A wet spring saturated the topsoil so much at Whitefish Mountain Resort that tower 6 on Chair 1 went on the move. Repairing the tower is no small task, but the resort has the project underway with hopes of having the lift running again by the end of September.
Heavy spring snow and rain caused a slump in the Headwall, a steep 33-degree slope under Chair 1. "The steepness and the amount of moisture this spring equaled the perfect storm," spokesperson Riley Polumbus told OnTheSnow. On June 20, the slump shot about 400 feet across the slope with a 30- to 65-foot depth. The slump caused Tower 6 to move four inches out of plumb, shutting down the chairlift for summer sightseeing, mountain biking, hiking, weddings, and dining.
Fixing the tower has proven to be a complicated project, requiring much more than pouring another cement slab and moving the tower. First, lift maintenance crews had to remove chairs and gondolas from the line to reduce the tension on the cable before the tower could even be removed.
Usually when towers are flown in and out of place by helicopters during installation or dismantling of lifts, all other lift paraphernalia has either been removed first or isn't installed yet. No such luck for Whitefish. "To take the tower off the pedestal was like threading a needle," Chester Powell, mountain operations manager, told us. "Once the cross arms and sheaves were flown out, the helicopter pilot had to thread the tower in between the lift cables, communication lines, and fiber optic cables. It was pretty impressive."
After flying the tower out, the resort brought in experts to analyze the soil surface and take core samples from the slope. A new road had to be built across the steep slope just to get to the tower site to drill core samples. "It's a tricky spot, and tricky to get in to," said Polumbus.
By late August, reconstruction was underway. CMG Engineering, Inc. of Kalispell, Mont. designed a way to anchor the tower to the slope in order to allow it to withstand the Headwall sliding again. Twenty-eight micropiles comprised of steel rods, grout, and casings are being drilled through 40 feet of soil and into 25 feet of bedrock to anchor the tower. A large cement pile cap will tie the micropiles together and form the base for the tower, which will be flown back into place by helicopter.
"The project is on schedule," Polumbus assured us. "We want to get the lift running again for scenic rides before the end of September."
A close up look at the drilling project at Whitefish Mountain Resort. Photo courtesy of Whitefish Mountain Resort.
Crews run a drill for sinking micropiles into the slopes at Whitefish. Photo courtesy of Whitefish Mountain Resort.