Transformed Tram Experience
Coming Winter 2023
Track Rope Installation
Careful observers of Lone Mountain may have noticed significant progress on the Lone Peak Tram over the past couple of weeks. We’re happy to report that it’s not a mirage: Three of the four required track ropes have been installed by helicopter and tensioned by the Garaventa team.
The new Lone Peak Tram requires four track ropes in addition to the haul rope. Each cabin travels on two track ropes on either side of the haul rope that provide support and stability as the cabins move between the terminals and over the tower.
The haul rope, which is expected to be installed in the next few weeks, is centered directly above the tram cabin, attached by the hangers, and provides the propulsion for the tram.
Each rope installation is a multi-day process, as the track ropes are too heavy to be installed directly by helicopter. First, a helicopter suspends a pilot rope in the air after teams on the ground have secured it to the bottom terminal. The helicopter then flies the pilot rope to the tower, where it is secured in the tower sheaves, then flown up to the top terminal, where it is secured in the top terminal sheaves and anchored to the ground.
“While it can sometimes take hours to install pilot ropes, the helicopter pilots at Timberline have been flying these up in 10 to 15 minutes,” said Jas Raczynski, Big Sky Resort’s construction project manager. “We’re fortunate to have a super talented pilot.”
Ground teams then attach a slightly larger intermediate rope to the pilot rope to pull between the terminals and over the tower. With the intermediate rope threaded, the process is repeated, and the track rope is pulled between the terminals. The track rope is then manipulated via cranes and other heavy equipment to ensure precise placement. Once the ropes have been secured around the bollards at the top and bottom, the final tensioning process begins. After a half day of rope tensioning, the installation is complete. This entire process is repeated four times total to install each track rope.
“It's very exciting to finally see the path the new tram will travel up to the summit of Lone Mountain,” Raczynski said.
Top Terminal Structure Complete
Cabin Arrival in Big Sky
Cabins Ship from Switzerland
After months of assembly at CWA in Switzerland, Big Sky Resort’s new Lone Peak Tram cabins are complete and en route to Big Sky. The two 75-passenger cabins, each weighing 6,615 pounds, have begun the more than 5,000-mile journey from Olten, Switzerland.
The cabins departed from Olten to the port of Zeebrugge, Belgium, where they were loaded on a cargo ship. The cabins will travel by ship through the Panama Canal before reaching Port Hueneme, California, where they will be loaded onto a truck to their final destination – Big Sky, Montana.
The new cabins are expected to arrive in Big Sky in late August.
With most of the foundation work at the top tram terminal complete, it's time to install the heavy equipment and steel. To make that happen, teams from all over the world collaborated to install two cranes at the top of Lone Peak using Chinook helicopters. While erecting a crane might be a common task in everyday life, this may be one of the only cranes ever installed at 11,166 feet above sea level.
Final Cabin Design
Work on the cabins for the new Tram is close to completion. The cabins feature graphics inspired by the 360º views off Lone Peak, which is Montana's highest scenic overlook and integral to the Big Sky experience. The 75-passenger cabins are set up for a comfortable ride including seating that can be removed and reconfigured, seating up to 12 people. There is also an interior speaker system for announcements and music. In summer, guests will have an extra way to take in the views of Lone Peak with glass floor panels looking down up to 300 feet above the ground.
First Steel Equipment Installed
While we have been enjoying winter and an incredible ski season, work has continued behind the scenes and around the world on the new Lone Peak Tram. From our local construction logistics managers to the team building the Tram cabins in Europe, our teams have been busy as we prepare to install the Lone Peak Tram this summer. In recent months, CWA in Switzerland has assembled the aluminum Tram cabin frames, primed and painted the exterior with several coats of a special UV-resistant paint and glaze, and is preparing the interior for finishing. The haul ropes have also shipped and are on their way to Big Sky.
As soon as we close for the winter season on April 23, local teams will begin snow removal on roads, the top and bottom terminal construction sites, and the new tower site to prepare for this summer’s work and work towards opening in November 2023.
The new Lone Peak Tram cabins will have a total capacity of 75 people. During the winter season, the capacity will be managed based on mountain and operating conditions to preserve the experience of skiing and riding the Tram. Ski patrol will determine a safe capacity based on open terrain, conditions, and weather. Learn more about accessing the new Tram in our FAQs.
A strong start to summer
Winter closing day is less than two weeks behind us, but tram construction is full steam ahead. Warm weather has been on our side as we work towards the Tram’s completion for this winter.
Since closing for winter, we’ve cleared snow from the roads, top and bottom terminals, and the tower site. Helicopters are currently flying equipment to the peak, and final concrete pours will wrap up in the coming weeks. In Switzerland, CWA is building both tram cabins, which will arrive in Big Sky later this summer.
Top Terminal East Wall Concrete Pour
Teams on the top of Lone Peak poured concrete for the top terminal’s east wall last week. Over 50 cubic yards of concrete were delivered by helicopter to the peak. Coming all the way from Alaska, specialized contractors brought knowledge for handling the challenges of building over 11,000 feet above sea level.
The terminal’s east wall is the tallest wall of the foundation. On the east face of Lone Peak over the Big Couloir, the tram cars will travel over the wall to the upper loading docks. It will be one of the only foundation features that will remain visible when construction is complete.
Bottom Terminal Concrete Pouring
Concrete pouring has officially begun at the new tram’s bottom terminal. Located at 9,000 feet above sea level at the base of the Bowl, this concrete foundation is built to withstand extreme amounts of force as the bottom anchor to the tram.
This summer, Jackson Contractor Group has excavated over 10,000 cubic yards of rock to make space for the bottom terminal. Excavated rock is crushed on-site in order to generate backfill. New roads for construction and winter snowcat access have been completed, and the electric wiring has been installed underground.
Despite facing weather delays this spring and early summer, the teams’ goal remains: complete the concrete work before snow falls. Frost walls, which protect the foundation from freeze-thaw cycles underground, are currently being poured. Next comes the slab on grade, the 20-foot architectural walls, and the bollards which support the tram itself.
“There is an army of individuals involved from the design team,” said Tim Lyner, senior superintendent for Jackson Contractor Group. “This takes into account architectural design, structural engineering, civil engineering, geotechnical engineering, as well as about 80 craftspeople physically working on-site here this summer.”
Next summer, any remaining concrete work will be finished, before handing off the project to Garaventa, who will install the tram itself.
Anticipation is building for the new addition to the mountain. “I’ve been skiing here for the last 22 years,” says Lyner. “It's incredibly exciting to be involved in such a monumental project for Big Sky Resort.”
Progress Below the Surface
Any construction project comprises of unique challenges from geology, weather, and transportation. This is especially true in Big Sky, and even more so when building a new structure in the high alpine at 11,166 feet.
The teams undertaking the foundation work this summer are high-alpine construction specialists – often harnessed into and rappelling off the side of Lone Peak to complete drilling and foundation work with extreme precision.
The upper terminal and tower locations of the new tram are both located above 10,000 feet, in exposed Andesite rock. Contractor group Condon Johnson—responsible for creating the structures for the future upper terminal and tower to attach to—specializes in this work, as do the many other teams that have come together to bring this vision to life.
“There’s a lot of challenges. The mountain varies tremendously. We’re trying to figure out where the rock is, what we’ve got to do to get there, and then get access to it all,” said Ryan Thorne, project manager for Condon Johnson. “Little knobs can really throw you. But we’ve been able to do it, and it’s a pretty beautiful place to work.”
The top terminal will sit on a concrete slab, supported by a 20-foot concrete wall, which you will see as you ride the tram and enter the terminal. Underground, 23 micropiles will reach 50-70 feet into the rock, connecting to the concrete slab, which support a load of 270,000 pounds each. The tower will have another 18 piles and two tie-backs, supporting its three footings.
"The main purpose of the blasting is to access and set foundations below the surface," said Big Sky Resort’s Construction Manager, Chad Wilson. "This summer's work will not change the shape of the mountain or affect the ski terrain."
Blasting & Micropile Testing
This June, over half a ton of explosives were used to precisely break down parts of solid rock in the peak, creating a workable area for drilling. To help create a sturdy foundation for the top terminal, a footing and large retaining wall support the East face, and 23 micropiles secure the terminal deep into the bedrock to counteract the pulling force of the Tram from below.
"The micropiles help hold the foundation in place and minimizes the excavation needed. We are building this structure for the future – to last many decades up in some of Montana’s harshest weather conditions,” said Ty Jahn, project manager for Condon Johnson, the contractor building the top terminal.
Helicopter trips are happening frequently as more materials are being brought to the summit. This past week, materials, drills, and compressors were flown to the surface to begin micropile installation.
At the tower site, about 600 feet below the top terminal location, team members are creating a level surface to eventually move materials down to, where more drilling and blasting will happen.
Big Sky Resort celebrated the official groundbreaking of tram construction alongside the partners bringing this project to life. Many years of planning have taken place prior to this moment, and the Resort is grateful to have talented people from all over the globe working on one of the capstone projects in the Big Sky 2025 plan.
While winter was on everyone’s mind on the snowy day, General Manager Troy Nedved spoke to how the entire mountain experience will be changed by the addition to our mountain. “This project is about so much more than just skiing,” said Nedved. “The new tram will add opportunities for sightseers to enjoy the summit of Lone Peak in the summer. Coupled with the future gondola, it will allow for pedestrian access to the summit for the first time ever.”
The construction of the original Lone Peak Tram was no easy task, and its replacement comes with lots of challenges as well. Despite the weather, work is progressing on schedule for the anticipated opening in Winter 2023.
Big Sky Resort would like to thank our partners for celebrating the groundbreaking of the new tram with us and for all their hard work:
- Doppelmayr and Garaventa
- Jackson Contractor Group
- Condon Johnson & Associates
- GSBS Architects
- Big Sky Resort Mountain Operations teams – Lift Maintenance, Ski Patrol, Lift Operations, and many other supporting team members
Excavation Begins on Lone Peak
Excavation has begun for the new tram’s top terminal on the summit of Lone Peak, digging amongst higher than average spring snow accumulation. Last week, the mini excavator was flown to the top of Lone Peak at 11,166 feet above sea level by a heavy-lift Chinook helicopter.
The top terminal’s foundation will be secured with rock anchors drilled into the bedrock, which minimizes the amount of excavation and concrete needed. The excavation happening now is to dig a test hole for the rock anchors. Operating heavy machinery on the peak does not happen frequently, but our Mountain Operations team and contractor Condon Johnson both bring years of experience to the job.
"We're excited to be up there doing work,” says John Knapton, Big Sky Resort’s mountain manager. “The crew is right on schedule despite one of the snowiest Mays I can remember in my 25 years working on Lone Mountain." Excavation will continue on and off throughout the summer when conditions permit.
Snow Clearing & Equipment Loading to the Summit
Construction on the new tram coming to Lone Peak started off with a blast. Since Big Sky Resort closed for the winter season on April 24, three to four feet of snow has fallen on the summit. While the spring precipitation is welcome, beginning construction for the new tram required blasting a large cornice overhanging the eastern face from the summit. Ski patrol fired off 56 pounds of explosives, rappelling off the cornice to bury charges in the snow. Burying the charges helps remove more snow, exposing rock and kickstarting the melting process.
“This was a special mission in a different way,” said Mike Buotte, Big Sky Ski Patrol’s director of snow safety. “Unlike the work we do during the ski season, this was less about mitigating avalanche hazard, and much more about snow removal from the summit.”
With the construction platform on the summit safely created, a Chinook helicopter transported equipment that will be used in the construction of the tram’s new upper terminal and tower. The dual-rotor helicopter made five passes to the peak, carrying an 8x8’ toolbox, air compressor, fuel cell, skid steer, and mini excavator. Big Sky Resort’s Lift Maintenance team was on hand at the launch site to rig the equipment to the helicopter, and on the summit to receive each drop. Due to the small construction site and remote location with no service road, much of the construction will be done by hand, with helicopter supply drops happening frequently.
Snow removal and the installation of safety equipment on the summit will be the next big steps to move forward with construction. At the lower terminal, snow removal and surveying are taking place to prep for groundwork and concrete pouring.