Ski report for the weekend of February 28, 2014

Last weekend was a beautiful weekend for skiing, albeit a bit warm.  It was our first taste of spring skiing.  Sunday we had our last ski bus trip to Holiday Valley.  Conditions were pretty good to start but with the sun and temperatures in the forties, things became pretty soft by the end of the day.  Our ski club took off to Beaver Creek (see report below) and I’m looking forward to heading out to Colorado myself this Sunday.

The Great Awesome Weather Computer (GAWC) is teasing me with the forecast.  It’s telling me our ski bum club members are having some powder days and this is likely to continue through the weekend.  Lake Tahoe is getting snow but the Pacific Northwest is pretty dry right now.  There’s a chance for heavy snow for them late this weekend or into next week.  It’ll be really cold there as well.  New England is going to relatively dry but consistently cold.  So let’s get down to it.

Eastern Great Lakes – This should be a pretty good weekend for skiing.  There’s going to be a blip in the thermometer to around freezing on Saturday and then sub-freezing on Sunday.  Snow flurries are likely to occur throughout the weekend.  Ski conditions in Northeast Ohio are “dust on crust” conditions but “adequate.”   Holiday Valley NY is 92% open with a 19-45” base and “very good” conditions.  Seven Springs PA is 100% open with a 36-48” base and “excellent” conditions.

New England – The resorts in Vermont have been receiving snow this week, particularly those in the northern part of the state.  However, New Hampshire and Maine have been pretty dry.  Stowe VT is 98% open with a 30-50” base and “very good” conditions.  Cannon Mountain NH is 85% open with a 24-48” base and “good” conditions.  Sugarloaf ME is 90% open with a 32-50” base and “good” conditions.  Conditions should be pretty good this weekend.  Temperatures will be around 20 with clouds, some flurries, and some sun.

Catskills – There has been some isolated accumulation but no region-wide snow falls this week.  Hunter NY is 75% open and claims to have a 66-130” base and “excellent” conditions.  I think the report is hyped.  Windham NY reports a 24-80” base (that’s probably more accurate) and claims to be 100% open (that may be hype).  Windham is notorious for keeping runs open with bad conditions just to say they have more runs open than Hunter.  Perhaps the most accurate report comes from Belleayre.  They are 96% open with a 32-82” base and “good” conditions.  This weekend will be in the 20’s with some sun, clouds, and snow flurries.

Poconos – The Poconos hasn’t seen any new accumulation in the past week.  Blue Mountain PA is 100% open with a 48-72” base and “excellent” conditions.  Elk Mountain PA is 100% open with a 42-72” base and “very good” conditions.  Camelback PA is 100% open with a 40-60” base and “excellent” conditions.   This region will have a similar weather pattern as the rest of the east, only a bit warmer.  Temperatures might hit 30 this weekend.  Clouds, some sun, and flurries throughout the weekend are expected.

Southern Appalachians – Canaan Valley WV is the only resort in the region to report any significant snowfall this week (9”).  They are 77% open with a 15-30” base and “good” conditions.  Wintergreen VA reports they are 90% open with a 50-60” base and “excellent” conditions.  Sugar Mountain NC reports “excellent” conditions with a 38-88” base and 100% of their runs are open.  As is typical in this region, conditions are generally colder in West Virginia and that is going to benefit them this weekend.  Highs will be in the upper 30’s and into the mid-40’s this weekend with clouds, a little sun, and plenty of breeze.  To the east in Virginia and North Carolina the “r” word is in the forecast for Saturday.  Temperatures will range from the mid-40’s to the mid-50’s.  A mixture of sun and clouds will prevail.  The “r” on Saturday should not be that bad.

Upper Midwest –                          Stokes the snow cat doesn’t care what Daisy the powder hound thinks.  He gives this region his MEOW, telling us he thinks there’s going to be fresh powder here. Daisy points out that if it comes it will probably be mainly in the upper Michigan/UP area.   They’ve been getting some snow in upper Michigan and the UP, but not much in Minnesota and Wisconsin.  Ski bum buddy Peter called me Saturday as they were pulling in to Boyne Mountain MI.  He wanted to tweak me by letting me know he was looking at some fresh powder.  In fact they had 15” of fresh snow last weekend.  Currently Boyne Mountain is 87% open with a 60-85” base and “excellent” conditions.  Wild Mountain MN is 100% open with a 39-75” base and “good” conditions.  Wilmont Mountain WI is 88% open with a 45-100” base and “excellent” conditions.  Weather conditions are going to vary considerably this weekend according to locality.  However, Boyne Mountain is looking at another powder weekend.  Snow is expected Friday and some more on Saturday.  Mostly sunny of Saturday and more clouds on Sunday.  There might be some flurries throughout the weekend around Wilmont.  Wild Mountain isn’t expecting any new snow this weekend.  It’s going to be really, really cold in this region.  Depending on where you are, temperatures could vary from around zero to the upper teens.  Dress warmly.

Northern Rockies –  Daisy says “now we’re talking powder” HOOWLL!  Stokes give his MEOW too.  Up to a foot is expected in Wyoming and Montana on Friday, with more snow expected over the weekend.  Temperatures could get into the 30’s and lower 40’s at the base over the weekend.  It will be significantly colder further north in Banff AB, with temperatures in the single digits.  Jackson Hole WY is 97% open with a 96-112” base and “good” conditions.  Big Sky MO is 100% open with a 64-95” base and “excellent” conditions.  Sun Valley ID is 93% open with a 43-48” base and “good” conditions.  Sunshine Village AB is 91% open with a 50-55” base and “good” conditions.

Central Rockies –   After looking at the forecast Stokes gives this region his MEOW for this weekend and next week.  As usual Daisy is taking a wait-and-see attitude.  I’m particularly interested in how things are going to shape up in this region in the coming week.  I’m going to be out there next week and some of the Metro clubs will be going to Steamboat as well.  It looks like it’s going to be a great week.  Snow and flurries are expected throughout the week.  Temperatures will be in the upper 30’s during the day.  There’s a chance of some “r” in the lower elevations late in the week.  Sounds like anything could happen.  We could get an inch or a foot.  Whatever, sounds like we’re going to have good conditions.  Some passing “r” is expected this weekend in Park City UT.  Highs at the base will be in the upper 40’s the entire weekend.  One of the places we’ll be going back to is Copper Mountain.  Currently they are 97% open with a 71-89” base and “good” conditions.  A little further west on I70 at Vail they are 100% open with a 60” base and “excellent” conditions.  Utah hasn’t received any fresh snow this week.  The Canyons UT is 92% open with a 55-77” base and “very good” conditions.  Deer Valley UT is 100% open with a 72” base and “very good” conditions.

Southern Rockies – There has been no new snow in this region this week.  Ski Santa Fe NM is 92% open with a 34” base and “good” conditions.  Arizona Snowbowl is 77% open with a 33” base and “very good” conditions.  “R” is in the forecast this weekend, especially on Saturday afternoon.  This might turn to snow on Sunday.  Temperatures will be in the 40’s to about 50.

Pacific Northwest –  Both Daisy and Stokes give this region their HOWL and MEOW.  Washington and British Columbia received some snow this week, but the Oregon resorts have not.  Mt. Bachelor OR is 100% open with a 107-137” base and “very good” conditions.  Crystal Mountain WA is 98% open with a 78-126” base and “very good” conditions.  Whistler/Blackcomb BC is 100% open with a 90” base and “excellent” conditions.  Washington will be the place to be this weekend.  Snow’s expected Friday and Saturday.  Sunday may be a picture perfect powder day.  Oregon will be getting snow as well but not quite as much.  No snow is in the forecast for Whistler this weekend.  Temperatures throughout the weekend will be around 40 at the base.

Sierras –   Say hello to March and all the snow it brings.  HOOWL!  MEEOW!  That’s right.  Let them know Daisy and Stokes.  There’s been a break in the drought.  While the resorts in the Sierras haven’t received any fresh snow this week that’s going to change this weekend.  Presently Mammoth CA is 100% open with a 40-70” base and “good” conditions.  Sierra-at-Tahoe CA is 98% open with a 30-65” base and “good” conditions.  Heavenly CA reports they are 72% open with a 43-57” base and “very good” conditions.  Northstar CA is 70% open with a 19-55” base and “good” conditions.  The GAWC tells me Squaw Valley is going to have snow “much of the time” on Friday and into Saturday.  It’s the same forecast over the mountains at Mammoth too.  Highs will reach into the upper thirties.  After it finishes snowing Sunday should be a picture perfect powder day with lots of sun and some clouds.

Southern California –   I’m sad to say the first casualty of spring has occurred.  Mountain High CA has closed for the season.  We were just starting to get to know you too.  See you next season.  The lil-Lake Tahoe resorts at Big Bear Lake are still open though.  Bear Mountain has about 65% of its runs open with an 8-18” base.  They claim to have “very good” conditions.  Yeah, I might agree.  I bet when you’re skiing around the bare spots the conditions are pretty good.  “R” is expected to and into tomorrow.  However, it’s not as bad as it sounds.  The “r” turns to snow Friday and into Saturday.  Stokes is feeling generous so he gives this region his MEOW.  Daisy doesn’t see what all the excitement is about.  But Daisy, the GAWC says they could get a foot of snow.  Temperatures will range from the mid-30’s to the mid-40’s this weekend.

So there you have it ski bums.  It looks like just about any place out west is going to be good this weekend.  It’s kind of hard to decide where to go.

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Corruption in Sochi

The 2014 Winter Olympics got off to a rocky start.  First there were the concerns that terrorists living in the area might blow up something.  That was quickly dismissed considering who’s president of Russia, Vlad “the Impaler” Putin.  That set everyone’s mind at ease.  Vlad would never let such a thing happen.  Even if something did happen, Putin would do what was necessary, including sacrificing the lives of any hostages who might be in the way.

Security is really tight at Sochi, but why wasn't the Russian government keeping such a close eye on the spending?

Security is really tight at Sochi, but why wasn’t the Russian government keeping such a close eye on the spending?

Then Vladimir opened his mouth and made some silly ignorant remarks about gays.  This annoyed gays and lesbians all around the planet.  So are there going to be LGBT protests during the games?  I don’t think so.  Once again, look who’s running the country.

When the games finally got started, it was clear the Russians weren’t ready for prime time.  Hotel rooms weren’t finished.  The drinking water resembled a certain bodily fluid you excrete every day.  People were advised not to shower because of the acid content of the water.  There weren’t enough pillows for the athletes.  A wolf was seen wandering the halls of the Athletes’ dorm.  Surely this must be the result of a terrorist conspiracy.

Well, not exactly.  It turns out this is due to a far greater danger to the Olympics than terrorists or rabid LGBTs.  It stems from the corruption that has polluted these Games and could damage future Games.

Russian businessman and whistleblower Valery Morozov disclosed to ABC News he is a “marked man” after he publicly alleged public officials in Putin’s government demanded payoffs in exchange for Olympic construction contracts.  Morozov claimed he was told he will “be drowned in blood” for shooting off his mouth to the press.  This caused Morozov to board the next plane to Great Briton where he lives today.

However, none of this is really new.  Morozov has been yelling about this since 2010, and he’s not the only one.  Putin’s political rival Boris Nemtsov, a former Russian deputy prime minister, stated “Everybody knows this is the most criminal case in the history of Russia.”  Nemtsov claims he has evidence that of the $50-60 billion spent on the Olympics, much of the money wound up in the pockets in the political and business Russian elite.  “My estimation is that they stole $30 billion altogether,” Nemtsov told ABC News.

Here are some of the facts:

#1 – The Olympic stadium in Sochi cost three times as much of any other stadium in the world

#2 – $9 billion was spent on a 30 mile highway and rail project linking Sochi with the ski areas.  That’s enough to have paved the entire distance with a centimeter-thick coating of beluga caviar.

#3 – The ski jump built for the Games ran six times over budget and construction delayed for two years.

#4 – The former vice-president of the Russian Olympic Committee was charged with embezzlement and has since fled the country.

#5 – The overall cost of the Olympics (an estimated $51 billion) is more than 400% more than originally planned, making these Games the most expensive in history.  In fact, these Winter Games are more expensive than all previous winter games combined!

#6 – Putin’s childhood buddies Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, received 21 government construction contracts for the Games for a total worth of $7.4 billion.  That’s more than the entire cost of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics!

These are only a fraction the irregularities and outrageous cost over-runs related to this Olympics.

Who is paying for this brazen cronyism?  Thankfully not us, but the Russia proletariat.  This whole affair has led some to call Putin’s Russia a “Kleptocracy.”  That is, a country being looted by its rulers and greedy capitalist pigs.  Where’s communism when we need it?

Vlad has pooh-poohed these allegations.   Even though there appears to be evidence of corruption going directly into his office, Putin has publically stated “We have not seen any big, large-scale instances of corruption in connection with the implementation of Sochi Olympics project.”  That comment reminds me of what Obama told O’Reilly about the IRS.  Asked about the over-the-top price tag of the Olympics Putin supposed said “That’s the cost of doing business in the new Russia.”  I would say so.  So far the International Olympic Committee doesn’t seem publically concerned and washed their hands of the matter.  The IOC has stated “The allegations of corruption are the responsibility of the Russian government and outside our jurisdiction.”

These allegations cast doubt on the Games’ integrity, and ultimately the survivability of the Olympics themselves.  What makes us think the graft and corruption ends with building and road construction.  Will we find the Russians win a disproportionate amount of medals these Olympics?  Will we read stories of how top non-Russian athletes are disqualified for testing “positive” for drugs?  Will the figure skating judges be generous in scoring the Russian skaters and harsh with everyone else?   Someday will we hear stories of athletes who received payoffs for suboptimal performance?  Corruption destroys the credibility of the Games and ultimately will destroy the Olympics.

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Getting up the hill – Part 3: Aerial trams, the king of ski lifts

You know you’ve made it as a ski bum if you can say you’ve been to a ski resort with an aerial tram.  These lifts convey an elegance to a ski resort like nothing else.  Because you appear suspended in air without any support, trams give you a sensation of flight.  In fact, some tram operators refer to trips on the tram as “flights.”  Not even resorts like Aspen or Vail have aerial trams.  Even though the Lionshead Gondola at Vail holds a dozen people and seems almost as big as a tram, it is still just a gondola.  In my time skiing I’ve had the pleasure to ride on three different trams – Jackson Hole’s, Squaw Valley’s, and Snowbird’s.

The aerial tram has a variety of names including the aerial tramway, cable car, Telepherique, seilbahn, ropeway, reversible ropeway, or ropeway conveyor.  The aerial tram is a type of lift using one or two stationary ropes for support while a third provides propulsion.  The tram itself is attached to the propulsion rope.

The classic aerial tram is what is known as a reversible system, commonly called “reversibles.”  That is, the system consists of two large cars or cabins that shuttle back and forth between two end terminals.  A cable loop stops and reverses direction when the cabins arrive at their end stations.  This makes the classic aerial tram different from gondolas and chairlifts, which are continuous systems.  Those lifts have their cabins or chairs attached to a circulating haul rope that moves continuously.

My first and favorite tram, the Jackson Hole tram.

My first and favorite tram, the Jackson Hole tram.

The archetypal ropeway conveyor originated in ancient times.  It’s rather simple, but clever technology.  Basically you need a rope, two pulleys, and a bucket.  With that you can ferry goods or people from point A to point B across streams and chasms.  You can use the system to drop a bucket down a well, fill the bucket with water, and then pull the bucket up to the surface.  Modify this to carry people and you have the elevator.  Ropeways have been in used for more than 2,000 years to transport people and goods.  The first documented use of these devices occurred in rugged areas in China, India, and Japan.  Marco Polo wrote about using ropes to cross canyons and rivers while traveling in Asia.  He described a device that carried him by a leather harness attached to a rope, which carried him across bottomless canyons.

The first depiction of a ropeway conveyor dates to a Venetian illustration from a 1616 manual.  It’s not clear if that tram was ever built, but in 1644 Wybe Adam receives credit for manufacturing the first aerial mechanical passenger transport system.  This device was used in the Alps to cross treacherous mountain passes and canyons.

The first aerial tram?

The first aerial tram?

Aerial ropeways were a common means of cargo transport, not only in mountainous regions but also on flat terrain, with large scale conveyors built during the Middle Ages.  The development of steel ropes in Germany in 1834 allowed for even bigger forms of cable transport.  At the same time there appeared the first cable lifts and funiculars – cable cars moving along a railroad pulled by rope (i.e., steel cable).  This led to the development of cargo ropeways.  That is, buckets attached to cables hauling ore out of mines and for the transportation of materials over land.  Some of these cargo ropeways were tens of miles in length.  They were cheaper to build than roads or bridges.

Aerial ropeway technology advanced greatly during World Wars I and II.  Both wars were fought in the mountains of the Alps, but especially WW I.  Aerial ropeways were used extensively in both wars to quickly transport soldiers, armaments, and supplies to the tops of mountain peaks.  During the alpine battles between Italy and Austria during WW I almost 2,000 ropeways were used by the Italians and over 400 by the Austrians.  Curiously, many of these ropeways were portable.  They could be quickly dismantled, transported by pack animals and then reassembled elsewhere.

Military ropeway used in WWI

Military ropeway used in WWI

Tourism led to the development of the first modern ropeway.  One built in 1866 on the north of Switzerland near Shaffkhauzen, carried tourists to an observation deck where they could admire a local waterfall.  At the beginning of the Twentieth Century modern skiing began to develop and became popular between the two world wars.  The beautiful slopes of St. Anton and other European destination resorts in the early 1930’s lacked ski lifts though. Railways were considered useless.  Consequently the first aerial trams used for winter recreational purposes began to be built in the late 1920’s. 

The first aerial tram at a North American ski resort was at Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire in 1938.  Hold on a minute.  Some claim the Sunrise Peak Aerial Tramway in Colorado built in 1907 was the first.  However, that depends on how you define an aerial tram.  The Sunrise Peak tram was not the classic reversible system where two cars go back and forth.  In fact, the Sunrise Peak lift had more in common with chairlifts and gondolas than with the classic tramway.  Consequently, the Cannon Mountain tram was the first ski tram in North America.

The original Cannon Mountain Tram started in 1938.  The first built in North America.

The original Cannon Mountain Tram started in 1938. The first built in North America.

Aerial trams can carry a lot of people.  Cabins can hold as few as 20 people and as many as 200.  The largest aerial tram is the double-decker tram carrying 200 people over the Ponturin Gorge in France.  At points it dangles over 1200 feet in the air.

Aerial trams basically have two advantages over gondolas and chairlifts.  First of all, aerial trams can span longer distances and do not need as many towers.  Consequently, Aerial trams can span wide valleys without having to install very many support towers.  Some of these support towers can be quite high.  Some reach up over 300 feet in height.  The second advantage is that they are faster than even high speed detachable lifts.  Gondolas and high speed chairs max out at speeds of 14 mph.  On the other hand aerial trams can move up to about 28 mph.  That’s why it doesn’t take hardly any time to go up the 4000+ vertical feet up to the top of Jackson Hole.

The "new" Cannon Mountain tram that replaced the old one in 1980.

The “new” Cannon Mountain tram that replaced the old one in 1980.

Aerial trams are expensive to build though.  People like trams better because you can travel up the mountain protected from the elements.  Nevertheless, the comfort of enclosed cabins gives way to the economy of chairlifts.  The cost for building a tram can run up to $65 million per mile!  Jackson Hole replaced their aerial tram a few years ago and got off cheap.  The new tram cost a mere $23 million because they basically used the foundations from the old lift.  On the other hand gondolas cost around $18 million per mile.  Nevertheless, there is a market for urban aerial trams in spite of their cost.  Cities like New York have aerial trams to move people because they found it cheaper than trying to build bridges, tear up streets, or dig new subway tunnels under rivers.

Traditional aerial trams do not move people as efficiently as the high speed chairlifts and gondolas though.  Uphill capacity depends upon the length of the lift for both kinds of lifts but aerial trams can carry between 500 and 2000 people per hour.  Gondolas on the other hand can carry up to 3600 per hour.

The most unique and interesting aerial tram was the Mount Hood Skiway Tram that operated in the early 1950’s.  This was a self-propelled converted bus that relied on the under-floor engine to turn the rear wheel, which had the cable wrapped around, as well as the idler front wheel.  The bus went from the Government Camp at the bottom of Mt. Hood up to Timberline Lodge.  It carried 36 passengers and went up 2,200 vertical feet over 3 miles.  The entire trip took less than 10 minutes.  The cost for a ride was 75 cents.  However, the tram was a financial bust.  A year after it started the road up to Timberline Lodge was improved and one could take a shuttle bus (that went on a real road) for a mere 50 cents.  It shut down after 3 years of operation.  However, people didn’t really the mourn the passing of this improvised tram.  “It was a disaster,” Hank Lewis remembered.  Lewis was the first chief of the Mt. Hood Ski Patrol in 1938.  “It would grunt its way up over a tower.  It was very slow, very noisy and simply lousy,” he explained.  However, we might see a revival of the idea.  As it turns out, the road up to Timberline Lodge can become impassable at times in the winter.  Ideas of building a gondola from Government Camp to Timberline Lodge are being floated about.  Why not put some ski runs too.  If they did, the Mt. Hood area would have the biggest vertical drop in the U.S. of about 4,700 feet.

The Mount Hood Skiway Tram

The Mount Hood Skiway Tram

Aerial trams are here to stay and we will probably be seeing more of them at our favorite ski destinations.  There are new trams coming that combine the best elements of aerial trams and gondolas.  These are collectively called the bicable and tricable ropeways.  Actually, they harken back to the old Sunrise tram in Colorado a 100 years ago.  Leitner and Doppelmayr have updated the technology and their new hybrid lifts represent the future of ski lift technology.  They consist of detachable circulating ropeways with cabins capable of carrying up to 35 passengers.  These babies can transport up to 6,000 persons per hour.  In addition to being superior people movers they have outstanding wind stability, low power consumption, and are capable of spanning long distances without support towers.  While their maximum speed is not as fast as the reversible aerial tram, they still move along at about 17 mph, still faster than your typical gondola.  On the other hand I’ve heard these new systems tend to break down often.  It may take a few years to perfect this new technology but I think we’re be seeing more and more of these new tram/gondola hybrids.

List of ski aerial trams in North America:

Alyeska Resort – Alaska

Banff Gondola – Alberta

Cannon Mountain – New Hampshire

Heavenly Ski Resort – California

Jackson Hole – Wyoming

Jay Peak – Vermont

Peak-to-Peak Gondola at Whistler/Blackcomb – British Columbia

Sandia Peak tram – New Mexico

Snowbasin Olympic Tram – Utah

Snowbird – Utah

Squaw Valley – California


Aerial trams in action:

The Vanoise Express in France:

Say goodbye to an old friend, the old Jackson Hole tram:

Coming soon to a ski resort near you.  Follow the link to see the Doppelmayr 3SBahn:

Aerial trams have occasionally been used as backdrops for action/adventure films.  Here are some examples:

Richard Burton kills Nazis on the Feurerkogel Swilbahn aerial tram at Ebensee Austria in Where Eagles Dare-

James Bond mixes it up with Jaws in an aerial tram fight in  Moonraker –

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The men make medals

Bode Miller and Andrew Wiebrecht after their Super-G wins

Bode Miller and Andrew Wiebrecht after their Super-G wins

The boys finally brought some hardware home, a silver and bronze medal in the Men’s Super-G alpine skiing event.  The heroes are Andrew Weibrecht and Bode Miller.  It was an exciting race.  One of the first to go down Bode Miller powered himself out of a near fall at the top of the course to turn in a decent first place time 1:18.67.  The time was good, but not that good.  Would it hold up?  Bode watched anxiously at the bottom of the course receiving constant reassurance from his bride Morgan.  One world class skier after another came down the mountain, each one skiing a few hundredths of a second behind Bode.  Unfortunately, his time did not hold up though.  Eight racers later Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud had a near-perfect run of 1:18.14.  The very next racer was Canada’s Jan Hudec, who tied Bode for second place.

All the race favorites had made their runs.  There was only one serious contender left,  the U.S.’s Andrew Weibrecht also known as the “War Horse.”  By the time he made his run the ruts ran deep and the warm Russian sun had softened up the slope.  However, Weibrecht had something the other racers didn’t.  He had up-to-date course reports from his buddies at the bottom, Bode Miller and Ted Ligety.  They told him the course wasn’t as bad as they had feared.  They informed him he’d be able to link carved turns and would not have to rely on tactical skidding through the turns.  This was good news for Weibrecht because the conditions played to his strengths.  He’d be able to go arc to arc, and channel his speed from one gate to the next.  “Just f—ing pipe it!” Miller radioed Weibrecht.

Weibrecht took off.  Charging with abandon the 28-year-old dominated the top of the course.  He was ahead of Jansrud.  This is not unusual for Weibrecht.  A week ago Ted Ligety called him “the fastest skier in the world for 20 seconds in every single event.”  Jansrud anxiously kept his eye on the clock beginning to feel his gold medal slipping from his grasp.  Later Jansrud commented “When Weibrecht opened up the race three-tenths ahead of me, my legs went to jelly for a second.  I knew he was the one guy who skis all out, all the time, and he could beat me.”  Then the mashed potato conditions towards the bottom began to slow him down.  His speed was enough though, to finish three-tenths of a second behind Jansrud earning him a Silver medal.

It was a remarkable accomplishment and it goes to show, the Olympics are special and anything could happen.  Weibrecht was the most unlikely of winners.  In the 95 World Cup races he’s been in, Weibrecht has never finished better than 10th.  Yet this is his second Olympic medal.  Italy’s Peter Fill commented about Weibrecht “(He) hits the bull’s-eye once every four years.”  “This is probably the most emotional day of ski racing that I’ve ever had,” Weibrecht said later.  “All the issues and troubles that I’ve had, to come and be able to have a really strong result, it reminds me of all the work that I did to come back from the injuries and all the hard times, it’s all worth it,” he then added.

Indeed, Weibrecht has had a tough road.  Born and raised in Lake Placid NY he started off racing on nearby Whiteface Mountain.  He attended the Winter Sports School in Park City UT and graduated in 2003.  In 2010 he won a bronze medal in the Super-G at the Vancouver Games.  At the time he was a rising star.  Then a plague of misfortune befell him.  First he injured his right shoulder in his first race after Vancouver.  Then he injured the other shoulder, and injured an ankle.  That doesn’t even include the concussions.  It’s been said that at age 28 he’s had more body work done on him than a rent-a-wreck.  He had four surgeries in the past four years, and was even forced to take off a month one season because of a bad case of the flu.   His world ranking in the downhill discipline slipped to 165 last year from 28th in 2010.  Then his longtime equipment supplier dumped him.  He even had to finance himself on the World Cup tour.  The only reason why he made the U.S. Olympic team was because teammate Thomas Biesemeyer broke his leg.  As recently as the day before the race a voice told him it was time for the “war horse” to head to the glue factory.

FLASH! STOP THE PRESSES!  Ted Ligety “Split” wins gold!  As I am writing this it was just announced that Theodore blew away all contenders in the Giant Slalom.  When he left the starting gate on his first run he skied like there was a Russian bear after him.  He then grabbed a monumental lead of 1.5 seconds over the then-leader Steve Missillier of France.  Theodore ultimately had a two-run combined time of 2’45.29”, beating silver medalist Missiller by 0.48 seconds and bronze winner Alexis Pinturault of France by 0.64 seconds.  Ligety is only the second U.S. skier to ever claim two Olympic gold medals.  His predecessor was the great woman skier Andrea Mead-Lawrence who won the slalom and the giant slalom back in 1952.

Ligety burning down the Giant Slalom on his first run.

Ligety burning down the Giant Slalom on his first run.

I guess it goes to show that determination and persistence sometimes pay off.  Thanks Andrew for a great run.  Thanks Bode for the reprise of sweet memories.  Thanks Ted for overcoming disappointment and achieving greatness.  More than that though, thanks for using skiing to show us how to live life.

At present the U.S. has 25 medals overall, 8 Gold, 6 Silver, and 11 Bronze.

Current U.S. Skiing/snowboarding medal total:

Name                                    Event                                                            Medal

Sage Kotsenbury              Snowboard Men’s Slopestyle                     Gold

Jamie Anderson               Snowboard Ladies’ Slopestyle                   Gold

Hannah Kearney              Ladies’ Moguls                                             Bronze

Devin Logan                     Ladies’ Ski Slopestyle                                   Silver

Julia Mancuso                  Ladies’ Super Combined – Slalom           Bronze

Kaitlyn Farrington           Snowboard Ladies’ Halfpipe                      Gold

Kelly Clark                         Snowboard Ladies’ Halfpipe                      Bronze

Joss Christensen              Men’s Ski Slopestyle                                     Gold

Andrew Weibrecht           Men’s Super-G                                               Silver

Bode Miller                        Men’s Super-G                                              Bronze

Gus Kenworthy                 Men’s Ski Slopestyle                                      Silver

Nicholas Goepper             Men’s Ski Slopestyle                                     Bronze

Alex Deibold                      Men’s Snowboard Cross                                Bronze

David Wise                         Men’s Ski Halfpipe                                          Gold

Ted Ligety                           Men’s Giant Slalom                                         Gold

Maddie Bowman               Ladies’ Ski Halfpipe                                        Gold

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Ski report for the weekend of February 21st, 2014

Last weekend was a great one for skiing.  Snow conditions at Brandywine last Saturday were very good.  The Boy Scouts came out that day to go skiing, many of which were for the first time.  I even assisted in helping a group earn their Snow Sports Merit Badge.  Many of the Scouts not only began to learn a new sport but also learned some life lessons.  One kid learned how to accept and overcome the frustration of trying to learn something new, along with the joy that comes after learning it.  Another kid learned how to take a bad fall that hurt, and then get back up on his feet to ski again.

Monday night a storm blew through Northeast Ohio dumping about 5-8 inches overnight, leaving a morning present for motorists, including myself.  While stuck in traffic the Great Awesome Weather Computer (GAWC) informed me this is the third coldest winter on record and we haven’t seen this many sub-zero temperatures in over 30 years.  Ice coverage over Lake Superior is greater than at any time in recent memory giving rise to speculation we might have a cool summer.  Welcome to Global Cooling.

Let’s see how the weather is going to shape up for this Sunday, our last ski bus trip.  Impatient, I told the GAWC to get to the point and tell me where the best powder is going to be this weekend.  Here’s what he said.  For the East Coast, forget it.  The dreaded “R” word is predicted for Friday and then back to cold.  However, the “r” will have damaged the slopes.  Gone will be the packed powder we’ve enjoyed the past two weeks.  For the Central Rockies, Thursday morning brought some snow and possibly again this weekend.  For the Pacific Northwest, it’s snowing right now and through the weekend.  This week Crystal Mountain WA had an overnight snowfall of 18+ inches.  Finally, for the Sierra’s, maybe some snow’s coming a little later this month and hopefully during March.

We are starting to find above-freezing temperatures followed by below freezing temperatures.  That means it’s time for the “freeze-thaw effect.”  Basically, the warm temperatures soften up the slopes and then the cold temperatures refreeze them, leaving icy conditions.  Fortunately the groomers will grind up the icy slopes to make “corrugated granular” conditions.  That is, you’ll be skiing on itty-bitty ice chunks.  For the most part that’s OK but as skiers ski the slopes they push the granular chunks off to the side of the slope.  This leaves a trail with an ice-hard center and mounds of granular ice chunks off to the side, something I call “New England” powder.  You’ll want to avoid the ungroomed runs until above-freezing temperature soften up the runs, usually by afternoon.  Welcome to eastern skiing.

Eastern Great Lakes – Locally in NE Ohio we’re looking at mostly cloudy skies this weekend with the temperature just above freezing.  It will be pretty much the same story in Western PA and NY. It “R’d” yesterday altering the once manificient conditions into something we’re normally accumstomed to.  Seven Springs PA has received about 2’ of snow in the past 5 days.  However, warm temperatures have softened up and packed down all that fresh snow.  Currently they are 100% open with a 44-60” base and “good” conditions.  Holiday Valley NY is 95% open with a 19-45” base and “excellent” conditions.

New England – The resorts in Vermont and New Hampshire have received snow this week, but no so in Maine.  Currently, Jay Peak VT is 100% open with a 25-50” base and “very good” conditions.  Attitash NH is 98% open with a 24-48” base and “excellent” conditions.  Sugarloaf ME is over 90% open with a 32-50” base and “excellent” conditions.  This Saturday should be pretty sunny, breezy, and warm with highs in the lower 40’s.  Sunday will be mostly cloudy with highs around freezing.

Catskills – After it finishes raining on Friday the sun will come out on Friday and it will be breezy with a high in the lower 40’s.  Sunday will be slightly above freezing with mostly cloudy conditions.  Expect “thaw-refreeze” conditions this weekend.  Hunter NY continued to claim to have a 66-130” base with “excellent” conditions.  They are 95% open, which means the double-blacks on the back side are probably open.  However, expect them to be pretty icy this weekend.  The best time to hit them is in the morning after the groomer has ground them up.  Belleayre NY is 100% open with a 34-80” base and “excellent” conditions.  Windham NY has a 24-80” base and also is 100% open with “excellent” conditions.  While these areas may have “excellent” conditions presently expect only “good” conditions this weekend.

Poconos – It’s the same story here as with the rest of the Eastern U.S.  “R” expected on Friday followed by sun, breeze, and warm temperatures on Saturday.  However, there will be a mixture of sun and clouds on Sunday with a high of about 40.  Expect thaw-refreeze conditions everywhere.  The further east you go expect to compete for slope-space with the New York City and Philadelphia SPORS.  If you want to avoid them go to the more isolated resorts like Elk Mountain PA.  Currently Elk is 100% open with a 42-72” base.  Camelback PA is 100% open with a 40-60” base.  Blue Mountain PA is 100% open with a 48-72” base.  Expect all resorts in this region to have at best “good” conditions this weekend.

Southern Appalachians – West Virginia resorts received some snow this week but that’s it.  For this weekend it’s pretty much the same story as the rest of the east.  Some rain on Friday followed by dry conditions over the weekend.  As usual it will be somewhat colder in West Virginia with temperatures warming up the further east and south you go.  There will be a mixture of sun and clouds over the weekend with highs in the 30’s and 40’s in West Virginia.  For Virginia and North Carolina highs could reach 60 over the weekend and below freezing temperatures at night.  Consequently expect thaw-refreeze conditions.  Currently Snowshoe WV is 100% open with a 34-46” base.  Wintergreen VA is 95% open with a 60-70” base.  Sugar Mountain NC is 100% open with a 50-100” base.

Upper Midwest –  Resorts in this region have been getting snow this week.  Some “R” is expected today but after that different parts of this region will be getting snow (i.e., Upper Michigan) throughout the weekend.  Temperatures should go no higher than freezing throughout the region.  Breezy, sun, and clouds will hover over the slopes in Wisconsin and Minnesota.  Boyne Mountain MI is 85% open with a 60-85” base and “excellent” conditions.  Afton Alps MN is 85% open with a 62-84” base and “excellent” conditions.  Wilmot Mountain WI is 100% open with a 45-100” base and “excellent” conditions.  I consulted the snow animals about the prediction and after checking them out Stokes the Snow Cat give a lukewarm “MEOW” but Daisy the Powder Hound looked and walked out of the room.  Upper Michigan should be a great place to go this weekend.  If you’re willing to make the pilgrimage, Mount Bohemia should be fantasic.

Northern Rockies – At present Jackson Hole WY is 97% open with a 90-105” base and “good” conditions.  Big Sky MO is 100% open with a 60-90” base and “excellent” conditions.  Sun Valley ID is now about 95% open with a 41-56” base and “good” conditions.  Lake Louise AB is 80% open with a 62-68” base and “excellent” conditions.  Conditions are going to vary in this region depending upon your locality.  One thing is certain though.  Periods of snow should occur throughout the weekend.  Temperatures will vary from the 20’s in Jackson Hole to the 30’s at Sun Valley.  Stokes likes the forecast and gives it his MEOW.  Daisy isn’t impressed.

Central Rockies – We need to give this region some special attention.  Our ski club is going to Beaver Creek next week so let’s take a look at the long range forecast.  Currently Beaver Creek CO is 100% open with a 60” base and “excellent” conditions.  That pretty much describes the conditions everywhere in this region.  The forecast is looking good.  This Saturday you’ll be flying into some snow but Sunday should be a mostly sunny day with a high of about freezing.  During the week the temperatures will be in the thirties with periods of snow coming later in the week.  So it looks like we’re going to have some good conditions.  I head out to Silverthorn the first week of March.  The GAWC tells me we’ll have periods of snow throughout the week with highs in the thirties.  When snow is in the forecast anything can happen here.  Stokes likes the forecast and gives a MEOW.  Daisy is waiting for more snow in the forecast.

Southern Rockies – Presently Taos NM is 90% open with a 37-41” base and “very good” conditions.  Arizona Snowbowl AZ is 77% open with a 33” base and “excellent” conditions.  Conditions are going to be pretty soft this weekend.  Highs will be in the 50’s and the sun will prevail throughout the weekend.

Pacific Northwest –  Both Stokes and Daisy like the forecast.  MEOW and HOWL they go.  A big dump was expected Thursday that will taper off Friday.  Conditions vary according to locality.  Some snow is expected at Whistler Blackcomb throughout the weekend.  Saturday will be sunny in Oregon and Washington, so expect a picture perfect powder day.  More clouds on Sunday and there could be some snow in Washington.  Presently Mt. Bachelor OR is 100% open with a 117-150” base and “good” conditions.  Crystal Mountain is 77% open with a 78-125” base and “very good” conditions.  Whistler/Blackcomb BC is 100% open with a 91” base and “excellent” conditions.

Whistler Blackcomb 2-19-14

Whistler Blackcomb 2-19-14

Sierras – Things continue to improve in this region.  Presently Kirkwood CA is 100% open with a 58-74” base and “excellent” conditions.  Squaw Valley CA still only has about a third of its runs open.  They report having a 16-60” base and “good” conditions.  Mammoth CA is 100% open with a 40-70” base and “good” conditions.  This weekend it is going to be sunny and mild throughout the Sierras with temperatures rising to about 50.

Southern California –  Presently Snow Summit CA has a 12-24” base with about 70% of its runs open and “very good” conditions.  It will be sunny and mild here this weekend with highs in the upper 50’s.

The place to go this weekend is the Pacific Northwest.  It looks like just about anywhere in that region is going to have a powder weekend.  Other good spots this weekend include the Central Rockies, Northern Rockies, and the Upper Midwest.  Have fun.

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Getting up the hill – Part 2: Chairlifts & Gondolas

The film Frozen has been celebrated as one of the worst ski films ever made, and that’s a pretty low standard.  No, I’m not talking about the Disney film out in theaters right now.  I hear that one is pretty good.  I’m talking about the 2010 B-thriller of the same name.  In that version of Frozen three teenagers at a small ski resort bribe the lift operator to let them take one last run.  On the way up the resort turns off the lift and nobody realizes the three teens are stuck on the lift.  The ski area is closed for the next few days and no one will be coming around.  The three teens are stuck on the lift, too high up to safely jump, it’s getting colder, and there are man-eating wolves (that’s right) prowling about.  I mention this film only because it taps into nearly every primal fear we have about chairlifts – getting stuck, freezing to death, falling, and being eaten by wolves.  One fear the film did not tap is the one where the lift cable derails, dropping you and the chairs to your certain death.  While we’re at it, what about being caught in an avalanche while on the lift.  More on that later.

The cure for the rope tow, J bar, and T bar.

The cure for the rope tow, J bar, and T bar.

Many people have the misconception chairlifts must have been invented by some European ski resort.  After all, that is where modern skiing developed.  Actually chairlifts are an American invention.  They are as American as apple pie.

It was the early 1930’s and skiing was starting to take off.  The success of the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid in 1932 jump started the ski industry we have today.  Everybody wanted to go skiing, including W. Averell Harriman.  Harriman was a governor of New York and a diplomat for just about every president in the twentieth Century.  He was also the CEO of the Union Pacific Railroad and a ski bum.  He went skiing in the Swiss Alps and wanted to offer Americans their own destination ski resort.  More importantly, he wanted to sell train tickets to ski bums wanting to go there.

Harriman hired Austrian count, Felix Schaffgotsch to travel the western U.S. to find the ideal site for a winter resort.  Curiously Schaffgotsch rejected an number of areas that later did become major resorts.  These included Mount Rainier, Mount Hood, the Wasatch Mountains, Jackson Hole, and Grand Targhee.  Eventually he settled for a place in the Sawtooth Mountains near a little town in Idaho.  This was going to be the site of Harriman’s new ski resort and they were going to call it Sun Valley.

There was a problem though.  They had to find a way to get the well-to-do ski bums up the hill.  Harriman went to Union Pacific Railroad’s headquarters in Omaha and met with his R&D team.  “We got to find a way to haul those skiers’ arses up the hill,” he told them.  “Find me a way to do that, and I want it to be comfortable for them.  Get it ready by Christmas.”

The team of mechanical engineers considered various ways of doing this.  They looked at how to adapt rope tows, J-bars, and even cable cars.  One engineer, Jim Curran, was an out-of-the-box thinker and came up with a bright idea.  This is how I imagined it came about at their team meeting:

Team Leader – “Joe, give us an update on the rope tow development.”

Joe – “Well there’s nothing new to report.  Like I said at the last meeting we’re thinking about attaching handles to the rope tow.  Skiers can grab them rather than try to grab the rope.  That way the rope won’t rip up their gloves.  Even then, it’s not gonna get us all the way to the top.”

Team Leader –  “OK.  Frank what’s going on with the J-bar idea?”

Frank – “We’re making some progress but it’ll still be hard getting skiers up 1800 vertical feet up Proctor Mountain.  Then there’s the problem with clearing the snow off the track.”

Team Leader – “I see……..  Anybody else got any ideas?”

Jim – (Raises his hand)  “I’ve been working on something.  Where I used to work we had to come up with a quicker way to load bananas on a boat.  Workers used to load them by hand but it took too long.  So we came up with a conveyor system similar to what they do in mines.  Basically, we rigged up a conveyor system with hooks that ran continuously.  Workers loaded the bananas on the hooks which were then carried to the boat.  Once they got to the boat workers unloaded the bananas from the hooks.  I thought we could do the same thing with skiers.”

Team leader – (amused) “You mean to tell me you’re gonna load skiers on hooks and carry them up the hill?” (chuckling by the rest of the team).

Jim – “O course not.  Instead of hooks we’d use chairs.  At the bottom of the hill the skier would wait for a chair with his skis on.  The chair would come around and the skier would sit down on it.  Then the conveyor would carry the skier up the hill.  At the top of the hill the skier would just ski off.”

Frank – “So instead of a J-bar the skiers would sit down in a chair.  I hate to say it Jim but you’d still have the problem of snow getting off the track.  Then there’s all the other irregularities on the ground.”

Jim – “That wouldn’t be a problem because we’d lift the skier off the ground.  The lift would carry the skier in the air to the top of the mountain.  Then there wouldn’t be a problem with snow or surface irregularities.”

Team – (Pregnant pause eventually broken by laughter)

Team leader – “Jim you’re proposing to lift people off the ground.  They’ll fall!  That’s not only crazy, it’s dangerous!”

Frank – (chuckling).  “Jim, nobody would get on such a contraption.”

Joe –  (mockingly)  “Well Frank we could put people in little enclosed boxes rather than chairs and carry them up the hill.  That way they wouldn’t fall out and they could keep their tushes’ warm.

Team – (laughter)

Frank – “Or how about this guys.  We could drive the skiers up the hill in cars that magically float on top of the snow.”

Team – (More laughter)

Joe – “Why don’t we take them up in an autogiro and drop them off at the top?” (Hilariously amused at the absurdity of such an idea).

Team leader – “Come on guys.  Let’s give Jim a break.  Nice try Jim.  So does anyone have any serious ideas?”

Jim Curran’s drawings of his lift were almost forgotten until former Olympic skier and Dartmouth ski coach Charlie Proctor spotted the drawings.  Proctor had been hired as a consultant in the development of the new ski resort.  Curran’s plans intrigued him and he forwarded them to Harriman.  He added a note saying “Curran’s ideas are the best.  Let him design and build the whole thing.”  Harriman reviewed the plans and gave the go-ahead.

Cargo ropeway conveyors before chairlifts.  It's easy to see how Curran got his inspiration.

Cargo ropeway conveyors before chairlifts. It’s easy to see how Curran got his inspiration.

Curran and the development team built a mock-up of a free-swinging chair attached to the side of a pickup truck.  A person stood and the truck would scoop up the person with the chair.  The team wanted to discover how fast they could operate the chair so it wouldn’t injure anyone.  Eventually, they found the ideal speed was about 5 mph, a speed we still use today with fixed-grip chairlifts.  They then worked up a prototype.  A secretary agreed to flight test the new lift.  However, it got stuck leaving her stranded in mid-air for a terrifying length of time for her.  After getting off she swore she’d never get on the thing again.

Union Pacific doing experimental trials with their new ski lift.

Fortunately Curran and the team worked out the bugs and finished single person lift in time for Christmas 1936  The new lifts were installed on Proctor and Dollar Mountain at the new Sun Valley.   A few years later a third lift was installed on Ruud Mountain.  And now you know the rest of the story as Paul Harvey used to say.

The first chairlift installed on Proctor Mountain.

The first chairlift installed on Proctor Mountain.

A problem arose with chairlifts as skiing grew from fad to phenomenon.  As more and more people wanted to ski lift lines grew longer and longer.  The problem with the initial chairlifts was that they were too slow.  Chairlifts were initially all “fixed grip” systems.  That is, the chairs are permanently affixed to the overhead cable and circulated at a constant speed.  Their speed is limited to 5 mph, or about 500 ft per minute.  Faster than that it starts to become unsafe to load and unload.  This limited single-chairs to an uphill capacity of up to 1200 skiers per hour.  Lift lines grew from 10 minutes,  to 20 minutes, to 40 minutes, and sometimes even an hour.

All that is left today of the Ruud Mountain Lift.

All that is left today of the Ruud Mountain Lift.

The first solution was to turn the single chair into a double chair.  As Warren Miller once said, with the double chair ski resort operators immediately doubled their uphill capacity and quadrupled the fun.  Now you had someone to go with you up the hill.  You could make a new friend or get to know your sweetheart better.  It makes me wonder, how many marriage proposals occurred riding up a double chairlift.

Even double chairs did not solve the problem of the lift line.  By the 1960’s Baby Boomers discovered skiing and 20 and 40-minute lift lines were the norm.  Back then you spent more time standing in line at the bottom of the hill than you did on the slopes.  Solution – make wider chairs.  Soon we saw the triple chair, then the quad chair, and finally six-pack chairs.  There are even 8-person chairs today.  I can’t explain it but I’ve never seen a 5-person chair.

However, the final solution to the long lift line came with the creation of the detachable chairlift.  With these lifts the chair detaches from the overhead cable as it reaches a terminal.  The chair slows down for safe loading and unloading, then reattaches to the cable and scurries skiers up the hill at 14 mph or 1,200 ft per minute!  After that lift lines were no longer a significant problem.  Not only did detachable lifts vastly reduce waiting times, they got us up the hill faster and gave us more runs per day.

Detachable mechanism

Detachable mechanism

Detachable lift technology didn’t begin with chairlifts.  It started in 1908 with a platter surface lift.  The pole-with-platter left the constantly moving cable at the bottom and reattached to the cable when someone loaded onto it.  In 1961 a double detachable chairlift was installed in Cairngorm Mountain in Scotland.  However, detachable lift technology officially took off when Breckenridge built their Quicksilver SuperChair in 1981.  Four years later Vail installed four Doppelmayr high speed quads.  After that, everybody had to have detachable lifts.  Today high speed detachable lifts can carry up to eight passengers with an uphill capacity of 4,000 persons per hour, and provide heated seats, and don’t forget the available WiFi service.

Eight person lift from Mountec

Eight person lift from Mountec

Follow this link and watch the construction of Vail’s High Noon Express lift in 2011.


Gondolas actually predated chairlifts.  From 1907 until 1914 Colorado operated the Sunrise Peak Aerial Tramway.  While calling itself a tramway it was actually a gondola.  Then again, maybe it was a tramway.  Who knows.  The Sunrise Peak lift was a unique hybrid.  Like gondolas it consisted of a number of passenger cars attached to a circulating cable.  It was located close to where I-70 passes through Silver Plume CO.  The lift ascended to Sunrise Peak (AKA Pendleton Mountain) reaching a height of 12,500 feet with a vertical rise of 3,300 feet.  It contained 26 open converted ore buckets, painted bright yellow, each holding 4 passengers.  Because it was a fixed grip system, the cars had to be stopped to allow loading and unloading.  Because of that the ride took 46 minutes.  The lift was only in service 7 years and appears to have stopped running due to economic reasons.

As we all know gondolas are small enclosed carriers that hold up to a dozen skiers and boarders.  This form of lift began making its appearance in the late 1950’s.  Early gondolas sat 2-4 people and while they were warmer and more comfortable than chairlifts, they did not really improve uphill capacity.  Wildcat Mountain in New Hampshire was the first to install a gondola-type lift during the 1957-1958 ski season and became a trademark for that resort.  It continued service until 1999, at which time it was replaced by a high-speed detachable quad chairlift.  Gondolas were, and still are a status symbol among ski resorts.  Having a gondola indicates a ski area has made it to the big time among ski resorts.  Even for skiers and boarders, going to a resort with a gondola means you’ve been to someplace special and you’re somebody special for having gone there.

Unlike chairlifts, gondolas allow you more freedom to move around as they whisk you up the hill.  Gondolas are private and intimate.  They invite you to disrobe.  Even before getting on the gondola you have to take off your skis or snowboard, which go in the slots outside the gondola.  Once inside the next thing to come off are your hat and gloves.  Then you unzip your parka.  What comes off after that depends on who you are with and how long a ride you have.  At Killington VT the gondola ride was about 14 minutes long.  If you’re alone with your sweetheart that’s long enough to eat a snack or spend the time getting better acquainted.  It makes me wonder how many children owe their existence to the Killington gondola and its 14-minute ride.

With the development of high-speed lift technology gondolas definitely improved uphill lift capacity.  The recently installed Apache Arrow at Ski Apache NM carries 8 passengers 1500 vertical feet in 8 minutes (that’s cutting it pretty close for certain gondola activities) with an uphill capacity of 2,000 skiers per hour.

Wildcat Mountain's gondola in 1958

Wildcat Mountain’s gondola in 1958

Follow the link to see Ski Apache’s new gondola:

In my younger days as I rode up the T-bar for the umpteenth time I fantasized of the day when ski resorts had nothing but chairlifts.  I am pleased to report that is not a fantasy any longer.  Last winter my buddies and I spent a day at Park City, where even one of their major lifts are high speed detachable types.  I was amazed how many runs we got that day.  The lift ride barely gave us any time to catch our breaths in the high altitude.  Yeah, it raised the cost of lift tickets but we’re getting a whole lot more for our money today than we did 30 years ago.  With respect to the romance and intimacy of gondolas, I’ve only had the opportunity to share a snack with my sweetheart on the way up.  Nevertheless, skiing a resort with a gondola still makes the experience special for me.

Your worst fears about riding chairlifts realized:

Beginners who stop the lift –

Teen skier falls off lift –

Avalanche destroys chairlift, with passengers! –

What happens when chairlifts run uncontrollably backwards-

Chairlift derails at Sugarloaf –

What happens when the lift breaks and you’re stuck on it –

But has anyone ever been stuck overnight on a lift?

Yes, I am afraid to report there have been instances when people have gotten stranded on a lift overnight.  In 2011 a 25-year-old woman was stranded overnight in a gondola at Whistler Blackcomb.  There she remained for 13 hours until the lift began running again the next day.  In 1993 two young men were stranded overnight on chairlift at West Mountain NY.  There they sat two-thirds up the mountain for the next 12 hours.  That night the temperature dropped to 8 degrees.  Upon discovery the skiers were transported to a local hospital and treated for hypothermia.  In 2010 a German snowboarder was stranded on a lift for six hours.  He began burning his cash to attract attention in the icy darkness.  Someone finally spotted him as he was burning his last 20 euro note.  These are not the only cases.  You might want to think twice about taking that one last run as you ski up to the lift just in time before the operator closes it.

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