Powder Mountain's oldest lift is being replaced

Tuesday , August 19, 2014 - 12:11 PM

EDEN — With summer’s heat just starting to fade, crews have started tackling the task of dismantling the 42-year-old Sundown lift at Powder Mountain Ski Resort to make way for a new Skytrac fixed quad in its place.

The old double-chair lift that ferried skiers up to Sundown Ridge for day and night skiing started running in early 1972 when Alvin Cobabe first opened the mountain’s majestic slopes to winter recreationists.

“We started building Sundown toward the end of 1971, and it opened up Presidents Day (Feb. 19), 1972,” recalled Marc Paulsen, husband of Aleta Cobabe, Alvin Cobabe’s youngest daughter. Paulsen served as Powder Mountain’s marketing director for several years. 

The Cobabe family raised funds to build the road, lodge and lift by selling off land in Scare canyon in 40-acre parcels, Paulsen said.

Sundown was the first lift manufactured by Thiokol, he added. Thiokol — bought out by Alliant Techsystems in 2001 — also made Powder Mountain’s triple-chair Timberline lift, which began operating in late 1972.

“For Thiokol, it was cutting edge,” Paulsen said. 

In 2006, the 88-year-old Cobabe sold Powder Mountain Inc. to Western American Holdings, and Summit, a collective of youthful entrepreneurs, purchased the 10,000-acre mountain, ski resort included, in 2013. 

Paul Strange, Summit’s chief operating officer, said Sundown was its most heavily used lift because it ran from morning until night. But now, the old lift is being ushered into history.

Over the past week and a half, the large wheels on each tower have been removed, cables have been cut and the wood structure at the bottom is coming down. A new quad lift, manufactured by Salt Lake City-based Skytrac, will be installed in its place and should be ready to haul skiers and boarders uphill when the season opens this winter. 

Carl Skyling, general manager for Skytrac, said the fixed-grip quad provides a good fit for the relatively short Sundown climb. Skytrac is also disassembling the old lift, a process that Skyling said is about halfway finished. When complete, the new lift will tote skiers to the top in about 4.3 minutes, he said.

Specifications for the new lift list eight towers, a slope length of 1,944 feet, a 567-foot vertical climb, line speed of 450 feet per minute, and people-per-hour capacity of 1,500 to 2,100.

For now, the scores of old Sundown chairs have been put into storage pending further discussion about their future use or disposition.

“They’re kind of historic,” Strange said, “We’re considering possibly giving them to charities to auction off. But fundamentally we haven’t made decisions about what to do with them.”

Once complete, regulars to the ski resort should quickly notice Powder Mountain’s updated entry.

“It’s the first lift you see when you come to our mountain,” Strange said. 

Paulsen said he’s pleased with Summit’s handling of the mountain so far.

“They really want to keep it pristine and make it available to more people,” Paulsen said. “But they also want to keep the quaintness. The new owners are not only assuring the family of that, but we’ve seen it as they’ve worked the mountain for over a year now. We’re happy with what they’re doing.”

Sean Wilkinson, planning director for Weber County, said Powder Mountain’s new lift falls under a conditional use amendment that goes before the Ogden Valley Planning Commission on Aug. 26. 

“The plans are being reviewed,” Wilkinson said, “and once the permit is issued, there will have to be inspections” during various aspects of the new lift’s installation.

According to the National Ski Area Association, fatalities due to ski lift malfunctions are exceedingly rare — 13 since 1973  — and riding in elevators carries greater risk. In January 2012, a 19-year-old University of Utah student fell to her death from a lift at the Canyons Resort in Park City after suffering a seizure, but the lift itself did not malfunction.

Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or cmckitrick@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.

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