New Hampshire’s Loon Mountain resort installed a new eight-seat D-Line Doppelmayr chairlift before the start of this ski season. This summer, Sunday River in Newry is planning to install what it bills as the “fastest 8-person chairlift in North America.” Courtesy of Loon Mountain

I was about halfway up Loon Mountain, hanging from a cable 50 feet in the air, when I realized I was locked in.

Don’t worry, I wasn’t in any danger. I was riding on the Kancamagus 8, a new eight-seat D-Line Doppelmayr chair that was installed at the Lincoln, New Hampshire, resort during the summer. It’s a lift that the resort touts as the most technologically advanced chairlift in North America, packed with a press-release-promised “205 new developments.” One of these developments, I discovered, was a safety bar that locks into place as soon as you put it down. No more flipping the safety bar up a few towers from the top terminal – once it’s down, the bar stays down until automatically opening a few yards from the unload ramp.

The Kancamagus 8 (or Kanc 8 from here out, to match the resort’s marketing and save me a few column inches) replaced the Kancamagus Express Quad, which was installed at Loon in 1995. The new lift is impossible to confuse with its predecessor, first because of the massive bottom terminal that sits beside the Governor Adams lodge. The multi-story building resembles an airplane hangar, and skiers enter through an RFID (radio frequency identification) gate and a bay door to load the chairlift from inside. Unlike a gondola, where you’d kick off your gear and boot your way indoors, a strip of snow is groomed into the building, so you ski on in (past a huge video feed displaying live lift and trail conditions), slip onto a loading carpet, and are conveyor-belted your seat on the eight-person chair.

It’s also striking how quiet the whole operation is. One of those 200-plus innovations is “Doppelmayr Direct Drive (DDD),” which means the whole thing is locomoted by a gearless drive. In addition to being quiet – a blessing in the echo-y terminal – Doppelmayr says the new drive is both low maintenance and has increased energy efficiency.

So, what’s it like riding on the “most modern chairlift in the world?” I think the words I used most often in describing it are “swish” and “luxe.” In addition to the locking safety bar, each chair is kitted out with ergonomic, heated seats and backrests. Rather than a shared footrest for each pair of riders, each passenger gets an individual footrest that sits between their legs. There’s an optional bubble shield you can pull down as well, which blocks snow and wind and, frankly, gives the chair the feel of some kind of sci-fi clubhouse. The lift rips along at 18 feet a second, which translates to moving 3,500 skiers uphill per hour.

As with all improvements in lifts, the Kanc 8 feels more incremental than revolutionary, as nice as it is. For hardcore skiers and riders, lifts and amenities are a means to an end, with what’s under the lift on the trail being the most important thing. I’d be lying if I said I’d trade terrain, conditions, or a lift ticket that was $20 less for a space-age lift. But I’d also be lying if I said the old Loon quads and gondola didn’t feel a little slower, a little colder, a little more uncomfortable after riding the Kanc 8. And maybe that’s the point.

Advertisement

The main reason I sneaked over to the White Mountains to check out the Kanc 8 wasn’t the gee-whiz factor of the new technology – it was for a preview of things to come here in Maine. This summer, Newry’s Sunday River is planning to install the Jordan 8 chairlift, replacing the Jordan Bowl Express that currently serves the resort’s western flank. Billing it as the “fastest 8-person chairlift in North America,” the new lift will be arriving with the same 31 innovations, the same 14 patents, and the same pomp and circumstance. One key difference for the Jordan 8? The bubbles that protect riders won’t be slate gray, but the resort’s signature “Sunday River Red.”

The new lift is just one of three lift upgrades planned for Maine’s busiest ski area over the next few years. This summer, Sunday River installed a new fixed grip triple chair on Merrill Hill, a terrain expansion/real estate development to the north of South Ridge Lodge (bringing the total number of lifts to an eye-popping 19). Both the lift and the new terrain it services should be open on select dates for a sneak peek later this winter; a grand opening and regular operation are planned for the 2022-23 season. The following season (that’s putting us out in 2023, for those keeping track), the uprooted Jordan Bowl Express will be redesigned, rebuilt, and find a new home on Barker Mountain. The move is more than just a simple swap – it’ll increase uphill capacity on Barker by a third, and run 25% faster than the lift it’s replacing.

Both the Kanc 8 and Jordan 8 are part of 10-year expansion and improvement plans at Loon and Sunday River by corporate parent Boyne Resorts, which include new real estate, restaurants, terrain, and infrastructure. Sugarloaf, also a Boyne property, has a similar plan for the next decade. The plans are universally ambitious, particularly in the face of climate change and declining skier numbers putting the future of the industry on uncertain footing. All three resorts have landing pages on their websites detailing these expansive plans.

Boyne also recently added Bridgton’s Shawnee Peak to its portfolio, completing a purchase of the 84-year-old ski area this October. No plans have been announced yet as to whether Shawnee will see similar expansions in terrain, facilities, or infrastructure.

Josh Christie is the author of four books, most recently “Skiing Maine,” and co-owner of Print: A Bookstore, an independent bookstore in Portland. He also writes about beer, books and the outdoors.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.