OK, so what does a ski area’s lift system have to do with snow? In this day and age of time deprivation, there is a rush to do more things in less time – and that extends to skiing. After all, vacation time is precious, and lift tickets are expensive. The more we have to either wait in line, or wait on the chairlift until we can start the next run, the less skiing time we get. Hence, ski areas – always looking to improve the on-mountain skiing experience of the paying public – are continually investing in their infrastructure to accommodate a greater volume of skiers, especially at peak times during the season. This includes faster lifts. Let’s take the Winter Park example.
Winter Park Resort has twenty-five lifts including one high-speed six-pack, seven high-speed express quads, five triples, seven double chairlifts, three surface lifts and two conveyors provide an uphill capacity of 36,920 riders per hour. The new high-speed detachable six-pack chairlift, designed by Leitner-Poma of America, was introduced in the 2005-06 ski season, and replaced the existing high-speed Summit Express quad, and transports up to 2,600 passengers an hour. All this of course assumes that the lifts never stop, and we all know that that never happens, right?
So while high-speed, higher-capacity chairlifts transport skiers up the mountain, this means they can take more runs, which means the snow gets worn down that much faster. More importantly, trails covered with fresh powder get “tracked-out” that much quicker. At times of the season when snow is sparse, conditions get considerably worse, that much faster, leading to hard-packed, sometimes icy conditions, and consequently a greater incidence of injuries. Q.E.D: faster lifts = poorer snow.
For those (weird) people out there who are really interested in the chairlifts themselves and some history, check out these two websites: Skilifts – a website devoted to the aerial lift industry, and the Colorado Chairlift Resource Industry.