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Picture thanks to Bill F.
By Bill Fetcher
The World’s Longest Single-Span Ski Lift
Steamboat Springs’ first attempt to become a major ski area began in late
January 1948 with the opening of a ski lift to the summit of Emerald
Mountain, conveniently situated behind and southwest of Howelsen Hill.
Several factors combined to provide impetus towards building the lift. In
1945 at the close of WWII, to honor war casualties the American Legion
cleared the Veterans Memorial Trail from the top of Emerald Mountain.
Access to the trail was via hiking or crawler tractors. Howelsen Hill,
owned and run by the city, had been functioning for nearly 30 years as a
jumping and (later) slalom hill. Skiing, mostly the sport of royalty and
celebrities before the war was becoming increasingly popular among the
American public. And finally, Steamboat, like towns everywhere in
America was caught up in a spirit of post-war optimism and
The lift was built during the summer of 1947; Aspen’s “world’s longest ski
lift” had opened that January. With a vertical rise of 1,440 ft. and a length
of 8,850 ft. it was longer than Aspen’s No. 1 chairlift thought not as long
as the 2.5-mile length of No. 1 and No. 2 combined. This was sufficient
for it to be billed as the “world’s longest single-span ski lift” as advertised
on billboards on the outskirts of Steamboat. Unique for this lift was the
combined use of T-bars and single chairs, two T-bars between each chair.
After two years this practice was dropped; the T-bars were used by
skiers in winter and were replaced by the chairs in summer for sightseers.
Unfortunately my hometown of Steamboat Springs has a sorry record of
ramrodding expensive projects into existence, settling for second best, and
ending up with a city-sponsored white elephant that must be either rebuilt
or abandoned. In the case of the lift, it was the use of steel tower sheaves
rather than more expensive rubber-lined ones. (This was also in keeping
with the terms of Constam's patents.) The cable, passing over these steel
wheels, would wear out prematurely and would need replacing every two
years, an expensive proposition considering three miles of cable. The lift
became a financial liability and in 1954, after only six years, skiing on
Emerald Mountain came to an end when the lift was shortened to serve
only Howelsen Hill. This is did till 1970 when it was replaced by the
present Poma lift. The old lift line on Emerald is plainly visible but the
Veterans Memorial Trail and other runs have all but grown over.
Steamboat Springs would wait till the late ‘50’s and early ‘60’s when
construction on the present Steamboat Ski Area would begin.
There were some things to be learned from this experience. The lift’s low
capacity of 300 skiers per hour would result in long lift-lines, the result of
the post-war boom in skiing. Who cared that it was the “world’s longest
whatever,” the lift was slow, uncomfortable and fraught with maintenance
Simply stringing a lift up a mountain is no guarantee of good skiing.
Emerald Mountain, with the profile of a Barcalounger, offered two
choices: steep or flat, with little intermediate terrain.
Lastly, spend the extra money and get something good.
|A preserved chair from the Emerald
Mountain lift, which now resides in the
Treads of the Pioneer Museum in
|Sheaves from the Constam lift on