In Whitefish, a Disused Lift is Born Again

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A 35-year old chairlift is proving very popular in Whitefish, Montana this season after moving from an alignment redundant with other lifts to an underutilized corner of the mountain.

Exactly half of the 14 lifts at Whitefish Mountain Resort stand in a second location, with some even finding a third home in Northwestern Montana.  By strategically re-engineering and relocating lifts from elsewhere on the mountain and beyond, Whitefish has been able to grow faster than many of its competitors and now encompasses 3,000 acres of glades, groomers and chutes.  This year’s move of Chair 5 creates the East Rim lift and turns a machine that sat idle for years into a dedicated lift for some of the finest advanced terrain in the Inland Northwest.

wmr_trailmap_frontside_1718For the first 50 years, every lift on Big Mountain was purchased new from a manufacturer.  That changed in 1999 and 2000, when the the Bigfoot and Sunrise T-Bars joined the Whitefish fleet just as consolidation and new technology were making new lifts increasingly expensive.  In 2002, the ski area acquired a Hall triple for a new beginner lift.  Continuing the pattern, Big Mountain, as it was then still known, snagged Moab’s failed Skyway experiment for another new beginner pod.  When the first-generation Glacier Chaser detachable needed to be replaced the following year, Whitefish had no choice but to go new for the flagship Big Mountain Express.  But instead of scrapping the old Doppelmayr, it shifted west to become the Swift Creek Express.  That summer’s lift shuffle also turned the old Easy Rider triple into Elk Highlands, a real estate egress lift.  In 2011, the Bad Rock lift was brought in all the way from Pennsylvania and now runs out of the base lodge in both winter and summer.  With a major lift renewal complete, Whitefish set its sights on expansion for winter 2014-15, opening the Flower Point lift and 200 additional acres.  That machine came from across the border, the old Rosa triple from Kimberley (and the predecessor to the Whistler Village Gondola before that.)  To summarize, Whitefish impressively built “new” lifts in 1999, 2000, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2014 and now 2017.

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This morning’s scene on the East Rim.

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Whitefish Mountain to Build New East Rim Chair

Whitefish Mountain Resort will make a big lift move this summer, relocating Chair 5 from Ptarmigan Bowl to become a new East Rim lift.  Chair 5, also known as Glacier View and at times High Five, has not seen public operation since 2014/15 due to its redundancy with the Big Mountain Express and will better serve skiers in the North Bowl.  The $1.2 million project will cost more than double what the ski area paid for the original CTEC installation in 1981.  Whitefish Mountain Resort has contracted with Skytrac to make the move.

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Approximate location of the new East Rim chair looker’s right on the front side of Big Mountain.

“We are pleased to continue what has been a decade of steady improvements at Whitefish Mountain Resort with the re-position of Chair 5 to better utilize our lift infrastructure and improve the guest experience as we celebrate our 70th anniversary,” Whitefish Mountain Resort CEO Dan Graves said in a press release.  Although technically it does not open any new terrain, the East Rim lift will create a new pod between Chair 1 and T-Bar 2.  The new lift will rise 814 feet with a slope length of 2,540 feet and capacity of 1,600 skiers per hour. It will sport a new electric motor, drive, brakes, hydraulic tensioning, rebuilt gearbox and added restraining bars in the new location.

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Chair 5 at Whitefish will be moved East to North Bowl.

Whitefish has been all in on lift shuffling lately, acquiring the former Moab Scenic Skyway lift in 2006 and installing it as Easy Rider.  The original Glacier Chaser Express quad moved to become the Swift Creek Express in 2007, the same year old Easy Rider became Elk Highlands.  In 2011, Whitefish installed the Bad Rock triple which was relocated from a resort in Pennsylvania.  The 2014 addition of the Flower Point triple came from Kimberley, BC.  The new East Rim triple is scheduled to open in December 2017.  You can find out more about the history of Chair 5 and the new lift on the Whitefish Mountain Resort blog.

Jan Leonard, 1946-2015

Jan Leonard, founder of CTEC and a 40-year veteran of the lift-building business, died unexpectedly this morning at the age of 69.  Most recently, he was Director of Sales for SkyTrac Lifts in Salt Lake City and previously was President of Doppelmayr USA.

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Jan Leonard at SkyTrac earlier this year. Photo credit: Ski Area Management.

After graduating from Penn State in 1968, Jan went to work for American Bridge in Pittsburgh before meeting the manager of Killington on a ski trip and getting into the lift business. He went to work for Vic Hall in Watertown, New York in 1971 before moving to Logan, Utah in 1973 to join Thiokol Ski Lifts.  When Thiokol wanted out of the business a few years later, Leonard and Mark Ballantyne bought the company’s designs and started CTEC (Cable Transportation Engineering Corporation) in 1977.  CTEC built its first complete lift in 1981 and by 1992 was the largest lift manufacturer in North America with 450 employees.  CTEC built 144 lifts as a privately owned American company.

Leonard and Ballantyne sold CTEC to Garaventa of Switzerland in 1993.  Doppelmayr merged with Garaventa in 2002 to form today’s Doppelmayr/Garaventa Group, which ironically included Hall, where Jan Leonard started his career decades earlier.  Leonard stayed on as the President of Doppelmayr USA until 2007, when he left to be an independent ropeway consultant.   He was was off a lift company’s payroll for less than three years before joining SkyTrac in 2010 as director of sales.  “I don’t like losing.  The thrill of getting the sale is phenomenal,” he told SAM earlier this year.

Park City Motherlode Express August Update

If you’ve been following the $50 million being spent at Park City this summer, you know that Vail Resorts opted not to buy a new lift for the upgrade of Motherlode to a high speed quad. Instead they are re-using the old King Con, a 1993 CTEC.  Only the tower/terminal tubes and one crossarm are new.  Tower heads and sheaves were flown into place a few weeks ago.  Electrical work is ongoing at both terminals, which still say King Con on the outside.  A new Redaelli haul rope is sitting at the bottom and chairs are ready to go at the top.  Motherlode is about 1,000 feet longer than King Con but I haven’t seen any sign that more chairs will be added.

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Park City’s Motherlode Upgrade

Top of the new Motherlode lift.  Obviously it still needs to be painted.
Top of the new Motherlode high speed quad.  Obviously it still needs to be painted.

Park City removed the Motherlode triple early this spring to make way for a new high speed quad in the same alignment.  Instead of a brand new lift, Vail Resorts opted to relocate the King Con lift, originally built in 1993.  Both CTEC terminals have already been moved and all tower footings poured.  Motherlode will get new tower tubes but just about everything else is coming from King Con.  The lift may need some new chairs due to the increased length of Motherlode.  The new tower tubes and haul rope are on site.

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Lifts by State (and Province)

Ever wanted to know how many lifts are operating in each state?  Read on.  Colorado has the most operating lifts of any state with 275.  California is close behind with 263 followed by New York (189) and Michigan (165).  There are only 9 states with more than 100 lifts each.  The majority of states have fewer than 20 lifts today.  Five sad states have no aerial lifts at all to my knowledge – Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Hawaii and Louisiana.  (Louisiana used to have a 6-passenger Poma gondola called MART that crossed the Mississippi River.)

Each one of Canada’s 10 provinces has at least 3 lifts used for skiing.  Only the Nunavut and Northwest Territories do not have a lift.  Quebec has the most lifts by far with 226 followed by British Columbia (165), Ontario (162), and Alberta (87).

The average age of lifts varies significantly by region.  Maryland’s 7 lifts average 17 years old while Ohio’s 33 lifts are more than twice as old at 34.4 years.  Utah and Montana stand out as having new lifts averaging 19.4 and 19.9 years old, respectively.  Places with really old lifts tend to be in the East and Midwest.  Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio and New York all have lifts that average more than 30 years old.

It’s also interesting to look at which brand has the most operating lifts in each state/province.  25 states/provinces are dominated by brands which disappeared decades ago – Yan, Riblet, Borvig and Hall.  Borvig dominates in 5 eastern states – IL, VA, IA, ME, and PA.  Hall lifts are pervasive in many eastern states – ND, CT, MA, NY, WI, MN, OH, and SC.  Riblet still dominates all of the northwest and some of the midwest – MO, OR, WA, SD, AK, NM, IN, MI, and KY.  Yan takes its home state of Nevada and neighboring California and Arizona.

Doppelmayr is the most common lift brand in surprisingly few states – MD, GA, MT, NJ, NH, ID, and NC.  The story is different in Canada where Doppelmayr is the top brand in most of the country – BC, MB, SK, AB, QC, and NB.  Despite being gone for a decade, CTEC and GaraventaCTEC are still the most popular in Utah, Wyoming and West Virginia (thanks solely to Snowshoe Resort.)  Finally Poma and Leitner-Poma take their home state of CO plus VT and ON, NL, PEI and NS in Canada.