New Ski Lifts Are Changing U.S. Slopes With Shorter Lines and Faster Rides

Plunge lords over some of the best terrain in North American skiing, with steep and consistent north-facing slopes covering 2,100 vertical feet. The top of Plunge, also known as Chair 9, nears 12,000 feet and gives skiers a bevy of choices: some of the most sustained steep bump runs in North America, groomed runs sheer enough to slow the sharpest of experts and forested terrain that twists between subalpine firs and Engelmann spruce. The old Plunge lift, a fixed-grip triple chair that was a local favorite, had been turning since 1985. The new detachable four-seater will increase uphill capacity by 70 percent to 1,800 skiers per hour and cut a ponderous 13-minute ride almost in half.

Anybody who has spent a prime weekend or holiday skiing at Steamboat has spent healthy chunks of time in its gondola maze. At Steamboat, the existing gondola forms the main artery up the mountain; avoiding it takes time and multiple chairlifts — and often other lines. The new Wild Blue Gondola, which will augment current lifts, will be the longest in North America, at 3.16 miles when complete, and one of the fastest 10-person lifts in the United States. With Wild Blue in place, Steamboat will be able to move 10,000 people per hour up and out of the base area compared with 6,000 previously. The lower leg of the gondola will open this winter, helping curb lines at Steamboat’s base.

Maine’s flagship ski resort has designs on expansion in the future and the start of those plans includes the Jordan 8, which replaces the Jordan Express. While riders in the old chair could be whipped by winds and New England squalls, Jordan 8 will be enclosed by a red-tinted bubble and offer individual heated seats for up to eight passengers. The chairs will weigh more than a ton each, but newer technologies from the Austrian lift manufacturer Doppelmayr will make this among the fastest chairs in North America, moving up to 3,200 people per hour.

Vail’s wide-open backside terrain has been a draw for skiers in Central Colorado for 60 years. Getting into the mountain’s natural bowls has always been easier than getting out, with lines that can stack up at the High Noon Express No. 5 lift, among others. The new Sun Down Express chairlift offers relief to the bottleneck, with skiers now having two ways of getting out of the popular Sun Down Bowl. Those staying in Vail’s Lionshead Village will have a far more direct way to ski home, and can easily alternate runs in Sun Down Bowl and in Game Creek Bowl as the lifts terminate near each other. The Game Creek lift was also upgraded this year, increasing its capacity from four people to six.

As Jackson Hole’s slopes have grown more crowded and its population has become, by some measures, the richest in the United States, there has been a marked spillover of home buyers across Teton Pass into Idaho. Those on the Idaho side, near the towns of Driggs and Victor, can choose to ski Jackson and brave the pass — whose steep grades are often frosted by snow — or they can head to the increasingly popular Grand Targhee. The resort, still sleepy compared with Jackson Hole, has ambitious plans of expansion. The first step is the new six-passenger Colter lift, which heads up Peaked Mountain. This will be the first lift-serviced terrain opened at Targhee in 20 years. The 600 new acres give Targhee 30 percent more area and offer steeper pitches compared with most of the resort. Colter will give skiers access to terrain only reachable previously via Targhee’s now-retired snow cats, whose treads let them carry people over the snow.

The new six-person, high-speed chairlift replaces what was the first high-speed lift in New Hampshire. This will be the first detachable lift built in the United States by France’s MND Ropeways and will feature ergonomic seats from Porsche Design Studio, as well as a bubble that can be lowered over the chair to protect riders from New Hampshire’s winter winds.

As Whitefish, once branded as Big Mountain, became more popular, it coped by building out its base area and lodging — the next phase is upgrading its lifts. To reach the resort’s summit and its more interesting terrain, skiers at the newer Base Lodge area have needed to board at least two chairs. The six-person Snow Ghost chair fixes that, as it will deliver up to 2,200 skiers an hour straight from Base Lodge to near the summit within seven minutes. Snow Ghost replaces Chair 4, which terminated farther down the mountain and was installed in 1978, before the construction of Base Lodge as a focal point of the resort.

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