It was an early autumn day in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the new futuristic Snowbird tram, we could see all the way down to the Salt Lake Valley. To the north was Mount Superior. In the distance, Jupiter Peak on the Park City ridgeline stood against the blue morning sky.
The new blue Snowbird Tram cabin - Summer 2022 - Photo by Otto Solberg
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After 50 years, the old red and blue cabins are being replaced with new floor-to-ceiling windowed cabins. To celebrate its debut, Last Chair hung out in the new tram 350-feet over the valley floor above the Cirque to chat with Snowbird President and General Manager Dave Fields and Mountain Manager Jake Treadwell about the evolution of the iconic tram and what the new cabins will bring for skiers and riders.
The original red Snowbird Tram - Winter 2017 - Photo by Andrew Miller
When you dream about skiing at iconic resorts around the world, odds are you dream of trams. They are the classic signatures of some of the world’s greatest ski resorts – Snowbird included.
“Snowbird IS the tram, and the tram IS Snowbird.” - President and General Manager Dave Fields
The dream of Snowbird visionary Ted Johnson, he and Dick Bass collaborated to bring a tram to the resort from day one. Swiss workers moved to Little Cottonwood Canyon, working long, hard hours in the summer of 1971 to make it a reality.
Following a retirement party last spring, the resort went to work retooling the tram machinery and cabins. Both new cars will be online in early December for the start of the season.
Ski Utah athlete Tommy Flitton and the original red Snowbird tram during its final season - Photo by Martha Howe
For Fields and Treadwell, along with their entire Snowbird team, it was a project close to their hearts – rekindling historic memories of the original tram’s debut in 1971, and the countless stories in the memories of skiers and riders who have whisked their way to the top of Hidden Peak in just minutes.
Here’s a preview of the conversations. Listen to the full Last Chair podcast to learn more.
How did the concept of the original tram come to fruition?
Dave Fields: The idea for the tram came from Ted Johnson, who worked at Alta in the ‘60s and started buying up mining claims at Snowbird. And when he met Dick Bass in 1969 at a party in Vail, he started sharing his dream. Dick originally signed on to help him find investors and quickly he became an investor. And one of Ted's dreams was to have a tram going from the Snowbird Center all the way to the top of Hidden Peak. Dick and Ted traveled all over to get ideas of how to build the tram and what it should look like. Dick and Ted opened the place on December 23rd, 1971, with the tram on opening day. And it was amazing from day one. And it's been really the icon of this resort. The tram IS Snowbird, and Snowbird IS the tram ever since.
(Left to right) Jake Treadwell and Dave Fields record the Last Chair Podcast episode inside the new Snowbird Tram - Photo by Martha Howe
As mountain manager, what does the tram mean to you and Snowbird operations?
Jake Treadwell: So this truly is a unique lift as far as its operation and what it does for us. The tram is the center of the universe for the resort, for our guests and for our employees. To me it's the best commute to work in the morning that anybody gets. We get to ride this first thing in the morning. We get to see what's going on. It's unique. It's a jig-back tram, so as one car comes up, the next car comes down and they're tied together through a haul rope that runs the entire up and down of the system.
“To me it's the best commute to work in the morning that anybody gets.” -Mountain Manager Jake Treadwell
What research went into the design of the new tram system at Snowbird?
Dave Fields: We rode them all over. Some of my favorites were the smaller tramway systems that are actually used for residential passage through the mountains and hauling groceries. We rode one in Davos that had that old-time feel to it. I really liked the Zugspitze. Things are happening in Europe with tramways that are just incredible. It's proving to be a great way to get through the mountains.
The original blue Snowbird Tram taking skiers and riders up - Winter 2018 - Photo by John Howland
We started brainstorming about not just the tram, but how we could make it a really exciting event for people when they come up the mountain. So floor-to-ceiling glass, three panels of floor glass in each cabin in the summertime. And then the real kicker was the balcony (summer). People thought we were crazy, but there actually are some resorts in Europe that do that. So you'll climb up a stairwell from inside the cabin and you'll ride up on the roof of the tram as it passes through the Cirque, 350 feet off the ground. So it will be very exciting to take that ride. We'll have the balconies next summer and I can't wait to take that ride. It's going to be really good.
The new blue Snowbird tram cabin - Summer 2022 - Photo by Otto Solberg
What was replaced in the system for the new Snowbird tram?
Dave Fields: We opted to replace cabins, track rope, haul rope, almost everything, including the drive system, the motors, the bull wheels – everything other than the towers has been replaced on ours.
Jake Treadwell: So this was basically a complete reset of the tram, the machine room that you can see when you come into Snowbird Center when you look down, almost all those components were removed this spring, completely pulled out. And we did that in a matter of about a week. And then, slowly but surely, we started replacing the electronic drive, the electric motor, the entire braking system, the drive wheel with a hydrostatic motor down, and a drive. All of these systems meld together in a modern tramway, and it gives us a lot more flexibility and a lot better safety factor, which is always what we're looking for. If we were to lose power at this resort, we can still run a backup generator, and an electric motor to get this tramway moving. If we were to lose that system, we have a hydrostatic drive that bolts into the bull wheel and we can drive the machine that way. So we have all these backup systems to make sure that this machine is always ready to move.
The new blue Snowbird tram cabin - Summer 2022 - Photo by Otto Solberg
What’s your favorite run on the mountain?
Jake Treadwell: I’m a Baldy guy. You’ve got to go out to hike Baldy and ski Fields of Glory and make it the whole way down. It's the place to be great!
Dave Fields: Well, Jake stole my answer. I really enjoy Northwest Baldy. There are a few zones in there that are really special. I'd love to go out there with my wife and have the hike. You just get such an amazing view down canyon and get to see the whole resort. You get to look over at Mount Superior and then you have the best skiing non-stop fall line all the way to the bottom.
Tom Kelly: |00:00:28| Hello, Utah skiers and riders and welcome to Last Chair, the Ski Utah podcast. I'm your host Tom Kelly. And a big thanks to Utah's own Pixie and the Partygrass Boys in the background again this season. Welcome to season four of Last Chair where we bring you stories of the people behind the remarkable winter culture here in Utah. Let's also give a big Ski Utah shout-out to our sponsor, High West, Utah's first legal distillery since 1870. High West is passionate about crafting delicious and distinctive whiskeys and helping people appreciate whiskey, all in the context of our home here in the American West. When you're in town, visit one of High West's locations in Park City and nearby Wanship.
Tom Kelly: |00:01:13| When you think about iconic images of some of the greatest ski resorts in the world, one signature piece that often comes to mind is the high-capacity trams that shuttle skiers and riders to the tops of mountains. For the last 50 years, Snowbird’s familiar red and blue tram cars have traveled nearly 800,000 miles. That's to the moon and back one and a half times, shuttling skiers and riders to the top of Hidden Peak.
Tom Kelly |00:01:41| Things will be a little different this season as the old cars have been retired and two sleek, futuristic new Doppelmayr cabins will debut in December, offering floor-to-ceiling views of the Wasatch as they climb nearly 3,000 vertical feet in about seven or eight minutes. We thought we would kick off last year's fourth season in style, so we grabbed Snowbird president and CEO Dave Fields and mountain manager Jake Treadwell for a ride to the top, stopping though above the legendary Cirque. And we did the podcast, suspended 350 feet above the mountain floor. Wow, what a view it was in those new cars. Dave and Jake will talk us through the history of the Snowbird tram, how they searched the world for ideas on its successor and some of the modern features of the new system. So climb on board as we kick off another season of Last Chair of the Ski Utah podcast with Snowbird’s lead tram operator Steve welcoming us to the top of Hidden Peak.
Steve Trover - Tram Operator: |00:02:47| Good morning, everyone. My name is Steve Trover. Welcome to Snowbird and Hidden Peak and thank you for coming up to Snowbird today, everybody. Hope you have a great day. The easier route from Hidden Peak to the bottom of the trend is marked with blue trail markers and square signs beginning on Upper Chip's Run. An easier route from Hidden Peak to the bottom of Mineral Basin is marked with green marking discs. These are designated slow skiing, no jumping areas. For your safety, please be aware of existing hazards. Observe all slow ski and riding areas, all posted signs and always stay in control and be able to stop for other people or objects. Today all major areas are open. Thank you for coming up today. If you have any questions, let me know and have a great day, everyone.
Tom Kelly: |00:03:38| Welcome back to Last Chair season for the beginning and we are in a spectacular location. We are parked in the new blue Snowbird tram cabin about 350 feet over the valley floor at the bottom of the Cirque. Dave Fields, and Jake Treadwell, thanks for joining us on the Last Chair.
Dave Fields: |00:03:58| Thank you, Tom.
Jake Treadwell: |00:03:58| Thank you very much.
Tom Kelly: |00:03:59| This is pretty amazing. We are literally sitting over the Cirque right now.
Dave Fields: |00:04:04| You know, I've done a lot of podcasts, Tom, but I've never done one from the tram. So I love these firsts. And, you know, Jake and I ski this terrain above us in Great Scott all the time together. And I can't imagine a better place to be recording a podcast.
Tom Kelly: |00:04:18| Jake, pretty comfortable up here, actually, so far.
Jake Treadwell: |00:04:20| I mean, super stable new tram, It's a beautiful day out. I've got no complaints. It's a great place to be this morning.
Tom Kelly: |00:04:27| So Steve's our tram operator. I know a lot of you folks listening, if you've been skiing Snowbird for a while, you know Steve, one of the great tram operators here, Steve, thank you for that welcome message to the top of Hidden Peak. What's the snow like out there today?
Steve Trover - Tram Operator: |00:04:41| Well, guys, today we have specially ordered snow just for you. We have all kinds of conditions. We have 12 inches of fresh powder. The groomers are in perfect condition. We have something for everybody today. So you should have a great day.
Tom Kelly: |00:04:54| It should be a great day. Every day is a great day at Snowbird. I know there's just something iconic about coming up the tram and getting to the top of Hidden Peak. The sun is just kind of peeking over the range and it's just a beautiful day. We're recording this in mid-September. I think we call this Octoberfest season here at Snowbird, don't we?
Dave Fields: |00:05:11| We do. Oktoberfest is a big part of what we do in the fall. Many people are surprised to learn that it starts in August and runs through mid-October, but it's become such a popular destination for people, both out-of-state and in-state. It's a great way to celebrate the end of summer.
Tom Kelly: |00:05:28| Well, we're here to talk about the new tram, and it has been so cool to come up here this summer and see the debut of the new Snowbird tram. A lot of legacy here. And I want to start out with you, Dave. Let's go back to the early days. The existing tram had 50 years on it, but let's go back even before that. And I know this is before your time, but you know a lot about what Ted Johnson and the others did in developing this place back in the sixties and into the seventies. What was the thinking behind developing the original Snowbird tram?
Dave Fields: |00:06:00| Well, the idea for the tram came from Ted Johnson, who worked at Alta in the sixties and started buying up mining claims down here at Snowbird. And when he met Dick Bass in 1969 at a party in Vail, he started sharing his dream with Dick, and Dick originally signed on to help him find investors and quickly he became an investor. And one of Ted's dreams was to have a tram going from the Snowbird Center all the way to the top of Hidden Peak. At the time, there were no roads coming up here, and the top of the peak actually had to be lowered to accommodate the tram. But through hard work and a lot of inspiration from people and installations around the world, Dick and Ted traveled all over to get ideas of how to build the tram and what it should look like. And Dick originally agreed to about a $3 million investment to get Snowbird open. Well, it turns out the tram cost $3.5 million and the whole resort cost about $13 million to get open. And by that time, Dick was all in and Dick and Ted opened the place on December 23rd, 1971, and opened the tram on opening day. And it was amazing from day one. And it's been really the icon of this resort. The tram is Snowbird, and Snowbird is the tram ever since.
Tom Kelly: |00:07:30| When I think back to that time, there's a lot of technology, a lot of construction work. We're in the mountains. As you said, there really wasn't a road to the top of Hidden Peak. What were some of the challenges that they faced in building an installation like this back in 1970?
Dave Fields: |00:07:45| Well, it was monumental. There was the idea that you had to build in this high mountain altitude with all the snow. There was a lot of snow in 1970, and in the fall of 71, the Swiss crew that came in to build it called it a snow hell here at Snowbird. And you can understand why when they're digging through 15 to 20 feet of snow to get down to the ground, to build the footers for the tram towers. They hired some great people. Hans Burkhart came. He had built the tram at Squaw. He came on board and started helping Ted and Dick build this tram. And then they got a lot of young people who were willing to work 12 to 14 hours a day, six, seven days a week to get this open. But one of the key elements to keeping the Swiss crew happy was keeping them fed. They needed schnapps. And they also brought a lot of the wives over from the Swiss tram builders and they stayed at the Goldminers Lodge up at Alta, and they would cook hot meals every day for the teams building the tram. And then they were flown around the mountain to wherever the teams were working, including up on Hidden Peak. Every day during the construction of the tram, they had hot meals with schnapps. They had schnapps in their coffee in the morning shops with lunch and schnapps with dinner. But it kept them happy, kept them motivated, and they got it done in time for a December opening in 71.
Tom Kelly: |00:09:15| What a great story. Jake, I'm going to go to you in a sec to talk about some of the technical aspects of running this thing. But Dave, just one more thing. Going back to that time, the tram opening in December of 1971, what else was there around America at that point in conveyances like this, where there are other trams in America at that time?
Dave Fields: |00:09:35| Well, when they came up with the idea for a tram to Hidden Peak, it was really unique. Obviously, the Squaw tram was in place and there were some others. Snowbird was one of the longest in the world and they really got down into the nitty gritty on the shape of the tram with rounded edges and the materials used to build it. The color was also a big deal. Ted originally wanted it to be blue and green like the logo, and it didn't have enough contrast. And so they went with blue and red, and we've continued that now with these new tram cabins, the blue and the red. But these now have a lot more windows than the old ones.
Tom Kelly: |00:10:16| They and especially the new one. Jake. We're going to talk about the new tram cabins in a little bit, but I want to just talk to you as the mountain manager about what it takes to operate this kind of a lift conveyance up 3,000 feet into the mountains.
Jake Treadwell: |00:10:29| So this truly is a unique lift as far as its operation and what it does for us. We always laughed at the... the tram is the center of the universe for the resort, for our guests and for our employees. This to me it's the best commute to work in the morning that anybody gets. We get to ride this first thing in the morning. We get to see what's going on. But this really is again, it's unique. It's a jig-back tram. So as one car comes up, the next car comes down and they're tied together through a hall rope that runs the entire up and down of the system. That's one of those most interesting questions I get often standing in the tram line is when's the next car going to be here? You know, it's an attached system. One car comes up, one car goes down. They're tied together. They're at the stations at the same time.
Tom Kelly: |00:11:26| You know, I think something that we probably don't think about as skiers, but in the wintertime, you know, 125 or more of us will pile into one of these cabins. The other cabin is coming down empty. So you have quite a bit of a weight differentiation. How does the system handle that?
Jake Treadwell: |00:11:41| Well, you know, I think a lot of people, you know, look at yeah, a hundred people pile into a car and it comes uphill. But the system is matched all the time, except when it's bringing people uphill or downhill. That's the only way that's moving is the weight of the people in the car. The rest of the time the system is matched. It's almost zero because the cars weigh the same. The system is the same, the friction is the same. So we're really only moving people as opposed to a modern ski lift that is pulling the weight or pushing the weight all the time, coming uphill. This just has to move people. Each cabin, everything is matched the same. I hope I'm explaining this correctly if it makes sense, because, you know, I think that's what gets lost. Oh, it's heavy. It does a lot of things. No, it's really only moving people. Everything else is the same.
Tom Kelly: |00:12:32| It's always amazing to me and having spent a lot of time with the US ski team in Europe and seeing how tramways gondolas and other conveyances are, you know, we I think we tend to think in America that these are lift devices for skiers and snowboarders, but actually it's a part of life. It's a part of being in the mountains in Europe, where these conveyances really are a part of your day-to-day. And getting around. I know you guys looked at a lot of different lifts when you were deciding on how to replace the Snowbird tram. What were some of your experiences in seeing some of these lifts in place in European mountain villages?
Jake Treadwell: |00:13:09| So, you know, we can go back and start, you know, 2019 that fall, Dave and I and a couple of others made a plan that we're going to go to Europe. The tram's 50 years old. It'd be really cool to change this out on its 50th anniversary and have it for the 50th anniversary season. So we went to Europe with a plan to pick a design, the shape that honors our current cabin, but it's also state of the art because we want to be leading the industry. So we went to places like Wengen and you know, Wengen is one of those places that's classic for alpine skiing, but it's also fed by a gondola. There are no cars there, sorry a tramway. Sorry, we went to places like the Zugspitze, which is just a classic tramway in Germany that has … we got to ride it on one of the first years that it was open. And again, it's that classic tramway from the valley floor up to a high alpine service center. That is just a spectacular sight. But we went and explored, oh, a dozen trams.
Dave Fields: |00:14:17| Yeah, we took Tim Brennwald and Herwig Demschar from POWDR, and they have a lot of experience traveling throughout Europe. And they took us to some of the most iconic destinations in Europe. And when we saw Zugspitze, we really were convinced that that was the shape that we wanted to go for in the new tram cabins. It has this parallelogram shape with a lot of glass, almost floor-to-ceiling glass. And as soon as we rode that thing, we said, Yep, this is it. But then we really wanted to add some sizzle to it. And the sizzle came in the form of the glass that is in the floor of both cabins in the summertime. It'll come out in the winter. But we also wanted to add the cabriolet effect, be able to get up on the roof and ride on the balconies, and that will open next summer and it will really be an exciting ride.
Tom Kelly: |00:15:15| I think the thing that really stands out to me and we're in the new blue cabin right now is how much more visual space you have. So much more glass. I mean, it was a stunning view before, but now it's like you feel like … you're like I'm looking out onto the Cirque right now and you feel like you are right in it.
Dave Fields: |00:15:35| It's truly a 360-degree view. And people are convinced that this tram cabin is bigger than the old one because there's so much glass. It's actually, what, four millimeters narrower?
Jake Treadwell: |00:15:47| It's four centimeters narrower than the last car. There are some subtle differences. Those walls coming up were four or five centimeters wide in the old cabin. So just having that aspect of it really changes a lot. And the floor plan, you know, we can get into the technical aspects of it, but you know, the standard now is .33 square meters per person. So it's you get a little more room in this cabin as opposed to that original 1971 design.
Tom Kelly: |00:16:19| Yeah. Dave, I want to go back to you and talk a little bit about the iconic aspect of the tram. Certainly, the Snowbird tram is one of those really iconic conveyances in the world. When you look around the world, around the country even, what are some of the other trams that come to mind that really have helped to form the character of that resort?
Dave Fields: |00:16:38| Well, you have to start with Jackson Hole, right? It's a beautiful red tram cabin and I just think they did such a nice job. They ended up replacing their whole tramway. We opted to replace cabins, track rope, haul rope, almost everything, including the drive system, the motors, the bow wheels, and everything other than the towers has been replaced on ours. They opted to just replace theirs altogether. And I just think it's a wonderful system.
Tom Kelly: |00:17:10| Yeah, it really is. And I think, you know, just thinking globally, I think about different lifts around the world and you were able to see some of them. But what are some that really stand out in Europe to you as really iconic lifts that really form the character of a mountain village?
Dave Fields: |00:17:27| Well, we rode them all over, and some of my favorites were the smaller tramway systems that are actually used for residential passage through the mountains and hauling groceries and things like that. We rode one in Davos that had that old-time feel to it. I really like that Zugspitze was great, but the things that are happening in Europe with tramways is just incredible and it's proving to be a great way to get through the mountains. There are some interesting facts about the capacity of a tram, though it's actually not the most efficient way to move people through the mountains. In terms of people per hour. The tram is actually one of our slowest means of moving people, but it gets you from the bottom of the mountain to 11,000 feet in 8 minutes. And when The Wall Street Journal studied lifts all around North America, they said the tram was actually the most efficient way for skiers to get vertical per hour in North America.
Tom Kelly: |00:18:35| Yeah, I mean, it does get you right up there, Jake. You run the mountain. How does this lift fit in in the overall scheme of things at Snowbird?
Jake Treadwell: |00:18:43| This is the center of the universe. I mean, when we have access to the tram as far as getting around the mountain, it lets my teams get around the mountain very quickly. We can get up, we can start the avalanche work very quickly. We can get to different spots of the mountain very quickly. So it is our center of the universe and it tells us everything that's going on. We can see the entire ski resort on one tram ride, so we get to see a lot and know a lot in one tram trip.
Tom Kelly: |00:19:14| What's it like coming up on the tram before the sun comes up when patrol's coming up to do avalanche mitigation? What's that experience like coming up in the dark?
Jake Treadwell: |00:19:24| You know, it's one of my favorite times in the morning. So generally, the way the day plays out is we're usually in by five, 530 and we're on, you know, a 6:00 tram ride and we get to, you know, it's quiet. There are only four or five of us in the morning and we're making a plan. We're talking. But a lot of times we're just looking at the snow. You know, this has lights on it. So spotlights, we're looking down at the Cirque the entire trip up to know what's going on on the snow surface on our way up. And that way, by the time we're at Hidden Peak, we've started to develop our plan for the day and we're ready to move forward. It is as I said, it is the best commute in the world.
Tom Kelly: |00:20:07| For those many resorts where you do that on chairlifts, it's a much different experience.
Jake Treadwell: |00:20:13| It's, you know, when we use chairlifts to do this, it's a much different experience. We just don't get to see as much. You're closer to the ground. You're you don't have quite the panoramic views. You know, it's a lot to stand in the front of the cabin first thing in the morning. We really enjoy that time just to catch your breath and think about the day and get ready to go.
Tom Kelly: |00:20:33| Do you see wildlife at that time of day at all?
Jake Treadwell: |00:20:35| You know, wild cat drivers. Yes. Yeah. The wild feral cat drivers. Yes.
Tom Kelly: |00:20:40| All over the mountain.
Jake Treadwell: |00:20:42| They're roaming around the mountain. But, you know, a lot of times we'll see some deer in the morning. It's more in the summertime. A lot of the times in the winter, a lot of that stuff gets pushed down lower into the valley. So we don't see a lot of creatures running around early. Occasionally a mink or a badger running around on the snow. But most of the time they're hibernating.
Tom Kelly: |00:21:02| In the summertime. Do you get elk or moose?
Jake Treadwell: |00:21:05| We see a lot of moose, occasionally an elk. A lot of deer in the summer, yeah.
Tom Kelly: |00:21:11| Do you also use the chairlifts in the morning? I mean, is this the primary conveyance? And then you supplement with the chairlifts to get around the mountain? The mountain?
Jake Treadwell: |00:21:19| This is our primary conveyance. This is how we get around. This is how my staff gets up the mountain in the morning. It's how the Summit restaurant gets their staff and their food to the summit in the morning. So this is kind of it. And then we spread out from there.
Tom Kelly: |00:21:34| Yeah, it is really pretty amazing to think that you can make it from the Snowbird Center up to the top of Hidden Peak in just 8 minutes. It really is a good way to start your day.
Jake Treadwell: |00:21:43| Oh, yes, it is for sure. And we also leave a tram operator up at the summit all night and in the wintertime. So they get that first ride down in the morning. So there are some of our eyes that we have there first thing in the morning, too.
Tom Kelly: |00:21:57| And we're going to go to the tram operator Steve. Hey, Steve, what's it like to take that first run down in the morning?
Steve Trover - Tram Operator: |00:22:02| It's very scary sometimes. That's all I can say. When we get big storms in. It's very scary. Coming down in the darkness with spotlights on a cab and going by these towers, it gets very windy and a little bit spooky. But it's also very exciting. And it's I just can't say enough about it. This is the best retirement job I've ever had to.
Tom Kelly: |00:22:24| Say hi to Steve when you're up here at Snowbird this year, Dave, let's talk a little bit more about the evolution of the new trauma. Jake had talked about how you started thinking about this seriously in 2019. I'm sure this has been on your mind for a lot of years, but what was the evolutionary process to come to the decision on this type of configuration?
Dave Fields: |00:22:43| As Jake mentioned, we went to Europe and we looked at different concepts and we started brainstorming about how to make the tram, not just the tram, but how could we make it a really exciting event for people when they come up the mountain. So floor to ceiling, glass, three panels of glass in each cabin in the summertime. And then the real kicker was the balcony. People thought we were crazy, but there actually are some resorts in Europe that do that. So you'll climb up a stairwell from inside the cabin and you'll ride up on the roof of the tram as it passes through the Cirque 350 feet off the ground. So it will be very exciting to take that ride. We'll have the balconies next summer and I can't wait to take that ride. It's going to be really good.
Tom Kelly: |00:23:31| Jake, I want to talk a little bit more about the mechanisms behind this. You replaced a lot of the drive system with much more modern technology. Can you talk about that and the real benefits that that has for you as a mountain operator?
Jake Treadwell: |00:23:45| So this was basically a complete reset of the tram, the machine room that you can see when you come into Snowbird Center, when you look down, almost all those components were removed this spring, completely pulled out. And we did that in a matter of about a week. And then slowly but surely, we started replacing the electronic drive, the electric motor, the entire braking system, the drive bull wheel with a hydrostatic motor down there and a drive. All of these systems meld together in a modern tramway, and it gives us a lot more flexibility and a lot more safety factor, which is always what we're looking for. If we were to lose power at this resort, we can still run a backup generator, an electric motor to get this tramway moving. If we were to lose that system, we have a hydrostatic drive that bolts into the bull wheel and we can drive the machine that way. So we have all these backup systems to make sure that this machine is always ready to move.
Tom Kelly: |00:24:55| Yeah, it is remarkable. And if you're in the Snowbird Center, you can actually look down into the mechanism room and see all that. And it's pretty cool to watch that in operation. See the big bull wheel going around. It's quite a machine.
Jake Treadwell: |00:25:09| I don't know how many times I'll walk down the stairs on my way somewhere and there's a bunch of little kids just enamored looking through the glass. It's actually … it's truly one of the special things about Snowbird is you get to see behind the curtain and see the machine rooms operate.
Tom Kelly: |00:25:26| Special. The other thing we haven't really talked about is that long span that you have, we're sitting in the middle of it right now. I think ... help me on this … I think we're between towers four and five. Is that right?
Jake Treadwell: |00:25:35| We're between towers three and four.
Tom Kelly: |00:25:38| Okay. We're between three and four over the Cirque. That's a pretty long span of rope.
Jake Treadwell: |00:25:43| Oh, it's a massive span. The total rope length on each side is 5,800 feet, I believe. So the tram travels over a mile on each side for each trip. And one of the things ... when we were going to replace that … I want to … we laughed about it a lot. Dave asked me, I don't know, back in 2020, 2021, how far have the cabins traveled in their lifetime? So we went back, we were able to track down every trip from every day for 50 years within proximity. So the tram cabins traveled from earth to the moon and back, and that's halfway back to the moon now -- the original tram cabins.
Tom Kelly: |00:26:30| That is crazy. So you put them up to that day, right?
Dave Fields: |00:26:34| Well, it's good to have some statistics to share.
Tom Kelly: |00:26:37| They are. They're awesome. Yeah, they really are awesome. Dave, let's talk about I mean, the tram is really a big story, but any other new and innovative things you've got coming up for this winter, it's Snowbird.
Dave Fields: |00:26:49| Well, we continue to invest in remote avalanche control systems here, so we're installing Wyssen towers here at Snowbird as well as at Alta and throughout Little Cottonwood Canyon as we transition away from our artillery and use more modern systems for avalanche control, which make it safer and also more efficient so it will be quicker. We also had really good news this summer with the announcement by UDOT that they've selected the gondola as the long-term solution for transportation here in Little Cottonwood Canyon. As we've studied that for years, literally decades, it's obvious that the gondola is the way to get people up and down the canyon safely, efficiently, reliably and with the least impact on the climate and air quality. So we're very excited to see that we'll be working on that for years to come.
Tom Kelly: |00:27:42| Yeah, I know it's going to be some time before that is able to come to fruition and you're right at the forefront of that.
Dave Fields: |00:27:48| Yeah, we've been very involved in it, sharing what we've learned about aerial transportation and how well it works in the mountains for us. And a lot of people don't know about gondolas. They don't know that gondolas are being installed around the world in urban areas because they can go up over densely populated areas or mountainous terrains or ocean, and they end up being very economical in the long run because they last so long and people also pay to ride them. So you generate revenue through their operation. And as we looked at the alternatives, it was clear that turning Little Cottonwood Canyon into a four lane highway with buses that people frankly don't want to ride wasn't a good solution for the next 20, 30, 40 years. In this canyon.
Tom Kelly: |00:28:33| We had Katharina Schmitz, the president of Doppelmayr USA, on the podcast a year ago, and she talked a lot about that. And we as skiers, we think about gondolas and chairlifts as uphill conveyances for our own recreational pleasure. But she talked about the many, many, many installations around the world that dopamine has that are just simply there for conveyances within urban areas or up in mountain villages.
Dave Fields: |00:28:57| Yeah, unlike the Snowbird tram that just has two cabins, the new technology like Doppelmayr's 3S technology has cabins that can come into a station every 20 or 30 seconds and carry 30 people at a time. So if you want to, you can move 4 to 5,000 people an hour using these systems and in all weather conditions. And that's what we need in this canyon, especially given the population explosion we have here in Utah and along the Wasatch Front. People are moving here to live and work in the mountains. They want to be in the mountains, but we don't have transit to get them.
Tom Kelly: |00:29:29| They're going back to the avalanche mitigation systems you're putting in. Jake, I'd like to get your thoughts on this. You know, I'm sitting here looking at the Cirque and you can see how a patroller could come down and drop charges in the Cirque and really manage it. But over in Mineral Basin, you really don't have that luxury. And I was watching some of these towers being installed this summer and there's a lot of danger for patrol. And these towers will really help to mitigate a lot of that.
Jake Treadwell: |00:29:54| Yeah, we did a lot of research before deciding on Wyssen as a partner for this, and it really puts us at a place where, you know, the charges can be put out in succession before the routes really get started back there. And these are on big open slopes, big avalanche-prone slopes. So we wanted to make sure before our staff really get out there that we have done some type of mitigation work. And it's, you know. It is the future rack systems are our future and we need to continue to invest in them. It's really making a difference for our staff and to really help speed us along in this process.
Tom Kelly: |00:30:39| And where do you control those from?
Jake Treadwell: |00:30:42| So oddly enough, they're all on a locked cloud-based system. So the safety team has access to it and they get on to the cloud and are able to do it from their phones.
Tom Kelly: |00:30:54| That is just crazy. But you're still dropping some charges by hand.
Jake Treadwell: |00:31:00| We do a lot of hand charge routes and those will never go away. In Little Cottonwood Canyon, you know, there's just so many routes and so many paths that we work to continuously mitigate. But those big open slopes before we send staff out on them, we want to make sure we get some type of mitigation started on those slopes before we have folks on them.
Tom Kelly: |00:31:18| Great. We're going to wrap it up here in just a minute. But Dave, before we do a couple of weeks left in Octoberfest.
Dave Fields: |00:31:24| That's right, Tom. It has been another really busy year at Oktoberfest and it goes until October 16th. And we invite people to come up and ride the new tram and all the other summer activities here at Snowbird and enjoy a bratwurst and a cold beer. It's a nice time to be up here in the mountains.
Tom Kelly: |00:31:41| Yeah, it certainly is. And looking ahead to this winter, you will have both the red and the blue cabins online for opening, right?
Dave Fields: |00:31:47| Yeah. We have another new red cabin headed our way here shortly from Switzerland, and we're super excited to get that online. We'll spend November putting the red cabin on and then we'll have both new red and new blue for the winter.
Tom Kelly: |00:32:03| I encourage everybody to come up. This is a spectacular experience. You can ask Steve, the tram operator, if he would just park over the Cirque for a few minutes for photos. I'm not sure in the winter the skiers or the riders would really want that. But guys, appreciate you talking to us here today. We're going to close it out with a section we call Fresh Tracks. Just a few fun questions for each of you. I'm going to ask each of you first. You guys are both die-hard snowbird skiers and riders. What's your favorite run, Jake, if you had a and it can be a powder day or whatever but one run you just love to take.
Jake Treadwell: |00:32:34| I'm a Baldy guy you got to go out hike out Baldy and ski Fields of Glory and make the whole way down. It's the only place to be great.
Dave Fields: |00:32:41| Dave. Well, Jake stole my answer. I really enjoyed Northwest Baldy. There are a few zones in there that are really special. I'd love to go out there with my wife and have the hike and you just get such an amazing view down canyon and get to see the whole resort. You get to look over at Mount Superior and then you have the best skiing non-stop fall line all the way to the bottom.
Tom Kelly: |00:33:04| How about for each of you? Do you have a favorite run at another Utah resort? It could be your neighbor, Alta. It could be anywhere else.
Jake Treadwell: |00:33:12| Yeah. I don't know. This is a tough one.
Tom Kelly: |00:33:13| Tough to leave here. I know, but ...
Jake Treadwell: |00:33:15| It really is. You know, it's hard to leave. You know, I've been here five years now, and everyone always asked me before I came here, where would you go skiing? And it was always, I'm going to go to Utah. It's fast, it's easy, it's quick. So it's really hard to go anywhere else. But, you know, it's fun. Here. I go over and ski at Alta so I don't have another favorite. I love skiing in the Wasatch.
Tom Kelly: |00:33:40| Nothing wrong with that. Dave, do you have a favorite place outside of Snowbird?
Dave Fields: |00:33:43| Well, I grew up skiing it out to my dad, worked there for 30 years, so my favorite is up at Alta. My memories are of skiing powder with him on Greeley Hill, along with my brother. And all that terrain on the back side was so fun as a kid exploring there. And so it would have to be the Greeley area of Alta.
Tom Kelly: |00:34:04| You know, I love that's actually a little bit more moderate than going off the other side. And I think it's often overlooked. But a good choice. Crazy story. Any crazy story from your experience here at Snowbird, Jake, anything that comes to mind in your five years here ... that you can talk about.
Jake Treadwell: |00:34:21| There's a lot we can't talk about. But I will say my first summer here and I'll talk about summer just getting my feet underneath me and we had a major rainstorm and a massive mudslide came down, Lisa Falls and that, you know, ten, 11 at night, myself and the assistant patrol director were walking up the canyon, checking cars to make sure nobody was trapped or anything was happening. So that, to me, will stick out for a long time as far as summer goes of just absolutely bizarre stories that I'll never be able to replace in my life.
Tom Kelly: |00:34:56| That's life in a Little Cottonwood. How about you, Dave?
Dave Fields: |00:34:59| Well, Tom, as I thought about this podcast for the last few days, all the memories of the fun stunts we've done in this, these tram cabins, the old ones actually, we've built jumps inside the tram or a ramp inside the tram and jumped out of it. We built jumps and jumped through the tram cabin one time up on Hidden Peak. When we opened the Big Mountain Trail, we built a landing. Area for a mountain bike to jump out of the tram onto a ramp. And that's just what we've done in the last 20 years. And since this is a Ski Utah podcast, I'll share this story. When we built the Big Mountain Trail, it was long -- over three miles long -- and now it's even further than that. Once they got done with the construction, we said, Well, what's the best way to break it in? They said, Well, ideally we would have a motorcycle ride it a couple of times. Well, anybody who knows me knows I love riding motorcycles. And my buddy Nathan, who's president and CEO of Ski Utah, I talked him into coming up here and we rode the big mountain trail on our dirt bikes. And when we got to the top, they were jumping the mountain bikes out of the tram onto this ramp as a promo for the new Big Mountain Trail. And one of Nathan's greatest life regrets is … I said to him at that moment … I said, “do you want to jump your KTM out of the tram?” And we looked at it and we weren't sure how the tram would kick back when he gunned his motorcycle and he ended up saying, No thanks, I don't. I'm not going to do that. And to this day, he still talks about the fact I should have jumped my motorcycle out of the tram.
Tom Kelly: |00:36:45| So, Nathan, I'm sure you're listening. You'll never have that opportunity again, right?
Dave Fields: |00:36:49| No, he won't. That was a one-shot deal and he passed it up. But I do remind him of it often.
Tom Kelly: |00:36:54| Last one for you guys. Do you have a favorite High West Whiskey brand?
Jake Treadwell: |00:36:57| Oh, I'm a double rye guy.
Tom Kelly: |00:36:59| Double rye. Right on, David.
Dave Fields: |00:37:01| Anything that Nathan has in his van after a motorcycle ride.
Tom Kelly: |00:37:04| Beautiful. Jake Treadwell. Dave Fields, thanks for joining us. I got to tell you, folks, I am looking out in the surf and the sun has just been making its morning path. It is just a gorgeous scene up here, just shy of hidden peak. Welcome, all of you out here this winter to climb on board the new snowboard tramps. Thanks, guys, for joining us on the last chair.
Jake Treadwell: |00:37:23| Thank you. Thank you very much.
Tom Kelly: |00:37:29| What an experience that was sitting high above the Cirque with panoramic views in every direction. Thanks to Dave, Jake and Steve for the ride. I cannot wait to come back for the season. The Ski Utah Last Chair podcast is brought to you by High West Distillery. Follow our whiskey adventure on all social media platforms @drinkhighwest and remember -- sip responsibly. High West Whiskey 46% alcohol by volume. High West Distillery in Park City, Utah.
Tom Kelly: |00:37:58| We have a great season ahead on the Last Chair in upcoming episodes. We'll be taking a trip to Southern Utah. We'll explore the challenges of the Great Salt Lake, and we'll explore Park City as one of America's greatest ski towns. If you like the podcast, please share it with a friend and leave us a review and make sure to subscribe to get every episode delivered direct to you. Thank you for joining us as we kick off season four of Last Chair and to close us out, let's welcome our friends Pixie and the Party Grass Boys.
Tom Kelly |00:38:29| I'm Tom Kelly for Last Chair presented by High West. Have fun. It is a great day to ski.