PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – The Mt. Hood Express chairlift at Mt. Hood Meadows is reaching the end of its life expectancy and the ski area says its replacement should be faster and help cut back on lift lines. 

Dave Tragethon, vice president of sales and marketing for Mt. Hood Meadows, said the ski resort filed its request to build a new chairlift with the U.S. Forest Service in June and the plans were approved Dec. 14. 

The Mt. Hood Express chair has been operating at Mt. Hood Meadows since 1994. Tragethon said the amount of time and costs required to maintain the lift indicate it’s time to replace it and that it’s “met its operational life expectancy.” The lift will be replaced with a high-speed, detachable-grip, six-person chairlift. 

“That’s actually going to improve our capability of moving people out of the base area from 2,600 people per hour up to 3,600 people per hour,” Tragethon said. 

That means people will hopefully spend more time riding the chairlift and less time waiting in line for the chairlift. 

The new chairlift corridor will follow the existing corridor. Mt. Hood Meadows will need to clear a few additional trees in some areas to make room for the wider, six-person seats, and they’ll need to construct new chairlift terminals and towers. In total, about 2 acres of land will be disrupted. 

New Mt. Hood Meadows chairlift map
The red line shows the new chairlift at Mt. Hood Meadows will follow the same corridor as the Mt. Hood Express. The orange areas show what will be disrupted for construction. Courtesy Mt. Hood Meadows

Tragethon said Mt. Hood Meadows has worked with the U.S. Forest Service to determine the work isn’t impacting any wildlife habitat. He said the area’s been studied several times previously, for the former Jacob’s Ladder lift and the current Mt. Hood Express lift. In the decision memo released by the Forest Service in December, it says the Forest Service determined the proposed impacts fit within the definition of a categorical exclusion and therefore do not require the ski area to conduct an environmental impact statement or environmental analysis.  

Tragethon said the ski area is planning to do a significant amount of preparation work and tree removal while there’s snow on the ground. That way, the equipment isn’t disturbing soil or vegetation in the area. 

Mt. Hood Meadows still doesn’t know the exact cost of installing the new chairlift, but Tragethon said it will cost several million dollars. 

KOIN 6 News asked if skiers and snowboarders should prepare to see lift ticket prices increase to help pay for the new lift. 

“I think there will be increasing costs for lift tickets and season passes, but it’s not going to be just because we added a multi-million dollar lift. Unfortunately, just generally, costs are going up,” Tragethon said. 

He said Mt. Hood Meadows has increased its wages recently and the cost of wildfire insurance has been a big expense. 

Now that Mt. Hood Meadows has the decision from the Forest Service, the next step is to work on financing the project and putting the order in. Tragethon said lift manufacturers are currently backed up after the pandemic delayed several projects over the last two years. He expects the new lift won’t be ready to operate until the 2023-2024 ski season. Until then, the current Mt. Hood Express chairlift will be in operation and is still safe to use, he said. 

Tragethon said Mt. Hood Meadows isn’t currently looking at replacing any other chairlifts. Other projects in the works include creating better access from the Sunrise parking lot to the base area of the resort and opening additional beginner-level terrain for lessons. 

“There are some plans, but we really need to move through this one, particularly with the cost and the impact that it’s going to have, and then we can look forward to the next lift,” he said. 

Mt. Hood Meadows operates its ski area on Forest Service lands under a permit and that is why it needed permission to move forward with its plans for the new chairlift.