Icy temps don’t deter crowd at Breck lift opening
BRECKENRIDGE – The thermometer at the base of Peak 8 hovered at zero degrees Monday morning, but the frigid temperatures didn’t deter a crowd from gathering at nearly 12,000 feet for a ride on the highest chairlift in North America. Breckenridge Ski Resort officials and Mayor Ernie Blake cut the red ribbon on the new Imperial Express SuperChair on Peak 8 just after 10 a.m. in front of about 75 anxious skiers and snowboarders. The 15-chair, high-speed quad opened about five weeks earlier than scheduled, thanks to early season snowfall that is 180 percent above normal for this time of year, said resort chief operating officer Roger McCarthy.The lift opens up access to 400 acres of above treeline terrain, including chutes, bowls and steeps.”For the skier who’s been in Breckenridge for a long, long time, this is a huge, huge thing because – 12,840 feet – you’re way up there,” McCarthy said.
Cheers filled the brisk air as McCarthy, U.S. Forest Service Dillon District Ranger Rick Newton, vice president of operations Rick Sramek and Shelley Grail, also with the Forest Service, loaded onto the first chair for a two-and-a-half minute ride.The line quickly moved forward, rewarding those who waited in the cold weather with first dibs on making tracks in the vast Imperial Bowl underneath the new lift.”It was windblown, slightly crusty, a nice kind of carpet snow,” said Breckenridge resident Jared Mazlish, of the conditions. Mazlish scored a ride on the second chair of the morning, and was one of the first skiers back in line for another lap.Before the new lift, skiers and riders hoping to access terrain at the top of Peak 8 had to hike 45 minutes along the ridgeline from the top of the T-bar.Mazlish, who often spent his days at the mountain trudging up to the summit, said he is a huge advocate of the new lift, and appreciates that it provides access to everyone with a lift ticket to the terrain, not just those who are willing to hoof it.”You never make more than two or three hikes a day, now you can make 15 runs,” said Mazlish, toting his super-wide Fatypus skis, a local ski company of which he is an owner.
Breckenridge Freeride Team rider Jeff Meyer said he is looking forward to the filming opportunities the new lift will provide in the Lake Chutes and other nearby extreme terrain. “Now it’s easier. Before you couldn’t really hike up there with a camera guy and a video guy because it was just too much work, so if we can run laps through that area, then maybe we can get some good footage,” said Meyer, a nine-year Breck resident.The resort began mulling over a new lift in the area in 2001, when the White River National Forest was updating its forest plan, McCarthy said.After several years of gaining the proper permits and fighting oppostion to build in the delicate high alpine environment, construction began in early August.The logistics were difficult because of access, and all the major components for the lift had to be flown in by helicopter, McCarthy said.”There are only nine towers, but every one of them has a story. Tower seven took forever; it’s the last one we can see up there,” he said, pointing near the top of Peak 8. “The hole is 30 feet deep and was mostly hand dug. It was just a tough, tough lift to get built.”
In conjunction with the new lift, the Breckenridge Ski and Ride School is offering a Big Mountain Experience for groups of up to four that want to learn the tactics of skiing and riding the resort’s double black diamond terrain.The Imperial Express replaces Loveland’s Chair 9 as the highest lift in North America, surpassing that lift by less than 200 feet.Nicole Formosa can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 13625, or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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