Skyliner Begins Flying at Walt Disney World

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Nearly 300 gondolas joined the transport fleet at the world’s most visited resort this morning, commencing an exciting new era for the U.S. ropeway scene.  The milestone comes more than two years since construction began and almost 50 years from when a simpler VonRoll gondola system first opened at Walt Disney World Resort.

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Crews fired up all three Skyliner lines pre-dawn, giving guests their first opportunities to skip bus rides and explore multiple parks in one day.  Connecting Epcot and Hollywood Studios with four resort hotels, the system is sure to become among the most-ridden gondolas in the world.

This is the second D-Line detachable system from Doppelmayr to open in the Americas following Big Sky Resort’s Ramcharger 8 launch last December.  Although the Austrian builder maintains a strong presence as maintenance contractor for the Skyliner, you won’t find the Doppelmayr name and logo prominently displayed here.

The cabins are highly customized CWA Omega IV models seating up to ten passengers.  About half of them feature wraps with characters from Disney, Pixar and Marvel movie franchises.

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Disney Skyliner Launches September 29th

It’s official: the Disney Skyliner gondola network will open Sunday, September 29th.  Three lines will connect the Trinidad hub with terminals at Epcot, Pop Century/Art of Animation and Hollywood Studios.  The launch falls just one month after the highly anticipated grand opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Hollywood Studios on August 29th.

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Recent photos show finishing touches like landscaping and painting underway in advance of the opening.

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News Roundup: Cirque

  • The Salesforce Transit Center tram opens Monday.
  • Volunteers are determined to complete the Ascutney Mountain T-Bar project in time for next winter.
  • Peak Resorts reports a great fourth quarter with $36.9 million in earnings on $85.5 million in revenue, up from a year ago 52.5 and 71.5 percent, respectively.
  • Mexico City awards the contract for the first Cablebús urban gondola line to Doppelmayr, which will utilize D-Line technology.

  • The reopening of Big Tupper, NY hits a snag.
  • Proposed changes to the NEPA process would streamline approval of projects on National Forest lands impacting less than 20 acres, such as chairlift replacements.
  • The Balsams goes up for sale.
  • At Squaw Alpine, the extended Hot Wheels replacement will be named Treeline Cirque.
  • Seattle’s ABC affiliate checks in on Stevens Pass’ trio of lift projects.
  • Five months before its grand opening, Woodward Park City is really coming along.  Bonus: it looks like Doppelmayr has a new, more modern lift operator shack option (also seen at Manning Park.)

Disney Skyliner Proving Runs Underway

The first of Walt Disney World’s three Skyliner lines is looking a lot like a gondola these days with cabins moving along at a brisk clip during test runs.  Line speed appears to be at least 5 m/s with cabin interval around 10 seconds, translating to a 3,600 per hour capacity.  We’ll have to wait and see what the final spacing and speeds are but it’s clear these gondolas are going to move a ton of people.

One of the many cabins now flying between Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort and Hollywood Studios was recently uncovered, providing some clues to how the system will look when completed.  The landing below the cabin doors is wider and squarer than normal for easy loading and unloading.  There are three windows that open out on the front of the cabin, one on the tower side and two at the rear.  Additional vents at the bottom ensure there will be plenty of air flow.  While gondola number 251 is a simple yellow with glazed windows, many other cabins will feature Disney character graphics.

The Epcot line, which stretches some 8,200 linear feet with two angle changes, is not far behind on its way to completion.

At the first angle station, landscaping is underway and stairs are being erected for worker access to the terminal.

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Gondola Cabins Arrive at Walt Disney World

A rainbow shipment of CWA cabins is now stateside, earmarked for the skies above Central Florida.  Construction continues on the three line Disney Skyliner system, which is set to open this fall and sure to become a showcase for high capacity lift technology.

In addition to the row of cabins now staged at the Caribbean Beach hub, cabins have also been spotted in the Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Pop Century and Art of Animation stations.  While the gondolas are covered in protective wraps, you can see they come in a variety of colors with Disney character art on the windows.

There are interesting looking electrical boxes on the cabin roofs.  I’m curious to see what sort of infotainment the Skyliner carriers feature, if any.  It does not appear that power is derived from solar panels, as is the case with some other urban gondolas.

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Big Sky & Doppelmayr Christen Ramcharger 8

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Forty five years to the day since Chet Huntley welcomed the first skiers to Big Sky Resort, Boyne Resorts today debuted North America’s most technologically-advanced chairlift on Andesite Mountain.  The eight pack is a bold but logical move for Michigan-based Boyne, which once pioneered the world’s first triple and quad chairlifts.  Not only is Ramcharger 8 the first of its kind in North America, it’s also the first Doppelmayr D-Line eight place chairlift in the world.

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Boyne Resorts President Stephen Kircher and son Everett prepare to cut the ribbon.

“Doppelmayr and Boyne Resorts have been collaborating for over 40 years, and together have introduced many firsts to the ski industry,” said Stephen Kircher, President of Boyne Resorts at a mid-morning ceremony.  “We are incredibly proud to bring the first eight-seat chairlift to North America, setting a new standard for lift technology in the world.”

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Mark Bee, President of Doppelmayr USA, presented the Big Sky Resort team with a customary bell from Austria to celebrate.  He also thanked the construction team, led by Jamie Kanzler, for a successful project delivered on schedule.  “Without Jamie and his team, we wouldn’t be here today,” said Bee, noting the contract for this ambitious project was signed on March 5th.  “Ramcharger 8 is the culmination of everything we have learned so far, and incorporates many firsts for the North American market; first eight-passenger chairlift, first direct drive motor, first locking restraint bar, first height-adjustable loading carpet, first high resolution video display, and the first of our newest generation detachable lifts,” he continued.

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Disney Skyliner to Open in Fall 2019

The most expensive gondola system ever built in the United States will debut sometime between September and December next year.  Bob Chapek, Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Consumer Products made the announcement this morning in a keynote address at the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions Expo, which Doppelmayr and CWA are attending.  Competitor Leitner-Poma is also there.  “Next fall, Disney Skyliner will not only efficiently move you to your location, it’ll also offer a whole new way to experience Walt Disney World with amazing views only available from the sky,” the resort said in a blog post.  Construction began on the three gondola lines in July of 2017.

Crews are working across the resort to complete the network, which will link two of the most visited theme parks in the world with four major hotels and replace a significant number of Disney Transport bus routes.  A mural was recently added to the gateway station at Epcot and the second angle station now has its Doppelmayr D-Line enclosure.

A second angle station will service the sprawling Riviera Resort, seen below.  Can you spot the lift?  Guests will find themselves just a few minutes from both Hollywood Studios and Epcot by gondola.

In the below photo, you can see the last of more than 50 towers being completed.  Parking rails for hundreds of cabins are also being pieced together at the massive Caribbean Beach hub.

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Meet Big Sky’s Innovative New Lifts

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Ramcharger 8 at Big Sky Resort is both the first eight passenger chairlift and first Doppelmayr D-Line lift in North America.  I headed to Montana yesterday for an update on this exciting project and a related one, the new Shedhorn 4.  Touring Ramcharger, it became clear the decision to purchase this lift was not just about the eight passenger chairs, heated seats or loading carpet.  D-Line has numerous small innovations made with mechanics and operators in mind that combine to create a new generation of Doppelmayr detachable.  A few features I noticed: Every grate and cover is designed to easily open and close for quick access to moving parts.  Belts that connect station tires each have individual tensioners.  Stairs lead into the terminals rather than ladders.  Many spots where metal meets metal are lined with rubber for noise and vibration dampening.  Doppelmayr says D-Line has more than 200 improvements overall.

The massive Doppelmayr Direct Drive motor is in place at the top terminal and will be water cooled.  It will quietly and efficiently spin at just 13 revolutions per minute.  Because a gearbox and related shafts have been removed from the equation, all braking will be directly on the bullwheel.  There is a single diesel evacuation drive rather than separate evacuation and standby engines.  The west side of the top terminal features a 7,500 square foot parking facility for the chairs in two rows.  Part of the floor opens up to an equally-sized basement where bike carriers can be hoisted onto chair hangers come summer.  The outside of the barn is being wrapped in plastic for this winter and will be completed next spring.

The first four chairs and hangers arrived during my visit at the end of a long journey from Austria by ship, train and truck (the entire lift came over in containers, not just the chairs.)  The 64 carriers are emblazoned with Ramcharger 8 logos, feature heated seats and sport blue bubbles.  They are so large that only four fit in each shipping container!

Steel will be set at the bottom tension station over the next 7-10 days, which we will be able to watch live.  This terminal’s legs, loading conveyor and gates are already in place.  Operators will be able to raise and lower the deck on demand for children to board and capacity will be 3,200 people per hour to start.  The 54 mm haul rope is also on site after its trip from Fatzer in Switzerland.  The comm line for this lift is completely underground as is apparently common in Europe.

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Skyliner Update: Hiring Begins, Ropes Soon?

Walt Disney World Resort’s Skyliner is beginning to look a lot like a gondola – actually a system of gondolas unlike anything ever built in North America.  Before I get to construction pictures, two significant developments occurred within the past week.  First, Disney Parks announced that water taxi service between certain destinations will be suspended for 21 days beginning November 28th, likely so haul ropes and communications lines can be pulled between the eight gondola stations and 50 or so towers.  Second, the first Skyliner-specific job posting appeared last Thursday.  More on that in a minute.

The station at Epcot International Gateway is getting close and scaffolding shown below may be for applying the graphics shown in this artist’s rendering.  The rear end of the terminal is getting a steel structure over the turnaround area where guests will load and unload.

The non-boarding station to the southwest of Epcot now looks similarly complete.  Some of the D-Line windows are transparent while some are opaque, breaking up visually this very long station.  Unfortunately the three awesome red bullwheels are being covered with terminal skin as well.  Notice the stub rails on both sides which will ensure no cabin is ever more than two stations away from somewhere it can be removed.  The primary parking and maintenance bays will be at Caribbean Beach South, two stops away from this angle change.  The Epcot line has a total of four stations.

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CWA and Doppelmayr Introduce Omega V

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On the heels of building its 50,000th Omega gondola cabin, CWA Constructions introduced the fifth generation of an icon yesterday.  Omega V features updated design language and is highly customizable for monocable gondola installations going forward.  Omega first debuted back in 1983 and the the rest is history.  The Omega IV joined the dynasty in 2007 and in just a dozen years became the chosen carrier for 29 gondolas in the United States and Canada.  “The new cabin features the unmistakable Omega shape which merges seamlessly with any of its surroundings. The cabin has been completely redeveloped while retaining the core values of a true Omega,” Doppelmayr says.

 

Designed with 10 passenger D-Line systems in mind, The V will become the global standard for snow, tourism and urban installations by the Doppelmayr Garaventa Group, of which CWA is a member.  The changes I noticed first were the suspension going below the roof line and the bench seats being swapped for individual places (each seat is 18.1 inches or 460 mm wide, more than you’ll find in a typical economy airline seat.)  The V has new ergonomic ski rack choices, two bumper options and wider doors that open to 35 inches (900 mm.)  A single door can hold up to six pairs of powder skis or five with a snowboard lot.  An interior bike rack is also available.

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