Aspen Mountain’s Lift 1A up for repair next week |

Aspen Mountain’s Lift 1A up for repair next week

lift 1A saga

Dec. 31: Lift breaks down because of broken tooth on a gear

Jan. 5: Skico spreads word of need for replacement

Jan. 8: Old gearbox in good shape checked out in Grand Junction

Jan. 12: 7-ton piece of machinery will be lifted into place

Jan. 14-16: Lift expected to be spinning again on one of these days.

Aspen Skiing Co. Vice President of Mountain Operations Rich Burkley said Thursday he couldn’t write a more bizarre script to the anticipated repair of Lift 1A on Aspen Mountain.

Skico’s search for a gearbox for the broken chairlift turned up a replacement 130 miles away in Grand Junction. The strange part of the story is that it’s apparently a gearbox that Skico bought in the early 1970s in anticipation of needing it as it was developing infrastructure at Snowmass. It wasn’t needed, so it ended up back in the possession of lift manufacturer Poma at its yard in Grand Junction, according to Burkley. The exact story isn’t known, he said.

At some point, Poma donated its old yard and the contents to Mesa State College, now known at Colorado Mesa University.

After Lift 1A broke down Dec. 31 because of a broken tooth on a gear, Skico put out the word in ski resort and lift-manufacturing circles that it needed a replacement. Word soon filtered in of the spare gearbox in Grand Junction. Representatives of Poma checked the identification plate on the machinery and determined it was once owned by Skico, according to Burkley. The gearboxes, he said, are “very technical and monitored” pieces of equipment, similar to aircraft. And like aircraft, which are put out to pasture in the desert, the gearbox has been sitting in Grand Junction’s mostly dry, arid environment.

“We have a completely intact gearbox that’s been sitting there for over 30 years,” he said.

Poma crews learned that it was still filled with oil, so the interior hasn’t rusted. All the bearings were checked and “they’re in great shape,” Burkley said. The output shaft also was in good working condition.

Finding a gearbox so close to home, Burkley acknowledged, is “pretty much pure luck.” He is still negotiating with the university on the price for the piece.

The 7-ton gearbox will be hoisted by crane onto a flatbed trailer and transported to Aspen sometime prior to Monday. The machinery is about 4 feet tall, 8 feet long and 4 feet wide and made of pure cast steel.

A crane that is currently unloading cargo containers for the Winter X Games at Buttermilk will be stationed Monday at the end of South Aspen Street. The cupola at the building housing the lower loading station at Lift 1A will be popped off and the old gearbox will be lifted out and replaced with the new, Burkley said.

Since they found a replacement gearbox in such good shape, they will replace the entire piece rather than just the worn gear, he said. The lift, installed in 1972, will be ready for another 40-some years of service, Burkley said.

Once the bull wheel of the lift is reinstalled and tension is placed on the wire rope, they will fire up the lift. “We will probably run it for a day to make sure everything is OK,” Burkley said.

It should be ready to return to action in the middle or end of next week, he said.

Lift 1A handles only about 3 percent of the “first scans” of lift tickets and ski passes at Aspen Mountain, according to Burkley. Return skiers and snowboarders boost the overall use, he said, but it’s still in the single digits for uphill traffic on Aspen Mountain.

Nevertheless, it’s popular among local skiers. Burkley said he gets asked about its status all the time when on the slopes and in the streets of Aspen.

“According to the phone calls I’m getting, it’s everyone’s favorite lift,” he said.

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