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.
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.
What if you could build two lifts for the price of one longer lift? A handful of ski areas have done it with “up and over” lifts. With this setup, riders load at each end and unload at a ridgetop mid-station. There are obvious cost advantages but also limited locations where such a lift makes sense. Due to multiple load/unload areas more stops and slows can occur. Another disadvantage is that the entire system has to run even if only one side is open. Most up and over lifts are located in the Pacific Northwest.
Robert Redford’s Sundance Resort built a CTEC up and over quad in 1995 to replace two lifts. Skiers who load Ray’s Lift in the main village can unload at the Mont Mountain summit or continue down the other side to the base of the Arrowhead lift. Guests can also load at this end to ride back up to the mid-station. Ray’s lift is a beast – depending on the season it has eight different load/unload points, five lift shacks with controls and 33 towers.
Stevens Pass considers its Double Diamond/Southern Cross system as two separate lifts. Skiers load at both ends and unload on two ramps at the summit which are monitored by one operator. The front side portion, called Double Diamond, is short and steep while the rest of the lift is on the Mill Valley side and dubbed Southern Cross. This system was also built by CTEC in 1987. The combined lift is 5,700 feet long and moves 1,200 people per hour up each side.
Perhaps the most famous of the up and over lifts is the Dinosaur at Snoqualmie’s Hyak. It was built by Murray-Latta in 1965. Over 5,000 feet long, it started at the base of Hyak, crossed the summit and continued down into Hidden Valley. This one lift accessed 100% of the resort’s terrain on both sides of Mt. Hyak. The lift had a rollback in 1971 that injured dozens of skiers. The Dinosaur continued to run until 1988. When it closed, large portions of Hyak became abandoned. The Dinosaur sat idle until was removed in 2009 and replaced with two used Riblet lifts, a triple on the front side and a double in Hidden Valley.
Moab, a town of 5,000 in the Utah desert is the surprising home of two failed lift projects – a gondola that never opened and a modern chairlift that lasted only a few years.
Moab Scenic Tram
Just south of Arches National Park stands the Moab Scenic Tram. It’s actually a pulse gondola built by Doppelmayr. A small group of investors spent $3.3 million to build the gondola along with a parking lot and two terminal buildings in 1999. From the outset it was criticized as the “tram to nowhere.” Scheduled to open in April 2001, the tram’s owners got in a fight with the county over a removal bond to be paid in case the business failed. Ironically the business never opened and the vandalized tram remains 16 years later. Its windows and control panels have been smashed and graffiti is everywhere. The lift is very short with only five towers and a handful of cabins, some of which never made it onto the haul rope. It is probably the world’s newest gondola to be tensioned with a counterweight and without level boarding. If you’d like to check it out in person, it’s hard to miss at the intersection of US 191 and Route 128.
Moab Scenic Skyway
On the other side of town was the Moab Scenic Skyway, a Garaventa CTEC quad chairlift which took hikers and bikers 1,000 feet up to the Moab Rim. Longtime resident Emmett Mays had dreamed of building a lift on his property since the 1970’s. He spent $2.2 million to build the lift, trails and parking lot and it opened in May 1999. The entire lift was painted brown and orange camouflage colors to blend in with the rocks below. Designed purely for sightseeing, it ran 250 feet a minute and took 16 minutes to ride round-trip. The attraction lasted five years, closing in 2004. The Nature Conservancy bought the land and the lift was sold to Whitefish Mountain Resort in Montana. It operates today as the Easy Rider Quad. The galvanized chairs still have patches of brown paint on them!
This week, we learned Willamette Pass in Oregon has put their base-to-summit six-pack up for sale for $2.65 million. The Eagle Peak Accelerator was built in 2002 by GaraventaCTEC for $3.5 million. After three terrible seasons in a row, the ski area says it can no longer afford to operate such an expensive lift. This winter, Willamette Pass got 7 percent of its normal snowfall and essentially didn’t operate. The plan is to buy or trade the detachable for a fixed grip lift and reuse the existing tower tubes. If this happens Willamette Pass will become the first resort in North America to remove a six-pack. (Mount Washington on Vancouver Island might not be far behind – they have a similar lift and barely opened the last two winters.)
The list of “lost” detachable lifts is short. Ascutney Mountain in Vermont spent $2 million to build the North Peak Express in 2002 but went into foreclosure in 2010 and never reopened. Creditors sold their flagship lift to Crotched Mountain, NH and SkyTrac moved it there in 2012.