New cable for Mt. Eyak chairlift is here

This transit photo shows the Fatzer rope from Switzerland on a flatbed at the Port of Tacoma on its way to Mount Eyak Ski area. Photo courtesy Dave Branshaw

While local skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts have been enjoying another fine season on the slopes of the Mt. Eyak, work is already underway for a major improvement next year.

Sitting on a flat bed at the local Alaska Marine Lines yard is a massive reel containing 7,000 feet of Fatzer rope that weighs over six tons. It’s long journey to Cordova began all the way back in Switzerland, with it eventually arriving in the Port of Tacoma before being shipped here via AML.

The name “rope” is actually a misnomer, for in fact it is a special cable designed for chairlifts by experts in that faraway country that is famous for its fabulous mountainous terrain.

Its arrival has been a long time in the planning.

“We’ve been saving for years to replace the existing cable,” Mt. Eyak Ski Area manager Dave Branshaw said.  “It was inspected and deemed safe for another year of operation this past fall, but is due to be replaced.”

“Chairlift cables stretch with use, and can only be shortened and spliced once,” Branshaw said. “We took out 12 feet back in 1995, so its time is about up.”

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The cable arrived here a month before Christmas, while skiers, snowboarders and snowshoers were already tromping and gliding about Mt. Eyak.

The Mt. Eyak Chairlift cable, which will be replaced this summer, has its longest and highest stretch between the Midway Station and the Top Station. Photo by Dick Shellhorn/for The Cordova Times

“We’ve already had a good year,” Branshaw said. “The rope tow began running on Nov. 12, without artificial snow, and the chair lift started operating on Dec. 3. Plus, there were already lots of backcountry skiers making tracks on Eyak Ridge well before that.”

“We’ve had crowds between 250 to 300 on several days,” Branshaw added. “The rope tow has run 41 days, and the chair lift 21 days.”

Installing the new cable, which likely won’t start until next August, will be quite an operation. The first step will be to take all the chairs off the existing cable. Branshaw estimates that will take a week, using local ski area staff and ski club volunteers.

Then Rigging Specialties from Canada, a firm that travels all over the country, will come in and replace the cable, with the help of heavy equipment from Cordova’s Wilson Construction.

“Basically, they splice the new cable onto the end of the old one, and then use the heavy equipment to gradually pull it all the way up and through the pulleys on the towers back to the bottom,” Branshaw said.

Then it is spliced back together, and the chairs are re-attached.

Sounds pretty simple, but will be fun to watch.

And just like that, snow enthusiasts will be back on the slopes of Mt. Eyak for more fun — once the snow flies.