A marriage of steel: Missouri family splices haul rope of Steamboat Resort’s new gondola (with video)
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Visitors to Steamboat Resort on Friday may have noticed a curious operation underway on the grassy ground between the second and third gondola towers, about a football-field length from the base area.
A long line of about 50 crew members in hardhats surrounded a metal cable, part of which had been dismounted from the gondola towers and placed on saw horses.
They were in the process of splicing the steel cables of the haul rope to which the gondola cabins attach, weaving the ends together in an intricate and painstaking “marriage,” to use the term from Dave Hunter, vice president of mountain operations.
“It takes a lot of manpower,” Hunter said.
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Stretching 3.4 miles long and weighing 157,000 pounds, the haul rope is among the most vital components of the gondola. Splicing the ends together requires near perfection not just to ensure its strength, but also to make for a comfortable ride up the mountain.
Only a handful of people in the country can perform the work, according to RJ Knight, owner of Knight Equipment Co., based in Missouri. His family has been securing the metal ropes of amusement parks and ski resorts since his father, Aubrey, founded the company in 1927.
Knight’s sons, Jason and Justin, oversaw the splicing of Steamboat Resort’s haul rope on Friday. They unwound three steel cables from one end and three from the other. One at a time, they then wound those cables into the empty spaces on the opposite end.
Justin Knight had the laborious task of hammering the unwound cables into their new place. As the morning waned and the sun warmed, sweat glistened across his face and dripped onto his overalls.
He directed an amalgamated constructing crew, consisting of employees from the Doppelmayr lift company and Steamboat Resort, to intermittently pull on both ends of the rope to settle the cables into a snug fit.
He then lowered his head to the haul rope until his cheek was almost touching it, his eyes squinting at the section of cable he had just hammered.
“He’s looking down the line to make sure all the tips and ridges are on one straight plane,” explained Jason Dursa, a Doppelmayr employee.
As Dursa described, splicing the haul rope uses a similar logic to Chinese finger traps.
“The friction of the wrap-around holds it all together,” he said.
Without a proper fit, the cable is not as strong. It can also cause the gondola cabins to vibrate, making for a rough ride for guests.
The Knight family visited the resort in 2007 to fix such a problem, after the old haul rope formed irregularities.
Hunter expects the splicing of the haul rope to be completed by Saturday. After that, crews will attach it back to the gondola towers and run the lift to test the tension on the rope.
With most of the construction of the new gondola now finished, Hunter said the next major step is commissioning it. That includes testing the various components to make sure they operate correctly.
Almost all of the new gondola cabins have arrived at the resort, according to Hunter. Each will offer free Wi-Fi to guests and a faster ride-time than the previous lift.
Final commissioning of the gondola is scheduled for the end of October, which requires the approval of the Colorado Safety and Tramway Board. After that, everything should be in place for the lift to be open by the start of the 2019-20 winter season.
This year, the resort will open on Saturday, Nov. 23, four days earlier than previous seasons.
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