If you have ever caught a ride on Eagle Express chairlift at Solitude, you have experienced a piece of history. Eagle Express was the first detachable quad chairlift in Utah, installed in 1989 by the DeSeelhorst family. It has an uphill capacity of 2,800 people per hour, delivering hundreds of thousands of skiers and riders per season to Eagle Ridge, where they can drop into Honeycomb Canyon, cruise Sunshine Bowl, or careen down Challenger, the steepest groomed run in Utah.
Our lift maintenance crew works hard to keep Eagle Express running just like the day we first fired it up.
This summer, they undertook a multi-week process to replace all nine bearings that keep the drive bullwheel of Eagle Express turning smoothly. Eagle Express is a bottom-drive quad, meaning the power that moves the cable and chairs pushes uphill from the bottom terminal, located at the lower end of Moonbeam parking lot. Most modern detachable chairlifts are top-drive, meaning the cable and chairs are pulled from the top terminal.
In order to create slack in the line before disassembling the bottom machinery, the lift maintenance team carefully derailed the cable from the lowest three towers and used a system of clamps and turnbuckles to anchor the weight of the system to the bottom tower.
The bullwheel is lifted on blocks for access during the project.
The two largest bearings have a diameter of 420 mm – that’s over 16.5 inches!
Once the nine bearings, flown in from Nevada, Tennessee, and Italy, arrived, it was time to reverse the whole process.
A reliable chairlift depends on tightly fitted connections between every concentric component: the center shaft, the bearings, and the bullwheel. The lift maintenance team uses a process of heating and cooling the components with torches, a warming oven, insulating foil, and dry ice to cause them to expand or shrink ever so slightly before sliding them together. As the hot and cold pieces return to the ambient temperature, they shrink or expand to create a perfect fit.
While work is going on, the weight of the bullwheel rests half on blocks and half on a set of straps hanging from above. The team uses a system of pulleys, chains, and ratchets to move the bullwheel up and down while keeping a precise 1.5-degree angle, the angle it operates at during the winter.
As the bullwheel comes down, support blocks are removed one by one to keep a safety catch just a few inches away at all times. The whole process is a significant team effort and requires constant communication.
For operation, the bullwheel is at a slight angle of 1.5 degrees, so the process of reassembly had to take this into account at every step. Finally, it was back in its home and ready to roll.
The Eagle Express drive bullwheel weighs about 15,000 lbs. – and that’s without the gears inside! Next time you ride Eagle Express, look up as you load onto your chair. It is one of the rare detachable chairlifts with an open-bottom terminal, providing a view into the inner workings that keep Solitude skiers and riders on the move!