Yan High Speed Quad Retrofits 20 Years Later

Twenty years ago this spring, 15 resorts faced near-disaster when the high-speed lifts they spent more than $50 million to build proved to be of faulty design and had to be retrofitted or replaced just a few years later.  Lift Engineering, the company founded in 1965 by Yanek Kunczynski and more commonly called Yan, entered the detachable lift market in 1986 at June Mountain, CA reportedly after just one year of development.  Yan built a total of 31 detachable quads in the US and Canada between 1986 and 1994.  The majority of Yan’s customers were repeat clients such as Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation, which bought three high speed quads and the Sun Valley Company, which purchased seven.  Whistler’s general manager would later write to Lift Engineering describing his team as the “unwitting recipients of a research and development project.”

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Frenchman’s is one of seven high speed quads on Bald Mountain built by Yan and retrofitted by Doppelmayr after accidents elsewhere.  The original Yan teardrop chairs are some of the most comfortable I’ve ever ridden.
Three incidents in two years sealed the fate of Yan detachables and eventually forced Lift Engineering to liquidate.  On April 4, 1993, a 9-year old boy was killed and another child injured when loose bolts and a subsequent derailment caused two chairs to stack up on Sierra Ski Ranch’s Slingshot lift.  The same lift had sent an empty chair to the ground two months prior when a grip failed.  Lift Engineering settled a wrongful-death suit after the accident for $1.9 million. Sierra Ski Ranch’s marketing director would later state, “we found they just didn’t withstand the test of time” when the company committed $6 million to replace its three Yan detachables in 1996.

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A Yan type-11 grip with marshmallow rubber springs on a bubble chair from Whistler’s Quicksilver high speed quad.
On December 23rd, 1995, a routine emergency stop on the Quicksilver high speed quad at Whistler Mountain initiated a chain reaction crash of four down-bound chairs, plunging skiers 75 feet onto the Dave Murray Downhill course below. 25-year old Trevor MacDonald died at the scene, nine people were seriously injured, 200 had to be evacuated and a second guest died 12 days later.  The coroner’s investigation revealed Yan’s design failed to maintain the required 15-degree lateral swing clearance over towers, causing damage to grips over time.  The type-11 grips could not maintain adequate clamping force for the maximum 38-degree rope angle on Quicksilver between towers 20-21 (Quicksilver was the only lift built with Yan’s type-11 grip owing to its heavier chairs with bubbles, the rest had the type-7 grip.)  On two prior occasions, empty chairs had fallen from Quicksilver’s line, including one time three weeks prior to the deadly accident and in the same location.  Leading up to December 23rd, mechanics were getting grip force faults 20+ times a day and had reportedly stuffed paper into the corresponding alarm.  At the time, detachable lifts were relatively new and not required to stop automatically as a result of a grip force fault.

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The Ten Shortest Detachable Lifts in North America

I”ve written a few times about the longest lifts of different types but what about the shortest? The considerable expense of a detachable lift is usually justified for long profiles where speed makes sense.  The average detachable lift in this part of the world is over 5,200 feet long while the average fixed grip lift is under 2,800 feet.  However, the slow loading speed of a high-speed lift also make sense for beginners and foot passengers regardless of the length of the line.  Hence there are plenty of very short detachable lifts that cost millions and take less than two minutes to ride.  Below are the ten shortest ones in the US and Canada.

Beaver Creek's Buckaroo Gondola is among the shortest detachable lifts but makes for a perfect beginner lift.
Beaver Creek’s Buckaroo Gondola is among the shortest detachable lifts but makes for a perfect beginner lift.
  1. Cabriolet – Mont Tremblant, QC – 1994 Doppelmayr detachable 6-passenger cabriolet

Slope length: 1,100 feet, ride time 1.4 minutes.

  1. Easy Rider Express – Sierra-at-Tahoe, CA – 1996 Doppelmayr detachable quad

Slope length: 1,165 feet, ride time 1.3 minutes

  1. Chair 3 – Horseshoe Resort, ON – 1989 Doppelmayr detachable quad

Slope length: 1,400 feet, ride time 1.6 minutes

  1. Super Glide – Alpine Valley Resort, WI – 2011 Leitner-Poma detachable quad

Slope length: 1,421 feet, ride time 1.4 minutes

  1. Valley Flyer – Alpine Valley Resort, WI – 1999 Poma detachable quad

Slope length: 1,426 feet, ride time 1.6 minutes

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