A rough summer turned even worse today for Compagnie du Mont-Blanc, the firm that operates lifts in the Chamonix Valley. The middle station of the two section Grands Montets tramway caught fire, severing five cables and sending two of the four 60 passenger cabins to the ground. VonRoll built both systems in 1962-63 and the first section was renovated in 1974, followed by the second in 1989. The upper stage got new cabins in 2009 and the lower two were replaced in 2014. The lifts are a combined 15,700 feet long with a massive 6,700 feet of vertical.
The fire began around 1:50 pm in the roof of the intermediate station building, as captured on a nearby webcam. Although the system operates in both winter and summer, apparently no trips were in progress at the time as the building was being renovated.
Helicopters fought the fire all afternoon and it is now extinguished. The public is being warned to stay clear of the area as three ropes are still hanging on but could give way. There are no reports of injuries, thankfully.
I escaped Jackson Hole’s early snow this weekend and headed southwest, destination tramway number fourteen on my hit list. One I should have gotten to long ago, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is the king of North American jig-backs with a ridiculous vertical rise of 5,873 feet. That’s second highest in the world, though the German number one was retired in April with a replacement not scheduled to open until December, giving SoCal’s tram the loftiest lift worldwide title for the moment. At 2.5 miles, it’s just 317 feet longer than Jackson’s Big Red but with almost 1,800 more vertical in Chino Canyon. A modest sign points to the tram from a traffic light 670 feet above sea level on the edge of Palm Springs and the access road (Tram Way) and the tramway combine to lift visitors to 8,516 feet on Mt. San Jacinto. Of all the lifts I have ridden, this one rivals the best, both in terms of the core machine and the impressive operation surrounding it.
Francis Crocker, an employee of the California Electric Power Company first envisioned the tram while on vacation to Palm Springs in 1935. It took almost thirty years and a war for his dream to come alive, beginning with the creation of the Mount San Jacinto Winter Park Authority by the California legislature in 1945. Construction began in 1960 and from the day California Governor Pat Brown cut the ribbon in September 1963, the tram was a hit. It would be the first of seven large aerial tramways for VonRoll in the United States.
The State of Vermont Passenger Tramway Division sent a letter Tuesday to Jay Peak Resort, ordering its aerial tramway shut down until significant upgrades are completed. Jay Peak agreed last fall to make critical repairs to the tram with more upgrades to be completed this spring by Doppelmayr/Garaventa. The State says Jay Peak has not completed these upgrades in advance of the summer season, hence the formal Order for Corrective Action sent this week. The Jay Peak Aerial Tramway was built by VonRoll in 1966 and received new 60-passenger cabins in 2000.
On April 14, the Securities and Exchange Commission seized control of the resort from its owners, alleging a $200 million fraud scheme. Florida attorney Michael Goldberg was placed in charge by a federal court and tasked with sorting out Jay Peak’s finances so the resort can be sold. Jay reportedly lost $6.2 million last winter and Mr. Goldberg is looking for cost savings. When asked about the upgrades needed to the tram a few weeks ago, Goldberg told the Burlington Free Press, “It kind of sucks that has to happen now.” He also questioned Doppelmayr’s assessment of the tram, stating at a press conference, “we’re not even sure we have to fix the tram. The company that tells us we have to fix it is also the one that will get the contract.”