News Roundup: Beyond Skiing

  • According to the New York State contracting website, the Gore Mountain Sunway, High Peaks, Hudson and Whiteface Bear Den lift replacement projects that went out to bid last fall are all on hold.  Two bids were received for the Olympic Jumping Complex gondola in Lake Placid but no builder has been selected as of January 18th.
  • A chair falls off a 1993 Yan detachable quad in Spain, closing an entire ski resort indefinitely.
  • Lift service returns to Killington’s South Ridge for the first time in a decade as of yesterday.
  • Bartholet completes its first 10 passenger gondola lift in Norway.
  • Les Otten lobbies for a new bill that would permit public financing for The Balsams redevelopment.
  • The proposed gondola in Idaho Springs, Colorado would be modeled after the Sea to Sky Gondola, which now carries more than 400,000 riders a year in British Culumbia.  The 1.2 mile Colorado version would rise 1,100 feet above Interstate 70.
  • The largest lost ski resort in Canada, Fortress Mountain, could reopen with a mix of new and refurbished lifts in 2020.
  • Sun Valley and Snowbasin ditch the Mountain Collective Pass for a partnership with Vail Resorts and the Epic Pass starting next winter.
  • The Laconia Daily Sun explains how Highland Mountain Bike Park finds success on the grounds of a long lost New Hampshire ski area.
  • The former longtime operator of Timberline Four Seasons Resort is indicted, accused of illegally prescribing pain drugs.  The ski area suffered a major lift accident in 2016 and has operated only sporadically this winter.
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Loveland Closes Two Yan Lifts for Unspecified Repairs of Similar Issue

Loveland Ski Area has closed its two oldest chairlifts – Lifts 1 and 6 – following discovery of similar problems at each.  Lift 6 is a 1977 Lift Engineering double chair that closed in the middle of the day on Sunday, January 15th due to a problem at the top terminal.  Lift 1 is a 1981 Lift Engineering triple that operated until an inspection found the early stages of a similar issue today (interestingly, Lift 1 opened as a double chair before being upgraded with larger chairs a few years later.)

“We are dedicated to safe lift operations and have decided to close Lift 1 to immediately perform the necessary repairs,” Loveland said in a statement this evening.

While Loveland’s social media posts do not specify what is wrong, they say repairs to Chair 1 should take about two days with Lift 6 taking longer.  Both chairs are bottom drive/bottom tension, so the list of things that could go wrong up top is limited.  In the meantime, the mountain is offering $51 discounted tickets.

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Update 1/20/17:

Cherry Peak Will Complete Summit Lift for 2016-17

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Cherry Peak’s third triple chair will reach 7,050 feet in elevation, significantly higher than the Vista lift to the right.

Utah’s 14 ski resorts have built more than 45 new lifts since Salt Lake City hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics, barely behind Colorado over the same period, which has twice as many mountains.  Ski Utah is a huge success story in an era which has seen dozens of resort closings nationwide. Cherry Peak Resort became the state’s newest winter destination last December, bringing affordable skiing to the Cache Valley and the nearby college town of Logan.  Cherry Peak is the first all-new ski facility in America since the 2004 opening of Tamarack Resort in Idaho.  Next winter, the mountain will debut a third chairlift, increasing lift-served vertical rise to 1,265 feet.

TrailMap

Cherry Peak has a unique business model for the Rockies, operating Monday-Saturday with a noon opening on weekdays and skiing until 10:00 pm.  Owner John Chadwick has a lot to be proud of since starting construction on the project from scratch in 2013, completing a road network, two lifts, night lighting, snowmaking, a beautiful lodge, tube park and more. Last season saw plentiful snow and more than three months of operation with two triple chairlifts and a magic carpet.

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Yan High Speed Quad Retrofits 20 Years Later

Twenty years ago this spring, 15 resorts faced near-disaster when the high-speed lifts they spent more than $50 million to build proved to be of faulty design and had to be retrofitted or replaced just a few years later.  Lift Engineering, the company founded in 1965 by Yanek Kunczynski and more commonly called Yan, entered the detachable lift market in 1986 at June Mountain, CA reportedly after just one year of development.  Yan built a total of 31 detachable quads in the US and Canada between 1986 and 1994.  The majority of Yan’s customers were repeat clients such as Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation, which bought three high speed quads and the Sun Valley Company, which purchased seven.  Whistler’s general manager would later write to Lift Engineering describing his team as the “unwitting recipients of a research and development project.”

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Frenchman’s is one of seven high speed quads on Bald Mountain built by Yan and retrofitted by Doppelmayr after accidents elsewhere.  The original Yan teardrop chairs are some of the most comfortable I’ve ever ridden.
Three incidents in two years sealed the fate of Yan detachables and eventually forced Lift Engineering to liquidate.  On April 4, 1993, a 9-year old boy was killed and another child injured when loose bolts and a subsequent derailment caused two chairs to stack up on Sierra Ski Ranch’s Slingshot lift.  The same lift had sent an empty chair to the ground two months prior when a grip failed.  Lift Engineering settled a wrongful-death suit after the accident for $1.9 million. Sierra Ski Ranch’s marketing director would later state, “we found they just didn’t withstand the test of time” when the company committed $6 million to replace its three Yan detachables in 1996.

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A Yan type-11 grip with marshmallow rubber springs on a bubble chair from Whistler’s Quicksilver high speed quad.
On December 23rd, 1995, a routine emergency stop on the Quicksilver high speed quad at Whistler Mountain initiated a chain reaction crash of four down-bound chairs, plunging skiers 75 feet onto the Dave Murray Downhill course below. 25-year old Trevor MacDonald died at the scene, nine people were seriously injured, 200 had to be evacuated and a second guest died 12 days later.  The coroner’s investigation revealed Yan’s design failed to maintain the required 15-degree lateral swing clearance over towers, causing damage to grips over time.  The type-11 grips could not maintain adequate clamping force for the maximum 38-degree rope angle on Quicksilver between towers 20-21 (Quicksilver was the only lift built with Yan’s type-11 grip owing to its heavier chairs with bubbles, the rest had the type-7 grip.)  On two prior occasions, empty chairs had fallen from Quicksilver’s line, including one time three weeks prior to the deadly accident and in the same location.  Leading up to December 23rd, mechanics were getting grip force faults 20+ times a day and had reportedly stuffed paper into the corresponding alarm.  At the time, detachable lifts were relatively new and not required to stop automatically as a result of a grip force fault.

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Touring Utah’s Newest Ski Resort

Cherry Peak's  brand new lodge and Gateway chairlift with three months to go until opening.
Cherry Peak’s brand new lodge and Gateway chairlift with three months to go until opening.

Utah may have lost a resort last month but now it has another.  I recently got the chance to tour what will be America’s first new ski resort since Tamarack Resort opened in 2004.  Cherry Peak Resort is under construction just outside of Richmond, Utah.  It is named after the 9,765 foot peak nearby but the ski area will not even reach 8,000 feet.  The resort was scheduled to open last season but never got enough snow and construction fell behind.  Cherry Peak Resort is owned by local developer John Chadwick and located entirely on his private land.  He has been quietly working to build the ski area for the past five years while buying used lifts and equipment.  To call Cherry Peak a resort is a stretch but this will be a nice community ski area with 1,265 vertical feet of skiing and three lifts.

Cherry Peak's trail map.  Note the lift in the middle does not exist yet.
Cherry Peak’s trail map. Note the lift to the top does not exist yet.
Gateway chairlift which came from Blackcomb, BC.
Gateway chairlift which came from Blackcomb, BC.
Looking down the Gateway chair which still needs some paint.
Looking down the Gateway chair which still needs some paint.

Chadwick is currently running the ski lift version of a chop shop with used Yan lifts from across the west being cobbled together into three new triple chairs.  Two lifts, dubbed Gateway and Vista are completed and load tested.  Gateway was Blackcomb’s former Crystal Chair while Vista came from Sunnyside at Sun Valley.  Cherry Peak also bought multiple used lifts from Squaw Valley in 2012.

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Lifts by State (and Province)

Ever wanted to know how many lifts are operating in each state?  Read on.  Colorado has the most operating lifts of any state with 275.  California is close behind with 263 followed by New York (189) and Michigan (165).  There are only 9 states with more than 100 lifts each.  The majority of states have fewer than 20 lifts today.  Five sad states have no aerial lifts at all to my knowledge – Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Hawaii and Louisiana.  (Louisiana used to have a 6-passenger Poma gondola called MART that crossed the Mississippi River.)

Each one of Canada’s 10 provinces has at least 3 lifts used for skiing.  Only the Nunavut and Northwest Territories do not have a lift.  Quebec has the most lifts by far with 226 followed by British Columbia (165), Ontario (162), and Alberta (87).

The average age of lifts varies significantly by region.  Maryland’s 7 lifts average 17 years old while Ohio’s 33 lifts are more than twice as old at 34.4 years.  Utah and Montana stand out as having new lifts averaging 19.4 and 19.9 years old, respectively.  Places with really old lifts tend to be in the East and Midwest.  Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio and New York all have lifts that average more than 30 years old.

It’s also interesting to look at which brand has the most operating lifts in each state/province.  25 states/provinces are dominated by brands which disappeared decades ago – Yan, Riblet, Borvig and Hall.  Borvig dominates in 5 eastern states – IL, VA, IA, ME, and PA.  Hall lifts are pervasive in many eastern states – ND, CT, MA, NY, WI, MN, OH, and SC.  Riblet still dominates all of the northwest and some of the midwest – MO, OR, WA, SD, AK, NM, IN, MI, and KY.  Yan takes its home state of Nevada and neighboring California and Arizona.

Doppelmayr is the most common lift brand in surprisingly few states – MD, GA, MT, NJ, NH, ID, and NC.  The story is different in Canada where Doppelmayr is the top brand in most of the country – BC, MB, SK, AB, QC, and NB.  Despite being gone for a decade, CTEC and GaraventaCTEC are still the most popular in Utah, Wyoming and West Virginia (thanks solely to Snowshoe Resort.)  Finally Poma and Leitner-Poma take their home state of CO plus VT and ON, NL, PEI and NS in Canada.