The 2021/22 season marks a new chapter in Okemo’s lift history

Posted January 02, 2022
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By Bonnie MacPherson

Okemo has completed a transformational upgrade recently as part of a Vail Resorts' capital improvement plan that makes accessing the mountain faster and easier than ever. Major infrastructure improvements that took place between April and November 2021 include the relocation of one high-speed bubble chairlift and the installation of a new high-speed, six-passenger chairlift – as well as terrain and snowmaking expansions. But this isn’t the first time Okemo has been a trailblazer in the utilization of state-of-the-art technology to move skiers uphill.

1955: In the Beginning

In 1955, when Okemo was first in development, the ski area’s initial two lifts were built by Pomagalski S.A., of Grenoble, France. Jean Pomagalski, whose company also manufactured chairlifts, had invented the Pomalift, or “poma” as it was known generically. A Pomalift is a surface lift with a disk that skiers straddle, connected to a long pole that is attached to an overhead cable. The design was considered superior to rope tows and T-bars. The Pomalift had a good reputation as a high-capacity lift that was faster and easier to use than other surface lifts. In October 1955, Jean Pomagalski visited Okemo to resurvey the lift lines and review the plans of what would be known as The Lower Lift and The Upper Lift – the longest (6,207 feet) Pomalift in the country and the longest surface lift in North America according to reports at the time. Pomagalski returned in January to test the lifts and place them into operation.

1958: On The Move Up

During the summer of 1958, Okemo’s third lift was installed. The new Lower #2 Poma ran parallel to the first lower lift and was intended to reduce lines with its 950 skiers-per-hour capacity (upgrading total lift capacity to 2,100 skiers per hour). Lift capacity was increased again, to 4,500 skiers per hour, in the early 1960s with the introduction and reconfiguration of lifts that included Middle #2 Poma, Upper #2 Poma and the Baby Poma that serviced a new novice area.

1964: The Colors of the Rainbow

Okemo’s 1964/1965 season upgrades included painting the lifts, giving them a fresh, multi-colored appearance and new names as they each became identified by their colors: Yellow, Blue, Red, Black and Green (Baby Poma was the only exception).

1965 - 1971: Okemo’s First Chairlifts

The Sachem Double, Okemo’s first chairlift, was manufactured by Poma and installed in 1965. In combination with another new surface lift, the F-10 Poma, uphill capacity increased to 6,000 skiers per hour. In 1969 a second chairlift, the Northwest Summit Double Chair, was installed (where Glades Peak is now). A third chairlift made its debut in 1971, but the 1970s were difficult times with the gas shortage, and it wasn’t until the 1980s that new chairlifts started to make an appearance again – all triples and quads.

1992: Detachables

Okemo’s first high-speed detachable quad was installed in 1992. It replaced the Northeast Triple that made its debut nine years earlier. The new Northstar Express, another Poma-manufactured lift that was the fastest, highest-capacity model available at the time, offered a six-minute ride to the summit and created such a demand that by the mid-90s, after the addition of more detachables, Okemo’s uphill capacity was one of the highest in the East at 23,200 riders per hour.

2014: Lifts de Luxe

Okemo raised the bar on comfort and convenience in 2014 when it replaced the Northstar Express with the Sunburst Six, a six-passenger chairlift outfitted with retractable, transparent orange domes to protect skiers and riders from wind and weather. Ample, padded sofa-like bench seats offered an added bonus of being heated! Okemo’s bubble chair was so well received, a second high-speed bubble chairlift named Quantum Four made its debut the next winter – making Okemo the first resort in North America to feature multiple bubble chairlifts.

Today: A New Chapter

New this year, Okemo has upgraded the upper-mountain lift at Jackson Gore from a four-person to a six-person, high-speed chairlift, now named Quantum Six. The four-person lift it replaced (the second orange bubble chair installed in 2015) has been relocated and renamed. Where the Green Poma once stood, and in the footprint of the Green Ridge Triple that replaced it in 1986, the Evergreen Summit Express now transports skiers and snowboarders to the summit in the comfort of a cozy bubble in less than five minutes. Both lifts were manufactured by Leitner-Poma of America. Uphill lift capacity is approaching 36,000 riders per hour, and Okemo now has two bubbles that access the summit. Who could have imagined such a thing in the mid-1950s? A new connector trail that leads from the intersection of Upper Mountain Road and Roundhouse Run to the base of the new Evergreen Summit Express is making the summit and its variety of terrain more accessible. Skiers and riders approaching from the Jackson Gore area have faster and easier summit access, relieving congestion at the resort’s primary summit lift, The Sunburst Six, and improving the overall mountain experience for skiing and riding guests. 

Looking Ahead

Vail Resorts continues to make significant investments to enhance the guest experience across its entire portfolio of world-class ski resorts as a part of an Epic Lift Upgrade. These capital investment projects underscore the company’s commitment to giving guests the Experience of a Lifetime at all 34 North American resorts by expanding terrain, opening the door to new bowls, spreading people more quickly and efficiently across the mountains, welcoming more people into the sport with more access to beginner and intermediate terrain, and elevating the overall experience. Vail Resorts is investing $120 million into capital investment projects this year, including and another $320 million next year, marking the company's largest ever single-year investment into the mountain experience.

Special thanks to Karen D. Lorentz, and her book “OKEMO All Come Home,” for being the source of historical information for this blog post.

Bonnie MacPherson is a native New Englander who learned to ski in Vermont. She abandoned the bright lights of Boston and the routine weekend-warrior exodus northward in exchange for a ski-town lifestyle in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. She eventually succumbed to the allure of the West, crossing the mighty Connecticut River to settle in Vermont where she shares her 1834 farmhouse and garden with her dog, Wellington, and a small flock of winter-hardy laying hens.