Big Sky Resort, in Montana, recently announced the addition of a new chairlift on the resort’s Andesite Mountain. This isn’t an average high-speed quad, though. The new Doppelmayr chair, which is slated to be installed by next ski season, will fit a whopping eight people and boasts extra-wide, heated seats, auto-locking safety bars and an enclosed plastic bubble to keep storms at bay. This will be the first eight-passenger chairlift in North America.
“We are excited for our guests to experience the most comfortable … chair in the world next winter at Big Sky, and to work with the resort team and community to recognize the resort’s full potential—rivaling the best of the Alps and our North American brethren,” Stephen Kircher, president of Boyne Resorts, which owns Big Sky, said in a statement.
Called the Ramcharger 8, the new lift will replace an older, existing chair, and Big Sky estimates the new, higher-capacity lift will reduce lines by around 30 percent.
The world’s first eight-person chairlift debuted in the late ’90s in Norway, and they’ve become relatively common in countries like Austria and France. In 2016, more than half a dozen eight-seaters debuted across Europe, including a super deluxe one in Kitzbühel, Austria, that has slip-proof leather seats inspired by the auto industry. But until now, North American resorts have stuck to six- and four-person high-speed lifts.
“American ski resorts have typically built simple and functional lifts, not necessarily flashy ones packed with features,” says Peter Landsman, author of the chairlift news site liftblog.com, and the supervisor of Jackson Hole’s Sweetwater Gondola. “There has been significant consolidation of resorts recently, and the first eight-seater [in North America] is a way for Big Sky to stand out in the marketplace. The lift is a perfect fit to move people out of the base area and into popular intermediate terrain. Big Sky rarely has any lift lines and this will keep it that way.”
North America has seen an increase in high-tech lifts and gondolas in recent years. Whistler-Blackcomb’s Peak 2 Peak Gondola, which opened in 2008 in British Columbia, broke records for the longest unsupported span between lift towers, and select gondolas feature a glass floor. The Canyons, now part of Park City Mountain Resort in Utah, built America’s first heated chairlift in 2010, and now you’ll find heated seats at Okemo, Vermont; Sunshine Village, Alberta; and elsewhere.
Vail, Colorado, added a gondola in 2012 with heated seats and free Wi-Fi on your way up the mountain. Aspen Mountain’s Silver Queen Gondola has solar-powered smartphone docking stations to play music. In 2008, Sunday River, in Maine, opened a $7.2 million “chondola,” half chairlift, half gondola, and next winter, Copper Mountain, Colorado, plans to add a similar hybrid lift.
Still, Europe has set the bar for the most innovative lift technology. Take Finland’s sauna gondola, where you can sweat in a sauna as you soar over Finnish Lapland at a ski area called Sport Resort Ylläs. At Klosters-Madrisa, in the Swiss Alps, a six-person chairlift built in 2016 was designed to help those on adaptive mono-skis load the chair by themselves. In Engelberg, Switzerland, the Titlis Rotair, the world’s first revolving cable car, rotates 360 degrees on its way up the mountain to offer panoramic views in every direction.
So what will lift manufacturers think of next? Are 10-person chairlifts in our future?
“I don’t think chairlifts will go any larger than eight,” Landsman says. “There comes a point where the logistics of lining so many people up together and designing a machine so wide become prohibitive. But there is a trend toward larger gondolas that move lots of people in comfort but are also easy to load and unload.”