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Second tram car should be back in operation at Alaska ski resort next month

Craig Medred
The New Year's Eve accident that left a tram car impaled on a tower as 2013 began shut Alyeska's tram service down for about six weeks.

Alyeska Resort reports hopes to have its second tram car back in action by May 23 -- five months after what was first portrayed as a relatively minor accident left the car impaled on a tram tower.

The New Year's Eve accident shut the entire tram down for a month and a half. Service resumed in the middle of February, but with only one cabin. An 8,000-pound, steel ballast car took the place of the other cabin to act as a necessary counterweight for the lift.

The lack of a second cabin cut lift capacity in half and doubled the time it took skiers to get up the mountain. But Alyeska looks ready to have the tram fully operational by summer.

"Repairs of the damaged tram cabin, made by CWA Constructions of Switzerland, are nearly complete," the resort said in a press release. "Tram operations will cease on or about April 23, 2013, (for) final repairs.”  It’s expected to reopen with the two cabins a month later.

What with the tram shutting down for a month later in April, and installation of a new Chair 6 due to cut off upper-mountain skiing at the start of May, those looking for some spring turns might want to beat it south to Girdwood quick.

"Due to the installation of a new Chair 6, there will be no May skiing this year," the resort reported. "During the summer season certain areas of the mountain will (also) be closed intermittently to hiking, biking and other traffic.''

That's the bad news. The good news is that the badly aging Chair 6 will be new next ski season. Alyeska says it's spending $6 million on the installation of a high-speed detachable quad from Doppelmayr USA Inc. 

The new chair is to be running by Oct. 31. 

"Servicing high volumes of skiers and riders, the existing Chair 6 provides primary lift access to the upper mountain trails …  and is considered by many to be the heart and soul of Alyeska Ski Resort,'' a press release noted. But the existing lift is now 25 years old and showing the wear and tear of heavy use in a hostile environment.

Everyone seems happy to see it replaced.

 “I am very excited for this new addition,” said Di Hiibner, the ski area's general manager. “We are committed to ensuring we have a reliable chairlift for our guests. With this new lift, Alyeska Resort will have invested over $14 million dollars in ski-area improvements over the last two years. "

The new Chair 6 will be in the same place on the mountain as the old Chair 6, but built differently. A newer design, Alyeska reported, will require "terrain re‐grading for both top and bottom lift terminals, removal of existing lift towers, extensive electrical and utility work, as well as overall summer road improvements in order to accommodate the heavy machinery needed to install the new chairlift.

The project includes installing a new weather station at the top, upgrading utilities and installing natural gas.

To help summer visitors deal with construction on the mountain, Alyeska reported it is going to update its SKI-SNOW hotline, 907-754-7669, and its website’s Summer Trails Report regularly. The mountain is suggesting everyone check for construction updates before heading up the mountain to go hiking or biking.

Once the snow melts, of course.

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com