First, first chair! Left to right: Big Sky Resort Mountain Operations Vice President Mike Unruh, Big Sky Resort General Manager Taylor Middleton, Dominik Falkner of Doppelmayr Everett Kircher, President of Boyne Resorts Stephen Kircher, President of Doppelmayr USA Mark Bee, John McGregor of Big Sky Resort, Randy Woolwine, Doppelmayr’s president of sales.

Charging ahead

Big Sky Resort opens Ramcharger 8, North America’s first eight-seater lift
“When you look back at your career, there are a few special lifts you remember,” Bee said. “This is one of those lifts. It’s something I’ll look back on, and it’ll last longer than I will.”

When Boyne Resorts President Stephen Kircher first set eyes on the completed Ramcharger 8, he said it blew his mind. Sure, Kircher was well aware what the eight-seater would be like – he was the one who decided to pull the trigger and bring the state-of-the-art chairlift to Big Sky. But when he approached the lit up, futuristic lift in person on the eve of the December 15 ribbon cutting ceremony, Kircher said it was an experience he won’t forget.

The Ramcharger 8 story began less than a year ago in Austria.

As part of the Big Sky 2025 resort master plan, Kircher had originally planned on adding a six-seater, top-end detachable Doppelmayr D-Line to replace the four-seat Ramcharger lift that accesses Andesite Mountain as well as Spanish Peaks and Yellowstone Clubs. An eight-seater was just an idea he’d been toying with.

Whatever the size, Kircher wanted to go to Europe to see what the D-Line lifts were all about. “Seeing the D-Line, it was clear that was the direction we wanted to go,” said Kircher, seated at Everett’s 8,800, a restaurant named after his father, following the ribbon cutting. In the background a traditional Austrian cowbell – a symbol of good fortune – which was presented at the ribbon cutting to Big Sky Resort by Doppelmayr, chimed.

Kircher said it was an “infamous” evening in late January of this year at a Soelden hotel bar with Doppelmayer’s president of sales, Randy Woolwine, that sealed the deal on the larger lift. Kircher looks back fondly at the conversation, recalling Woolwine gazing over his beer at him, saying, “You know, I think you need to make the leap – no one’s done it, you need to make the first eight-place in North America.”

Kircher recollected he said something along the lines of, “You’re kidding me,” recalling the back and forth banter over beers between himself and Woolwine. “We decided at that moment that that was the direction we should go.”

He also recalled ringing up Big Sky Resort General Manager Taylor Middleton about the lofty new project, which fit right in the “Biggest Skiing in America” brand. Kircher didn’t tell Middleton just then that they’d be pursuing the eight-seater. Middleton laughed at the memory, noting that Kircher asked if he was sitting down when he told him the big plans that lie ahead.

The Big Sky team then had to collaborate with the powers that be at Doppelmayr to make it happen – the company hadn’t yet built an eight-place D-line lift in Europe, let alone in the United States. But after a number of meetings, the deal was officially sealed, and the real work began.

A lofty deadline is set

Timing was everything – Dec. 15, 2018 was selected as the day for the big Ramcharger 8 unveiling. And for good reason; that was the very day back in 1973 when Big Sky Resort had its grand opening.

So, 45 years later to the day, the resort was celebrating once more. Middleton spoke to that significance at the ribbon cutting ceremony, giving a shout-out to two members of the crowd who held the first and second-ever lift tickets to Big Sky Resort, just little boys at the time. “It’s pretty cool,” said Middleton, “a significant piece of history.”

This spring and summer as the community watched the new lift being built, there were times it seemed impossible that a new of such high caliber lift would be ready by mid-December.

There were of course hiccups along the way, namely the realization in June that the chair barn would have to be relocated from the base area to the top of the lift. That aspect of the project is still being completed, but all the moving pieces still came together in the end.

Looking out the window from Everett’s at the big blue-bubbled chairs flying past, Middleton didn’t flinch when asked what he thought the possibility was of actually getting Ramcharger 8 done in less than a year. “This is impossible, we shouldn’t be able to do that,” he said, explaining that normally, a lift like Ramcharger 8 would be ordered a year, or year-and-a-half in advance. “How we are able to do it, is because we’re an entrepreneurial organization, and we are used to moving fast. We understand at times you sometimes have to pivot, and then you just figure it out, and you just do it.”

Kircher agreed, giving props to Doppelmayr. “They certainly put the full force on this, it’s a very important project for them.”

A word from Doppelmayr

Mark Bee, president of Doppelmayr USA was at the ribbon cutting ceremony. This being the first D-Line eight-passenger, he said there were certainly doubts they’d be able to make the mid-December deadline. There was still a lot of engineering development and testing that still needed to be completed in Austria before Ramcharger 8 was ready to be shipped across the ocean to Montana.

The shipping alone took six weeks, then add a month of in-depth testing done by five Austrian lift techs to make sure every little (and massive) piece was perfect, so it took longer than normal for the lift to get the stamp of approval. “Since this has never been done before, there was a pretty big learning curve trying to put one together,” said Bee. “It’s amazing what those guys accomplished in just a short period of time.”

That work, done in eight or so months under the guidance of Jamie Kanzler, also included reassembling the former Ramcharger lift to replace Shedhorn, as well as building a brand-new gondola over at the Yellowstone Club.

With shiny adjectives like “state-of-the-art,” “never been done before,” and “remarkable,” being thrown around readily in conversations about Ramcharger 8, the message has been pretty clear it’s a special lift. Bee would have to agree. “When you look back at your career, there are a few special lifts you remember,” he said. “This is one of those lifts. It’s something I’ll look back on, and it’ll last longer than I will.”

Why Andesite? And what’s next?

Critics of the project, found readily on social media, called out Big Sky Resort for choosing to upgrade Ramcharger rather than, say, Swift Current, which brings riders up to Lone Peak’s terrain. Kircher touched upon that criticism at the ribbon cutting ceremony, and again later when asked why he decided to go the route he did. “This is part of a long-term plan,” he said. “We are laying out a lift system and an experiential food and beverage experience, a hotel, all the things that make an experience great. All these pieces sequence together logically.”

Part of that logic was the imminent need to update Shedhorn lift, which Kircher noted originally came from the old Ramshead lift. The latest swap was made possible by moving the old Ramcharger lift to Shedhorn. “It was part of the bigger picture.”

Next steps, said Kircher, will include dealing with redundancy and capacity needs up to Lone Mountain with a future gondola, which will upgrade beginner experiences and add more on-mountain food and beverage options he hopes will be on-par with those in Europe.

That two-stage gondola, which Middleton described as the “next big thing” for the resort, and all that comes with it, is on track replace Explorer lift in approximately 18 months.

Speaking of new gondola experiences, the resort announced at the ribbon cutting, via the large screen on Ramcharger 8, that gondola chairs will be added to Ramcharger 8 next winter, in which riders can order food and drinks while seated at a table in the comfort of the cabin.

Another “shovel-ready” project, said Kircher, is the transformation of the upper level of the Mountain Mall into a food hall, which he feels will likely have as big an impact on the food and beverage experience as anything they’ve done before at the resort.

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