One of a Kind Chondola Coming to Grafton, Illinois

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Coming soon: a gondola along the Mississippi River.

Two days before Halloween, Colorado’s Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park will close for the longest stretch in years so its pulse gondola can be replaced with a detachable one.  The Iron Mountain Tramway is a 2002 Poma model and I’m happy to report it will find a new home 1,000 miles down I-70.  SkyTrans Manufacturing has purchased most of the machine and will will turn it into a fixed-grip chondola at Aerie’s Resort in Grafton, Illinois.  This town of 675 sees more than 1.5 million cars pass through each year and Aerie’s already operates a winery and zip line on the site.  The lift, to be known as the Grafton Sky Tour, is a joint venture of the resort, SkyTrans, and ride operator SkyFair.  “The goal is to build something that is not only a unique year-round attraction, but also a substantial revenue generator for the city and a boon to the entire Riverbend tourism experience,” the companies said in a press release.  The Sky Tour will be the only combination lift in the Midwest and only the second fixed-grip chondola in North America.

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The Iron Mountain Tramway has just over a month left in its current location.

The gondola will undergo a bunch of changes for its new mission.  Because Leitner-Poma is reusing the 18 towers in Glenwood, SkyTrans will fabricate new ones for Grafton.  The company will also swap the 400 HP DC drive and system with a 100 HP AC one (vertical matters!)  There are 18 CWA Omega cabins currently on the Iron Mountain lift, 12 of which will make it on the chondola in groups of three.  15 triple chairs will fill in between gondola pods for a total of 72 carriers.  A similar Leitner-Poma lift at Anakeesta, Tennessee has a 26 chair-2 cabin cadence and operates at only 200 feet per minute.  A one way Sky Tour will last just over 13 minutes.

Aerie’s owner Jeff Lorton and late SkyTrans leader Jerry Pendleton dreamed up the idea for a lift in Grafton five years ago and it was presented to town leadership last spring.  The $2 million project is anticipated to open around Memorial Day.

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News Roundup: Snapped

  • SkyTrans Manufacturing announces the passing of its founder and president, Jerry Pendleton, who began his career with O.D. Hopkins in 1960.
  • John Dalton’s tale of how two brand new lifts survived the Category 5 hurricane in St. Maarten is a must read.
  • A dangling Mammoth Mountain guest escapes a fall from a chair unharmed; lifty who caught her isn’t as lucky.
  • Snowbird’s in-house magazine demystifies how detachable lifts work with a sweet diagram from Doppelmayr and copy from a guy you might have heard of.
  • Hatcher Pass, Alaska moves toward building a SkyTrans triple chair ASAP.
  • Video of a swinging Austrian bubble chair with two skiers struggling to hang on goes viral worldwide.
  • The Hermitage Club comes within days of having its water and sewer services shut off and is still working through other payables.
  • A gondola cabin blew off an outdoor parking rail at Sunday River during last week’s storm and a slew of other lifts suffered damage but are now back in action.
  • 9-year old unharmed after falling 15 feet from a lift at Boyce Park, PA.
  • A three-station gondola is one of ten finalists for a signature attraction in Edmonton, Alberta.  You can vote for it in an online public advisory poll.
  • Fernie’s White Pass lift will be closed for awhile while new bullwheel bearings are sourced and installed.
  • Powerful storm snaps a 30 mm wire rope on Mont Blanc’s iconic panoramic cable car, which was not operating and typically only runs in the summer.
  • Granite Gorge’s sole chairlift has yet to open this season, apparently due to gearbox issues.

Lift-Served Skiing Likely Coming to Hatcher Pass, Alaska

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An approved day-use ski area on Hatcher Pass includes two chairlifts and support buildings.

A group planning to open a rare new American ski area just got a big boost, securing $500,000 towards building chairlift number one yesterday.  Despite encompassing 425 million acres and with more residents than Vermont and Wyoming, the great state of Alaska includes just five lift-served public ski mountains, three of which are in close proximity to Anchorage.  The proposed Hatcher Alpine Xperience sits in the Mat-Su Valley, well north of the Alyeska, Hilltop and Arctic Valley ski areas, where locals have been dreaming of their own mountain for decades.

Not satisfied with dreaming, citizens formed a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in 2015 and got to work.  Already, they’ve completed a federal environmental impact statement, forged an agreement to operate within the Government Peak Recreation Area, cleared trails and built a maintenance facility.  An access road, parking lot and utilities are also in place.  This winter, trails will be groomed but without lift service.  Hatcher Pass tentatively plans to acquire a used triple chair from SkyTrans next spring and install for a 2018-19 opening.  Just today I learned Vail Resorts removed Chair 8 from Afton Alps, Minnesota over the summer – a 1969 Heron which was 1,280′ x 190′ – and might be the lift in question.  It’s just a theory, but no other recently-removed triple chair matches the stats.

The Alaska Pacific Mining Company proposed building a 6,300′ Riblet double chair on Hatcher Pass in the 1960s which was never built. Photo credit: Alaska Public Media

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Waterville Valley’s Green Peak Expansion is a Go

Waterville Valley will open new terrain for the first time in thirty years this winter, CEO Chris Sununu confirmed at a press conference this morning.  With $2 million in financing clearing just recently, SkyTrans Manufacturing will relocate the World Cup Triple this fall to serve the ten new trails on Green Peak.  The U.S. Forest Service approved the 45 acre expansion in 2013. In addition to managing Waterville Valley, Mr. Sununu is running for Governor of New Hampshire which could have something to do with the late-summer timing of the announcement.  He frequently cites his leadership and job creation at Waterville Valley on the campaign trail.

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The Green Peak triple chair will rise 1,011 vertical feet and move up to 1,800 skiers per hour over a slope length of 4,380′. SkyTrans, which specializes in refurbishing old lifts and relocating them to smaller ski resorts and amusement parks, has experience at Waterville.  SkyTrans General Manager Rich Combs said in a press release“this project builds on our history, starting when O.D. Hopkins Associates, the predecessor to SkyTrans, installed the very first lifts at Waterville Valley Resort.”  Those lifts were all built by Stadeli and the mountain still operates six of them!

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The World Cup Triple in 2012 after being re-built by Doppelmayr following a fire.

The 1985 triple formerly known as World Cup has numerous Doppelmayr components thanks to a June 2000 lightning strike and fire. The bottom station building burned to the ground and the haul rope separated due to the heat.  Doppelmayr came in and replaced both stations and added a mid-station at the same time.  After the installation of the parallel White Peaks Express in 1988, World Cup only ran weekends and holidays and was removed starting in June. The move to Green Peak comes sooner than many expected and the new lift and terrain will open sometime this winter.