BEAVER CREEK — The slopes of Beaver Creek were buzzing with activity on Tuesday, but not with skiers and bikes.
Instead, large construction equipment rumbled up the catwalks and a helicopter swooped up and down the front face of the mountain as crews installed towers for the resort’s new combi lift.
The new “chondola” will feature six-person chairs and 10-person gondola cabins. When finished, with completion slated for opening day of the 2014-15 ski season, the new lift will be able to carry 3,400 people per hour, an increase of 35 percent over the old Centennial lift. Benefits touted include ease of loading for beginners and ski school participants and the ability to transport guests for big summer events such as weddings up to Spruce Saddle.
The new lift will be the first of its kind in many ways — it’s the longest vertical lift of its kind ever installed by the lift company Doppelmayr. Also, it is one of the largest capacity combi lifts, with its 10- and six-passenger options. Only a few other resorts in the U.S. have combi lifts, including Northstar in California.
“It’s going to be a huge improvement overall for summer and winter guests alike, and it’s especially a great product for 2015 (world championships),” said project manager Phil Patterson.
THE BUILDING OF A LIFT
On Tuesday morning, crews started building the framework of the new combi lift shortly after 5 a.m. A specialized K-MAX helicopter, specifically designed to lift heavy loads, lifted parts of the lift towers to set anchor points. The helicopter, also used for logging operations and wildfire response, features double rotors and can lift loads close to its own weight.
“It’s not your normal,” said Patterson. “Only about 40 were made as prototypes for the Marine Corps, and only seven or eight are still in operation.”
Operations were staged slightly below Spruce Saddle, where pieces of the lift towers lay organized in a clearing. The helicopter flew swiftly back and forth, picking up the tower tubes and delivering them carefully to crews on the ground, who bolted the towers into place. At some places where taller towers were needed, two tubes were placed on top of each other, then the helicopter placed a crossbar and additional frame on top to create a platform. One crew worked on the top of the mountain while another worked on a lower portion to maximize time. The entire process is meticulous and coordinated, belying the fact that the parts the helicopter is moving weigh upwards of 4,000 pounds apiece.
“A lot of this is planning and prepping,” said Patterson. “Helicopter time is expensive, so you want to have the pieces laid out and be ready to go.”
Later in the summer, the parts that the rope will run along will arrive, and the resort can then install the chairs and cabins in the fall. The bottom terminal building will be renovated in time for the upcoming season, and the upper terminal will be rebuilt.
SNOWMAKING AND MORE
Other work is keeping Beaver Creek mountain busy this summer as well. Logging operations are clearing dead pine beetle kill on parts of the mountain, and Gold Dust and Larkspur will get new snowmaking machinery. The snowmaking improvements will allow the resort to put a new layer of snow on heavy traffic areas to keep conditions consistent throughout the season, said Beaver Creek spokesperson Jen Brown.
All the improvements are geared to be finished by the 2015 FIS Alpine World Championships, including some communications infrastructure work at Talons to accommodate the Wi-Fi and cellular needs of the press during the Championships.
Plans for activities at Spruce Saddle and an alpine coaster down the front face of the mountain are currently on hold, pending a lawsuit settlement with the local property owners’ association.
“We haven’t submitted any plans for that,” Brown said. “Right now we’re just focused on this big lift project.”
Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.