The thunderous roar of the Sky Crane helicopter could be heard miles away Monday morning, as the heavy-lift aircraft soared just above the treetops at Homewood Mountain Resort.
As gusts of wind from its rotors whistled through tree branches, the red chopper descended to the ski resort’s southern parking lot, where 13 new chairlift towers were ready for transport to the mountain.
A first for the ski resort known more for its breathtaking views of Lake Tahoe, tree skiing and its stock of aging chairlifts, the detachable, high-speed chairlift was one of the first purchases made by new owner JMA Ventures.
The high-tech lift will replace an antiquated four-person chair known as The Quad.
“I just think it’s going to really change the way people ski and ride at Homewood,” said Rachael Woods, spokeswoman for Homewood’s sister resort, Alpine Meadows. “I remember when [Alpine] replaced the Sherwood chair … it became a completely different experience in a positive way for people. I just think that Homewood’s [going to be] a new place because of that chairlift.”
The $4.5 million high-speed chair will be named the Old Homewood Express, but employees joked about calling it “bout time,” said Homewood Lift Maintenance Assistant Manager Scott Davidson.
On Monday, the helicopter’s crew steadily lowered a 100-foot cable to the ground, where others attached the line to the top end of the tower. In a single, balanced move, the aircraft lifted the tower and carried it above the south-facing slopes, across the ridge to the opposite end of the resort.
The chopper placed the silver tower onto a previously built foundation, where crews bolted it into place and secured it. Installing the towers is one step in the major overhaul of the chairlift, said Amber Kijanka, Homewood’s sales manager.
Crews still need to install the cables, lift terminals and chairs. Test-loading will begin in mid-November, Kijanka said.
The express lift will take passengers from a mid-mountain northern location to the top of Homewood in five minutes ” less than a third of the time passengers endured on the former chairlift, Kijanka said.
“That means more runs for the skiers, that’s for sure,” she said.
Homewood plans to replace more lifts in the coming years, Kijanka said, without specifying which lifts would be replaced.
“I hope [the new lift] actually has people take a look again at Homewood,” Kijanka said. “It’s kind of that mountain that people have forgotten.”
The new high-speed lift is a first of several significant developments planned for Homewood in the near future. JMA Ventures has released plans for a mid-mountain lodge accessed by gondola, underground parking, a bike-path extension and private residences at the south base.
Homewood isn’t the only resort making significant changes and improvements to their mountain infrastructure.
Squaw Valley replaced the chairlift at Shirley Lake, which accesses 375 acres of intermediate terrain, with a high-speed six-pack, said spokesperson Savannah Cowley.
Squaw is also trenching the super-pipe in Central Park at Riviera with snow-making equipment, which means the pipe will be accessible from the first days of the season through the warmer days of spring, Cowley said.
Northstar added four new trails, bringing the resort’s total to 83 and increasing the resort’s accessible acreage to 2,490.
Sugar Bowl made improvements in its customer service arena and launched a new Web site design, said Marketing Coordinator Assistant Cory Maier.
As for Alpine Meadows, Woods said the ski resort does not plan any immediate improvements, but with new ownership comes new leadership. Alpine will open the season with a new general manager, director of resort services and marketing director.
“There are so many great people who are now on-board with our team,” Woods said. “I think that it’s going to do nothing more than benefit both Alpine and the community.”
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