CHAMPION – While most people are finding ways to stay cool in the oppressive heat and humidity, Seven Springs Mountain Resort is focused on moving skiers and snowboarders more efficiently to the top of the slopes this winter.
Construction continues on a new Avalanche chairlift on the resort’s front face, as the Doppelmayr “Alpen Star” four-seater’s towers now grace the black diamond Avalanche slope above the steel skeletal remains of the 42-year-old former chairlift house.
“It’s gone together really well,” said Joel Rerko, director of mountain operations at the Somerset County resort. “We’ve gotten good weather. The contractors, local contractors and Dopplemayr contractors, have been great to work with. We’re ahead of schedule at this point.”
European-based Doppelmayr, with American headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, has had its own crews installing the new lift since the third week of May, as local contractors remove the old system.
“We hope to be done by the end of July, and then Labor and Industry for the state will come in the fall to inspect it,” Rerko said.
The fixed-grip lift will not be as fast as the detachable style Polar Bear and Gunner express lifts at the resort, but it will be faster and more efficient than its predecessor.
“It will increase our uphill capacity from 1,800 people per hour to 2,400 people per hour, so it will move a lot more people up the hill,” Rerko said. “The speed has also increased from the old lift. The old lift was 385 feet per minute, and this lift is 450 feet per minute. So it’s quite a bit faster – 450 is about as fast as fixed-grips can go.”
Rerko said the new bottom-tension/top-drive lift will shave off about one minute on the usual ride up Avalanche, and will whisk skiers and boarders to the top in just four minutes and 20 seconds. That ride has even been extended further up the hill.
“It’s a couple hundred feet longer at the top than the old one,” Rerko said. “There’s a new unload location at the top. It’s kind of tucked behind the existing Tyrol unload. That clever upgrade will be much more user-friendly. It will really help skiers traversing from Avalanche across the top of the front face to get back to Polar Bear, Wagner and the ski lodge.
“Previously there was a push across the top, from the top of Avalanche. This will help a lot with getting people back to the ski lodge, but also still provide great access to this side of the mountain.”
‘It’s a big investment’
With seven high cable towers that lean downhill, the new lift is different.
“If they’re completely vertical, there’s kind of a break-over at every tower,” Rerko said. “Leaning them back a little bit actually makes for a smoother ride.”
Snowmaking on the Avalanche slope will be upgraded as well to take advantage of prevailing winds.
“By adding the center string (of snowmakers), it will really help with snow depth on the skier’s right of Avalanche, so it should be open a lot more than it has been previously,” Rerko said, who admitted the resort always had a hard time keeping a good base on the skier’s far right side.
A small island of pines near the slope’s bottom was removed to accommodate one of the towers, and lighting will be moved from center-slope to skiers-right as well.
Rerko said the upgrades have been on the planning table for five to six years, with great care taken to assure that everything was done right.
“It’s a big investment, obviously,” he said. “And this lift will be here for 40-plus years.”
Other upgrades at the resort include the addition of eight axe-throwing lanes inside the Foggy Goggle, which expanded several hundred square feet with the removal of a car port. Targets are projected onto slices of logs, with programmable games with score-keeping.
Whether patrons are trying to stop zombies or complete a game of tic-tac-toe, for the first time they will be able to do so year-round and during the week, as the establishment is now open other than in winter or during special events, and is hosting live bands on weekends.