It took less than an hour-and-a-half on Wednesday morning for all 11 lift towers for Bogus Basin’s new Morning Star chairlift to be installed and set by a helicopter crew.

“Those guys did a hell of a job — that’s pretty impressive,” said Nate Shake, Bogus Basin mountain operations manager.

Wednesday’s work leaves the mountain on track to open the new high-speed quad chairlift around the end of the first week in December — which is the nonprofit ski resort’s projected opening date.

The new $5 million Doppelmayr lift — paid for in cash, thanks to a strong ski season last year and record season-pass sales — will cut the ride from the base to the upper lodge from 9 minutes down to 3 minutes.

“It will at least double, if not triple, the capacity,” Shake said.

The new lift replaces the creaky old Morning Star triple chair, the bane of beginners moving up from the bunny hill and advanced skiers headed for the backside alike. It should spell the end of the gigantic waiting lines that Morning Star often developed, particularly on busy weekend ski days.

It’s part of $18 million the ski and summer resort has invested into improvements on the mountain in the past three years, all paid for in cash. That includes the Glade Runner mountain coaster and a new snowmaking system, funded in large part by community contributions through a capital campaign.

It also marks the first new chairlift for Bogus Basin since 2011; it brings the total number of high-speed, detachable quads at the resort 16 miles north of Boise to four. The detachable lifts are user-friendly because they slow for loading at the bottom, before speeding up for the high-speed ride to the top, where they slow again for easier unloading.

Tamarack Resort about 100 miles north also had towers set by helicopter this week for a new high-speed quad chairlift; it will replace the Wildwood lift, which was repossessed by a bank seven years ago and has been missing since. Highlander Lift Services & Construction, the same company installing the new Bogus Basin lift, flew in 18 towers at Tamarack on Tuesday. The new lift there will reestablish lift service to 200 acres of skiable terrain at the resort near Donnelly.

THE PROJECT

Crews from the firm have been at work on the new chairlift at Bogus since June. Bogus started the work in May, with snow still on the ground, when it demolished the old Morning Star chairlift, a job that included cutting off the old lift towers with a torch, dropping them like trees, and then skidding them off over the snow. Most of the old towers have now been repurposed as light poles, and will light the Morning Star run near the chair for night skiing.

“We used quite a few,” Shake said.

All the old tower bases then had to be excavated and the old concrete removed; the new tower bases are much larger. They then had to be formed and poured, and extensive grading work conducted at the new chairlift’s base.

Helo lift install

Dust clouds swirl around workers from Highlander Ski Lift Services & Construction as a helicopter assists in placing the top of one of 11 towers that will support a new chair lift at Bogus Basin, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019.

With all that in place, the stage was set for Wednesday’s helicopter-assisted tower placement. The towers range in height from 17 feet to 45 feet. Each was lifted, one by one, at the end of a long, orange cable hanging from the bright-blue helicopter, and guided right into place, where crews on the ground were waiting.

“Wow, this guy’s a pro,” Shake marveled, as the helicopter operator lowered a tower precisely into place.

After setting the towers, the helicopter crew lifted in each tower head, a pre-assembled piece already rigged with the sheaves that will carry the lines for the new lift. Workers on the ground, bundled in goggles and helmets for the swirling dust, guided the tower heads into place with guide lines, while another worker who’d quickly scaled the tower secured the top in place with bolts.

Helo lift install

Nate Shake, Bogus Basin mountain operations manager, poses in front of the new towers that will support a new $5 million Doppelmayr lift, Wednesday.

Top: A Sikorsky UH-60A, operated by Timberline Helicopters, hovers low to set in place one of 11 towers that will support a new $5 million Doppelmayr ski lift at Bogus Basin, Wednesday.

Above: Dust clouds swirl around workers from Highlander Ski Lift Services & Construction as a helicopter assists in placing the top of one of 11 towers that will support a new chair lift at Bogus Basin, Wednesday

Two crews leap-frogged down the chair line from top to bottom to set all the towers.

The helicopter lifted off at 8:36 a.m. on Wednesday; the whole job was done by 9:55.

Next steps include building the terminals at the bottom and top, including pouring more concrete; building the operators’ shacks; pulling all the lines into place and assembling and mounting the chairs.

Bogus Basin employees, supporters, onlookers and members of the news media gathered on the hill to watch the dramatic flying-in of the towers, snapping pictures, pointing, and ducking when the helicopter sent whirls of flying dust their way.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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