STRATTON -- A unique marriage was consummated at the mountain last weekend.
That is the phrase used by Stratton Mountain Resort Vice President of Mountain Operations Craig Panarisi in reference to the splicing of cable from which new gondola cabins will hang.
According to Panarisi, the project will take about six weeks and will include changing all the cabins and the gondola rope. There were about 30 people assisting on the day when the splicing took place.
"You don't just put it together with glue or weld it together," said Panarisi. "You got to unbraid it then braid it back together. They call it splicing. It takes so many people because you're braiding it back so far. People have to hold a bunch of different pieces of the wire as you unbraid it."
New gondola cabins arrived at Stratton Mountain in the beginning of August. They had not been replaced since 1988.
Due to the cabins' being different in size, the arcs where the cabins go through at the base and the summit terminals needed to be rebuilt. The new cabins also have different exterior racks that guests will not be accustomed to. The racks hold skis and snowboards. Employees will handle that equipment at the base and summit for at least half of the season, Panarisi told the Reformer.
Another part of the project involves enclosing the entire top terminal, where skiers and riders familiar with the mountain know it can be extremely windy and cold. The design for the enclosure was approved Monday morning and will have a Vermont-inspired look.
Approximately six to eight workers were responsible for taking the old gondola cabins off. The same amount of assistance will be needed in attaching the new cabins and hanging the rope along the towers.
Before the 58 new cabins were delivered, the 58 old ones were sold at $500 each to benefit the non-profit organization Stratton Foundation. They sold out in a matter of days.
"It didn't take long. People were very interested in them," Panarisi said.
According to Mountain Manager Paul Maitland, approximately 14,300 feet of new cable was used for the project. Every foot of that cable weighs 8 pounds. The cable arrived at the mountain on two separate spools. The 104,000-pound spools were dropped on the mountain using a crane.
Panarisi explained how the new cable at Stratton is unique due its size.
"People in the industry call it a rope. But what's unique about this one is it's fatter than most because it holds gondola cabins. I don't think it's that big of a deal to put a new cable or rope onto a lift. Every lift has to have one and they inspect and put new ones on all the time. Every 20 years probably. It depends on where and how much they run it," he said. "It's a really heavy duty cable. It's way fatter than a high speed six pack or high speed quad."
The cable is 50.5 millimeters thick. Larger six pack lifts found at ski resorts can have cables that are 42 to 46 millimeters, Maitland told the Reformer.
"It's considerably larger," he said. "There was a 20-week lead time just to manufacture the rope."
Third generation splicer Justin Knight was at the mountain in 1988 when the gondola was first set up and returned for this job. His father had done the splicing during the original gondola installation.
"The rope we took off just gets worn. The diameter's too small to keep using. It needs replacement," said Panarisi. "There are only a couple people in the world who are good at splicing that together. It's challenging to braid that together."
Knight was 14 years old when the original gondola was put up at Stratton. He learned splicing from his father and grandfather. He left town on Monday to assist with a similar project in Australia, said Panarisi, who recalled seeing Knight splicing at a ski resort he was working at in Idaho 15 years ago.
Panarisi said when the rope is off the tracks, it is a good time to address other things.
"We took advantage of the rope being off to do some long term preventive maintenance," Maitland added.
He pointed out that the replacement of bullwheel ball bearings at the summit and base was a pretty extensive project and took three to four days to complete. Those type of bearings are typically replaced every 10 years.
"We don't want to get in a situation where the bullwheel bearings fail," said Maitland. "Nothing bad would happen. The problem is we can't operate. It basically grinds it apart."
A new gearbox for the lift was installed last year. This year, the service brake was upgraded, which Panarisi said is part of the gearbox's braking mechanism.
Altogether, he estimates approximately $3 million will be spent on upgrades, maintenance and the new cabins for the summit gondola over the past two years.
Once the cabins are put on and the lift is running, a load test will be conducted that will entail filling 50 gallon drums with water then putting the drums into a certain percentage of cabins.
"You stop it a lot and check the brake system to make sure it works," Panarisi said. "It's a big process."
He was not sure if the gondola would be open for Labor Day weekend but felt certain that it would be open for Columbus Day weekend. He anticipates a ribbon cutting ceremony on the first day of skiing.
For Labor day weekend, if the lift is not yet running, cabins will be placed at the bottom terminal for people to get in and feel out. Currently, they are in the parking lot waiting to get picked up.
Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.