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Lift towers rise on Detroit Mountain

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DETROIT LAKES, Minn. — Detroit Mountain is a whirlwind of activity as a new four-seasons park comes together.

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 The Detroit Mountain Recreation Area is on track to be open for skiing, tubing and snowboarding this winter. 

On a recent visit, grading work was underway for a two-tiered parking area west of the new alpine lodge, while on the other side of the building a crane was being hauled out after helping set up a 19,000-pound drive carriage assembly for one of two triple chairlifts.

Newly erected steel towers for the chairlifts marched up the mountain. The towers are of varying size, with the tallest about 37 feet. One ski run has six towers, and another has five.

Elsewhere, a mini bulldozer and mini excavator were busy constructing mountain bike trails.

Inside the lodge it was mostly quiet, with the exception of a woman sanding the wood around the bar, preparing to give it a new coat of stain to create an aged-wood look.

Except for landscaping and some finishing touches, most of the work on the new lodge is done, inside and out.

Going up

“We’ve got the chairlift installations happening,” said Jeff Staley, general manager at Detroit Mountain Recreation Area.

“There are currently two chairlifts going up, for the Chipmunk and West runs. This involves standing up all the towers, setting the drive terminals and placing the motor rooms. They’ll progress into splicing the cables and hanging the chairs, and load testing after that.”

When fully loaded, the two triple chairlifts will contain more than 100,000 pounds of steel, said Richard Combs, general manager of SkyTrans Manufacturing LLC of Contoocook, N.H., which is doing the work.

“This one took a little bit longer (to install) because it’s a brand-new design,” he said. “We ended up building practically brand-new lifts for less than most people would charge for a used lift.”

It’s “practically brand-new” because some of the big steel support beams in the towers were repurposed from a former amusement park ride.

The lifts will carry skiers in the wintertime and mountain bikers in the summertime, thanks to removable bike racks that can be bolted to the back of the chairs.

“We will have people trained for (chairlift) evacuation in summer and winter,” said Shelly Stowman, marketing, events and snowsports director for the Detroit Mountain Recreation Area.

The triple chairlifts will each carry up to 1,000 people per hour, with the ability to add chairs to handle 1,500 people per hour, Combs said.

They’ll move at 400 feet per minute in the winter and 200 to 300 feet per minute in the summer, since skiers just glide off, while bikers need time to step off and get their bicycles.

The lift operator also can push the “slow” button, reducing speed to half of its regular setting.

“If you have elderly riders, or small children, you’d slow it down to half-speed for them,” Combs said. “You don’t want to stop the ride unless you have to; it’s designed to run continually.”

Magic carpet ride

Once the overhead chairlifts are completed, installation will begin on two rope tows and two “magic carpet” conveyor belts.

There will be a magic carpet for the tubing area, a tow rope for the snowboard and trick ski terrain park, and one each for the “learn to ski” area, Staley said.

Workers also are building mountain bike “cross-country flow” trails, Staley said. “We will have gravity-fed trails eventually, with lift service available, probably in late 2015.”

The Ski Patrol has been organizing over the last two months, he added.

“They’ve got a good group established. They’ve completed CPR training and began outdoors emergency care training. They’ll be good to go this winter.”

Detroit Lakes Public Utilities workers have been busy running power lines at the site.

“Wild Rice Electric will provide electricity, but DL Public Utilities is running the power lines within the site since they (the city) are going to be the owner of the property,” Staley said.

Two existing wells on the site provide water, one for potable water and one for snowmaking.

The Scheels sporting goods chain has contributed a sizeable donation and gained naming rights to the terrain park.

“Scheels has been a great supporter,” Staley said. “They’re a good partner to have and a great resource to help us market the ski area and terrain park – their customer is our customer.”

Ready for the opener

A donor’s event is set for Aug. 26, with an open house for the public set for Labor Day weekend.

“Everything is on schedule, we’re not having any issues at this point,” Staley said. “We’re just trying to get everything to a point we’re happy with by the Aug. 26 event. As far as the winter opening, we’re on schedule. … From an operational standpoint, our goal is to be open by Thanksgiving weekend every year, sooner if the weather cooperates.”

This first year, in particular, Staley hopes for an early “soft opener,” to give staff the chance to get familiar with equipment and procedures.

“This is going to be a great place,” said Combs, looking around the site. “The people of Detroit Lakes and Fargo are going to have a great time here.”

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