To tow or not to tow
Ever wonder how much rope patrollers string up at resorts on an average day? Does your ski boot chafe your ankle, and no one seems to be able to tell you why? Want to know why your favorite trail hasn’t opened this year?
Submit your snowsport-
related questions to The Weekly Ski Poll, and we’ll find the answers for you. Send questions to email@example.com, fax at (970) 668-0755 (ATTN: Ski Poll) or call (970) 668-3998, ext. 237. Make sure to include your name, address and phone
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This week’s quetion: T-bars and other tow-type lifts seem to cause not-so-expert skiers and (especially) snowboarders problems. How do the ski areas decide to put those in instead of chairlifts?
For some cruel, Jerry Springer-like entertainment, one need only get in the corral at the T-bar on Breckenridge Ski Resort’s Peak 8. Somehow, a culture has evolved as part of which, when the liftline gets crowded, the crowd gets, oh, shall we say, animated.
It’s not uncommon for those who fail to mount the T-bar and ascend successfully to suffer the jeers and shouts of “Go to the back of the line!” from others in queue.
But to be fair, T-bars and tow-type Pomas aren’t as easy as simply sitting down on a chair as it scoots underneath your rear. Likewise, for ski areas, the decision to install a T-bar or a high-speed quad isn’t a simple one.
Ski areas’ major partner in putting in new lifts or replacing old ones is the U.S. Forest Service. The plans for the lift must fall under the ski area’s master plan, and an environmental impact study is done before the first tower (or tow rope) is anchored.
There are other factors. According to Tim Thompson, lift and electrical maintenance manager at Copper Mountain, the decision between a Poma such as the Storm King lift or a six-pack depends on skier demand – the size of the terrain and the skier density the speed of the lift will produce.
“You can’t just go out and build,” Thompson said.
Cost is not to be left out. Loveland Ski Area director of lift operations Bob Magrino said the cost of a chairlift is about three times the cost of a Poma.
Environmental conditions can also push resorts to choose one lift over another. The Storm King lift, built in 1985 to provide access to Copper’s bowls, is a Poma because of wind.
“Having winds that have reached in excess of 142 mph – and that was recorded right before the weather station blew away – you have other complications,” Thompson said.
The Poma allows skiers to unload and ski away if the lift is forced to shut down because of wind or any other cause. An overhead cable chairlift would require ski patrol to evacuate riders. The Storm King’s carriers are also detachable, so they can be stacked up at the lift’s base overnight.
“That’s why people like the H-90,” Magrino said of Loveland’s Poma, installed in 1970. “It’s in the trees, and on windy days, it’s not so bad.”
Loveland had a second Poma in the valley for ski school. It was removed several years ago, but Magrino said ski schools often favor surface lifts.
“They look at it as extra training because you’re skiing up in addition to down,” he said.
And, hey, you might have trouble with T-bars, but at least they don’t chew up your gloves like tow-ropes in days of yore.
Oh, and here’s a little lift history for the trivia buffs:
– 1932 – Alex Foster invents North America’s first rope tow at Shawbridge, Quebec, using a Dodge truck jacked up on blocks with a rope around a wheel rim.
– 1934 – The U.S. gets its first rope tow at White Cupboard Inn in Woodstock, Vt. Bob and Betty Royce, the resort’s owners, sketched Foster’s design and hired a local mechanic to reproduce it.
– 1934 – Zurich engineer Ernest Constam builds the first J-bar at Davos. Two years later, it’s converted to a T-bar.
– 1936 – Sun Valley, Idaho, gets the world’s first chairlifts. Many early Colorado chairlifts were modeled after or used parts from mine transport machinery. The Sun Valley lifts were modeled after lifts used to load bananas on cargo ships in Central America.
– 1939 – Colorado’s first lifts are installed at Pioneer Ski Area, near Gunnison. The resort opened with a 1,300-foot tram and a rope tow powered by a Model A Ford engine. The two-trail Pioneer closed in 1959.
Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 237, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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