Teams from Aspen Skiing Co. and its contractors are on the home stretch this week in the massive heavy wire rope replacement business of the Silver Queen Gondola at Aspen Mountain.
The cable, formerly known as the transport cable, lasted 35 years without significant stretching or the need for shortening.
“This is the first time it’s been replaced since the gondola was installed in 1986,” said Katie Ertl, senior vice president of operations at Skico.
This is remarkable, she said, because the chairlift transport cables usually have to be replaced much sooner than that. She attributed the high quality of the original wire rope to its long service life.
The transport rope is 4.9 miles long and weighs 97 tons, according to Ertl. It measures 54 millimeters in diameter and weighs 8.4 pounds per linear foot.
The new rope was trucked to the Buttermilk parking lot on two large spools earlier this spring. The coils were transported down Aspen Street to the base of Elevator 1A on a semi-trailer. Two bulldozers helped hoist the trailers up the dirt roads of lower Aspen Mountain and up the Little Nell slope to access the gondola towers. A flat area under tower four is used to organize the operation.
The two transport cable spools were spliced together, then the new transport cable was spliced to the old cable. So, while the crews pulled the old cable from the hoist towers, sheave wheels, and bull wheels, the new haul cable fed the system.
On Thursday, crews were pulling the ends of the new transport cable together to complete a closed loop.
The Knight Equipment Co. of Bowling Green, Missouri, did the specialist splicing work. Three generations of Knights have exercised the profession. Workers use hand tools to weave strands of cable together along 250-foot sections of the carrying rope. The Skico teams provided the work of moving the heavy rope. Leitner-Poma, the elevator manufacturing company, participated in the project. The Swiss company Fatzer supplied the new wire rope.
Once the closed loop is installed on the elevator infrastructure, the Silver Queen will go through Skico’s internal testing and Colorado Streetcar Safety Board inspection before being cleared for operation.
The opening of the gondola is scheduled for July 2. In the meantime, Buttermilk’s Summit Express elevator has been open on weekends for sightseeing, and starting Monday, the Snowmass Elk Camp gondola and elevator will be open daily until Labor Day. .
After the holidays, the two gondolas will be open on weekends until October 3.
“It’s a over a million dollar project,” Ertl said, citing shipping costs, the price of the new wire rope and labor.
Fortunately, she says, replacing the pull cable isn’t necessary very often. This new rope on the Silver Queen Gondola will likely last for decades
“We won’t see him again during our time in the ski industry,” Ertl said of herself and her peers.