Jubilant cries went up from the crowd as Purgatory owner James Coleman Jr. and his wife, Tonia, christened the new Lift 8 on Saturday morning.
A large crowd gathered around the new high-speed detachable quad Legends Lift to watch the ceremonies and experience the accelerated ride many had anticipated.
“It’s just so huge for this resort and this community,” Coleman said.
Even though staff made sure the lift could carry 910 pounds of weight before opening it up to the public, Coleman was pleased to see the lift passing its most important test Saturday – safely serving skiers.
“It’s fast, it’s smooth, it’s quiet,” he said.
The ride that used to take about 15 minutes now takes 5, and it’s a change that will draw far more people to the terrain on the backside of the resort, said Purgatory CEO Gary Derck.
In addition to the new lift, the resort put in new snowmaking equipment and cut two new trails off Ray’s Ridge that will likely be named during the reunion weekend celebration in February, Derck said. The tree-clearing efforts opened up about 5 acres of new terrain.
The resort invested about $6 million in the project, not including all the labor required, Derck said. Next summer, the resort is likely to invest more in improvements.
“We’re not resting on our laurels,” he said.
Another new lift on the backside of the mountain and more snow-making equipment is likely coming soon, Coleman said.
Some of Purgatory’s legendary figures and many dedicated locals, who came out to enjoy the day under clear skies, have been impressed by Coleman’s investment in the mountain.
“It’s so refreshing to know that after 50 years, we have an owner that’s going to realize the potential the mountain’s got,” said “Dirty” Don Hinkley, a former manager of Purgatory’s ski patrol.
The lift and new owner also received accolades from Charlie Siegle, another former head of the ski patrol.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said of the lift.
For Fred and Mike Blackburn, sons of Keith Blackburn, who managed the lift lines for many years, Saturday’s event brought back memories of constructing the original Lift 8 and clearing timber.
Mud was a big challenge both times the area was cleared, said the Blackburns and Mike McCormack, senior vice president of mountain operations.
Both projects also required helicopters to bring in construction materials. This time, towers were constructed in the parking lot and then flown over the ridge to be installed.
Some locals were sad to see that the Legends’ upgrade did not include a mid-lift partially up the mountain. That could have added significant expense, up to 60 percent of the total, Coleman said.
Where the mid-lift stood, a switchback was added to give skiers an alternative to the steep slope above the Legends Lift.
The attention Coleman has shown the mountain recently and his focus on the skiing and snowboarding experience also drew Fred Blackburn’s praise.
“There’s been a real commitment to skiing, not real estate,” he said.