Wind: 5 mph
By Erin Post
Fog hung low over General Stark Mountain as a helicopter swooped in to pluck the Single Chair's lift towers off the ski slope early Wednesday morning, June 6.
One by one, the massive structures - some weighing as much as 3,500 pounds -- were unhinged from their concrete bases and flown, dangling from a cable, to the parking lot at the base of Mad River Glen.
A crew on the ground battled wind and sand kicked up by the helicopter to unhook the cable from each tower. Progress was swift: It took less than five minutes to fly a tower off its base, lower it to the parking lot and release it from the chopper. The goal was to have all 22 towers off the mountain on Wednesday.
Eric Friedman, marketing director for Mad River Glen, said once the towers are removed they will be trucked to Maine for sandblasting and painting. Toward the end of this month a helicopter will return to pour new concrete bases in preparation for reinstallation of the towers - again by helicopter - in August.
In September, once the new Single Chair has been installed, a final load test is scheduled as per requirements from the Vermont Tramway Code, Friedman said, adding that the hope is to have the lift up and running for Green and Gold Weekend in October.
Carson Helicopters had been slated to remove the lift towers earlier this spring, but forest fires in Georgia and Florida prevented them from getting to the job before now.
"Their first priority is forest fire work," Friedman said.
However, the hold-up didn't delay work on the Single Chair; Friedman said construction in other areas plowed ahead.
Plans call for the installation of new single chairs-designed specifically for Mad River Glen-as well as replacement of the lift's diesel motor with an electric motor and other improvements.
As the new Single Chair comes together, fund raising continues to gain momentum.
Friedman said the cooperatively owned ski area's capital campaign is "rapidly approaching" the $1.2 million mark.
"We're getting close to the $1.54 million goal," he said.
Sales of the old single chairs have raised an additional $270,000, above and beyond donations to the capital campaign. Naming rights to two lift towers are still available, and donors can still snatch up plaques to be attached to chairs.
In addition, Friedman said a "couple of potential six-digit donors" have expressed an interest in the project.
"We're feeling quite confident," he said. "The community really stepped up."