The splice is right for Aspen’s Silver Queen

Nearly 5 miles of wire rope replaced on gondola for first time in 35 years

Aspen Skiing Company employees and contractors help to take in the slack of the haul rope, or cable, for the Aspen Mountain Silver Queen Gondola at the base of the mountain on Thursday, June 17, 2021. This is the first time that the cable has been replaced since the Silver Queen Gondola was installed in 1986. The haul rope spans 4.9 miles and weighs 97 tons. The effort took both machinery and worker assistance to splice the cable and ready it for the ski season. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Crews from Aspen Skiing Co. and its contractors are on the homestretch this week of the massive undertaking of replacing the thick wire cable of the Silver Queen Gondola at Aspen Mountain.

The cable, formally known as a haul rope, lasted for 35 years without significant stretching or the need for shortening.

“It’s the first time it’s been replaced since the gondola was put in in 1986,” said Katie Ertl, Skico senior vice president of operations.

That’s remarkable, she said, because haul ropes on chairlifts typically need replacing much sooner than that. She credited the high quality of the original wire rope for it lasting so long.

Aspen Skiing Company employees help to lift and move the 97 ton Silver Queen Gondola haul rope during the replacement process of the large cable on Aspen Mountain on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The haul rope is 4.9 miles long and weighs 97 tons, according to Ertl. It is 54 millimeters in diameter and weighs 8.4 pounds per linear foot.

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The new rope was trucked to Buttermilk parking area on two large spools earlier this spring. The spools were hauled up Aspen Street to the base of Lift 1A on a tractor-trailer. Two bulldozers assisted in hauling the trailers up dirt roads on lower Aspen Mountain and over to the Little Nell slope for access to the gondola towers. A flat area below tower four is being used for staging the operation.

The two spools of haul rope were spliced together and then the new haul rope was spliced to the old rope so while crews were pulling the old rope off the lift towers, sheave wheels and bullwheels, the new haul rope was feeding into the system.

One of the large spools of haul rope, or cable, is prepared to be replaced on the Silver Queen Gondola on Aspen Mountain on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

On Thursday, the crews were splicing together the tails of the new haul rope so that it completed a closed loop.

The Knight Equipment Co. of Bowling Green, Missouri, handled the specialized splicing work. Three generations of Knights have worked the trade. Workers use hand tools to weave strands of cable together along 250-foot sections of the haul rope. Skico crews provided the labor of moving the heavy rope. Leitner-Poma, the lift manufacturing company, assisted on the project. The Swiss company Fatzer provided the new wire rope.

Workers sit on Tower 3 while Aspen Mountain’s Silver Queen Gondola undergoes a haul rope replacement on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Once the closed loop is fitted onto the lift infrastructure, the Silver Queen will go through Skico’s internal tests and inspection by the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety board before it is cleared for operation.

The gondola is scheduled to open July 2. In the meantime, Buttermilk’s Summit Express lift has been open on the weekends for sightseeing, and starting Monday the Snowmass Elk Camp gondola and lift will be open daily through Labor Day.

After the holiday, both gondolas will be open on weekends through Oct. 3.

“It’s over a $1 million project,” Ertl said, citing shipping costs, the price of the new wire rope and labor.

Fortunately, she said, the haul rope replacement is not required very often. This new rope on the Silver Queen Gondola will likely last decades

“We won’t see it again during our time in the ski industry,” Ertl said of herself and her peers.

Aspen Skiing Company employees and contractors assist with the final splice of the Silver Queen Gondola’s new haul rope on Aspen Mountain on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

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