‘Six-packs’ advance lift tech,
3,084: Chairlifts in
74: Six-place lifts
17: Six-place lifts at
Vail Resorts’ ski areas.
1: Eight-place lift at
Perisher on Australia.
EAGLE COUNTY — Before
sliding down a hill, it’s first necessary to go up that hill. For those not in
the mood to snowshoe, getting uphill is getting easier every season.
Vail Resorts announced
late last year it will this summer replace its four-person Northwoods lift at
Vail with a new six-person lift. There are also plans for new six-person lifts
at Breckenridge and Keystone.
When those lifts are
finished, Vail Resorts will operate 20 six-seater lifts. The current roster of
17 six-seater lifts — operating at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone,
Park City, Heavenly and Northstar — makes up a sizable portion of the 74 “six
packs” running this winter.
In an email, Vail
Resorts spokeswoman Sally Gunter wrote that the idea behind the higher-capacity
lifts is to “reduce lift line wait times and increase skier and snowboarder
circulation throughout the mountain.”
And, Gunter added, the
company is meeting those goals.
aren’t new. The first was built in 1991, and 2000 marked the high point for
construction of the bigger lifts, when eight were built in North America.
Peter Landsman, of
Jackson, Wyoming, has had a lifelong interest in uphill transport, and runs the
While overall skier
numbers in North America have been flat for a number of years, Landsman said
the bigger chairs have some advantages.
“You can run them in
high winds when you can’t run a quad lift,” Landsman said. And, of course,
“Vail (Resorts) buys them for capacity.”
While any new
equipment costs a good bit of money, Landsman said upgrading from a four-person
to a six-person lift is relatively economical.
Many of the upgraded
lifts run along the same paths as the lifts they replace. For ski areas
operating on U.S. Forest Service or other federally-owned property, that means
lifts can be replaced with relatively little in the way of federal approval.
And, with quad lifts
still dominant in the industry, Landsman said its possible to re-use that older
equipment to upgrade even older lifts elsewhere.
“Vail Resorts actually
sent some of the old (quad) equipment to their new mountains in the Midwest,”
A six-person lift can
add about 30 percent more capacity to a route — as much as 3,600 people per
hour. But perhaps the biggest change in lift technology came many years ago.
Vail resident and
former Mayor Andy Daly is a long-time veteran of the ski industry and is
currently a co-owner of the Powderhorn ski area near Grand Junction.
Daly said the real
revolution was the “detachable” lift, which can slow at its terminals and speed
up on the trip from bottom to top.
whether in two-, three- or four-seat capacity, could run at between 450 and 500
feet per minute. That made loading and unloading an often-tricky proposition.
The advent of
detachable chairs meant lifts could slow to 100 feet per minute for loading and
“That gave you an
opportunity to organize six people and get them on the chair in an orderly
way,” Daly said. “That’s important when they’re disembarking — everybody gets
Besides the ability to
slow down at the terminals, detachable chairs also go faster than their
fixed-grip counterparts. Passengers can ride uphill at more than twice the
speed of a fixed-grip chair, which then slows to 20 percent of a fixed-grip’s
speed at the terminals.
“That gives guests
time to gather their composure, and get off the lift in a safe manner,” Daly
While six-person lifts
are helping ease congestion at North American resorts, that isn’t the end of
Landsman said a few
eight-person lifts are operating in Europe and Australia. One of those
eight-place lifts is at Perisher, now owned by Vail Resorts.