Tom Ross: New lift an upgrade for skiing paradise, more or less |

Tom Ross: New lift an upgrade for skiing paradise, more or less

Colorado's newest renewable energy powered chairlift, the Sunshine Express, officially opened to the public after a short ribbon cutting ceremony by (from left to right) Janet Faller, US Forest Service; Jamie Kingsbury, US Forest Service; Doug Allen, VP-Mountain Operations-Steamboat and Chris Diamond, President-Steamboat, on Friday at the Steamboat Ski Area.

— What better way to begin another Alpine skiing season than to call up four or five of your favorite Olympians and ask them to meet you at the Sunshine Express chairlift at 9:45 a.m.?

My posse Friday morning included silver medalist Billy Kidd, bronze medalist Nelson Carmichael, Olympic snowboarder Erin Simmons, silver medalist Travis Mayer and retired Olympic downhiller Chad Fleischer. I’m happy to report they were all punctual and wearing happy faces when we clicked into our bindings Friday morning.

I don’t impose on these guys every winter, but this year I felt like I needed a little extra boost to get me fired up for another season in the ‘Boat. I don’t know what it is – I’ve had a slightly blase attitude about getting my skis out of the garage this year. Maybe I was spoiled by the 20 days of snow we enjoyed last December.

No matter. I’ve taken the cure and I’m pumped to ski all over my home mountain again. I didn’t realized how much I missed the sensation of flying until I attempted to follow Mayer down the pristine corduroy (is that an oxymoron?) on the Flintlock trail Friday morning.

This is probably an opportune moment for me to fess up and acknowledge that I didn’t really call five Olympians on the phone and arrange for a group ski. However, thanks to the Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. and the management of the Steamboat Pilot & Today, I did have a chance to trade turns with five remarkable athletes Friday.

Steamboat dedicated the new solar- and wind-powered Sunshine Express on Friday. Sunshine is the Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp.’s new chairlift in Sunshine Bowl, replacing an older lift that served the family-friendly terrain there.

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The newspaper was one of five area businesses, including SmartWool, SportStalker, Prudential Steamboat Realty and TCD, that partnered with the ski area to honor the new lift. Together, they raised $2,500 to support. The Sunshine Kids, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping children with cancer.

The Sunshine Kids provides a variety of free programs for kids who are receiving cancer treatments in hospitals across North America. The group plans a return trip to Steamboat in March 2007. So, Friday was a special morning in more ways than one.

If you’re an advanced skier or snowboarder, you probably don’t spend any time in Sunshine Bowl (or Wally World as it was affectionately known in the early years). Still, you enjoy the heck out of Sunshine Bowl even when you’re not skiing it. That’s because it absorbs vast numbers of skiers and snowboarders who want to be able to say they skied the top of the mountain but don’t want to contend with black diamond trails.

Hey, if they’re in Wally World, they’re not waiting in line at Storm Peak Express.

Steamboat has come up with a pretty clever slogan to announce the new chairlift: “We want to put more Sunshine in your life!”

I get it, I get it. But the slogan could just as easily be, “We want to put a little less Sunshine in your life!” As in, less time spent on the chairlift.

The old chairlift took 11 minutes to climb 1,400 feet in elevation. But sometimes it seemed like an eternity. I’ve heard unconfirmed reports that when someone skied up to the old lift and reported that they had lost their hat and asked for a replacement from the lost and found, the lift ops had a novel response. My source says they used to hand those folks a pair of knitting needles and a ball of yarn. By the time they reached the top, even amateur knitters had created both a new ski hat and a muffler.

Those days are gone, thanks to the new lift. Sunshine Express cuts the travel time in half. The “new” lift is actually about a decade old and was transferred to Steamboat from The Canyons, a Utah ski resort.

Ski Corp. President Chris Diamond pointed out Friday morning that it took a monumental effort by mountain crews to get the lift disassembled, modified and installed at Steamboat.

Vice President of Mountain Operations Doug Allen said installing a brand new chairlift would have been much easier.

“Every lift is designed for its specific location,” he said.

Some of the existing lift towers had to be cut to fit the terrain in Sunshine Bowl. More challenging was the task of modernizing the electrical system to meet the 2006 standards required by the Colorado Tramway Passenger Safety Board. Consulting engineers were relied on in that process.

A huge advantage, Allen said, was the fact that the lift originally was designed to carry skiers and riders up a much steeper slope. Thus, it has ample power to carry its passengers up Sunshine Bowl.

You’re gonna like the Sunshine Express. I got a little less Sunshine in my life Friday and had a blast doing it thanks to my Olympic pals.