Category Archives: Ski Resorts

Ski Area Operator’s Worst Nightmare

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You might have seen this one on Unofficial Networks. Basically it’s your worst nightmare. The title is Every Skiers Nightmare, but really this is every ski operator’s nightmare too. One big gust of wind and that cable comes right off the line. Scary stuff. Chairlifts in N. America are regulated by a tram board. One of the basic requirements on all chairlifts is that the sheeve assemblies (the little wheels that the cable rides on) have a cable catcher that doesn’t allow this to happen. I’m not even sure how this is possible. But it’s ugly.

Deropement

This is what it looks like without a cable catcher.

 

 

 

 

Last week in Slovakia a flood and subsequent landslide destroyed the base area of Vråtna ski area. This one, too, sent a chill down my spine. According to the ski area’s Facebook page, no one was injured. But several million dollars worth of damage has been done to the ski area. Those Dopplemeyer gondolas don’t come cheap.

Gondola cabins inundated with landslide

Gondola cabins inundated with landslide

Vråtna's Gondola gets destroyed in landslide

Vråtna’s Gondola gets destroyed in landslide

 

 

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New and Improved Chair 6 for 2014-15 Season

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As promised, Crystal Mountain will rebuild Chair 6 this summer. The chair, formerly known as High Campbell, was demolished in an avalanche earlier this year. I happened to see it firsthand since I was on the avalanche team that set off the slide. It was an historic wet slab avalanche that slid well down onto Queens Run, the green circle groomer below the slide path. The avalanche occurred at 4:40pm on March 10th after the ski area was closed. If you’ve been to Crystal in the last month, then you’ve seen the destruction not just on The Throne, but in Bear Pits, Employee Housing and Powder Bowl. (During the same time that these explosive-released avalanches occurred at Crystal, natural avalanches of similar size were happening around us in Crystal Lakes Basin as well as on Governor’s Ridge, both in Mt. Rainier National Park.)

Skytrac to build the new Chair 6 at Crystal Mountain

Skytrac to build the new Chair 6 at Crystal Mountain

The new Chair 6 will be a new double chair made by Skytrac, the only American ski lift manufacturer. Both terminals will be in the same place as the old High Campbell chair. The old concrete footings for the towers will also be used, which will reduce cost and materials. The capacity will be the same as the old one, which means it won’t get tracked any faster.

The chairs themselves will be more than double the weight of the old chairs, which means that the new Chair 6 will operate better in high winds. John Kircher, my husband and Crystal’s GM, expects to run the new chair in higher winds. He says that winds exceeding the chair’s ability to run would be too strong for skiers and riders anyways. In addition, the unload area will be bigger and will ease the double black diamond offload of the old days.

Gazex Exploder

Gazex Exploder

Since we’ve got the helicopters hauling materials to the summit, we might as well make the most of it. Crystal is also installing three Gazex exploders in Powder Bowl to help mitigate avalanches. These exploders, ubiquitous in the Alps and relatively new to North America, use propane and oxygen to deliver a 360 degree blast. The mixing shed that houses the tanks will be at the summit of the Queen and the three exploders (which look like bent-over lift towers) will be spread out on the left side of Powder Bowl.

Another improvement slated for the top of the new Chair 6 is–get this–snowmaking! We won’t be installing the snowmaking this summer due to some necessary environmental work, but we hope to get it going for 2015-16. Gone will be the rock-hopping, ski/board removal and side-stepping of yore.

We are hoping to solve a myriad of problems with this new lift. Moments after that ill-fated avalanche ripped off The Throne over a month ago, I was sick to my stomach. We’d destroyed an iconic lift. We’d cost the company tons of money. An entire pod of skiing was done for the season. My husband wasn’t going to be happy with me.

But as it turns out, the insurance is covering the replacement cost and the new lift will be better than the old one. It will operate at higher winds; the off-load will more user-friendly; and it will give us a chance to install Gazex and snowmaking.

So things are looking up.

 

Riding a Chairlift

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Niseko Japan

Single Chairlifts offer lots of time to think

The number one objective of a ski area is to provide uphill transportation. All the other stuff–the schincter-tightening bowls, the alpine-style restaurants, the crowded bathrooms, the fresh corduroy, the terrain parks with the their diligent crews raking and raking, the ski instructors with impossibly perfect hair–all of that is just a bonus. A ski area wouldn’t be a ski area without a way to get you uphill.

I’ve ridden a lot of chairlifts in my life. And yes, they are very efficient at getting me back to the top. But they have another purpose too. Chairlifts are a place to stop, to regroup, to remember why it is I live in the mountains, why I love to slide on snow, and why I could never live in the city.

Sometimes it feels like I’ve lived entire lifetimes seated on a lift. I’ve laughed with friends and cried alone. I’ve been mesmerized by the brilliant sparkle of sun on snow; I’ve witnessed marriage proposals and spectacular crashes. I’ve also noticed work to be done–tower pads that needed raising, sticks of bamboo that needed straightening, pieces of trash that needed to be picked up.

Last week I spoke at my father’s funeral. The very act of getting up in front of family and friends and declaring the importance of such a great man in my life has altered something in me. It has made me reevaluate what is truly important.

Big Sky, MT

Big Sky, MT

For years on my father’s desk he kept a motto written on a yellow sticky note. It read, “If it’s green, golf it. If it’s white, ski it. We’re not here for a long time. We’re here for a good time.”

Life provides us with all too many opportunities to waste our days. Jealousy, anger, having far too thin of skin, taking things personally, these all help us squander our short time here. Distraction from real life is another wasteful act.

We're riding a lift!

We’re riding a lift!

 

But riding a chairlift is an opportunity to engage. Sometimes draw-droppingly picturesque and other times cloaked in clouds, the views always change. No matter what the scenery offers, I always remember to stop. To breathe. To look around. To remember what it important.

Because like a brilliant man once said, we’re not here for a long time. We’re here for a good time.

Possible Crystal Mountain Opening Tomorrow

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This is good news. Really good news.

It's dumping

It’s dumping

Crystal might open tomorrow. There’s almost enough snow in Green Valley to spin the lifts, and if we get the forecasted snow (fingers crossed) then we can do it.

I spent the day in Green Valley today, setting up bamboo ropelines and watching the skies carefully. It has now started to snow heavily–snowflakes the size of ten-year-olds. The old crust is supportive, and the turns were actually quite good. A little bit more and it will be like Rocktoberfest–the earlier “Valley Only” opening we did in October. If you were there, or if you heard about it, you know how good it was.

Tomorrow morning at 5am we will make the call. John and I plan to ride the gondola at 4:30am with our headlamps, take a lap into the valley and go from there. I, for one, am hoping for good things.

If you have plans tomorrow, you might want to put them on hold. Once we make that 5am decision, it will go out on the website and Facebook.

So stay tuned and think snow.

Scary Gondola Ride

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Gondola in wind

Yikes

Mountain weather is the real deal. Wind, snow, sun, even rain can change a beautiful scene to a pretty darn scary one.  I found this video on unofficialnetworks and had to share it.

We often have to shut the upper mountain down at Crystal due to high winds. And sometimes that seems questionable, especially from the relative calm of the valley bottom. Take a look at this video and consider whether you’d rather be riding in this cabin in high wind wishing you were “down there” or standing at the bottom wishing you were “up there.” Yikes.

Are Adventure Town Locals Really Necessary?

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Is it still possible to chuck it all and become a ski bum? Or has the new resort landscape pushed the local culture out of the valleys they once called home?

Are locals even important anymore?

ski_bum

One of my favorite ski bums

Back in the Wild West days of the 80s (when I was a teenager on spring break in Sun Valley wanting so badly to own a pair of ISKI sunglasses and stretch pants) ski bums created the culture. Tourists wanted to emulate them–envying their ski-at-all-costs mentality.

Today ski towns are more chi-chi than ski. Ski areas have become ski resorts. And what has always been an expensive sport is edging out those that have somehow “made it work.”

Jeremy-Evans-Author

Jeremy Evans

While I’d argue this isn’t true everywhere, it certainly seems apparent in the more established ski towns around the West.

What’s left might be smaller ski areas with fewer employment opportunities, with places like Park City, Crested Butte and Aspen now a vacation spot for the 1% crowd.

This week on The Edge, I’m interviewing author and adventurer Jeremy Evans.

Whether exploring a ski town or a surfing village, Evans delves into the importance of the individuals that make a place home.

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Tune in this week to The Edge as I talk to Evans about ski bums that made it work and the value of living life on the edge. Have a question for Evans? Leave a comment here or call in live on Wednesday at 8am 1-888-346-9144.

Deep Thoughts on a Chairlift

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Chairlifts are great places to engage in deep thoughts. Or shallow thoughts, even. I came across this video recently and had to share it. The narrator, a self-declared ski bum challenged by complicated math problems, shows here that the purpose of a chairlift is more than just uphill transportation. It’s a chance to go deep. Really deep. As evidenced by this string of thoughts, “I love skiing powder. I love powder skiing. That one powder day in ’96 when my third run down the stairs was top ten ever. Or was that ’99? I’ve spent 104 straight days, 24 hours a day riding a chairlift…that’s a pretty cool thought.”

Check it out. What are your deep chairlift thoughts?