Workers ready Vail Mountain
VAIL – While early snowfall on Vail Mountain has locals waxing their skis and dreaming of powder days, employees are working seven days a week to prepare the mountain for the million-plus skiers that are expected this season.Construction workers are finishing projects, lift workers are doing maintenance and ski patrol is bringing supplies up the mountain to make sure everything is ready for opening day Nov. 18.Last week, Mark Ferguson and Eddie Phillips were suspended on a “work chair” – a platform that holds workers and supplies – inspecting sheave assemblies on each side of the Vista Bahn. The sheave assembly is the machinery at the top of each lift tower that guides the cable and chairs up and down the mountain. Ferguson’s crew had to replace 55 sheave wheels this fall on the lift, he said.
This maintenance work that is done by workers suspended from the lifts is called “line work.” Line work occurs throughout the summer on lifts that aren’t running, said Clyde Wiessner, Vail’s director of lifts.A lift crew of four was upstairs in the base of Chair 8, Born Free Express, inspecting the components that make it run. They were replacing belts and greasing chains in preparation for the inspection that will occur before the season begins.Jeff Mills is a member of the crew, which services the Born Free Express, the Avanti Express, the Simba lift, Minnie’s lift, and the beginner Chair 15 near Eagle’s Nest. He was working on the drive shaft inside the machine room.”You want to get everything on this as clean as possible,” he said. “We’re getting ready. Hopefully the inspectors say everything is fine.”The Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board inspects lifts before the season starts to license them to operate.
Mills said his crew will work in the machine room for about two days on a thorough inspection of the parts. They work year-round on their assigned lifts doing regular maintenance and starting up the lifts in the morning.Gondola crewIn the gondola building, a lift crew was inspecting and replacing part of the curved rail that guides the car into the house and back out once it drops off and picks up more skiers.During the shoulder season, work on the gondola and the Vista Bahn occurs more hurriedly because they run during the summer and are unavailable then for the in-depth maintenance that must be done when they are not operating.Ed Sampson, part of the crew that works on the gondola, was adjusting the sheave assembly that affects the transition between the cable and the lifthouse. “Spring and fall on the gondola are busy for us,” he said.During maintenance work in their shop yard, lift crews also inspect the grips that hold the chairs onto the cable in a process called non-destructive testing. They also test grips every day during the season with different levels of detail.
There are about 50 people who fix lifts during the summer, Wiessner said.Vail doesn’t have any non-surface lifts opening this year. The only new lifts will be two conveyor belt lifts, a 365-footer called “Ranger Raccoon” at Golden Peak and a 90-foot-long conveyor beside Chair 8 in Lionshead. Those will be delivered in November and will take a couple of days to install, Wiessner said.’It’s going to be really cool’Construction crews also are laying pipes for snowmaking from the area above Pepi’s Face to Golden Peak. The new pipes are bigger in diameter and allow for more water and air to move across the mountain. The air and water combine to create the manmade snow that shoots out of snow guns. With the new system, snowmakers will be able to make snow faster and more efficiently, said Dave Tucholke, mountain operations manager.”There’s more flexibility with our system by having this large supply line,” Tucholke said.In a muddy construction area just west of Golden Peak, workers were welding pipe inside a valve house that will allow the system to be closed off at that point. Vail Mountain officials project they’ll start making snow Nov. 1.Workers also mow the tall grass on the lower part of the front side starting in mid-summer. Mowing was suspended after snow fell on the mountain last week.
Stephen Laterra, Vail’s terrain park builder and designer, was at Golden Peak repairing rails that had been removed from the mountain after the end of last season. “Things like this and heavy machinery don’t go well together,” he said. “So they get banged up.”The terrain park will have a few more rails and a few more jumps this year, Laterra said. “Everything’s going to be different,” he said. “It’s going to be really cool.”Ski patrol is fixing fencing and ropes and bringing toboggans and bamboo, which they use to mark obstacles, up the mountain.Eric Pottorff, director of Eagle’s Nest restaurants and Adventure Ridge, said there are about 30 people working at Eagle’s Nest on a daily basis during the shoulder season. A lot of those people are doing construction and painting to get the facility ready.The laser tag area at Eagle’s Nest is being replaced with a meeting place and dining area for the kids’ ski school. Workers are also building a pizza-by-the-slice counter inside Eagle’s Nest. Crews are also sanding and painting the walls of the on-mountain dining area.”It’s always an exciting time for us because we get the place looking nice,” Pottorff said.Besides all of the construction, Pottorff’s crew is working to hire their winter workers. He said their work level isn’t dropping off. “It’s not really an offseason,” he said.Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 604, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado