At 9:30 a.m. Sunday, the line to load Whitefish Mountain Resort’s Chair 1 grew. Five inches of overnight snow called even the lazy from their beds. Chomping to hit powder, the line pressed forward as the clock ticked past the lift’s scheduled opening time.
The new $5.2-million chairlift installed by Doppelmayr C-Tech of Salt Lake City has proved cantankerous. It’s sensitive to rime. That same wet ice that creates the mountaintop snowghosts is the lift’s nemesis – shutting it down all day on Jan. 27.
While ski patrol bombed slopes for avalanche control, lift operators loaded about 100 skiers and snowboarders on the lift before cutting off the line. With fits and starts and running far slower than usual, loaded chairs inched their way toward the summit. After those riders debarked, the lift shut down.
High-speed chairlifts detach from the line in the terminal. If chair spacing is off, the computerized system automatically shuts the lift down. “All the moving components get rimed up,” said Tary King, head of the mountain’s ski patrol. “When we first got the old high-speed Chair 1, we had to work the bugs out. Same with Chair 7.”
As ski patrol bombed the East Rim and Hellroaring for avalanche control, those lucky few who made it to the summit bee-lined for the backside. “Everybody on Chair 7 had a private ski area,” said King. They found heavy snow and fog that rimed goggles.
By noon, Chair 1 still circled at slow speeds, loading only ski patrol, but a line formed in anticipation. A boot trail pocked Interstate and Upper Ravine runs as frustrated skiers hiked the summit from the top of Chair 2. After shoveling out ramps and chairs, the resort opened Chairs 4 and 5, as alternate routes to the summit. But by the day’s closing, Chair 1 still failed to load skiers.
As Monday morning’s blizzard hit with 11 inches of overnight snow accompanied by frigid temperatues, Chair 1 was running at normal speed. Explosions resounded down the Whitefish Range front as ski patrol bombed for avalanches. “We went through 60 bombs this morning,” said King. “It was so windy yesterday that slopes reloaded fast. And with the lift down, we didn’t get the volume of skiers to pack the snow.”
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