Copper chopper: New lift towers go in at resort |

Copper chopper: New lift towers go in at resort

Janice Kurbjun
summit daily news
Summit Daily/Mark Fox

COPPER MOUNTAIN – A helicopter spent roughly four hours in the air Wednesday, moving several-ton pieces of metal from Copper Mountain’s Far East parking lot across Highway 91 to the western side of the ski area.

It was part of the installation of the new Union Creek high-speed quad, which replaces the old two-seater High Point chairlift. Several weeks ago, another helicopter flew the concrete on site, to prepare for tower installation this week.

After the pilot dropped his hook to the Doppelmayr guys on the ground, they snapped it into the next piece’s rigging ring. The pilot then picked up the load, his blades chopping fiercely in the thin air, and swung his load toward the construction site.

On mountain, more crew members sat hitched to the towers, awaiting the next piece in their assembly. When the helicopter arrived with another section of tubing or crossarm, they’d grab the guiding cables to direct the heavy metal into place. Quickly, they’d stab some nuts into place so the pilot could again pull away and repeat the process.

By the time the pilot landed his craft, Copper Mountain had spent more than $20,000 for four hours of flying – it’s roughly $4,500 an hour to run the Swanson Aviation Group helicopter, manager of lift and electrical maintenance Mark Kramer said.

“Time is of the essence,” he said. “It’s amazing what you can do in four hours with a helicopter.”

The alternative may be more costly to the environment and the Forest Service land on which Copper operates. Using cranes and heavy equipment damages vegetation, causes soil erosion – and costs time and money through Forest Service permitting, Kramer said.

As the pilot constantly calculated air density (it’s thicker in the morning when it’s chilly), weather, terrain, fuel and the weight of his load, Copper Mountain crew leaders like Kramer coordinated on-ground operations like traffic control to protect cars passing underneath the flight path. As the lift progresses, trail crews work on tree removal and slope grading to accommodate the new installation. And Kramer’s crews are busy either assisting Doppelmayr or doing summer maintenance on the mountain’s other 21 lifts.

“It takes everyone at Copper Mountain to pull off a project like this,” Kramer said.

The Union Creek lift is the first under Kramer’s supervision, though he’s seen three other lifts go in during his 20-plus years at the mountain – the Super Bee and Excelerator in 1998 and Timberline Express in 1994. The Blackjack and Mountain Chief lifts were moved to the Copper Bowl area from their old home where Timberline Express now sits.

Kramer said that, though the helicopter flew this week, there’s much more work to be done to get the lift in operation for the upcoming ski season. Haul ropes, carriers, grips, communication lines, lift shacks, electrical wiring all need to be installed – and then it needs to be fine-tuned.

“It’s exciting to see a project like this going,” Kramer said. “Riding it this fall will be satisfying.”

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