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Richard Combs, general manager of SkyTrans, talks about the ski lifts his company has installed at Detroit Mountain. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham

Lift towers rise on Mountain

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news Detroit Lakes, 56501
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Things are a whirlwind of activity on Detroit Mountain as the new four-seasons park comes together. It’s on track to be open for skiing, tubing and snowboarding this winter.

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On a recent visit, grading work was going on for the two-tiered parking area east of the lodge, while on the other side of the building a crane was being hauled out after helping set up a 19,000-pound drive carriage assembly for one of the two triple chair lifts.

Newly-erected steel towers for the chair lifts marched up the mountain. The towers are of varying size, with the tallest about 37 feet. Chipmunk run has six towers, West run has five.

Elsewhere, a mini-bulldozer with a four-foot-wide blade and a mini excavator were busy constructing mountain bike trails.

Inside the lodge itself it was mostly quiet, with the exception of a woman sanding the wood around the bar, preparing to give it a new coat of stain to create an aged-wood look.

Except for landscaping and some finishing touches, Most of the work on the new alpine lodge is done, inside and out.

Going up

“We’ve got the chairlift installations happening,” said Jeff Staley, general manager at Detroit Mountain Recreation Area.

“There are currently two chairlifts going up, Chipmunk and West. This involves standing up all the towers, setting the drive terminals, and placing the motor rooms. They’ll progress into splicing the cables and hanging the chairs, and load testing after that.”

When fully loaded, the two triple chair lifts will contain over 100,000 pounds of steel, said Richard Combs, general manager of SkyTrans Manufacturing LLC of Contoocook, N.H., which is doing the work.

“This one took a little bit longer (to install) because it’s a brand new design,” he said. “We ended up building practically brand-new lifts for less than most people would charge for a used lift.”

It’s “practically brand-new” because some of the big steel support beams in the towers were repurposed from a former amusement park ride.

The lifts will carry skiers in the wintertime and mountain bikers in the summertime, thanks to removable bike racks that can be bolted to the back of the chairs.

“We will have people trained for (chair lift) evacuation in summer and winter,” Stowman said.

The triple chair lifts will each carry up to 1,000 people per hour, with the ability to add chairs to handle 1,500 people per hour, Combs said.

They’ll move at 400 feet per minute in the wintertime and 200-300 feet per minute in the summertime, since skiers just glide off, while bikers need time to step off and get their bicycles.

The lift operator can also push the “slow” button, reducing speed to half of its regular setting.

“If you have elderly riders, or small children, you’d slow it down to half-speed for them,” Combs said. “You don’t want to stop the ride unless you have to, it’s designed to run continually.”

There will be operator shacks on the top and bottom of each lift, so employees will always be on hand to help people on the lifts if necessary, said Shelly Stowman, marketing, events and snowsports director for the Detroit Mountain Recreation Area.

An economical ride

It takes about 14,000 pounds of tension to keep the wire chairlift ropes taunt, Combs said. “It stretches over time, but not so that anybody would notice.”

Each chairlift will be powered by a 60 horsepower motor, with backup gasoline motors in case of a power outage or other emergency.

“These rides are some of the most economic forms of transportation going,” said Combs. “It’s cheaper to move people from point A to Point B   with this equipment than with buses.”

SkyTrans Manufacturing has designed and built lifts, horizontal transportation systems and carnival rides that run on motors as small as 20 horsepower and as large as 1,000 horsepower, he said.

Magic carpet ride

Once the overhead chair lifts are completed, installation will begin on two rope tows and two “magic carpet” conveyor belts.

There will be a magic carpet for the tubing area, a tow rope for the snowboard and trick ski terrain park, and one each for the “learn to ski” area, Staley said.

Three smaller buildings are being built around the site:  The maintenance building is being built by Foltz Buildings, the Ski Patrol shack was built by Bryan Schoenberger with thehelp of Ski Patrol volunteers (there are 21 on the team) and the tubing warming house is being built by Garret Johnson and volunteers with DL Jaycees.

Site restoration is also ongoing, “seeding and restoring some of the grass we disturbed,” said Staley.

Elsewhere, the snowmaking pump has been installed in the maintenance building and snowmaking pipe is being installed in the field, with Feldt Plumbing and excavating doing the trenching work and Fabswurx, Inc. of Detroit Lakes doing the welding.

Workers are building mountain bike “cross-country flow” trails, Staley said. “We will have gravity-fed trails eventually, with lift service available, probably in late 2015.”

The Ski Patrol has been organizing over the last two months, he added. “They’ve got a good group established. They’ve completed CPR training and began outdoors emergency care training. They’ll be good to go this winter.”

Detroit Lakes Public Utilities workers have been busy running power lines at the site. “Wild Rice Electric will provide electricity, but DL Public Utilities is running the power lines within the site since they (the city) are going to be the owner of the property,” Staley said.

Two existing wells on the site provide water, one for potable water and one for snowmaking.

The Scheels sporting goods chain has contributed a sizeable donation and gained naming rights to the terrain park.

“Scheels has been a great supporter,” Staley said. “They’re a good partner to have and a great resource to help us market the ski area and terrain park – their customer is our customer.”

Ready for the opener

A donor’s event is set for Friday, Aug. 22, with an open house for the public set for Labor Day weekend.

“Everything is on schedule, we’re not having any issues at this point,” Staley said. “We’re just trying to get everything to a point we’re happy with by the Aug. 22 event. As far as the winter opening, we’re on schedule … from an operational standpoint our goal is to be open by Thanksgiving weekend every year, sooner, if the weather cooperates.”

This first year, in particular, Staley hopes for an early “soft opener,” to give staff the chance to get familiar with equipment and procedures.

“This is going to be a great place,” said Combs, looking around the site. “The people of Detroit Lakes and Fargo are going to have a great time here.”

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