Wallowa Lake Tramway, OR

This lift has the largest vertical of any gondola in North America.
Mt. Howard and Wallowa Lake. The top terminal is in the upper left corner.
Bottom terminal with gearbox visible.
Bottom terminal depression “saddles.”
Lower station overview.
View up the very steep lift line.
Top station launch zone.
Countdown clock for operators to know when to send the next cabin by hand.
Turnaround up top with counterweight below.
Top bullwheel carriage.
Arrival side at the top station.
CWA cabin and double grip/hanger.
The breakover.
Top terminal turnaround rail.
Tower 24.
There are two “supply” baskets.
Depression towers 20-22.
That view!
Tower 19 looking up.
Surrounded by high peaks.
Grip seen from below.
Tower 14.
Passing a downbound cabin.
Middle part of the line.
Riding up the steep first section.
Lower part of the line above Wallowa Lake State Park.
This hande launches each cabin.
Cabins are well cared for.
These cabins are not original; they came from a Mueller lift.
Bottom terminal with manual power.
Grip closeup.
Drive bullwheel down below.

23 thoughts on “Wallowa Lake Tramway, OR

  1. Rene Thoeni April 7, 2019 / 10:27 am

    The cabins are not well cared for as the floor underside support beams have much rusted away when I saw them years ago.

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  2. Rene Thoeni April 8, 2019 / 10:16 am

    Wallowa lake Tramway ( Gondola ) cabin history: These cabins where manufactured by CWA, Olten, Switzerland for a Mueller gondola installation in Glacier Park. That project failed during its installation do to financing issues. The cabins then where stored for years in a warehouse until Park City, Utah bought some of the cabins for it’s PHB gondola as replacement for the original PHB Cabins. However Park City decided to purchase new cabins from CWA and the cabins where once again up for sale. In the meantime I sold the old PHB gondola from Squaw Valley to Big Sky Resort in Montana. Big Ski then purchased some or all cabins from Park City. The now relocated Gondola with the from Park City purchased cabins operated from year 1985 to 1999 when the Gondola machinery was removed and replaced with a chairlift. Some of the now retired Gondola Cabins at Big Sky then where re-purchased by Wallowa Lake Tramway Corporation where they have bin in use to replace the Hall fiberglass cabins that where supplied with all the machinery equipment.

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    • reaperskier May 7, 2019 / 3:56 pm

      Where is glacier park?

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      • Rene Thoeni May 7, 2019 / 5:00 pm

        Glacier Park is in Montana and Canada. The Mueller designed gondola was sold from there office in Canada. If the gondola was being installed on the Canada side of the Park or the Montana side I don’t know.

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        • skier72 December 16, 2019 / 11:57 am

          Huh. I thought the cabins came from the Mt. Hays Mueller Gondola in Prince Rupert BC. The ski resort went bankrupt in the ’90s.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Will December 16, 2019 / 2:50 pm

          It’s kinda funny, if you look at Mt. Hays on Google Maps satellite view, it still shows a dotted red line, signifying that a gondola operates there.

          Liked by 1 person

        • seilritter37 December 31, 2019 / 7:21 pm

          The Cabins used at Wallowa Lake, Sugarbowl and a couple of installations in Mexico have in around since the late 1960this and where stored in Canada for many years. Some of the cabins went to Park City but never came in use until Ctec purchase some of the cabins from Park City for its upgrade of the Sugarbowl. igi1983 I sold on instruction from Hans Burkhard the Squaw Valley gondola to Big Sky Montana. Big Sky bought then additional cabins from Park City to increase the capacity. These cabins then found there way to Wallowa lake Gondola.

          Liked by 1 person

        • skier72 January 22, 2020 / 11:45 pm

          Talking about the old Mt. Hays Gondola, I found this video that shows some of the old Mueller gondola towers for the lift. The towers can be seen at 2:22 (barely), and at 5:33, you get a good shot of a Mueller tower.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Tim Smith April 17, 2019 / 3:32 pm

    Is this gondola detachable? It looks like it, but it was made in ’68

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    • Rene Thoeni April 17, 2019 / 5:44 pm

      Yes it is detachable! In itself it was a very unique piece of engineering considering it’s design dates back into the 50tis. The internal mechanism works sort like one would use a prier bar to move a heavy object. In this case the weight of cabin and grip with hanger, with or without passenger, is translated into a downward force that the internal mechanism multiplies in clamping force on the grip jaws to the cable. The first installations in use in Switzerland had only 2 people cabins and the grip had one hanger pipe only. The grip with cabin and passenger was launched with sort of a spring tensioned arm that the station operator would pull and in turn catapult the cabin on to the moving wire rope. At the time it was kind of on exhilarating thing to ride in.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. seilritter37 January 23, 2020 / 9:52 am

    Skier 72. Thanks for posting the video from Mt. Hays and what remains from the near completed Mueller Gondola project. As I was told by CWA personal that about the time the wire rope got spliced the financial lenders offer fell true. At the time, the CWA cabins had just arrived in Canada and so then got stored near the Harbor in a storage space in the hope of a solution to the project that did not come about. In about year 1988 I sold and drove to Baine, Washington to pickup 4 of these cabins for Sugar Bowl. Those where the last cabins that entered still in new condition into this country. .

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Somebody February 18, 2020 / 7:25 pm

    It’s a shame this lift doesn’t run at all in the winter. Even the liftline would be a fun run.

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    • seilritter37 February 20, 2020 / 3:54 pm

      In my opinion the lift and upper station are really not designed for winter operations and would be outright dangerous if a lift evacuation would have to be done The machinery and equipment is old and outdated making operations even more of a challenge.

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  6. Postmilan March 28, 2020 / 7:38 am

    I have a brochure from the ’70s when they briefly described themselves as a ski area.

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    • seilritter37 March 31, 2020 / 8:52 pm

      Yes, Skiing was much in consideration in the early years of operations. I took over the management and operation of the then called Wallowa Lake Gondola in 1971, since I was involved with the construction of the machinery that we built at Hall Ski Lift, Watertown, N,Y plant. We felt immediately that the mountain could offer more then just Summer operations. We got a remorse approval from the Forest Ranger, to operate a handle tow ski lift on the summit above the upper gondola station. The corporation also bought a used Poma lift from Anthony Lakes Ski Area out of Baker, Oregon and for that installation we needed an environmental review report. From there on, everything started to unravel in many different ways. First, myself, I realized that a full size ski resort was not affordable or feasible due to Wind and weather that would shut down the Gondola Operation. My plan was to create a Winter sports week with, Cross Country, Skiing, Snow survival training, Snow shoeing and so on. Unfortunately, to many clueless individuals got involved and an Environmental report was created that showed 4 or 5 Chairlifts, without having any funds to pay for. In short, I skied that mountain more then anybody, skiing was a dream come true on good days and was horrible on bad days. In addition one had to walk off from the top of the moraine back to the lower station and is no easy task, but is on area that hardly ever had snow to ski on. As for the Gondola now, well it has to be the most out dated equipment there is and to do anything on that mountain would require new machinery.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Postmilan March 31, 2020 / 11:38 pm

        I assume ski racks were never mounted on the cabins; but are you saying there WAS a season where customers skied the summit tow? When you say moraine, does that mean you descended the north aspects of Howard and had to cross the lateral moraine that holds the lake? If so, there must also be stories of someone skiing that steep, direct section of the liftline?

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        • seilritter37 April 1, 2020 / 11:48 am

          The Gondola started to operate in late Summer of 1970 and was equipped with Hall Ski lift fiberglass cabins and those cabins had no ski racks. I had then a few racks fabricated and installed so we could get up in the Winter to do snow survey and transport up local ski enthusiasts on some days. As for the summit tow, it never materialized for various good and bad reasons. Yes the slope we skied most, faces mostly to the West and it is the evening sun that caused the great powder snow conditions to deteriorate. I did with friends, skied about any decent off the mountain. Of course the lift line was much narrower back then and snow was scared from tower 6 down. A mistakable trek to navigate it on foot. The cabins that are now in use where bought from Big Ski Montana by the present owners and where not designed for this installation.
          In summery, that project was poorly planned from day one since it was financed by FHA that in reality never wanted to get involved with the financing on this project, but was sort of pressured by US Congressman to do so. This project would make a good story for a book, on how not to plan a privat project.

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        • Max Hart April 1, 2020 / 12:19 pm

          Seilritter37 those cabins couldn’t have come from Big Sky. I’m pretty sure Big Sky’s original cabins were sigma’s wacky french cabins, then those were replaced with CWA cabins from Park City that ended up in a maintenance lot off of ME Rte 27 just north of the Sugarloaf access road; both of those cabins (the early Sigmas and the Park City CWAs) were totally different from the cabins on this lift. These cabins came from a Mueller gondola, though I’m not sure which one.

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        • seilritter37 April 1, 2020 / 3:57 pm

          One additional interesting part is, how come Park City never used these cabins on there PHB Gondolas at the time, after they where bought? The answer might be, that Park City personal overlooked the fact that the Gondolas where for right side uphill loading and these cabins from Mueller where for a left uphill installation intended. It would had bin a cumbersome task to have skiers walk around the door to enter the cabin with the much higher uphill capacity then the summer operation has at Wallowa Lake. Park City then bought new Cabins from CWA.

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  7. seilritter37 April 1, 2020 / 2:46 pm

    I am aware of the French built cabins, that where on the original Poma Gondola. However, additional cabins where needed for the old PHB Gondola from Squaw Valley that Big Sky had just bought and installed. Big Sky bought these cabins from Park City, Utah and we sold some of the Cabin attachments. Yes after Big Sky removed the PHB Gondola, the cabins then where parked at the B.S. maintenance yard, where I sah them there myself. Following some sheave trains and cabins then ended up in Wallowa where the cabins bin refurbished to its present look. If you look at above photos, you will notice that the door opening is in reverse since those cabins where made for a left hand uphill loading and Wallowa Gondola is right hand uphill loading.

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  8. PostMilan April 1, 2020 / 6:38 pm

    Max – Don’t forget that Big Sky had two gondola lines in the late ’80 to mid ’90s. The Gondola One had the L’Oeufs Francais/Clamshell-style cabins until it underwent a refit with a new base terminal/cabins (then cratered in an accident). Gondola Two had problems and ran intermittently until it was refit as a detach quad. Adding to the confusion: this thread has overlapping/intertwining timelines for the events concerning all of these cabins.

    SEILRITTER37 – Love your stories, as I had relatives in the area and always had questions about the Mt Howard gondola. It IS a story on how not to plan a project, however it is also the classic American story of contribute to a congressman to get wheels greased and paperwork signed!
    Was the liftline widened for safety? FS request?
    Such a large area; did you scout your descents, or go by aerial photography, or just what you could see from the lift?
    Did you aim for a return to the base or ski out other ridges/drainages toward the lake?
    One reason I ask is because I can’t think of any other sightseeing lift in N.A. where only a few people have skied down (not possible at, say, Palm Springs or Albuquerque). Whereas in the Alps some of the classic descents were actually built for sightseeing.

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    • seilritter37 April 1, 2020 / 10:00 pm

      First in regards to Big Sky, yes in year 1983 we sold the Squaw Valley PHB to Big Sky! B.S had a local Engineering Firm doing the re-location design for installation, A problematic decision, as really only the original manufacturer can re-design a Gondola and its upgrade or there be problems in the future and that has proven to be so. I reviewed the lift after it was installed and had some concerns, with similar problems I found years later an another PHB installation. In regards to the Mueller lift cabins, I bought the last 4 never used cabins from Mueller Canada in 1988 and sold them to Sugar Bowl, in Norden, California. At that time the number 2 Gondola at Big Sky was still running. Yes the name Mt Howard Gondola was selected by the board of directors the year I started to manage the operation. The lift-line at the time true the forest was so narrow where the Forest Service hoped it could not bin seen from a distance. After I rode up one day, with the Forest Ranger a tree branch creeped into the cabin and scratched the Rangers face, that prompted the removal of a few more trees. But while I was there until 1978 the lift line stayed narrow and in fact reduced the wind affect, but was also a concern of fallen trees. As for skiing, I got to know the mountain sort of like the inside of my pants pockets, so the skiing was often more like lets try this or that this time and it was a lot of fun. One time there was a meeting at Valies dinner and since I was late skied right to there front porch and people to this date don’t belief this was possible, Another time a pilot in a Cessna reported that he sah some crazy people to the right of the Gondola and as far as he could see they where on skis. People that I skied with, where the Snow Rangers from Alta, Utah, Antony Lake ski patrollers and Spout Springs ski instructors to name a few. In short it saddens me that we could not succeed with the development plan of winter sports weeks, where we could offer any winter snow activity on a small scale, By doing so the many beautiful cabins nearby would had bin able to rent them summer like winter and the Gondola operation actually would had made some money.

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