Vail’s old Vista Bahn cable gets new life
VAIL — When the new Gondola One was inaugurated at Vail Mountain in 2012, few took notice of its predecessor, the Vista Bahn chairlift. The Vista Bahn Express Lift (No. 16) was deconstructed in 37 days. Some of the old chairs were sent to give older lifts around the resort a boost. Most of the rest was transported to Rocky Mountain Recycling in Commerce City. Thirty semi-trucks hauled 594,920 pounds of steel and cable off the mountain and to the Front Range. Most of that was melted down into something else, except for some of the steel cable, which ended up in the hands of Denver-based company repurposedMATERIALS. Thanks to their innovation, several miles of ski lift cable got new life as architectural railing on office buildings and homes. The cable also became part of cages used by commercial fishing companies in Alaska in order to anchor the cages down when they were dropped into the water. The company, started by one-time Vail local Damon Carson, specializes in taking materials that would otherwise end up in landfills and finding new, often industrial, uses for them. That's not the only ski resort "junk" that got a new use. The company also turned a few hundred plastic tube bottoms — once used as the sheeting on the bottom of resort inner tubes —into plastic troughs used to feed animals, who neither cared what color or how fast the bottoms were. One man's trash … Carson first started the company as a side project. He lived in Vail from 1994 to 2002, running the garbage company PHI Waste. He moved to the Front Range and stumbled upon the idea of re-purposing when someone asked him to set aside any vinyl billboards that he came across. Carson asked the client why, and the man responded that the vinyl sheets made great drop cloths for painting projects. He started repurposedMATERIALS in 2010, and the company's next project was reusing the long pieces of rubber that come from conveyor belts used in mining. Turns out old rubber is quite useful — several thousands of feet of the stuff was sold to a company in Las Vegas that rented Lamborghinis by the hour. The conveyor belt material ended up making great wall coverings for the company's racetrack. After all, bouncing a Lamborghini off a rubber wall is far less damaging than bouncing it off a plastic wall or metal rail. "I guess this is my second foray into trash," Carson said. "Before, we took it all to landfill, and now I try to keep it out." Uncommon uses In most cases, re-purposing is much more environmentally and economically efficient than recycling. When items are recycled, they're broken down and made into something else. With re-purposing, they keep their current form and just get a new use, explained Carson. Compared to dumping the materials, it's often cost-neutral or cheaper for companies to re-purpose their items through repurposedMATERIALS. They can be environmentally friendly, plus they don't have to pay landfill fees. The materials are often items that people have no idea what to do with, but Carson and his employees are up to the challenge of finding the materials new jobs. Those billboard vinyls, for example, have also been sold to a U.S. Army base as use for obstacle course partitions, and as slip and slides at the University of Chicago. Occasionally the repurposedMATERIALS folks do get stumped. They were once given plastic conveyor belt material from a Campbell's Soup factory that sat in the warehouse for months. Finally, oddly enough, Paramount Pictures bought the material for an unspecified use on the set of the movie "Transformers." "Every deal is different," Carson said. "We know what materials resonate with our customers, but we don't know if it's going to be going from a copper miner to a farmer, or to a golf course operator." The company looks for generic materials, not one-use items like ceiling fans or fridges. That said, Carson hesitates to turn anything away because, after all, he just might find a way to re-purpose it. "Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge just called us and had 300 to 400 auditorium seats. It was just the backs and the seats, without the frame," he said. "Now the fun thing is figuring what the 'after' is going to be." Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and firstname.lastname@example.org.