Boyne’s president describes the chairlift’s historic significance
By Tyler Allen EBS Managing Editor
BIG SKY – A prototypical bluebird morning at Big Sky Resort found hundreds gathered on Dec. 15 to witness shockwaves ripple into the North American ski industry. A roar erupted from the crowd as Stephen Kircher, president of Boyne Resorts, and his son Everett, employed a giant pair of scissors to cut the ribbon on the most technologically advanced lift in the world.
The legions of skiers, snowboarders and journalists were on hand to see the Doppelmayr-built Ramcharger 8 spin with passengers for the first time, and to celebrate the much-anticipated season opening of Andesite Mountain. The eight-seat chairs are replete with heated seats, a massive Big Sky-blue wind bubble and padded back rests.
After the historic first chair loaded with dignitaries including Stephen and Everett Kircher, Big Sky Resort General Manager Taylor Middleton, and Doppelmayr President Mark Bee, there was a slight technical hiccup and the lift stopped for a few minutes before the inaugural chair became airborne. But once the technical kinks were ironed out, smiles were flashing throughout the crowd as skiers made their way into the corral to be whisked up Andesite.
The entire Big Sky Mountain Sports School loaded before the public, and they amassed at the top of the mountain, greeting the oncoming chairs with shouts and waves as each group of eight neared the unload station.
Everett’s 8800 restaurant on Andesite’s summit was open and served as a warming station with complimentary coffee and tea, while Stephen Kircher was hanging off the railing of the patio, ringing in the oncoming chairs with a giant Austrian cow bell that Doppelmayr had presented him for the momentous occasion.
EBS caught up with Kircher for an interview on the patio, with Lone Mountain glistening in the background and the giant blue bubbles streaming behind him. He told EBS about the past, present and future of Boyne’s investment into Big Sky Resort and spoke first about the significance of this lift to this continent’s ski industry, and how it has put the other corporate ski titans on notice.
“This transforms technology in North America. No one else made the leap to the eight-place in North America,” Kircher said. “This is that step, and others are going to have to think about it.”
He put Ramcharger 8 in context of “Big Sky 2025,” the planned $150-million investment that will be rolled out over a decade, transforming Big Sky Resort into “America’s Alp.” It began in earnest during the summer of 2016, when the resort installed the six-seat Doppelmayr Powder Seeker—a lift with heated seats and a wind bubble that cut the ride time to the top of The Bowl from 10 minutes to three—and a fixed-grip triple chairlift accessing the Challenger terrain, after the previous lift experienced mortal mechanical failure.
“Our plans are to execute a series of new lifts, with Powder Seeker, this [Ramcharger 8] lift and others in a sequence,” Kircher said. “So, we’re going to be able to, we think, leapfrog everyone else for a number of years. The comfort, the safety, the reliability—this new technology is pretty amazing.”
He also touched on the near future of the “America’s Alp” execution, which includes a complete remodel of the Mountain Mall next summer, and a new gondola to be built in two stages. That project, he said, should begin construction next summer, or the following.
“Looking at the long-term, everything we’re doing is planning for the growth we’re experiencing,” Kircher said, noting that Ramcharger 8 is a significant step toward the future of Big Sky’s vision. “This lift was built to support the next 40 years of growth, so that we’re not going to have lift lines on Andesite.
“We’re trying to transform this into what we call ‘America’s Alp,’ which means high technology lifts, transformative experiential food and beverage, something you can’t currently get in North America,” he added. “That’s what we’re endeavoring to do here in Big Sky.”
When Ramcharger 8 was built, beginning this summer, the construction included rewiring the Andesite electrical infrastructure to support night skiing in the future, though Kircher was elusive about exactly when and how the expanded resort operation hours would roll out.
“We’re going to be testing out various types of night skiing,” he said. “We may do some things sooner than [next winter]. The plan is for [Andesite] to be a night skiing pod as soon as next year. Having the bubbles, and obviously being able to be able to be warm at night, is obviously a big part of it.”
Time will tell how soon those that keep bankers’ hours will be able to ski after they clock out, but it seems to be on the near horizon. Kircher closed the interview by putting Big Sky Resort into context of the explosive growth currently occurring in Gallatin County, and Boyne Resorts’ history here.
“We’ve been in this for the long-term, since 1976, and this is just another chapter in that long-term commitment to this community and southwest Montana,” he said. “We’re excited about the future. Momentum is picking up, not slowing down. And we see great things, in keeping what’s great about Big Sky … but building on that heritage and transforming it into something that’s really going to be truly international in flavor.”