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What’s in a Lift Name?

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I respect ski resorts that come up with creative, well-thought-out names for their lifts.  A lift’s name will usually last decades and be passed on to subsequent lifts in the same location.  KT-22 is an example of a lift name so iconic I do not even need to say the resort.  Yet more than 900 lifts in the US and Canada have no name at all or go only by a letter/number.  Many resorts have a bunch of lifts with generic names like “T-Bar” and “Beginner.”  I set out to identify some of the most frequently-used names in hopes that the ski industry can be more creative in the future.  Here are the top 10:

  • Summit. There are 38 lifts called Summit including nine Summit Expresses.  Forty-four more lifts have other words added such as Mt. Snow’s Grand Summit Express.  The temptation to name a lift Summit is obvious but it is hardly a helpful name when we are talking about machines that ascend mountains.
  • North. While only ten lifts are called North, 34 more are named North Bowl, North Creek, North Face, etc.  The other compass directions are almost as common – there are 28 West lifts, 22 East lifts and 21 South lifts.  Not very creative and I would argue most ski resort guests have no idea which direction is which.
  • Blue.  Most ski areas have gotten away from painting their lifts bright colors and giving them corresponding names since the Forest Service banned such displays.  However there are still 23 Blue lifts, 20 Green, 19 Silver, 15 Red & Gold, 7 Yellow, and a handful each of Orange, Pink and Purple lifts.
  • Eagle.  A surprising 26 lifts have the word Eagle in their name including four that are Eagle Express.  Other resorts go further with Flying Eagle, Soaring Eagle, Screaming Eagle, Golden Eagle and Copper’s American Eagle.  Other popular animal names include Bear and Elk.  These aren’t bad names; they are just too common.
  • Village.  The US and Canada have 17 Village lifts including 4 Village Gondolas.  I put these in the same generic category as Summit.
  • Sunrise.  Some resorts try to get past East and West by using Sunrise and Sunset.  The result is 15 Sunrise lifts and almost as many Sunsets.  For an industry centered on snow, the word sun is very popular.  I count 9 Sunnysides, 8 Sundances and 8 Sunshines among others.
  • Meadow. Learning lifts in particular seem to suffer from generic naming.  Meadow is by far the most popular name for a beginner lift at 18, followed by Easy Rider at 12, Beginner (10) and Discovery (8.)
  • Skyline.  A logging term for transporting timber by cable, Skyline is a natural name for a ski lift.  But with 12 Skyline lifts and counting, it’s time to use some new logging terms.
  • Panorama.  There are seven of theseWinter Park tried to put a spin on it with Panoramic Express but it’s still not very creative.

Last summer’s construction season had two new Summit lifts, 3 Sun variations, a Meadow and a Discovery.  Hopefully 2015 will be better but it’s looking like we may see three more Summit chairs!

Up and Over Lifts

What if you could build two lifts for the price of one longer lift?  A handful of ski areas have done it with “up and over” lifts.  With this setup, riders load at each end and unload at a ridgetop mid-station.   There are obvious cost advantages but also limited locations where such a lift makes sense.  Due to multiple load/unload areas more stops and slows can occur.  Another disadvantage is that the entire system has to run even if only one side is open.  Most up and over lifts are located in the Pacific Northwest.

Ray's lift at Sundance, UT.
Ray’s lift at Sundance, UT.

Robert Redford’s Sundance Resort built a CTEC up and over quad in 1995 to replace two lifts.  Skiers who load Ray’s Lift in the main village can unload at the Mont Mountain summit or continue down the other side to the base of the Arrowhead lift.  Guests can also load at this end to ride back up to the mid-station.  Ray’s lift is a beast – depending on the season it has eight different load/unload points, five lift shacks with controls and 33 towers.

Stevens Pass considers its Double Diamond/Southern Cross system as two separate lifts.  Skiers load at both ends and unload on two ramps at the summit which are monitored by one operator.  The front side portion, called Double Diamond, is short and steep while the rest of the lift is on the Mill Valley side and dubbed Southern Cross.  This system was also built by CTEC in 1987.  The combined lift is 5,700 feet long and moves 1,200 people per hour up each side.

One operator oversees two unloading ramps from high above at Stevens Pass.
One operator oversees two unloading ramps from high above at Stevens Pass.

Perhaps the most famous of the up and over lifts is the Dinosaur at Snoqualmie’s Hyak.  It was built by Murray-Latta in 1965.  Over 5,000 feet long, it started at the base of Hyak, crossed the summit and continued down into Hidden Valley.  This one lift accessed 100% of the resort’s terrain on both sides of Mt. Hyak.  The lift had a rollback in 1971 that injured dozens of skiers.  The Dinosaur continued to run until 1988.  When it closed, large portions of Hyak became abandoned.  The Dinosaur sat idle until was removed in 2009 and replaced with two used Riblet lifts, a triple on the front side and a double in Hidden Valley.

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