Highlands to replace its `antique’ lifts
Aspen Highlands’ transformation from an ugly duckling to a beautifulswan should be complete by the start of next ski season, in theeyes of Aspen Skiing Co. officials. The Skico finalized plans Thursday to replace the nearly 40-year-oldCloud Nine chairlift with a high-speed detachable quad, accordingto Skico President and CEO Pat O’Donnell. When the $2 million-plus chairlift is installed this summer, threeold lifts will be torn out: the Olympic and Exhibition II chairsand the old Cloud Nine lift. “The 10 old lifts we started with in 1994, they’re gone,” saidHighlands Mountain Manager Ron Chauner. “I don’t think there’sanother ski area where the oldest lift is only going to be sixyears old.” The Skico has been on an aggressive lift replacement plan sinceacquiring Aspen Highlands in a merger in December 1993. The Exhibition and Loge Peak high-speed quads were installed insummer 1994. The Thunderbowl triple chairlift was added last summer.Now, the Skico has signed a contract with Poma of North Americafor the new Cloud Nine lift.No more lift museum As the Skico has installed new chairlifts, it’s taken out theantiquated models all over the mountain. Highlands used to be the butt of jokes about being a “ski liftmuseum.” Now, smokers will be hard-pressed to find any lift wherethey can easily light up their substance of choice. In this case, all three lifts to be taken out are at least 35years old, according to Chauner. They were scheduled for majormaintenance over the next three seasons. “I think that was one of the things that drove the decision,”he said. Bill Kane, Skico vice president of design and development, saidabout $500,000 worth of maintenance was scheduled for Cloud Nineand Olympic over the next three seasons. The upper and lower terminalsof Exhibition II also needed attention soon at an estimated costof $400,000. Rather than sink that amount of money into ancient lifts, theCrown family, majority owners of the privately held Aspen SkiingCo., decided to spring for the new chair. The top terminal of the new lift will be about 100 yards higheron the mountain than where the existing Cloud Nine unloads passengers.The bottom terminal will extend about 200 yards lower on the mountain.The lift will be aligned slightly west of the existing Cloud Ninelift. High-speed, low-capacity The current Cloud Nine and Olympic double chairs crawl along atrides of eight and nine minutes respectively. The new high-speedquad will cover 4,600 feet in slightly more than four minutes,according to Kane. Although the ride will be quicker, the lift will be operated as”high-speed, low-capacity so we’re not pouring people off ontothat terrain,” said Chauner. It will handle 1,200 riders per hour,same as the old Cloud Nine. Throughout the process of upgrading the chairlifts and other mountainamenities, the goal, he said, has been to “retain most of thefeeling and most of the character.” Some of the character of the old Oly chair will undoubtedly belost, Chauner acknowledged. While that chair was slow, it providedstunning views of the Maroon Bells. Some, but not all, of thoseviews will be retained by the new lift. Harder access to Oly Bowl The new lift will also unload lower on the mountain than the oldOly chair. There will no longer be direct lift access to OlympicBowl on the west side of the mountain. When skiers get off the new Cloud Nine chair and head west, theywill intercept the Aces and Eights trail, but will be too fardown to catch the top of No Name and Deception. That access willcome from the Loge lift. Arlan Hemphill, a Highlands skier for 20 years, applauded thehigh speed of the new lift, but didn’t welcome news of the alignment.”It should go all the way to the top of Oly, as far as I’m concerned,”said Hemphill. “I can understand the disbursement issue, but Istill think it should go up higher.” Kane said the Skico gave serious thought to running the new CloudNine lift to the point where the existing Oly chair unloads, butconcluded it just wouldn’t work. The increased traffic that ahigh-speed quad will attract would overwhelm the terrain at thetop of the Face of Oly, he said. The U.S. Forest Service agreed with that conclusion when it reviewedthe Skico’s master plan for Highlands five years ago. “I think it will be great. It won’t overload those constrainedareas,” said Jim Stark, winter sports administrator for the ForestService’s Aspen Ranger District. His concern is the removal of the Exhibition II chair, which servesintermediate and beginner terrain at mid-mountain. “Their terrain is still fairly prohibitive for the rank beginner,”Stark noted. “It will be even more so without the Exhibition IIlift.” Chauner said the Skico shares that concern. The effects on skiertraffic flow will be studied next season and complaints aboutthe loss of the Exhibition II lift will be logged. Construction of the new Cloud Nine lift will likely start in June.
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