News Roundup: Symphony

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News Roundup: Lost

  • Tussey Mountain thinks weakened spring packs caused last weekend’s lift incident and plans to reopen Saturday.
  • As many speculated it would, Vail is taking a wait and see approach to capital improvements at Stowe.
  • A lawsuit is filed against Granby Ranch one year after a fatal lift accident there.
  • Billionaire philanthropist Barry Diller considers gifting a $30 million gondola to the people of Los Angeles, which would travel over 2.2 miles of parkland from the city’s zoo to the Hollywood sign.
  • One Hall double at the defunct Big Tupper ski area will reopen next winter, with another needing extensive work before it can spin.
  • A report suggests Sunrise Park mechanic Reggie Antonio lost his life when the lift he was working on moved while he was in a work chair but still attached to a tower.
  • Proposed urban gondolas find friends and foes in San Diego.
  • LiftDigital safety bar screens go live on five chairs at Winter Park.
  • Garaventa completes the world’s steepest funicular railway in Switzerland.
  • New owner of Mt. Whittier, NH weighs the future of a lost ski area with a 1963 Mueller gondola that still stands adjacent to a McDonald’s drive through.

News Roundup: New York

  • Colorado posts its second best season with nearly 12 million skier days. Vermont was up 21 percent year-over-year and New Hampshire went +30 percent.
  • Valemount opening pushes back to 2019-2020.
  • Rumors swirl of possible lift surveys at Saddleback.
  • Doppelmayr Cable Car and Transport for London extend operations & maintenance contract for the Emirates Air Line for another five years.
  • The government of Venezuela owes Garaventa $14.5 million!
  • Belleayre’s Catskill Thunder Gondola will be a Doppelmayr opening this December.
  • Partek’s only 2017 project is underway at Mt. Peter.
  • Peak Resorts plans to spend $9 million to expand Hunter Mountain and add a new high-speed chairlift in 2018.
  • Arapahoe Basin and Sugarloaf prove even relatively small lift projects make for interesting off-season reading.
  • Vermont’s defunct Maple Valley is for sale along with three Hall lifts for $950,000.
  • Val Gardena, Italy is the launch customer for Sigma’s innovative Symphony 10 gondola cabin and the new Leitner station.
  • Could North Korea’s ski resort with counterfeit and relocated Doppelmayr lifts host Olympic skiing?
  • Doppelmayr removes Wildcat at Snowbasin to make way for Utah’s first six-pack outside of Park City.  Thanks @ozskier for the photos!

Loen Skylift – World’s Steepest Tramway – Opens in Norway

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A new Garaventa aerial tram opened today along a Norwegian Fjord with a vertical rise of more than 3,000 feet and only one tower.  Photo credit: Hoven Loen AS

From Fjord to Sky in Five is the tagline for the Loen Skylift, a spectacular new sightseeing tramway and adventure destination in Norway that debuted this morning.  Rising from the sea to 1,011-meter Mt. Hoven, the brand new Garaventa aerial tram becomes the steepest jig-back built in modern times and is already being hailed as one of the world’s great lifts.  “The Loen Skylift is the quickest and easiest way to explore the best of what Norwegian mountains have to offer,” said Richard Grov, general manager of Loen Skylift. “The trip from the fjord to the mountain only takes a few minutes.”

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The Loen Skylift is 2.5 times steeper than the mechanically similar Jackson Hole Aerial Tram, which only averages 19.1 degrees. Photo credit: Hoven Loen AS.

An ascent from dock to dock is 3,248 feet over a slope length of 5,021 feet, yielding an insane average grade of 53 degrees.  That’s much steeper than every lift in North America, the steepest of which averages only 34.3 degrees.  At seven meters per second, a Skylift ride takes just five minutes and the machine can transport 460 passengers each hour in two 45-passenger CWA Kronos cabins.  As the Doppelmayr annual brochure notes, “[The Skylift] features one strongly-overhanging tower standing on two feet and anchored back with a tie bar.  The tramway has two sets of track ropes and no track rope brake.”

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Doppelmayr Releases 2017 Worldwide Book

Every Spring, Doppelmayr publishes a sweet book with pictures of and technical info for every installation the company completed worldwide in the prior year.  Often called the Worldbook, this year’s edition features 106 projects on 189 fascinating pages with particular emphasis on the company’s next-generation platform called D-Line.  Among the achievements realized by Doppelmayr and Garaventa in 2016:

  • Construction of eight new D-Line lifts including the first with direct drive and the first with chairs instead of gondolas.
  • A Garaventa tramway with the world’s largest cabins and the planet’s tallest lift towers across Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.
  • One of the steepest aerial tramways ever built alongside a Norwegian fjord.
  • The Giggijochbahn – a gondola with never-before-accomplished throughput of 4,500 skiers per hour at 6.5 m/s.
  • The five-station first line of Mi Teleférico phase two in La Paz, Bolivia.
  • The world’s only fully air-conditioned gondola system at the new Wynn Palace in Macau, a system which also makes five turns.
  • A five-passenger detachable chairlift in South Korea serving tobogganers instead of skiers.
  • The first ProTow, an innovative surface lift for mountain bike parks.
At the beginning of every Worldbook, Doppelmayr thanks its global customers with each of their logos, a page I always enjoy.

If you don’t happen to get the book in the mail as a Doppelmayr customer, luckily the company now publishes an online version of the Worldwide book for all to enjoy.  The pictures alone are worth your time.

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.

NA Tram Timeline
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.