New chairlift should eliminate nasty delays on Aspen Mountain |

New chairlift should eliminate nasty delays on Aspen Mountain

The Aspen Skiing Co. doesn’t have any sexy ski area improvements planned this summer – nothing like construction of the Deep Steeplechase chairlift, for example – but there are two noteworthy changes.

The Skico is replacing the Ajax Express high-speed detachable quad on Aspen Mountain with a modern version of the same type of lift. The newer technology should reduce the amount of time the lift is shut down due to mechanical failures.

“It was starting to give us pretty good fits regarding down time,” said Mike Kaplan, Skico vice president of operations. He said the Ajax Express, lift No. 3, was down more than six hours each of the last two seasons.

That was unacceptable because the Ajax Express is one of the busiest chairs at the four ski areas. It serves a variety of intermediate and expert terrain.

“It’s the biggest workhorse we’ve got in the 41-lift fleet,” said Bill Kane, vice president of planning.

The chairlift was built as a fixed-grip quad chair, which wasn’t fast moving, in 1986 and converted into a high-speed detachable quad the following year, according to Kaplan’s records. It was among the first generation of high-speed lifts so its technology is outdated and the parts need replacement.

The new chair will be constructed in the same alignment as the old lift. Even the old lift towers will be used. The upper and lower terminals will be slightly smaller because the newer technology doesn’t require as much space.

The new lift will create a couple of changes that Skico officials believe skiers and riders will appreciate. The lift will now run clockwise instead of counterclockwise, so chairs will travel up a cable on the east side of the lift rather than the west side.

That means the lift will load differently. Skiers will be perpendicular to the lift line, and they will get scooped up by a chair as they are looking at Bell Mountain. The old arrangement required riders to align with the lift line.

Although subtle, the change will require less space for a skiers’ maze because a long final approach isn’t necessary. That means a wider swath of Spar Gulch will be available for skiing beside the lift.

At the upper terminal the Skico is undertaking grading to create a flat spot after skiers and riders travel down the unloading ramp. The grading will allow lift riders to make a hard right and traverse directly to the top of the Buckhorn trail. That will eliminate the slightly uphill traverse previously required.

The old chairs of the Ajax Express will be scrapped. The upper part of the lift towers – the sidearms with the wheels, sheaves and such – will be salvaged for use with a new Campground chairlift at Snowmass Ski Area.

That venerable old lift, which had a ride time of 16 minutes, will be shortened to 8.5 minutes, according to Kaplan. It will remain a fixed-grip double chair but with comfortable seats and no center pole to fight with, said Kane.

The new chair will spit riders out about two-thirds of the way up the mountain rather than at Sam’s Knob. The new lift will run about 10 percent faster but the number of chairs will be reduced, so capacity will drop from 720 to 670 skiers per hour.

The pad at Sam’s Knob needed space cleared because the Skico’s plan is to construct a new lift from the proposed Base Village to the Knob.

Although the trip from the base of Campground to the top of Sam’s Knob will now require two lift rides, Kane suggested riders will still be better off with the changes. Riding time of the two lifts will be three minutes shorter than one ride on the old Campground lift.

Both new chairlifts will be constructed by Poma of America. The combined price of the replacement work is on “the north side of $3.5 million,” said Kaplan.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is]

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