Vail Mountain confident in December openings for new Sun Down, Game Creek lifts

Several new lifts coming to region in coming months from Leitner-Poma

John LaConte
Vail Daily
Fresh tracks can be seen in the morning off to the side of the Mountaintop Express at Vail on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

VAIL — Vail Mountain is confident in achieving December openings for the new Sun Down Express lift and the newly upgraded Game Creek Express lift.

The mountain this week released pictures of the project and said concrete foundations were poured, lift towers were flown into place and sheave assemblies were bolted onto the towers earlier this fall.

Much snow has fallen since then — Vail Mountain has recorded 58 inches so far this season — but it hasn’t affected the timeline of the project, the mountain said in a post published Friday.

“Don’t worry, we’re used to working in the snow, so the early season snowfall hasn’t slowed us down one bit. But you may see one more helicopter flying when we splice the haul rope for the new Sun Down Express (#17) to make sure we navigate the snowier terrain more safely,” Vail Mountain said in the post. “This helicopter will fly a line which will be used to pull the haul rope cable over the tower equipment prior to splicing the haul rope. It should be a pretty awesome day, which we’ll make sure to capture and share with everyone.”

Final preparations

The Sun Down Express line will be a detachable quad chair from Leitner Poma, designed to reduce congestion at the bottom of the High Noon Express (No. 5), from which there is no other exit than the lift.

A similar situation exists at the bottom of the Game Creek Express (No. 7), prompting Vail Mountain to replace that lift with a six-person detachable chair, also from Leitner Poma. The action in that area has stalled the opening of the Wildwood Express chairlift (No. 3), which accesses the same area.

“This week, the last of our major lift components arrived to the top of the mountain near Wildwood Express, where our teams will start the final preparations of our two new lifts,” Vail Mountain said in its post on Friday.

Vail said the work from mountain crews and Leitner Poma has been going well in Game Creek and is progressing in a way that will allow Game Creek Bowl to hit its traditional opening timeframe in early December.

Leitner-Poma busy

It has been a busy construction season for Leitner-Poma in Colorado. In addition to working on the Vail Mountain lifts, the company is also installing the upgraded Lenawee Lift at Arapahoe Basin.

A-Basin’s entire lift fleet is from Leitner-Poma, with the average age of a lift there being just 6 years old.

“We believe we have the youngest lift fleet in North America,” said Katherine Fuller with A-Basin.

Like the new Game Creek Express in Vail, the new Lenawee Express at A-Basin will be a six-seater from Leitner-Poma.

“We chose six-seat carriers for their weight; the larger chairs will be less susceptible to the high-alpine winds that can grace the top of our mountain,” Fuller said. “So, we should see far fewer wind slowdowns and stoppages with the new lift. It also allows us to increase uphill capacity from 1,800 an hour to 2,400 an hour which, again, is about spreading people out more quickly and minimizing lift lines all over the mountain.”

The lift’s new haul rope was installed last week, and rope splicing is scheduled to begin on Thursday.

“That means we’ll be hanging carriers (chairs) within a few days,” Fuller said.

A new lift at Keystone was planned for the mountain’s lift-serviced expansion into the area known as Bergman Bowl, but the project was put on hold this summer due to environmental concerns with construction. That lift was also a six-seater, also from Leitner-Poma.

In Vail, Leitner Poma’s work on the mountain’s two new lifts has not been held back by recent snowfall, Vail officials said, adding that the opening of the terrain serviced by the new lifts will in fact require more snowfall.

“Over the past decade we’ve traditionally opened Game Creek Bowl in early December and Sun Down Bowl in mid to late December,” Vail Mountain said in its post on Friday. “We’re feeling confident about having the lifts ready to go in December and hopeful that Mother Nature will send us snow in time so we can achieve the traditional dates for opening that terrain. … If Mother Nature goes bonkers and we keep getting more and more snow, we can open Sun Up and Sun Down Bowls with High Noon Express (#5) and Sun Up Express (#9), as well as China Bowl, Tea Cup Bowl, Blue Sky Basin and the rest of the gang.”

This story is from

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Summit Daily is embarking on a multiyear project to digitize its archives going back to 1989 and make them available to the public in partnership with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. The full project is expected to cost about $165,000. All donations made in 2023 will go directly toward this project.

Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.