Saturday, September 22, 2007
Steamboat Springs The giant mechanical dragonfly that buzzed back and forth over the lower slopes of Steamboat Ski Area on Friday afternoon made short work of installing the 18 towers for the new Christie Peak Express high-speed, six-seat chairlift.
"We're at an hour and 45 minutes and we have one and a half towers left to go," ski area spokesman Mike Lane said as the helicopter slowly dropped the gigantic lift towers into place.
The Sikorsky-Erickson S-64 Skycrane helicopter, almost 90 feet long, is owned by Siller Brothers Aviation of Yuba City, Calif. The aircraft appears cut away where its fuselage might have been. The unusual profile makes the whirlybird ideal for lifting heavy external loads, such as logs in the forest surrounding Yuba City or chairlift towers at Colorado ski resorts. The helicopter's twin engines and six rotor blades are capable of lifting up to 10 tons, depending on altitude.
The Skycrane was able to carry the lift towers with their oversized cross-arms attached. Lane said the heaviest load the chopper picked up Friday weighed 9,800 pounds.
A different helicopter already had flown concrete for the chairlift tower bases in late July. On Friday, employees of lift manufacturer Leitner-Poma had the unenviable task of bolting the towers to the concrete bases while the Skycrane hovered above.
Lane said prior to arriving in Steamboat, the helicopter crew had completed jobs in Vail, Arapahoe Basin and Winter Park.
Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. Marketing and Sales Executive Vice President Andy Wirth said the arrival of the helicopter is a signal that multiple construction projects at the base of the ski area are on time for the scheduled Nov. 22 opening of ski season in Steamboat.
"A lot of locals are getting to see the shape of things to come," Wirth said. He also is the chief marketing officer for Intrawest, Steamboat's parent company.
Wirth said the biggest net effect skiers and riders will experience from the new lift is it will trim the trip to the Christie Summit from two chairlifts to just one, cutting the elapsed time from 20 minutes to five minutes. The new lift will carry 3,200 passengers per hour - more than the ski area's gondola.
Vice President of Mountain Operations Doug Allen said beginners will appreciate the fact that the new lift moves more slowly while passengers get on and off.
Skiers will have the option of disembarking at the top of Headwall, or remaining seated for the ride to Christie Summit.
The lift's lower terminal will sit approximately where the lower Headwall terminal is now.
The Christie Peak Express is part of $16 million in improvements being made at Steamboat Ski Area this summer. In addition to the lift construction, the Headwall trail beneath the new lift is undergoing a major re-grading project that will eliminate a double fall line and create three distinct zones of the slope with different pitches ranging from 9 to 21 percent.
The new lift also permits the removal of several smaller lifts, opening up teaching terrain.
The big helicopter that ferried Christie Peak Express towers this week didn't come cheap. But even at $10,000 an hour, it was a value, Lane said.
"It was definitely well worth it when you consider how fast it got the job done," he said.