New Ptarmigan Chairlift at Lake LouisePosted: December 4, 2008
After a long process of planning, approval, and construction, the brand-new Ptarmigan chair is poised to open to the public in the next few days. This Leitner-Poma fixed-grip quad replaces the older lift of the same name, and will have the same uphill capacity. The unload is in the exact same spot, but the base station has been moved about 5m to the right as you face uphill in order to keep the lift line further away from the forest edge that makes up one side of Exhibition. While the old lift had its drive station at the bottom, this new one has its at the top, which, combined with more modern technology, will result in a reduction of energy required to run the lift.
From start to finish, the fact that Lake Louise is located in a national park governs how any project proceeds, if at all. Since the Ptarmigan chair replacement is what is considered a “like-for-like” construction project, the approval process is less arduous than a proposal for, say, a new lift in an entirely new location. Like-for-like in this case means that what is being built is going in the same place as what is being replaced, with no change in uphill capacity, and little to no terrain modification, deforesting, etc. Any project that does not fall into the like-for-like classification must be included in the long-range plans currently being drafted by the Banff and Jasper ski areas, and are subject to a more intensive review and approval process. Like anything, there are exceptions to the rules, as can be the case when public safety is involved, but even then things are dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
Part of the approval process for the new lift is having guidelines in place to ensure no environmental loss resulted from construction and installation. The resort must do a thorough environmental screening report that addresses the impact of construction on all aspects of the local area – wildlife, plants, waterways, landscape, tourism, etc, and then pays what is called a performance bond, which is returned once construction is complete and all reclamation work has been performed to the satisfaction of Parks Canada. Environmental procedures are many and varied, and can include things like identifying rare plant species, training all construction workers on best practices with regards to bears and other wildlife, and removing and properly disposing of all waste material and old lift components.
So – now that the project is approved, construction can begin. What gets built first? Nothing – the first two months were almost exclusively devoted to removing the old lift. The main exceptions to this were the installation of sediment and drainage controls, and the installation of tower foudations, which were able to proceed before the removal of the old ones due to the slight re-alignment of the lift line.
Once all excavations were complete and all forms in place, then came what is always a big day in the life of a lift construction project – concrete flying! A Bell 214 helicopter was brought in for the day, and even this big machine could only transport about 1 to 1.5 cubic metres of concrete per trip, and the foundation for the lift top station required almost 50 flights to complete. With the flying finished, the concrete was left to cure for a few days, then the pace of construction visibly intensified with the installation of the lift towers and the top and bottom stations.
Just last week, the chair grips arrived from France, and chair installation wrapped up a few days ago. Currently the lift is going through a thorough inspection by provincial authorities to ensure all systems are functioning. One component of this examination is the load test, which involves placing barrels filled with water on each chair to simulate the weight of a loaded lift, and then running the lift under that load. Once this load test is complete, the chair is pretty much ready to go.