Schweitzer getting speedier lifts
SANDPOINT – Schweitzer Mountain Resort is bidding goodbye to Chair One – the original lift that opened the ski resort in 1963 but was increasingly viewed as a slow-moving relic.
After the ski season ends in April, Chair One will be torn down to make room for two high-speed replacement lifts.
Cheers broke out when Schweitzer CEO Tom Chasse announced the changes Thursday at a news conference. Though Chair One has a fond place in locals’ memories, many skiers and snowboarders simply avoid it now. An 11-minute ride to Schweitzer’s South Bowl on Chair One can easily stretch into 20 minutes. And the lift often shuts down in high winds.
“It’s definitely a long ride,” said Lisa Gerber, Schweitzer’s spokeswoman. “Any wind or weather, and you can be sitting there.”
Schweitzer will spend $6 million on the new lifts, which will be ready by Thanksgiving. The Basin Express, a quad, will whisk skiers and snowboarders to a midway station accessing intermediate terrain in less than 4 minutes. The Lakeview Triple lift will begin at the midway station, reaching expert-level terrain at the top of the mountain in another 4 ½ minutes.
Chasse said the new lifts should shorten wait times on the mountain. Chair One can transport 660 people an hour, while the new lifts can haul 3,200 people an hour. And even when high winds howl over the top of the mountain, forcing the shutdown of the upper lift, the Basin Express can continue ferrying skiers and snowboarders to lower-elevation terrain.
“It helps weatherproof our business,” Chasse said.
The new lifts should also ease congestion on the mountain, officials said. Many skiers use the Great Escape Quad to access intermediate runs, because the quad is so much faster than Chair One. Some intermediate level skiers also avoid Chair One because of the steep descent from the midway station, according to Gerber. The unloading area at Basin Express will have a gentler slope, she said.
“Scary as heck,” said Sandpoint resident Billie Jean Plaster, recalling her first dismount from Chair One at the midway station.
She was 15, and barely proficient on Schweitzer’s intermediate runs. A friend had coaxed her onto Chair One, which was long known as the Midway chair. “I’ll never forget that first time,” Plaster said.
Chris Bessler, who has been skiing at Schweitzer for 26 years, felt a certain nostalgia when he learned that Chair One is on its last season. “I have a lot of affection for it,” he said.
To avoid the crowds, he often rides Chair One to the top of the mountain, where the powder is fresh and the skiers and snowboarders are few.
“This will put more people on the mountain,” Bessler said. “Locals don’t want to share.”
Schweitzer will make $10 million in capital improvements to the mountain before next ski season. In addition to the lifts, the resort plans to spend $2 million on additional snowmaking equipment. “It will help us guarantee Thanksgiving openings,” Chasse said.
Schweitzer will spend another $2 million on a sewer upgrade for future real estate expansion. The resort recently opened Schweitzer Land & Timber Co., which is preparing to sell a second phase of home sites in the Trappers Creek subdivision.