Thursday, October 17, 2002
Steamboat Springs After 18 years on the job, the haul rope on the Elkhead chairlift at the Steamboat Ski Area needed to be replaced. It was a weighty matter for the lift maintenance crews at Steamboat.
"The big deal on this project was the weights we were dealing with," Mountain Manager Doug Allen said. "Elkhead lift is 2,440 feet long. The rope is twice that long, or 4,880 feet. At a little more than nine pounds per foot, the rope (actually a woven steel cable) weighs 22,000 pounds."
That's 11 tons of cable.
The challenge was to find a way to safely and efficiently wind the old haul rope onto a spool while unwinding the new replacement. Members of Steamboat's lift, slope and vehicle maintenance departments worked together to design and build a special device they called the "Cable Spooler" to get the job done. The machine is an adaptation of a snow cat typically used to groom snow in winter. Among the employees working on the project were Tim McConnell, Mike Tweedy, Kurt Caster, Jay Peterson, Frank Case and Frank Fidler.
"The machine we built has a hydraulic motor that is powered by the auxiliary pump on the snow cat," Allen said. "The haul rope is completely de-tensioned during the exchange. We used the lift drive to turn the haul rope while we spooled up the old one with our custom machine."
At the same time, the crews let out the new rope, using a brake to keep the massive spool under control.
"There is really not much tension on the spooler as it does its job, but it takes a lot of energy to turn the heavy spool," Allen said.
Steamboat's mountain manager and his crew didn't really have much experience with replacing haul ropes before this month. That's because other haul ropes were retired in the course of replacing older lifts.
"Actually, the only other haul rope we've replaced in my 18 years here in Steamboat was on Preview (a short chair at the bottom of the mountain)," Allen said. "That one was small, light and easy."
Other cables were effectively taken out of service when the old Four Points, WJW, and Thunderhead double chairs, along with the Storm Peak and Sundown triple chairs, were replaced.
The construction contractors on those lifts took the cables down, usually by pulling off short sections and cutting them. The pieces of heavy cable were tossed in a Dumpster and hauled to the landfill.
This fall, the Steamboat crews had some ideas on how the old Elkhead haul rope could remain useful. They felt hauling it to the landfill wasn't very environmentally friendly, Allen said.
Instead, the cable will be provided to rancher Wayne Iacovetto of Saddleback Ranch, who intends to use it to fence corrals.
It might be a stretch to say the lift crews were actively preserving Steamboat's Western heritage when they saved the old Elkhead haul rope for use on a ranch. But they earned high marks for ingenuity from their boss.