The lift will feature a blue-tinted “bubble” that will cover riders after they sit down. Estimated costs of the project are between $8 million and $10 million.
“Our goal at Mount Snow is to provide the best possible product for our guests. We are continuously making upgrades to our infrastructure to ensure a quality experience for our guests. We feel that installing this state-of-the-art chair lift in order to increase our high speed capacity out of the main base area is in line with this commitment,” said Jesse Boyd, vice president of operations for Peak Resorts.
The lift will have a ride time of just seven minutes, reducing the ride time of the current lift by nearly half. It will carry 2,400 riders per hour, with a top speed of 1,000 feet per minute. The lift’s 103 bubble chairs look like conventional ones, but have a plastic shield that encloses the chair. Unlike a gondola, skiers and snowboarders keep their equipment on, get on the chair as they would a conventional chair lift, and then pull the bubble down around them.
“Let’s face it, Vermont has its cold days. After review of several lifts, I believe this six-pack lift best meets our needs. Its bubble chairs will provide protection on cold days without slowing down the loading process,” said Mount Snow General Manager Kelly Pawlak.
This is not the first time Mount Snow will have an enclosed lift. Bubble chairs first made their appearance in the 1970s, and Mount Snow had two of them installed at one point, on the Standard lift, and the original Canyon lift. The bubbles were removed in the late 1970s. Standard and Canyon were replaced by the current Canyon high speed quad in 1997. Mount Snow also had two famous “ski-on” gondolas that enclosed skiers riding up the mountain. Both were removed in the mid-1980s and replaced with open chairlifts, including the Grand Summit Express, originally known as the Yankee Clipper.
Last December, Mount Snow’s former sister resort, the Canyons, in Park City, UT, unveiled a heated four-passenger bubble chair. Both resorts had been owned by the now-disbanded American Skiing Company, until creditors forced the breakup of the company in 2007.
Officials expect the project to keep many employees working over the summer months. “We will be employing staff members for the summer installation that would normally be winter-only employees,” said spokesperson Vinnie Lewis. “As well, there will be experts from other Peak Resorts and a crew from Leitner Poma who will certainly support the local economy. We will need to subcontract other trades-people as well but those details are not outlined yet..
Some local bids have already been awarded, according to Lewis. Architect Joseph Cincotta, of Linesync Design in Wilmington, is designing the storage barn for the bubble chairs. Bemis Line Construction in Jacksonville is supplying a tracked crane for removal of the Summit Local lift. Lewis added that “Many details are still in the works and its possible there will be more local vendors needed.”
Work on the project is set to begin on March 21 with the dismantling of the Summit Triple. “First we remove the chairs,” said Lewis. “Then the haul rope and finally the lift towers. The towers will be dragged down the hill, attached to the front blade of a groomer as it backs down the trail. This lessens the environmental impact, with snow still being on the ground. Leitner Poma takes over with the new lift installation June 1. Target completion date is the second week of November.”
Like any good New Englander, Peak Resorts plans to reuse much of the Summit Triple after it is removed. “We plan to reuse parts of it at Hidden Valley ski resort in Missouri,” said Lewis. “In the future we expect to make three lifts total out of it at other Peak Resort mountains.” Veteran Mount Snow skiers know there are sometimes gusty wind problems at the summit that cause lifts to be shut down. Lewis said wind issues have been taken into account with the design of the new lift. “The lift unload area and profile has been designed to minimize the wind effects” he said. “The unload location will be higher on the summit than the current Summit Local lift. Guests will unload the lift from the side, basically facing south toward the Grand Summit Express. The top terminal will be located next to the Summit Lodge building which we expect to be an added barrier from the wind. The weight of the chairs themselves will play a role, in that the heavier chairs will be less affected by wind. However, given it’s Vermont and we get some big storms, we anticipate there will be days when the lift is on a wind-hold. The safety of our guests has always been, and will continue to be, the only factor taken into account in determining whether or not any lift runs in the wind.”
As for what type of permitting hurdles the resort will have to clear, director of planning Laurie Newton says “We currently have federal, state, and local permits for the six-pack. Because the bubble chair requires a lift storage building at the base, we will need to submit an application to amend the existing state and local permits.”
When asked how this new lift project would impact Mount Snow’s ongoing process to gain permits to build a new snowmaking reservoir, known as West Lake, Newton replied they were separate projects and they were still “working on some submissions” for the Act 250 permit for West Lake project.
With this new lift, Mount Snow will have three high-speed lifts in its main base area with a total uphill capacity of 8,100 skiers per hour. This will greatly increase the time Mount Snow guests spend on the ski trails instead of waiting in lift lines.
Every night the chairs will be run off the line and stored in a heated storage barn, which has its advantages. First, the barn’s steady temperature helps to prevent fogging and ice build-up on the bubbles. Second, should the mountain receive icing overnight, the lift line can be quickly de-iced, and the lift will be able to operate as soon as the chairs are deployed.
Along with the new six-pack lift comes upgrades to the Grand Summit Express high-speed quad. The upgrades include enclosing the terminal at the base of the mountain to shield riders from weather and replacing all 172 of the chairs with new chairs that feature safety bars with footrests.
With the purchase of the new six-pack lift, Peak Resorts will have invested over $18 million in capital improvements at Mount Snow, including state-of-the-art snowmaking technology featuring 254 fan guns.