Beaver Creek upgrades beginner lift — at highest point of mountain
Red Buffalo Express by the numbers:
15: Towers (from Keystone’s Montezuma Express)
4.3: Minutes from bottom to top
11: Green runs accessible from the top
11,440 feet: Elevation at top of lift
for beginner skiers and snowboarders at Beaver Creek, the “bunny hill” isn’t located at the bottom of the mountain. Unlike many other learning areas across the country, the Beav’s beginner terrain is located at the highest point of the mountain — at 11,440 feet — with sweeping views of the Rocky Mountains.
As the sun rose over the Gore Range on July 13 and slowly shined on the ski resort donning its summer colors, the last remaining chairlift towers from Beaver Creek’s original Opening Day in 1980 stood tall, naked of the chairs that haul skiers and snowboarders to the top of the mountain.
Crews from Beaver Creek, chairlift manufacturer Doppelmayr and Timberline Helicopters out of Idaho were beginning the process of replacing the Drink of Water lift (Chair 5). The slow, fixed-grip two-person lift is being upgraded to a high-speed four-person lift with a new name — Red Buffalo Express.
The new lift will reduce ride time by 50 percent (from 8.6 minutes to 4.3 minutes) and will increase uphill capacity by 75 percent. The top will also unload next to Cinch Express, instead of just below it like before. With the upgrade, all primary lifts at Beaver Creek will be high-speed.
The first steps of upgrading a chairlift is taking out the old one. The Blackhawk helicopter flew early in the morning, when the air was cool making it easier to pick up weight — the towers weigh up to 1,500 pounds.
Timberline Helicopters fly many of the towers across the country, and before flying at Beaver Creek, the crew was in Australia helping fight a wildfire.
The 17 towers that made up Drink of Water will be sent to a recycling center. Vail Mountain sometimes saves towers for possible use in the future, said Carl Eaton, lift maintenance manager at Beaver Creek.
“The destruction part is the fun part because it’s taking things apart,” Eaton said. “We don’t have to be as meticulous as when we put it together.”
While the Blackhawk flew in and out of the Drink of Water area, crews on the ground loosened the eight large screws that attach the crossarm on the top of the towers, preparing the towers to be lifted.
Crews have already dug the holes for the new towers — the Red Buffalo Express towers. The next steps are pouring the concrete in anticipation of the new towers, which are 15 towers coming from Keystone’s Montezuma Lift, experiencing upgrades of its own.
“Come next ski season, we’ll have a new lift,” Eaton said.
RED BUFFALO EXPRESS
All of the beginner runs at the top of the mountain were originally named after peaks visible from the runs, Eaton said, although some of them have changed. The Red Buffalo trail was named after Red Peak, also visible from Breckenridge Mountain.
Located at the heart of the beginner terrain, Red Buffalo Express will have access to 11 green trails as well as two terrain parks.
The trails provide mellow, cruisy terrain fitting for beginners and intermediate skiers and snowboarders, in addition to the sweeping views of the Gore Range.
The area was originally known as Drink of Water Park, and also took on the nickname “Ho-Hum,” Eaton said.
If you ride Red Buffalo Express this winter — or any lift, for that matter — then remember that without chairlifts, it would just be called Nordic skiing.
As he reaches a weightless apex atop its arc, Cypher seems to absorb a drop of the tree’s remaining life to find a moment of beauty amid the tragedy of another dying evergreen.