Kurt Castor talks about the number of switches found in the gondola’s main control box. Castor is in charge of the crews that maintain the lift system at Steamboat Ski Area.

Photo by John F. Russell

Kurt Castor talks about the number of switches found in the gondola’s main control box. Castor is in charge of the crews that maintain the lift system at Steamboat Ski Area.

Nuts & Bolts of Opening: Work never stops for Lift Maintenance at Steamboat Ski Area

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In its 28-year history, the gondola at Steamboat Ski Area has been to the moon more than legendary astronaut Neil Armstrong.

By the numbers

2: number of backup engines for the gondola

2 1/2: hours it takes to get Storm Peak running in the morning

3: times the gondola has traveled the distance to the moon and back

4: number of gondola cars taken off each day and inspected

7: times lift maintenance personnel referred to head lift systems engineer Dave Herman as “god” or “godlike”

15: minutes the gondola is down for every 1,000 hours it runs

15: years in the industry on average for lift maintenance’s 22 employees

6,000: hours of life of a gondola car before it is rebuilt

Nuts & Bolts of Opening at Steamboat Ski Area

Before you can make the walk down the steps to the gondola, before you can wait in line in anticipation, before you can board a car to the top of the mountain and before you can enjoy endless refills of snow, crews are working tirelessly to get Steamboat Ski Area ready for Opening Day.

And yes, Lift Maintenance Director Kurt Castor has figured this out.

He estimates in the 28 years of running during summer and winter, the gondola has traveled more than 1.4 million miles, the equivalent of traveling to the moon and back three times.

“Pretty cool, huh?” Castor said.

What his staff does to ensure people can press glass in the mornings, make it to the top of Storm Peak on below freezing days or ride any of the ski area’s 18 lifts is remarkable.

The work never really stops, but preparing for ski season begins the day the lifts stop running in April.

“We work straight through every season,” Castor said.

The Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board requires that all lifts get relicensed every year. The board inspects each lift and distributes a deficiency list. All detachable chairs get rebuilt.

All summer, the Lift Maintenance department employs three to four teams that go from lift to lift and make repairs. On each lift, it takes six to eight weeks to do all the repairs and make sure everything is good to go.

“Every day is different. Every problem is different,” said Frank Fidler, the Lift Maintenance and electrical supervisor. “It’s quite amazing what it takes to get these lifts running.”

In addition to meeting regulations, doing repairs on engines and rebuilding chairs, the staff was busy outside of those routine duties.

Tower 25 on the gondola got rebuilt. Thunderhead got a new gear box, and Priest Creek got a new haul rope. The crew also put in fiberoptic towers on the gondola, Storm Peak and Burgess Creek lifts.

“Ski lifts are a lot smarter than some people,” said Jay Petersen, the master mechanic on Storm Peak who has been there for all of the lift’s 21 years in existence. “They stop when there is a problem.”

The operation is impressive. The 22 employees in the department have an average of 15 years of experience in the industry.

The gondola is just one of the lifts, but it’s an example of what the Lift Maintenance department does to not only keep the ski area running, but also maintained at a high level.

Every gondola car comes off at night. Once a gondola car has been on the line for 1,000 hours, it gets degreased, re-greased, cleaned and polished. Once it has been on the line for 6,000 hours, it gets rebuilt. Each day, four gondola cars get taken apart, inspected and sometimes rebuilt. Every five years, the gondola engine is rebuilt.

“A lot of my friends, when they hear I work in Lift Maintenance, say, ‘Well what do you do in the summer?’” said Lee Lapine, a master mechanic on the gondola. “I just shake my head.”

There really isn’t any downtime for Lift Maintenance. And the work never stops. In the winter, it’s about getting the lifts started or figuring out problems. But the summers are when crews work to reopen the resort each season.

“The better the summer,” Castor said, “the better the winter is for us.”

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