A community ski area surrounded by iron ore mines near the Quebec-Labrador border will build as many new lifts as Whistler Blackcomb this summer, though they will be of quite a different variety. Smokey Mountain Ski Club is set to debut Canada’s first Skytrac, a quad chair where a 1972 Poma double with a floating bullwheel stands today. The mountain’s Blue lift, a detachable Poma in operation since the 1960s, will be swapped for a brand new Leitner-Poma version. Another new LPOA platter lift will serve an area known as coaches’ corner and supplement a carpet lift built last year. Smokey has also retired its Red and Green Poma lifts meaning the entire lift fleet will be renewed by next winter.
This revitalization has been in the works since at least 2016 but was put on hold due to a downturn in the iron ore market. The Iron Ore Company of Canada will fund the not-for-profit ski club’s modern and more reliable lift system as part of mitigation for a new site nearby. Below are some photos from Smokey’s website to memorialize the truly classic Poma lifts which will be missed.
This ambitious project brings the North America new lift count to a potential 48 for 2018. That number includes at least five Skytrac Monarchs, a dozen Leitner-Poma installations and 21 Doppelmayr machines.
It may not be the biggest lift project I write about this week but Tahoe Donner near Truckee, California has signed a contract to replace its Snowbird SLI double this summer. The Tahoe Donner Association is one of the country’s largest homeowner associations and therefore the process of assessing the old lift, designing a new one and funding it is all detailed on the neighborhood’s website. Tahoe Donner staff solicited quotes from multiple manufacturers and looked at the used marketplace but ultimately settled on a brand new Skytrac Monarch fixed-grip triple chair to improve safety and reliability.
The new $1.5 million lift will be bottom drive and bottom tension with an increased line speed of 400 feet per minute. Capacity will jump from 900 pph to 1500 with a comfortable 7.2 second chair interval. New terminals will be smaller than the old ones and located off to the side of the Snowbird ski run for better circulation. The lift will go from nine towers to six with a slope length of 1,600 feet.
Tahoe Donner is open to the public and popular with California families as an affordable option near Lake Tahoe. It’s great to see homeowners committing to the future of the mountain with this new lift. Thanks to Kirk and Max for letting me know about the project.
Exactly half of the 14 lifts at Whitefish Mountain Resort stand in a second location, with some even finding a third home in Northwestern Montana. By strategically re-engineering and relocating lifts from elsewhere on the mountain and beyond, Whitefish has been able to grow faster than many of its competitors and now encompasses 3,000 acres of glades, groomers and chutes. This year’s move of Chair 5 creates the East Rim lift and turns a machine that sat idle for years into a dedicated lift for some of the finest advanced terrain in the Inland Northwest.
For the first 50 years, every lift on Big Mountain was purchased new from a manufacturer. That changed in 1999 and 2000, when the the Bigfoot and Sunrise T-Bars joined the Whitefish fleet just as consolidation and new technology were making new lifts increasingly expensive. In 2002, the ski area acquired a Hall triple for a new beginner lift. Continuing the pattern, Big Mountain, as it was then still known, snagged Moab’s failed Skyway experiment for another new beginner pod. When the first-generation Glacier Chaser detachable needed to be replaced the following year, Whitefish had no choice but to go new for the flagship Big Mountain Express. But instead of scrapping the old Doppelmayr, it shifted west to become the Swift Creek Express. That summer’s lift shuffle also turned the old Easy Rider triple into Elk Highlands, a real estate egress lift. In 2011, the Bad Rock lift was brought in all the way from Pennsylvania and now runs out of the base lodge in both winter and summer. With a major lift renewal complete, Whitefish set its sights on expansion for winter 2014-15, opening the Flower Point lift and 200 additional acres. That machine came from across the border, the old Rosa triple from Kimberley (and the predecessor to the Whistler Village Gondola before that.) To summarize, Whitefish impressively built “new” lifts in 1999, 2000, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2014 and now 2017.
With commissioning wrapping on eleven more lifts than last year at this time, 2017 represents an impressive ten-year high for North American lift building. Six-passenger chairlifts, T-Bars and urban gondolas in Mexico and the Caribbean drove much of the growth in a year that saw continued changes in the manufacturer landscape. Compared with 2016, more of this year’s chairlifts were expensive detachable models (12) compared with 17 fixed-grips (in 2016, the split was 7 detachable, 23 fixed.) A total of nine new gondolas and three T-Bars went up in 2017, both increases from the year before. Ten additional lifts were relocated and re-purposed, a three-year high with lifts originally built by Blue Mountain, CTEC, Doppelmayr, Riblet, Roebling, Stadeli and Yan finding new homes. Combined, this year’s new lift class represents a solid 27 percent increase from 2016.
Consistent with last year, about two thirds of the projects in 2017 represented one-for-one replacements in existing alignments. Interestingly, at least six resorts removed older lifts outright without replacing them. At many mountains, the era of building and maintaining extra chairlifts that rarely run is over.
Replacing a fixed-grip quad with another fixed-grip quad might not seem like much of a change, but Mt. Baker took a significant step forward this summer building an all-new Chair 7 with loads of upgrades. The only lift out of the White Salmon base area is now a Skytrac, the first for this Pacific Northwest favorite with seven fixed-grip quads.
The Riblet Chair 7 opened in 1990 to serve an eastward expansion along with Chair 8 in 1992. The last of Baker’s seven Riblets went in for the 2001-02, the second to last Riblet lift built anywhere in the world. Beginning the following year, a series of four Doppelmayr CTEC quad chairs replaced lifts 1, 3, 5 and 6. All of these lifts were powered directly with diesel engines.
Mt. Baker Ski Area’s new Chair 7 is the first on the mountain with an electric prime mover.
Many resorts are adding bigger chairlifts this season but Mt. Hood Meadows’ new beginner lift is notable for a couple reasons. The quad follows an all-new route from the double it replaces, opening up more teaching terrain in the base area. Second, it appears to feature Skytrac’s first height-adjustable terminal at its return station. The drive and tensioning systems will now be located at the top. The new Buttecup is 30 percent longer than the Yan version and will move 70 percent more people. It will also spin 30 percent faster thanks to a loading carpet, which is also height adjustable.
When I stopped by Meadows this weekend, Mt. Hood had received nearly six inches of rain on top of early snow in classic Pacific Northwest fashion. Timberline is already open for the season while lift construction continues next door. Concrete work for the new lift is almost finished and the weather looks much better this week as Meadows prepares for its 50th season.
Bridger Bowl is creating a first-rate learning center this fall, with four new lifts under construction to serve exclusively green terrain. Following years of attendance records and upper mountain expansion, the move is similar to what Beaver Creek, Jackson Hole, Taos and the Yellowstone Club did recently combining short gondolas, new chairlifts and/or covered carpets to create dedicated teaching hubs away from facilities for other guests. At Bridger, the Snowflake lift is being moved away from conflicting skier traffic to a completely new area, the Virginia City double replaced with a Skytrac triple chair with loading carpet and two new SunKid conveyors added. An addition to the Saddle Peak Lodge and new Snowflake Hut cap this major investment by the Bridger Bowl Association, the mountain’s nonprofit owner for the past 63 years. Impressively, the entire expansion is being paid for with cash reserves.
Bridger Bowl’s redevelopment over the last two decades is a model for nonprofit community ski areas everywhere. At the turn of the millennium, the mountain ran one modern quad chair and five Riblet doubles built between 1964 and 1978. Every lift was subsequently replaced with new fixed grip triples and quads with loading carpets from Garaventa CTEC, Doppelmayr CTEC and now Skytrac. With six Chairkit systems, Bridger Bowl is the largest operator of loading carpets in North America. “The conveyors are very effective in reducing mis-loads and allow the lifts to be operated closer to full speeds,” Four Mountain Advisors noted in the mountain’s master plan. “This helps maintain lift capacity without the added costs of a high-speed lift.” While at one point Bridger operated two mile-long doubles, the new strategy relies on a larger number of shorter, well-placed fixed-grip triples and quads. Virginia City and Snowflake are the fifth and sixth modern lift replacements in new alignments.