Miles of smiles for new Whakapapa chairlift

Miles of smiles for new Whakapapa chairlift

There is nothing but smiles at Whakapapa this season with the commissioning of the ski field's first new lift in 27 years.

Ruapehu Alpine Lifts (RAL) Whakapapa ski area manager Steve McGill and his team have been celebrating the near-perfect conditions for the installation of the company’s new $7.5 million investment.

"It's been a long time coming for a new lift of this size for Whakapapa.

"We haven't put a new big one in since the West Ridge Quad and that was in 1989.

"At a maximum capacity of 2800 people per hour, it's easily replacing the old Centennial and Rock Garden chairs, which combined carried 1800 to 2000 people.

"There will be shorter queuing times, a comfortable ride with cushioned seats, ease of loading for snow boarders and foot passengers and less de-icing time due to the chairs being stored in a building overnight."

Along with the increase in capacity there will be a dramatic reduction in the time spent on the chair.

"The ride time at full speed is 2.3 minutes, compared to the old chair which was nearly seven minutes.

"Because it also has heavier, chairs we'll be able to run it in stronger winds and there will be less downtime for de-icing because we can take the chairs off and run the cable like we do on the Waterfall Express.

"This means in the morning we won't have to come in and spend two hours de-icing."

With the new ski field lease only signed off by the Department of Conservation in December, ordering the hardware and the installation had to run to a very tight timeframe and with a little luck.

"It's been an awesome summer for building and that's let us stay on schedule.

"The Poma boys didn't actually start the lift until the middle of February.

"First we had to pull the old one out and remove all the old foundations for 13 towers along with the drive and return stations.

"We dug that all up, crushed it up and got rid of it off the mountain. Then when Poma came in, we used the same holes and just had to extend them a little bit more for the new footings."

Along with the towers, the sites for the new drive and return stations have been moved slightly, which has allowed for a little redevelopment of the Waterfall Express queuing area.

"Because the top of the new lift is 50-metres further back from the original we have done a lot of ground works through there which will make it a lot better for queuing.

"We've extended the load area into the [Waterfall] Express and made it flatter and wider.

"Next year we are going to put in the fixed grip quad that we bought off Snow Park in Wanaka to replace the Waterfall T-bar next summer.

"There is going to be a lot going on here in the next few years."