As a winter storm heads for California, significant work remains before Sierra at Tahoe can open for the 2021/22 season. It was seven weeks ago the Caldor Fire tore through the majority of the resort’s drought-stricken terrain, damaging lifts and destroying millions of dollars of equipment. Most buildings were saved but Sierra now says extensive damage and supply chain challenges could mean a later than normal start to the season with limited terrain. Parts of the ski area won’t open at all this winter, including the entirety of West Bowl and its two chairlifts.
The season will likely include the Easy Rider Express, Tahoe King, Short Stuff and El Dorado. These lifts are currently undergoing repairs along with normal annual maintenance and inspections. Short Stuff’s fire-damaged haul rope has already been replaced with a spare rope from Mammoth Mountain installed with assistance from Palisades Tahoe. Another lift which needs a new rope, the Grandview Express, will remain out of service until a replacement arrives from Switzerland. “We are focused on making repairs and restoring Sierra to optimal condition, while simultaneously navigating global supply chain and shipping challenges for essential equipment and components,” read an update posted yesterday.
In addition to the West Bowl closure, many tree skiing areas will be off limits the 2021/22 season due to dangerous conditions. Sierra at Tahoe is offering passholders next season on top of this one should they choose to stick it out. This deal also includes a $50 rebate, which can optionally be donated to a fund for Sierra employees impacted by the fire. Resort owners will match $50 donations to make them $100. Passholders who choose not to take the two year season pass options can request a full refund.
“Our opening timeframe for the 2021/22 season is still unknown, as there is a tremendous amount of work to be done in order to offer you the quality ski experience you have come to expect from Sierra,” the resort told passholders. “We are hopeful to have more clarity on an estimated timeframe for opening the resort in the coming weeks.”
The Forest Service signs off on Copper’s Lumberjack Express project, though the resort does not yet have a timeline for construction yet.
In a lawsuit, Alterra says it’s owed more than $200 million for lost business during the pandemic which should have been covered by insurance.
Vail Resorts plans to load lifts to full capacity this winter at all 34 of its North American resorts. No passholder reservations required, employees must be vaccinated by November 15th and guests must show proof of vaccination to dine at indoor cafeterias.
Vail also reports strong full year financial results with lift revenue up 17.9 percent from a year ago and operating expenses down 5.4 percent.
Purgatory says its six pack will be closed at least two more weeks, gives summer season passholders next summer for free due to continued lift problems.
Bartholet announces a major five section gondola contract with Switzerland’s LAAX. The Ropetaxi system will feature cabins which move autonomously in stations and can be directed to a specific destination by passengers.
The rest of Australia’s resorts are cleared to reopen, though some have already called it a season.
The towns of Telluride and Mountain Village are evaluating three options for the aging gondola: gradual incremental upgrades, a major overhaul or total replacement with a decision targeted for next fall.
The Holding family agrees to sell most of Sinclair Oil Corporation’s assets, though Sun Valley and Snowbasin aren’t included.
The Forest Service issues a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Lutsen Mountains’ proposed expansion with public comments being solicited through October 25th. A new alternative would see the addition of five new chairlifts on Moose and Eagle Mountains rather than the initially planned seven.
One of California’s largest active wildfires made a dramatic run to the east Sunday, crossing into Sierra at Tahoe’s West Bowl before reaching the front side of the mountain. A Forest Service webcam on the Tahoe King drive terminal showed fire surrounding the summit Sunday evening, with flames at one point directly underneath the Grandview Express. Infrared mapping from just before 7:00 pm detected heat in large swaths of the ski area but not in the base area or back side.
Earlier in the day, the resort posted that the fire was approaching and crews and equipment were in place to try and protect structures. “Please send your prayers for protection for all fire personnel as they continue the battle to protect our Playground,” wrote Sierra at Tahoe.
The mountain operates six Yan fixed grip and three Doppelmayr detachable chairlifts on 2,000 acres of terrain. The Caldor Fire, which ignited August 14th, has burned more than 170,000 acres.
By morning, reporters on the scene said no major structures were lost in the base area and lifts appeared to be intact.
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.”
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.
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.
I”ve written a fewtimes 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.