Outdoors

3 new chairlifts highlight what’s new for 2014-15 ski season

Ingrid Backstrom has fond memories of Chair 6.

Since 1976, Crystal Mountain’s two-seat lift deposited skiers and snowboarders atop Campbell Basin, where there is no easy way down.

“It was a proving ground as a teenager,” said Backstrom, a professional skier who honed her craft at Crystal before becoming one of the sport’s most accomplished athletes. “It’s just an awesome area.”

A short hike puts skiers on top of Silver King, and gives them access to runs with names like Brain Damage. It was on top of this peak where Backstrom’s husband, Jim Delzer, proposed to her last winter.

On March 10, the iconic lift was destroyed by an avalanche started intentionally by the ski patrol during avalanche control work.

“It was such a bummer,” Backstrom said.

It’s proved, however, to be a blessing in disguise.

The old lift was going to be replaced in the coming years, although a timeline had not been finalized. The avalanche bumped the project to the top of Crystal’s priority list.

Chair 6, known officially as High Campbell, is one of three new chairlifts coming to the Cascades this winter. Crystal is also replacing the 49-year-old Quicksilver lift to upgrade its learning area. The Summit at Snoqualmie is installing a new lift at Summit East.

Crystal Mountain spent $3.8 million on its new lifts. The new Chair 6 is similar to its predecessor. It’s about the same speed and it’s still a two-seater. But Crystal Mountain marketing director Tiana Anderson says the 85 seats are about twice as heavy as the old lift.

This could mean fewer days when the lift is closed because of strong winds, she said.

The new Quicksilver lift is a fixed-grip quad that can haul 1,800 intermediate and beginner skiers up the hill per hour. Ride time is now 7.6 minutes, about half the time of the predecessor.

The slope under the lift has been re-graded and the skiers are now deposited about 150 feet lower on the hill to eliminate an intermediate pitch that used to keep beginners away. This, Anderson said, gives new skiers and boarders a more natural progression from the beginner slopes toward the upper-mountain runs.

At the Summit, the new Rampart lift will service new and existing trails at Summit East. The lift includes a conveyor belt loading system that delivers skiers and boarders to their seat.

The $2 million lift puts the finishing touches on the Silver Fir and Summit East “family-friendly zone,” said resort spokesman Guy Lawrence. The seven-year project has include new lifts, new terrain and last season’s addition, the 10,000-square-foot Silver Fir Lodge.

Lawrence says the area is an ideal spot for intermediate skiers and snowboarders, and the hope is it will pull them from other areas and relieve weekend congestion at popular parts of the state’s most visited ski area.

An opening date for Rampart hasn’t been announced. “We’d be tickled if it (the new lift) was open by late December,” Lawrence said, “but it’s hard to say for sure.”

The new lifts aren’t the only new toys Northwest skiers and boarders can expect this season. Here are some of the other highlights:

THE SKI MUSEUM

If everything goes as planned, visitors to Snoqualmie Pass will be able to get an up-close look at an Olympic Gold medal and a World Cup overall championship trophy by the end of this season.

Dave Moffett, president of the long-awaited Washington State Ski and Snowboard Museum, says the facility should open by late March or early April.

The museum will be located inside a development near the Summit West base area.

The centerpieces of the museum will be the gold medal Seattle’s Debbie Armstrong won at the 1984 Winter Olympics and one of three World Cup overall trophies won by Yakima’s Phil Mahre from 1981-83. Armstrong’s mom, Dollie, and dad, Hugh, are the vice president and secretary of the museum.

Moffett described it as an interactive storytelling museum with monitors showing short documentaries about the history of the sport in Washington.

The effort to build a state ski history museum has been underway for 20 years. “It’s exciting to be getting close,” Moffett said.

BACHELOR SNEAK PEAK

Mount Bachelor is still at least a year away from putting in a new chairlift for its first new set of trails since 1996, but about 500 acres of new terrain is available to ski this winter.

According to the resort’s website, the terrain has a mostly intermediate pitch, but will be restricted to experts because the area, as you’d expect from any bachelor, will not be groomed.

Accessing the terrain will require a 20- to 25-minute hike until the lift is constructed.

SUN PEAKS EXPANSION

Sun Peaks, already one of British Columbia’s most popular destination ski resorts, is unveiling more than 500 acres of new terrain this year. The expansion grows the resort to 4,270 acres of inbounds skiing, second most in Canada behind Whistler Blackcomb’s 7,494 acres.

Among the highlights, Sun Peaks is bringing the popular Gil’s backcountry terrain inside its boundaries. And the new West Morrisey area will offer steep tree skiing.

GONDOLA UPDRAGES AT WHISTLER

Whistler Blackcomb shelled out $6 million in the offseason to upgrade its aging Whistler Village Gondola. The primary access to upper Whistler Mountain, the gondola opened in 1988. The gondola will still take about 25 minutes to climb 3,690 feet, but the resort has replaced the cabins and is promising a more comfortable ride. The cabins seat eight.

RED MOUNTAIN EXPANSION

Red Mountain, a Rossland, B.C., resort about a 120-mile drive north of Spokane, is adding new terrain again.

After adding 1,000 acres in 2013, Red is adding 200 acres of gladed tree skiing and three new runs on Mount Kirkup. Visitors will access the area via snow cat.

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