News Roundup: Building

  • talk six-packs with the Vail Daily.
  • Heavenly’s Comet Express remains closed following a Jan. 1st rope evacuation, apparently due to a gearbox issue.  This is one of the reasons Vail Resorts is replacing its fleet of 1980s-vintage detachable quads.
  • Doppelmayr and the United Nations are hosting a week-long urban mobility ropeway class in April.
  • The New York Times tells the tale of Big Sky Resort.
  • Ski patroller severely injured in fall from chair at Terry Peak.
  • Gondola proposed to serve airport in Vietnam’s congested largest city.
  • BC Parks considers a gondola to Mt. Seymour to alleviate parking and traffic problems.
  • Ski Area Management‘s lift construction survey dropped this week.  Highlights from its outlook for 2017:
    • “We’re off to a strong year for ’17, there are lots of people asking about lifts…It’s very positive compared to the previous two years.” – Jon Mauch, Senior Sales Manager at Leitner-Poma
    • “There’s a lot of enthusiasm about what could happen under a Trump administration.  People expect deregulation and a more business-friendly climate.” – Mark Bee, President at Doppelmayr USA
    • “We’re seeing lots of requests quotes, lots of major modifications and retrofits…It’s all being driven by the age of the existing lift infrastructure.” – Carl Skylling, General Manager at Skytrac
    • I’ve already identified 29 new lifts likely to be built in 2017, pacing well above the last few years for mid-January.
  • Slovakian manufacturer Tatralift debuts its third detachable lift using a Wopfner grip.  That makes seven companies capable of building a detachable lift globally – BartholetBMHRI (China), Doppelmayr/Garaventa (Austria), LeitnerPoma (Italy), LST (France), STM (Turkey) and Tatralift (Slovakia.)

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After 45 Years, Snowbird Tram Still Soars

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The iconic Snowbird Aerial Tram has carried skiers up Hidden Peak in style for 45 years.

Few lifts in the world are as iconic as the Snowbird Tram with its 125 passenger red and blue cabins rising from Little Cottonwood Canyon to Hidden Peak.  When it opened in 1971, the tram was one of the longest, largest and most powerful aerial tramways in the world and remains so today.  In his 168-page book dedicated to this machine, Walt McConnell said of the tram, “It was loaded with innovative features and immediately became the symbol of Snowbird.”  A timeless style combined with recent upgrades mean the tram is sure to remain an icon of the Wasatch for years to come.

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The tram has just four support towers along its 8,395-foot length.

Decades after the founding of nearby Alta, Ted Johnson envisioned a carefully-designed, 40-acre resort village with modern American design anchored by a tramway.  After a trip over from Vail, Dick Bass agreed to join team Snowbird and provide financial backing.  Ted quietly began buying mining claims in Little Cottonwood Canyon while still working at Alta.  In Ted’s mind, a tram was the only lift to build and the route to Hidden Peak was clear.  “The awesome massiveness of the tramway and its terminal buildings-to-be set the stage for the bold architectural statements of all of Snowbird,” he declared.    He went public with the Snowbird development in 1966, forming Snowbird Design Group.

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Snowbird’s twin tram cars are designed for 125 passengers or 21,420 lbs. each.

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Will North America Build a New Tram Ever Again?

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Car 1 of the Jackson Hole Aerial Tram approaches its dock at 10,450′ in June 2016.

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort stunned the ski world June 24, 2005 announcing the iconic aerial tramway up Rendezvous Mountain would carry its final riders in 2006. The Kemmerer Family, owners of the resort since 1992, decided to retire the 40-year old jig-back at the first concerns about safety.  “This decision has been extremely difficult and quite honestly a very sad one,” Jay Kemmerer lamented at the announcement.  “We know this may impact our business, business to Jackson Hole and the State, but we must move on.”

JHMR did move on but not in the way many feared.  After two years of study, the Kemmerers opted to build a new 100-passenger Garaventa tramway at a cost of $31 million.  A bi-cable gondola was cheaper and seriously considered but failed to uphold the tradition set by the original tram in 1966.  National Ski Areas Association President Michael Berry said of the 2006 deal with Garaventa, “This huge investment by JHMR ownership to build a new tram stands alone in our industry.  The tram at Jackson Hole is recognized around the world as a lift that access some of the most spectacular terrain in North America.”  Big Red, as it quickly became known, was the first new tramway built at a U.S. or Canadian ski resort since the Alyeska Tramway in 1992.  The next newest tram was Cannon Mountain’s, dating back to 1979. Almost a decade later, only Jackson Hole and Alyeska have built large new aerial tramways in the last 37 years (for this post I’m talking about multi-cable tramways carrying 25+ passengers.  Arguably the “beer can” trams at Big Sky and Snowbasin are really reversible gondolas.)

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Poma of America built the Mt. Roberts Tramway in 1996 not for skiers, but for cruise ship passengers.

Switzerland is home to 97 large aerial tramways.  Italy has 59, Austria 40, France 35 and Germany 18 for a total of 249 in the Alps.  Compare that with 21 tramways operating in all of North America: 14 in the United States, 4 in Canada and 3 in Mexico.  Only a third of those are directly used for skiing with the rest dedicated to sightseeing or public transportation. More than half the trams operating in North America were built in the 1960s and 1970s with varying degrees of upgrades along the way.  As the chart below shows, the aerial tramway staged a slight comeback in the last decade but aside from Jackson Hole and Alyeska, the trend has nothing to do with skiing.

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Aerial Tram openings in North America over the last 50 years.

The Royal Gorge Bridge & Park in Colorado hinted at the future of tramways in 2013 when it lost its tram to a wildfire.  Instead of rebuilding, the park contracted with Leitner-Poma to build a reversible gondola at a fraction of the cost of a new aerial tramway.  Even with just six 8-passenger gondola cabins, the new system can move more passengers than the old tram.

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Venezuela Opening Record-Breaking Aerial Tramways to 15,633′

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Four Garaventa tramways ascending more than 10,000 vertical feet are set to open in Sierra Nevada National Park, Venezuela.  Photo credit: El Estímulo

The highest, longest and most expensive aerial tramway system in the world will open this month at the Sierra Nevada National Park in Northwestern Venezuela. Teleférico de Mérida, as it’s known in Spanish, is really four separate jig-backs built in series totaling a crazy 40,735 linear feet with a vertical rise of 10,464 feet.  Garaventa won a contract in 2011 to replace ropeways built along a similar route in the 1950s that closed down due to safety concerns in 2008.  The world-leader in tramways spent the last four years building four lifts that would each be notable but combine to form an unparalleled 7.8-mile journey from the town of Mérida to 15,633-foot Pico Espejo.  Of note, the world record for the longest tramway in a single section still belongs to the 3.5-mile Wings of Tatev, also built by Garaventa and completed in 2010.

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The original trams and visitor center fell into disrepair and closed in 2008 after 48 years of operation in a high-alpine environment.  Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons

The four original ropeways at Mérida were built by Haeckel of Germany and Habbeger of Switzerland and opened in March 1960.  Interestingly, both of those companies came under ownership VonRoll and later the Doppelmayr Garaventa Group.  Seven 36-passenger cars carried riders to Pico Espejo until 2008, when Doppelmayr advised the Venezuelan government the tramways had reached the end of their useful life and needed to be replaced. The Venezuela Ministry of Tourism, which owns Teleférico de Mérida, opted to invest $468 million towards modern tramways and all-new facilities.

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The original fourth section was a single-haul tramway built by Habegger and opened in 1960.  Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons

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World’s Largest Aerial Tram Opens for Business

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Photo credit: Doppelmayr/Garaventa

The Nu Hoang Cable Car’s 230-person cabins carried their first public passengers across Ha Long Bay in Vietnam Saturday after a dedication with owner Sun Group, builder Doppelmayr/Garaventa and representatives from the Guinness Book of World Records.  The spectacular 7,100′ reversible aerial tramway crushes records for the largest cabins and tallest towers of any lift worldwide.

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Photo credit: Doppelmayr/Garaventa

Meaning Queen in English, the Nu Hoang Cable Car links Ha Long City with Ba Deo Hill and a huge observation wheel. It’s part of a $270 million, 500-acre development called Sun World Ha Long Park.  The taller of the tramway’s two concrete tripod towers is 619 feet while the other is only 436 feet.  The old record was 373 feet on a tramway in Austria built in 1966.

CWA built the monster red and yellow Kronos cabins in sections and shipped them to Ha Long for assembly.  Each cabin has two levels and six sets of doors!  With these new cabins, the double-decker, 200-passenger Vanoise Express in France loses the title of world’s largest tram.

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Photo credit: Doppelmayr/Garaventa

The Queen is the latest mega lift project for Doppelmayr and Vietnam’s Sun Group, which also operates the world’s second longest gondola and the longest 3S.  In 2015, Sun Group ordered an even longer 3S to link three islands and the mainland on Vietnam’s Southern Coast.  This stunning 26,000 foot gondola will become the world’s longest lift of any type when it opens in the second quarter of 2017.

News Roundup: Big Week

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Garaventa recently fabricated new hangers for the Grouse Mountain Red Skyride cabins so riders can stand on the roof for an extra charge. Photo credit: Max U.

Jay Peak Nears Tram Reopening with Upgrades Planned for 2017

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Jay Peak Resort broke the silence today on its tram issues following a federal takeover in April and an order from the State of Vermont in May prohibiting operation without major upgrades to the 50-year old tram.  Since those events and now under control of a receiver, the resort worked with the State Tramway Division on a plan to re-open the tram early this summer and schedule major upgrades for next spring, which is great news for employees and skiers.  Jay Peak personnel, together with a tramway specialist from Doppelmayr/Garaventa and state inspectors, completed a load test and inspection of the tram this week.  They found a crack in a component of one carriage that will be replaced next week before the tram reopens.  $5 million worth of upgrades to the lift’s tower saddles, carriages, hangers, brakes and safety systems will take place after the ski area closes next Spring.  See Jay Peak’s full statement below.

June 16, 2016 (Jay, VT)- Jay Peak Resort recently completed a three-day inspection of its aerial tram. The resort, in cooperation with the state, flew in an aerial tramway specialist and worked with state inspectors to examine the tram and its operating systems. Inspectors conducted a successful load test designed to ensure that all of the conveyance’s electrical, hauling and braking systems can function normally under strenuous conditions. After passing the load test, resort personnel successfully completed and passed an evacuation drill. The team also inspected the tram’s towers and its bolting structures. All were found to be operating normally.

Inspectors did find on the last day of the inspection a hairline crack to one of the components of one of the tram carriages. That part will be removed and replaced next week. After that work is complete, state officials will return for a final review.

“We’re happy the inspection process has gone so smoothly,” remarked Steve Wright, Jay Peak’s General Manager. “The resort has a long history of cooperation with the state’s lift inspectors and it’s their rigor and responsiveness that has allowed this process to move so efficiently.”

The resort recently signed a $5 million contract with the Doppelmayr/Garaventa Group to conduct custom upgrades to the tram, but that work isn’t scheduled to begin until the spring of 2017 and is not required for operations this summer or for the coming winter.

Wright said Doppelmayr/Garaventa will begin work on the enhancements shortly as the improvements are all customized and will take approximately 12 months to complete. Installation of the upgrades will begin in the spring of 2017.

State of Vermont Orders Jay Peak Tram Closed

The State of Vermont Passenger Tramway Division sent a letter Tuesday to Jay Peak Resort, ordering its aerial tramway shut down until significant upgrades are completed.  Jay Peak agreed last fall to make critical repairs to the tram with more upgrades to be completed this spring by Doppelmayr/Garaventa.  The State says Jay Peak has not completed these upgrades in advance of the summer season, hence the formal Order for Corrective Action sent this week.  The Jay Peak Aerial Tramway was built by VonRoll in 1966 and received new 60-passenger cabins in 2000.

On April 14, the Securities and Exchange Commission seized control of the resort from its owners, alleging a $200 million fraud scheme.  Florida attorney Michael Goldberg was placed in charge by a federal court and tasked with sorting out Jay Peak’s finances so the resort can be sold.  Jay reportedly lost $6.2 million last winter and Mr. Goldberg is looking for cost savings.  When asked about the upgrades needed to the tram a few weeks ago, Goldberg told the Burlington Free Press, “It kind of sucks that has to happen now.”  He also questioned Doppelmayr’s assessment of the tram, stating at a press conference, “we’re not even sure we have to fix the tram.  The company that tells us we have to fix it is also the one that will get the contract.”

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News Roundup: Big Lifts

CWA Delivers Monster Cabins for Ha Long Queen

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All photos credit Skyscrapercity forum user tmanhthang

We now know what the world’s largest tramway cabins look like.  One bright yellow and the other red, CWA’s largest Kronos cabins built to date will hold 230 passengers plus one operator each with six sets of doors on two levels.  They will soon be hung on the Ha Long Queen cable car, whose track cables already stretch 5,000 feet across Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay at heights up to 617 feet. The Queen will supplant the 200-passenger Vanoise Express as the world’s highest capacity aerial tram when it opens early this summer.