A bright red Kaman Aerospace K-MAX "aerial truck" helicopter hovered over snowy Mount Werner for about two hours Thursday afternoon, installing the next chapter in the history of ski lifts at the Steamboat Ski Area.
The new Burgess Creek triple chairlift is on schedule to open about Dec. 15, said Vice President of Mountain Operations Doug Allen.
The helicopter crew from Superior Helicopters in Grants Pass, Ore., flew 10 towers and 12 cross-arms high onto the ski mountain. The two uppermost towers had been installed before the helicopter arrived. Crews from Leitner-Poma, the manufacturer of the chairlift, bolted the steel into place.
The work on the ground took place in 11 inches of snow that has accumulated since winter weather moved into the area Sunday.
Ski area spokesman Mike Lane said the Leitner-Poma staff worked efficiently in spite of the calf-deep snow. The helicopter first flew a tower into place where the crews bolted it to its foundation. As soon as the helicopter left for the staging area to retrieve a cross-arm, crew members climbed the tower, where they waited to bolt the cross-arm into place. In the meantime, their colleagues headed for the next foundation in the series to await the succeeding tower.
Allen said the steel framework for the lower terminal is scheduled to arrive Tuesday. This is the first Leitner-Poma lift on the mountain and its "single-pole terminal" will look a little different from everything else in Steamboat. The upper terminal steel should arrive in mid-October, and the load, or "acceptance test," is scheduled to take place in mid-December, several weeks into the ski season.
The new Burgess Creek chairlift replaces the old double chair, which was built in 1969. It will cut the riding time by 30 seconds to seven minutes, and improve uphill capacity by 700 people per hour.
The manufacturers of the K-MAX aerial truck say it is the first helicopter designed specifically for repetitive external lift tasks. It can carry up to 3 tons. It typically is used for oil rig and pipeline construction, power line work, fire fighting and timber harvesting.
The aircraft has counter-rotating twin rotors and no tail rotor. Kaman Aerospace officials say that design ensures all of the engine power goes to the main rotors for the highest lifting capacity.
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