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Snowbird’s high-speed, flying couches are a far cry from your parents’ chairlifts, with technological advances creating quick rides that skiers and snowboarders love. The Baldy, Gad 2, Gadzoom, Little Cloud, Mineral Basin and Peruvian lifts – known as detachable because their chairs separate from the haul cable when passing through stations – cruise at a brisk 10-12 miles per hour. That’s more than double the speed of the original chairs that opened at Snowbird in 1971, known technically as fixed-grip lifts. The key to a detachable system is that chairs slow by 80 percent for seamless loading and unloading in stations. The concept is simple but it takes countless moving parts and people to make these techie chairlifts tick. Next time you ride in a high-speed chair, look up at the spring-loaded mechanism above you, called a grip. When you arrive at the top, steel rails compress the powerful springs, opening a jaw and temporarily freeing your chair from the fast-moving line. With the lift cable (called a haul rope by lift staff) immediately headed back down the hill, a series of tires take over above to drive the grip smoothly through the station. Rubber wheels ride on two rails, making the chairs a lot like trains on a track. For maintenance purposes, there are even railroad-style junctions and sidings. On the far side of the terminal, beyond where you ski down the unload ramp, more tires accelerate the chair.

The grip’s jaws are pressed open once again and closed back on the cable for another lap. With quad chairs spaced just six to 10 seconds apart, this remarkable process repeats some 35,000 times on an average winter day at Snowbird. Because these metal grips are always moving and key to the safe operation of lifts, they are periodically pulled from service and tested for imperfections at microscopic levels. Amazingly, a single detachable lift station includes around 70 tires that are all linked together with belts and gears to stay perfectly in sync, even when the lift slows or stops. Yes, that means on the rare occasion a detachable lift experiences a mechanical delay, it’s sometimes due to a simple flat tire! Dozens of sensors, switches and a central control system constantly monitor everything from grip attachment points to wheel speeds and rope positions. Detachable lifts include a spacing system that can briefly slow down or speed up a chair to maintain proper distances between hundreds of carriers. On a high-speed lift’s towers, switches monitor rope location and key towers feature wind instruments to help staff during storms. On the newest models, lift operators can even track specific chairs on a touchscreen to better assist guests with special needs.

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Snowbird Magazine | 2017-18  
Snowbird Magazine | 2017-18  
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