With over 100 detachable chairlifts, 22 gondolas and some 150 fixed-grip lifts, the Colorado lift fleet represents a total investment somewhere in the neighborhood of $700 million. The Centennial State has more ski lifts than any other state or province and on each visit I’m amazed by the caliber of ski infrastructure here. More than half of Colorado’s lifts are detachable models, a feat which no other North American region comes close to achieving. This winter, six more high-speed chairlifts came on scene, and while none open up new terrain, each one serves an important purpose. I was lucky enough to ride the new machines at Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Copper, Eldora, Keystone and Vail over three days this week, testament to the remarkable amount of skiing available within a few hours’ drive here. This year’s class includes two Doppelmayr high-speed quads, a Doppelmayr six-pack and three Leitner-Poma six-place chairs representing half of all new detachable chairlifts built in North America for 2017-18.
Red Buffalo Express – Beaver Creek Mountain
The last lift from Beaver Creek’s 1980 inaugural season, Drink of Water, was replaced with a new lift with a new name over the summer. The quad’s namesake, Red Buffalo Park, is now a dedicated learning zone with awe-inspring views of the Gore Range from 11,400 feet. While lift 5’s terminals, hangers, grips and operator houses are new, most of the tower components and chairs are from the former Montezuma lift at Keystone. Like its sister Vail, Beaver Creek now has just one fixed-grip lift of appreciable length remaining alongside an amazing 14 detachable chairlifts and gondolas.
Falcon SuperChair – Breckenridge
Breckenridge debuted its third next-gen Leitner-Poma LPA six-pack on December 28th. The new Falcon SuperChair replaces a Poma high-speed quad that opened along with Peak 10 itself in 1985. The new ride lifts capacity by 25 percent to 3,000 guests per hour in this popular advanced-intermediate pod. The Falcon has the same sweet plush chairs as the new Colorado and Kensho SuperChairs.
Copper Mountain is moving forward with plans for lift service on Tucker Mountain, the 12,337 foot peak that forms the backside of Copper Bowl. A Tucker lift was first approved in 2006 under Intrawest ownership but free cat skiing is as close as it got to being implemented. Eight years into new management, Powdr Co. has proposed a new alignment that begins at the current Blackjack return terminal and ascends 1,150′ to the Tucker summit. The fixed-grip triple chair would be only around 3,000 feet long and move up to 1,200 skiers per hour. Blackjack’s return terminal would be moved slightly uphill to make room for the new machine.
The project would improve access to underutilized advanced terrain within Copper’s existing permit area and is undergoing expedited review as a result of the previous approval. The White River National Forest opened public comment yesterday (running through February 9th) and a decision is expected in March. According the the forest’s schedule of proposed actions, construction could begin as early as this June with an opening next winter.
Powdr Co. has reached a deal with Doppelmayr to build a new Kokomo high speed quad at Copper Mountain, following a recently announced Eldora six-pack for 2017-18. The new lift will extend downhill of the current triple chair, built in 1981 at Copper Mountain’s West Village. Kokomo Express will serve 362 vertical feet of dedicated beginner terrain with a four minute ride time, “setting the bar for an exceptional beginner ski and ride experience,” Copper said in a press release today. The new Kokomo follows on the heels of the Union Creek Express, built in 2011, and two new surface lifts in 2013, all installed by Doppelmayr USA.
Copper also announced implementation of RFID lift access technology at key lifts and a mountain coaster for next season. “The future is extremely bright for Copper,” said Gary Rodgers, President and General Manager of Copper Mountain. “These strategic capital improvements will enhance our product offerings and truly elevate the year-round guest experience at Copper.” The Kokomo Express is the seventh lift to be announced at Colorado resorts for this summer. New lifts will also debut at Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Eldora, Keystone, Vail and Wolf Creek next winter. The addition of Kokomo means Doppelmayr will build at least 14 North American lifts in 2017; last year the company built 18 in the United States and Canada.
The average detachable chairlift has 108 carriers while the average fixed grip lift has 103. Most people would assume the longest lifts have the most carriers but that’s usually not the case. One of the reasons is longer spacing on detachable chairlifts and gondolas. Also many long fixed-grip lifts get designed with lower hourly capacities and bigger spacing to save money. In fact, only one of the top ten lifts with the most chairs is also among the ten longest. Each of the lifts below has more than 200 chairs and, not surprisingly, all but two are fixed-grips.
Cyclone – Sunrise Park Resort, AZ – 352 Yan triple chairs
What about gondolas? There are a bunch of them that stretch two-plus miles. Even so, no gondolas come close to making this list. The Sunshine Village Gondola has the most cabins in North America with approximately 175 CWA Omegas and the Whistler VillageGondola comes in at number two with 160 Sigma Diamond cabins. The average North American gondola has just 74 cabins.
Now, who can guess which lift has the most towers?