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Jackson Hole: A New Era for Sublette

Everything you want to know about the project

by Peter Landsman

“Sublette,” “Space Mountain” or simply “The Quad.” For the past 37 years, Jackson Hole’s highest elevation chairlift has been a guest favorite and lift operators’ number one lift to work. After tens of thousands of hours hauling skiers and snowboarders to the Alta Chutes and Bivouac, the venerable chairlift is being dismantled to make way for an improved high-speed quad. Jackson Hole’s sixth new lift in ten years is expected to debut for the 2024-25 ski season.

Leitner-Poma of America, the same builder that crafted the Bridger Gondola, Casper, Thunder Teewinot and Apres Vous, will fabricate the new Sublette in Grand Junction, Colorado. The original Sublette was Leitner-Poma’s first project at JHMR back in 1987, along with a short-lived surface lift in Rendezvous Bowl. The vast majority of the new Sublette lift will be made in America, though specialized components such as detachable grips and chairs will come from the company’s factory in Telfs, Austria. Another key element – Sublette’s 8,300 foot haul rope –  will arrive from Fatzer AG in Switzerland. Fatzer is the world leader in wire ropes, having custom made all five cables for the Jackson Hole Aerial Tram.

John Lafferty of Alpine Cable & Construction is assisting Leitner-Poma with Sublette’s installation. Based in Colorado, his company has constructed chairlifts in numerous high alpine locales such as Taos, Snowmass and Winter Park. Sublette will be a challenging build with many of its 15 towers located in steep, rocky terrain. Most of the foundations for the original Sublette were dug by hand with shovels. This time, the majority will be excavated using a specialized walking excavator. Where possible, new concrete footers will be pinned to the old lift’s foundations. Guests riding the tram this summer may spot helicopter operations as Lafferty’s crew pours concrete, removes old towers and sets new ones in in Laramie Bowl.

JJ Markman, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s Director of Resort Development, notes the lift alignment was tweaked to improve safety and hopefully minimize wind closures. The top terminal will come down in grade approximately 30 feet. In addition to lowering the lift’s profile, this will give skiers space to contemplate their lines after getting off the lift. The new machine will spin in the opposite direction as the old, with chairs ascending on the looker’s left. This will reduce the amount of time skiers spend above cliffs, making an evacuation safer in the unlikely event one would ever be needed. Sublette will include two separate diesel evacuation drives, either of which can turn the lift in the event of a power outage. A custom ring and pinion setup in the top terminal will allow an evacuation drive to be coupled directly to the bullwheel in the event of a gearbox failure.

The new lift will also include wider towers, yielding more space for chairs to pass. In the Tetons, wind generally blows from the southwest and having loaded chairs on the south side may improve operation of the lift. Finally, JHMR ordered Leitner-Poma’s heaviest, premium chairs that are less likely to be blown around. As a bonus, they’re also the most comfortable chairs available. The new lift will feature 72 chairs initially with the option to go to 79 in the future. Throughout its history, JHMR has always opened lifts with less than maximum capacity. Resort leaders take the first season to assess skier flow, then come back and add more carriers only if needed.

Once new towers and terminals are completed this fall, the haul rope will be pulled and chairs hung in advance of a November load test. The new ride up Sublette will be swift. Travelling at 1,000 feet per minute, a trip will last just over four minutes, down from over 10 minutes. Few other places in America can skiers gain 1,600 vertical feet in four minutes.

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