Demand remains for old school lifts

In an age when super sexy high-speed six-pack chairs get all the press, a steady market remains for tried and true fixed grip chairs as well. Uploading the latest trend, SNEWS takes a closer look at the future of old school.

Ski resort improvements over the next decade will be more about lift replacement than terrain expansion, with large resorts such as Tahoe’s Squaw Valley pursuing a complete makeover while tapping into the latest and greatest in lift technology. But for smaller hills, especially in the Midwest, renovations will depend on going back to the future.

When Leigh Nelson, president of Minnesota’s Welch Village, assessed his mostly circa-1970s lift inventory five years ago, it was clear he needed a plan to begin replacing the uphill infrastructure for his 300-foot vertical hill. The challenge, he says, was that the two main liftmakers, Salt Lake City’s Doppelmayr-CTEC and Leitner-Poma of Grand Junction, Colo., were busy building high-speed quads, trams and gondolas for the major destination resorts--not the old school fixed-grip lifts he required. “The bottom line is that you don’t need a high-speed quad if the total ride time is two to four minutes,” Nelson says.

So Nelson called together a dozen area operators along with Doppelmayr for a meeting at nearby Buck Hill. From those discussions came a plan for a 21st century fixed grip quad. Welch has installed two of these Doppelmayr lifts, and Nelson plans to put in a new fixed-grip replacement lift every other year for the foreseeable future. The new lifts offer more capacity and comfort and a price tag that’s about a third less than a detachable. “People appreciate it. They have a good guest feel. We get a lot of compliments,” Nelson says. While the trend is far from widespread, Devil’s Head in Wisconsin also installed a Doppelamyr fixed-grip lift for the 2010-11 season, and Leitner-Poma is also producing fixed-grip lifts.

Nelson points to the recent skin fatigue failures of the Southwest Airlines 737s as a reminder of the need of replacing old lifts. “We do all the maintenance and inspections, so does Southwest, and there’s still failure. We’re dealing with that kind of issue.”

He also bucks the prevailing notion that fast lifts are an attraction because guests can get more laps in less time. “There is something to be said for having your customers on the lift rather than on the slopes. They get less tired, the slopes are less crowded, and they stick around the resort longer.”--Andy Bigford

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