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Sports >  Outdoors

Faster, warmer with Montana’s Big Sky Resort’s new six-passenger lift

UPDATED: Mon., Jan. 24, 2022

By Brett French The Billings Gazette

BILLINGS – This ski season, Big Sky Resort unveiled its ninth high-speed chairlift, Swift Current, touted as the fastest six-person chair in North America.

“Swifty,” as it is called for short, lives up to its name by quietly whisking skiers and snowboarders from the base area more than 1,600 feet uphill in 7 minutes. It’s been a game-changer for clearing out lift lines, according to Stacie Mesuda, public relations manager for Big Sky.

On the Doppelmayr D-Line lift’s inaugural day, when a crowd formed, the queue was emptied before the first passenger landed at the top, she said.

“Big Sky is on a path to rival the best lift systems in the world when the 2025 vision is completed,” said Katharina Schmitz, president, Doppelmayr USA.

Combined with Ramcharger 8, an eight-passenger high-speed bubbled chairlift, the base area’s two main lifts are flying skiers uphill at a pace never dreamed of 60 years ago when rope tows were an industry standard. Together the two chairs can move 6,600 skiers an hour.

“Now with two D-line lifts in the base area, it sets the tone for a world-class experience when guests arrive at the resort,” said Troy Nedved, general manager of Big Sky Resort, in a statement. “We’re one step closer to our goal to be the home of North America’s most technologically-advanced lift system.”

The newest chair replaces a four-passenger lift. With the upgrade, there’s a 50% increase in uphill lift capacity.

Billings skier Tim Hedin called the older lift “brutal.”

“It was a long, cold ride, and definitely caused a bottleneck at the base of Big Sky,” he said. “I definitely avoided some of Big Sky’s long classic runs because you didn’t want to ski them only to have to ride Swifty again.”

Hedin said the new chair changes the dynamic.

“The seats are warm, the bubble keeps you out of the wind and it is so fast it is no longer a lift you want to avoid,” he said. “Swifty has gone from the bottleneck of the resort to the highlight of the hill. Hot Laps on Swifty are now a reality and this lift is a game changer for Big Sky.”

It’s hard to believe it all started back in the 2016-17 ski season when Big Sky Resort unveiled Powder Seeker, its first high-speed heated chairlift with a signature plastic blue bubble to keep the wind off riders. All of the upgrades are part of Boyne USA Resort’s $150 million, 10-year investment plan.

To compliment Swift Current’s capabilities, the resort installed 5 miles of new snowmaking equipment along Mr. K, a groomer green run (easy), allowing early season access to the slope. The landing area at the top of the lift was also widened to lessen congestion.

In keeping with Montana’s love for beer, MAP Brewing in Bozeman crafted a limited run of Swifty Session Pale Ale to celebrate the new lift. A portion of the sales will benefit Big Sky SNO, the community’s sustainability initiative.

Sustainability-themed chairbacks, to educate skiers and riders about the resort’s sustainability initiative and roadmap to net-zero emissions, are also a part of the new chairlifts, mixed in with photographs of area wildlife to remind people of where they are located.

At the end of the day, the press of a button moves the new chairs into a storage facility at the top protecting them from snow and ice. Lift operators no longer have to dust snow off chairs in the morning.

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