Why T-Bars are Trending Again

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The Valar T-Bar opened at Cannon Mountain last year to service an expansive race venue, demonstrating one of reasons resorts are building new T-Bars these days.
Seventy percent of the 1,277 T-Bars, J-Bars and platter (sometimes called Poma) lifts built in North America to date are no longer in service.  That would suggest the traditional surface lift is a dying breed in the age of beginner-friendly carpets, which go in by the dozen every year of late.  But over the last two seasons, a bit of a renaissance has emerged, with more mountain resorts adding brand new T-Bars and platters.  Four T-Bars being completed right now represent the highest number in North America since 1987.  Even more resorts are considering building these classic surface lifts, although the reasons why have little to do with learning to ski.

Peak T-Bar construction occurred in 1964 (not shown) but the platter remained popular as a beginner lift into the 1990s when the carpet came along.  Peak J-Bar was back in 1967 and those are probably gone for good.

Race Training

Yesterday I visited both Burke Mountain, Vermont and Cannon Mountain, New Hampshire, where local ski clubs recently partnered to build dedicated surface lifts on terrain used for racing.  In some cases, these types of lifts are open to the public but other times not.  New T-Bars are relatively cheap with costs typically covered by donors and/or program fees.  Another reason for this application is speed; every T-Bar built since 2011 can move at least 550 feet per minute, significantly faster than most fixed-grip chairlifts.  The Franconia Notch Ski Club’s new T was built by LST Ropeways and goes up to 690 fpm; Burke Mountain Academy’s nearly-finished one is a Leitner, shown below.

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Lift Profile: Lewis & Clark at Big Sky, MT

Top/drive terminal of Lewis & Clark.
Top/drive terminal of Lewis & Clark.

Lewis & Clark is a 2005 Doppelmayr CTEC Uni-GS detachable quad in the Spanish Peaks residential development in Big Sky, Montana. It was built during Big Sky’s real estate boom when the Yellowstone Club, Spanish Peaks and Moonlight Basin were all developed. For those who haven’t been to the area, each resort includes lifts and ski trails connected to the original Big Sky Resort. 17 lifts were built during the boom years from 2004 to 2007. No lifts have been built in Big Sky since.

The original Spanish Peaks trail map from 2006.
Spanish Peaks original trail map from 2006.

Spanish Peaks was developed by timber billionaire Tim Blixseth, (who founded the neighboring Yellowstone Club) and James Dolan, the CEO of Cablevision. Doppelmayr built all 5 of Spanish Peaks’ lifts in the summer of 2005.  In addition to Lewis & Clark, there are 2 triples and 2 platters.  Lifts and trails opened for the 2005-06 ski season.

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