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   Agent-G  Saturday Jan 24 01:53 AM

January 24, 2009: How a Chairlift is Made

Summer 2006 I was on the crew which built the new chair lift at our local mountain Bear Valley Ski Resort. I didnt really do the job for the money, it was mostly the experiance and to be able to say I did it. They were long, tiresome days working on the lift. Since the season for working on a chair lift is so short, and they started in July, we would work 10+ hours a day 7 days a week. It only takes a crew of about 7 men to build this whole chairlift. Of course they have specialist come in, such as crane opperators and helicopter team.

The plan to change the lift came after an epic break down of the 1960's model chairlift, Hibernation Chair, which was there before it. Infact, I was on chairlift when it broke down. My girlfriend and I were stuck on the chair for 2 and a half hours. About 30 minutes into it, when I was complaining about how much it sucked to be there, the girlfriend just had to say "it could be worse, it could be snowing" ...... and just like that, it started snowing. So, needless to say, it felt kinda good to tear that lift out.

To first start the job, we did alot of chopping down trees, and digging. Since lives depended on the safty of the chairlift, it is engineered to take alot.

We had to dig huge holes on the side of the mountain, and clear them out by hand since a tractor could affect the stability of the soil. Most of the time, we would come to giant pieces of granite rock which we couldnt dig though and would have to use explosives to blow it up. But first we would have to drill through the granite using an air powered jackhammer and drill. Not easy work.

After the cement was poured, we started seting the Drive engine, and the return engine towers. We would put them on semi trailers and drive them down the back side of the mountain with a tractor.

Then we used a crane to set them. This was very tricky. It had to line up perfectly or else everything was off. We had to pull it toward us with rope, using all the strength we had.

For all the other towers, we used a helicopter to bring them in. This was hard because the helicopter would stir up all this dust below it and it made it like a sand storm. I, of course, did not have to deal with this because I was in the parking lot hooking up the towers to the helicopter. It was a nice reprieve from what everyone else was doing.

One of the hardest days of work we had was tightening all the nuts on the towers, drive, and return. I am sure most of you have seen the nuts on the towers. These ones had a three inch diameter hole. To tighten them, we used a metal wrench which fit on it and then slammed it with a sledge hammer until it was tight. But all the towers had to align perfectly, so we would hammer it down all the way, then have to hammer it off all the way and put metal shims under it using a metal wedge which we hammered under the tower, so it would align. Then hammer it down, then hammer it off. And we had to work early before the sun was high. Amazingly, the sun actually warps the towers and they start bending back and forth. So, what we though was alined, usually wasnt and we would have to hammer it back off and shim it I think that was the most tired I had ever been from a day of work.

After that we ran the haul line, and then built the chairs and put them on. The haul line was tricky. We first had to string a smaller cable that we could carry by climbing up each tower with it on our back and feeding it through the wheels. Once it was strung all the way around, we spliced the wire together and pulled tention on it. Then, we called in a certifed splicer to splice the main haul line.

Me with the carring the cable up the towers

Putting the chairs together was tedious work, wasnt too bad...unless it was the days it was snowing there. We worked in all conditions. It was snowing and we were out there screwing metal nuts together.

It was assembled on schedule and they did the preload test. It was interesting to see how it all went up though.

floatingk  Saturday Jan 24 02:03 AM

Oh man, thats awesome!!! I have friends at Big Sky and Bridger Bowl that have horror stories of the bolt pattern not lining up and the helicopter running low on fuel....with a dude tethered to the riblet and no escape....he lived and the copter made it to the parking lot and died on touch down. RAD!!!

xoxoxoBruce  Saturday Jan 24 03:02 AM

Thanks Agent-G, very cool.

Yeah swinging a maul on a slugging wrench gets old real fast.

Agent-G  Saturday Jan 24 03:17 AM

yeah, swinging the sledge for three days strait was rough. Especially since I was just a couple months out from an AC seperation to my shoulder.

We had to have the helicopter be postponed, but never had a fuel issue. I think one of the worst issues we had was we had to drive a loader down the backside of the mountain when there was about 2 feet of just dust. And, the loader carring the drive engine jack knifed on a hill and almost rolled. We had to get another loader and a forklift to set it right.

Bullitt  Saturday Jan 24 08:34 AM

Awesome, I work as a lift op at my local ski hill and have often wondered exactly how they construct these things.

lumberjim  Saturday Jan 24 09:19 AM

great post, agent. thanks for that.

Shawnee123  Saturday Jan 24 10:35 AM


It's neat when you see things like that, and think "well heck, I never really thought much about how this all got here."


richlevy  Saturday Jan 24 11:49 AM

Wow, that was very interesting. Working with computers, a do-over for me means recoding and recompiling. Having to work with those physical tolerances and re-do that much labor sounds exhausting.

HungLikeJesus  Saturday Jan 24 12:00 PM

Great documentation, Agent-G.

Griff  Saturday Jan 24 12:06 PM

Brilliant! Thanks for sharing that, man.

glatt  Saturday Jan 24 01:24 PM

Excellent thread! It's amazing that all the alignment is done at the foundation instead of having adjusters up at the top by the cable.

classicman  Saturday Jan 24 05:02 PM

What they said and - thats a funky looking helicopter.

Gravdigr  Sunday Jan 25 08:27 PM

As a side note: You really haven't lived til you've been knocked down by the prop wash from a giant helicopter.

Elspode  Sunday Jan 25 10:19 PM

Pretty sure that's a Sikorsky Skycrane.

BrianR  Sunday Jan 25 11:12 PM

it is.

TheMercenary  Monday Jan 26 01:28 AM

Cool Agent G!

Coign  Monday Jan 26 11:28 AM

I live 2 miles from Vail, CO and my best friend is radio dispatch for the ski mountain. He said the splicer specialist for those cables are a unique lot. That is all they do is move from mountain to mountain and splice cables. The cables stretch and need to be cut, shortened, and re-spliced about every 3 to 5 years.

Vail and Beaver Creek have so many lifts that they replaced about three a year.

He said this year was interesting when the splicer was doing his work. They get the entire mechanics crew to help out and it takes about 40 guys. This year the splice let go just as they were putting a load on it and he said it started spinning out of the wire truck like a giant whale caught on a 400 ton fishing line.

When the splicer starts running from the truck and and shouting, everyone starts running.

In the end he said the cable twisted and jammed in the feed coming off the truck so it didn't get real bad but there was a very real possibility of a cable ripping a couple of guys in half.

sweetwater  Monday Jan 26 11:43 AM

That's a lot of work - but I'm sure those who would otherwise have to climb the slopes agree it's worth it. I never thought about how those things get there before. Cool!

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