A triple chair fell near the base of Wildcat Mountain’s Snowcat lift this afternoon, sending one person to the hospital. The lift involved is a 1974 Riblet servicing beginner trails out of the base area. At 1:30 pm, Wildcat posted that Snowcat would remain closed for the day due to maintenance.
“We can confirm an incident occurred on Jan. 8, 2022 at Wildcat Mountain involving a 22-year-old male,” read an emailed statement from Wildcat’s parent company, Vail Resorts. “The guest was transported to Androscoggin Valley Hospital. The incident involved the Snowcat Triple, which is closed until further notice. Guests were safely unloaded off the lift at approximately 1:35pm. This incident is under investigation and we have no further details to share at this time,” Vail continued.
An occupied chair fell from the Leelinaw lift at Indianhead Mountain in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula yesterday according to multiple sources. When reached for a statement, Big Snow Resort, which operates Indianhead along with Blackjack Mountain, confirmed there was an incident but declined to comment on specifically what happened. “We are working with the skiers. The lift is operational but not in use today and will be re-inspected tomorrow,” a representative said.
Leelinaw became one of the world’s first triple chairlifts when constructed by Riblet in 1964. Like most Riblet lifts, it features clips which are inserted into the haul rope rather than grips which clamp onto the rope. Earlier this season, another chair with a Riblet clip fell at 49 Degrees North in Washington State.
I have contacted the Ski/Amusement Division of the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, which licenses ski lifts in the state, and will update this post if I get further information on this incident.
Update 1/12: The family of one of the injured skiers asked me to post the following statement:
My brother has been transported to another hospital with very serious injuries. I would like to thank everyone for their concerns especially those who saw it happen and reported the details to prevent any further injuries. The hospital is closed to visitors and a very close family member at another location is sick in a very bad way with the covid virus. We in the family appreciate everyone’s thoughts and prayers at this very difficult time.
A chair got caught in a terminal guide and fell from the LaValle Creek lift at Montana Snowbowl on New Year’s Day. The haul rope was damaged enough that dozens of other riders were roped down from the lift. No one was injured. The lift remains closed and Snowbowl owner Andy Morris says repairs may take a week or more.
The 1984 Riblet is the only lift servicing Montana Snowbowl’s 7,560 foot summit. Riblet lifts do not utilize traditional grips but rather clips that are inserted into the haul rope. Clips coming loose are rare but not unheard of occurrences. In 2011, the same lift lost a chair in the loading area.
Lift ticket prices have been reduced as a result of the summit closure. Snowbowl’s long-awaited Snow Park Expansion may debut before LaValle reopens, giving guests more intermediate options. The expansion has been under construction for three years and includes a used Riblet double from Snowmass.
This one’s a long time coming. The Washington State Supreme Court this afternoon upheld two lower courts’ decisions to allow Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park to add a sixth chairlift and seven new runs on the northwest side of the mountain, a project first proposed circa 2005. Ever since then, the nonprofit that operates the ski area has fought the Spokane Tribe, Sierra Club, Audubon Society, Spokane Mountaineers, Conservation Northwest, Native Plant Society, Lands Council and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to move the project forward. At issue were 279 acres of old growth forest and alpine meadows popular with backcountry skiers that are now poised to become part of the ski area, one of only a handful nationwide located in a state park. The expansion will allow the nonprofit mountain to open more reliable northwest-facing terrain in lean snow years and meet growing demand for outdoor winter recreation in the Inland Northwest. “This is a very exciting day for every skier in our region,” Mt. Spokane general manager Brad McQuarrie celebrated in a press release. “We can now turn our vision into a reality so that more skiers can enjoy more of the mountain.”
Mt. Spokane Expansion Moving Forward: WA State Supreme Court Decision Allows Ski Area Expansion Construction to Begin.
When I visited Mt. Spokane this spring, logging equipment was staged near the summit awaiting the court’s decision. A double chair removed from Bridger Bowl in 2013 sat in the main parking lot undergoing modifications for its new home. The Riblet will be called Red Chair for obvious reasons and has upgraded CTEC components including its bottom tension terminal. “This chairlift has a long and storied history, including ties to the Spokane community from its inception, as Riblet Tramway Company was the original builder of this chairlift based in Spokane,” the mountain’s release noted. Mt. Spokane’s existing chairlifts will also get new names this fall to replace numbers one through five.
Construction begins tomorrow morning and the ropes are expected to drop for the 2018-19 season.
As I listened to the recent Community Ski Areas at Risk Symposium and the reopening saga of Sleeping Giant, Wyoming, it sounded awfully similar to a story I heard a few weeks ago in the far northwest corner of Montana. If you draw lines between the famous ski towns of Sandpoint, Idaho; Whitefish, Montana and Fernie, British Columbia, in the center of that triangle lies the not-so-famous (but by some accounts infamous) town of Libby, Montana. Twenty miles north of this outpost of 2,628 people, Turner Mountain operates as one of America’s most unique, under-the-radar ski areas. Scott Kirschenmann, board member of the nonprofit Kootenai Winter Sports Ski Education Foundation that operates the mountain, kindly gave me a grand tour of the place that Ski Magazine once called some of the “best lift-assisted powder skiing in the U.S.” and which Powder Magazine visited as part of its series called Montanafest Destiny, but which really survives through community support.
Though it employs only three people during ski season, Turner Mountain is anything but small. A mile-long double chair with a mid-station rises 2,110 vertical feet. That places Turner in the top ten percent for vertical nationwide, ahead of famous mountains like Alta, Kirkwood, and Loon. The lift offers hundreds more vertical than all of Liftopia’s 5 Best Lifts in North America (Silverton’s double, KT-22 at Squaw, Chair 23 at Mammoth, Peak at Whistler and Deep Temerity at Aspen Highlands.)
Known for its fall-line skiing, 60 percent of Turner’s terrain is rated black diamond, though there are plenty of intermediate cruisers. From 1961 until 2001, a Constam T-Bar built mostly out of wood – the longest surface lift ever built in the US – served the same profile with a crazy 18-minute ride time. The “new” Riblet double chair, built entirely by volunteers with parts from Stevens Pass and The Summit at Snoqualmie, improved that to 11 minutes. The project used zero helicopter time and no paid contractor, only locally-available equipment and $92,000 (plus a $128,000 low-interest loan) from the Libby Area Development Authority. Skiers donated to sponsor individual chairs and towers. The sign on tower 1 reads simply, “Life is Good.”
If all goes according to plan, Montana Snowbowl will add up to 1,088 acres of ski terrain next winter in a homecoming of sorts. Expanding onto neighboring TV Mountain, Snowbowl will nearly double in size, going from a modest two Riblet doubles and a Doppelmayr T-Bar to a major Montana player with seven lifts and 2,243 acres. Construction is underway and legendary artist James Niehues is currently painting the trail map for North America’s biggest expansion of the year.
The Forest Service finally approved Snowbowl’s TV Mountain expansion in May 2014 after ten years studying a connection to the long-lost Snow Park Ski Area. Owner Brad Morris acquired the Burlingame and High Alpine doubles from Snowmass (for free) in 2015 and the first of four new lifts will open this season. Work started last fall, but early storms forced crews to pause over the winter.
Montana Snowbowl does not have a true beginner or low-intermediate lift, in part because most Missoulians learned to ski at Marshall Mountain until 2003. Facing a need to broaden its appeal beyond advanced skiers, Morris worked with the Forest Service on the expansion plan which he submitted for approval in 2004. Thirteen years later, the beginnings of a new lift dubbed ‘B’ stretch 4,900 feet from the original Snow Park base area to the summit of TV Mountain with 23 towers under construction. In contrast with the Grizzly chair that rises steeply from the current base area, the new lift will ascend a modest 1,440′ vertical west of TV Mountain’s namesake towers. Ride time will be 11 minutes with a capacity of 1,200 skiers per hour. Burlingame’s tension-return station is already standing while the drive station up top will likely be High Alpine’s.
Red Lodge Mountain, located near the famous town of the same name and the northeast corner of Yellowstone, is Montana’s fourth largest ski area. You wouldn’t know it pulling up to the classic lodge and old school lifts out front. Opened in 1960 as Grizzly Peak, it now skis like two distinct resorts – the original mountain with 1970s-era double chairs and a huge expansion served by dual high speed quads that opened in 1996. Approaching its 60th anniversary, the mountain faces dueling challenges of prolonged drought and competition from the booming Big Sky region.
Grizzly Peak opened with one lift, now called Willow Creek, in 1960. This classic Riblet double has since been shortened to start above the base area and only operates on peak days. In 1970, the resort added two more Riblet doubles that also still operate – a beginner lift dubbed Miami Beach and another to the summit called Grizzly Peak.
In 1977, Red Lodge added a rare Borvig double at a western ski area called Midway Express. It served no new terrain but allowed skiers to return to mid-mountain without having to ski all the way to the base area. With just five towers and a vertical rise of only 400 feet, this lift proved too expensive to operate and was abandoned in 2010. Most of the chairs were auctioned to raise cash and the sheaves, comm-line and haul rope were dropped to the ground and left. The terminals and towers still stand today.
According to published reports, an unoccupied chair fell from the light side of Heavenly’s North Bowl triple just before 11:00 am today. As a result, approximately 65 people were evacuated from the lift in about two hours. The incident is under investigation. North Bowl is a 1984 Riblet triple with insert clips. The video below shows a skier being lowered by rope and North Bowl will remain closed until further notice.
1. Single Chair, Mad River Glen, VT – 1948 American Steel & Wire Single Chair
The single chair at MRG still has its original towers and terminal structures but everything else was replaced by Doppelmayr CTEC in 2007. As part of that project, towers were removed, sandblasted and repainted before being flown back to new foundations with new line gear. Doppelmayr also replaced the bullwheels, chairs, grips, drive and haul rope. This begs the question of ‘when is an old lift a new lift?’
Everett Kircher of Boyne fame bought this chairlift from Sugar Bowl, CA for $3,000 in 1954. Originally it was a single chair built in 1939. Modified sheave assemblies were machined at the Kircher’s car dealership in Michigan when the lift went to Tennessee. At some point it appears to have gotten newer-style Riblet towers. Boyne Resorts still operates this lift 800 miles from their nearest ski resort. (edit: JP notes in the comments below that this version was replaced by a Riblet double in 1991. Thanks JP!)
3. Chair 1, White Pass, WA – 19551962 Riblet double
This lift only operates on busy weekends and holidays but it’s an old one and a good one . A classic Pacific Northwest center-pole double with very few modifications from its original design and no safety bars! (edit: Brian notes in the comments that this lift was actually installed as Chair 2 in 1962. The original chair 1 operated 1955-1994.)