New chairlift set to debut on Snowmass |

New chairlift set to debut on Snowmass

Steve Alldredge
Special to the Snowmass Sun

The new High Alpine lift will change the way skiers and riders ski Snowmass this winter the same way the new Sheer Bliss lift did a couple of years ago when it debuted.

“We felt strongly this lift needed to be realigned, and we’re excited by the result,” said Steve Sewell, Snowmass mountain manager for the Aspen Skiing Co. “It’s going to change the traffic flow dramatically and greatly improve the skiing experience.”

The new quad High Alpine lift continues its construction schedule this week by Leitner Poma as they push to finish before the lift’s projected opening on Dec. 12.

“This is a game changer,” said Victor Gerdin, Skico’s mountain planner. “It’s going to allow High Alpine to take some of the skier traffic off parts of the mountain and disperse it to other areas.”

“We felt strongly this lift needed to be realigned, and we’re excited by the result. It’s going to change the traffic flow dramatically and greatly improve the skiing experience.”Steve SewellMountain manager, Snowmass ski area

Including the snowmaking that is being installed as part of the new High Alpine, the total cost of the project is about $8 million.

The new lift has been part of the Snowmass mountain master plan since 1994, according to Gerdin, with the real planning taking place over the last three years.

The result is a longer and faster lift that stretches 5,300 feet. Its upper terminal is slightly higher and to the right of the patrol shack as you look up the hill. The bottom terminal of the lift is relocated to the other side of the High Alpine restaurant on the lower Green Cabin run in an area that used to be a small mound with a picnic table on it, on skier’s right of Snowboard Alley.

“The realignment is an improvement for skier circulation and for access to terrain,” Sewell said. “Now, you’re going to be able to ski the double-black terrain in the Cirque and access the new High Alpine lift without having to go down the Sheer Bliss or the Alpine Springs lift. And you’ll also be able to do laps on Upper Green Cabin.”

Looking uphill from the bottom of the new High Alpine terminal, you can see that the new lift was cut through a small portion of Reidar’s Woods, skier’s right of the Green Cabin run. The new lift line will have some steep sections and increased glading on Reidar’s, and there will be new steep shots down into Green Cabin with the new lift line.

Whether you are a snowboarder or a skier, the new lift makes it much easier for to ski Upper Green Cabin because the new lift does away with that long, flat traverse. Now, when skiers come off the new lift they will veer right, and it’s an easy and short ski or ride down to access Green Cabin.

The new lift also does away with that short, but steep, climb from the top of the old lift up through the gate onto the trail to Hanging Valley Wall, but skiers will still have to hike for turns on the Wall. Now, the gate will be relocated about 50 feet higher up on the mountain, and skiers can get off the new High Alpine lift and either ski or ride down to the new gate or walk and then access the trail up to the Wall.

The old lift was used for construction workers to access the construction site of the new lift until August. It was then disassembled, and the towers flown by helicopter to a staging area near the Ullrhof where everything was loaded onto semi-trucks and transported to its new owner in Montana, the Montana Ski Bowl. It’s the same resort that purchased the old Burlingame lift that used to grace Snowmass’ Fanny Hill.

The new High Alpine lift will slightly change the grooming patterns on that side of the mountain, according to Sewell, with Reidar’s and Showcase getting a little more grooming this season as the flow takes skiers off of Reidar’s down to the new lift.

The new snowmaking will be in the flat area just off the High Alpine restaurant deck and extend down the hill into Green Cabin all the way to the bottom terminal of the new lift. It eventually ties into the snowmaking that extends uphill from the Sheer Bliss lift.

The ride time of the new High Alpine quad is shortened by over half to 5.6 minutes, according to Gerdin. The new lift is a little longer but goes twice as fast. The chairs are being spaced out so that there is 12 seconds between chairs or a maximum capacity of 1,200 skiers per hour. By comparison, the Big Burn lift has about six seconds per chair or a capacity of about 2,200 skiers per hour.

In order to construct the new lift, the old road that accessed the original High Alpine lift when it was constructed in the ’70s had to be reclaimed and slightly expanded. When the windy, steep goat track became wet, chains had to be used on the vehicles. Large D-8 bulldozers were used to drag the four 50,000-pound main sections of the upper terminal up the hill in a trip that took about two hours each section. Other sections of the lift were assembled at the staging area and then flown by helicopter over to High Alpine.

The project team at Leitner Poma wasn’t able to begin construction until ski season ended last April and Sewell’s team finished closing up the mountain and prepared for the new lift. Construction began in earnest in July with the anticipated completion in the middle of November. The new lift will then be load-tested and readied to open in mid-December.

In addition to constructing the new lift this summer, some increased glading in Reidar’s Woods will be completed before the start of the new season, along with some new glading in lower Green Cabin that will increase the intermediate skiing and riding experience in that area.

Next summer, additional glading in those areas will be done, along with new glading in the woods between Firefall and Glissade above Garrett’s Gulch. The major project next summer will be a major remodel of the High Alpine restaurant to make it more user-friendly with larger windows, a realigned roof line and a relocation of the bar and bathrooms to the main level.

The completion of the new High Alpine lift continues the Snowmass mountain master plan. The ski area has now been built almost to its permit capacity, according the Gerdin. With no more room to build, the company will now work on enhancing what they have in the way of lifts and enhancing the guest experience.

Steve Alldredge is a local writer, journalist and communications professional looking for new ski boots for this season. He can be reached at