in the motor room connected to the lift’s phone system so that mechanics will be able to hear communications, like a helicopter pilot can.

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Construction Underway on New Lifts at Big Sky

Challenger looks to be getting a Doppelmayr Tristar drive terminal.

Next winter is going to be huge at Big Sky with a bubble six-pack detachable opening in The Bowl and a new triple chair replacing the legendary Challenger double.  Doppelmayr is off to a solid start with terminal and tower footings going in for both lifts.  Big Sky is known for its crazy steeps and rocky terrain which makes both projects challenging.

Challenger Triple

New footing for Challenger tower #2.

From what I can tell approximately half the old Challenger tower bases from 1988 will be re-used on the new lift.  Dyer All Terrain Excavation was working on the upper section of Challenger with a spider hoe today.  The only way to the top of Challenger is scrambling on foot or riding the Headwaters chair from the Moonlight side.

One of the footings that will be re-used.

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Big Sky Resort Replacing Challenger and Lone Peak Chairs

It’s official; in the wake of the incident two weeks ago, Big Sky Resort will remove and replace the Challenger double chair this summer rather than repair it. General Manager Taylor Middleton announced, “After exhaustive efforts to make Challenger operational for the rest of the season, we have determined that the best course of action is to replace it with a completely new lift. Skiers will continue to access the Challenger terrain via the Headwaters Lift for the rest of this season.”  The new lift will be built by Doppelmayr but there’s no word yet on model and capacity.

In addition, a letter to passholders announced the Lone Peak triple chair – a 1973 Heron-Poma – will also be replaced this summer in some form.  Big Sky has struggled for years with aging lifts needing replacement.  The mountain’s gondola had a multi-tower de-ropement in February 2008 and never ran again.  Big Sky has been looking to build a new, longer gondola from the base of the mountain to the Lone Peak Tram that would span more than two miles.  With a mid-station, such a gondola could replace the original Gondola One, Lone Peak triple and Explorer beginner double in one alignment.  Elsewhere on the mountain, the Shedhorn double needs more capacity and Big Sky has floated an idea of a lift up Liberty Bowl.

If you include Moonlight Basin and Spanish Peaks, what is now Big Sky Resort built an amazing 13 new lifts in six years between 2002 and 2007 (with 7 more going in at the Yellowstone Club.)  The 2008 recession literally stopped the construction boom in its tracks, with the Stagecoach lift at Moonlight left half-finished and abandoned when owner Lehman Brothers went bankrupt.  I’ve heard SkyTrac will be finishing that lift this summer.  It’s going to be a busy one on Lone Peak.