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Pickup powered sled tow ends run

Rick Steelhammer
This retired Department of Highways truck was one of the last vehicles to power the rope tow at Blackwater Falls State Park's sled run.
Rick Steelhammer The recently retired rope tow at Blackwater gave sledders a slow but fairly sure ride to the top of a hill overlooking a quarter-mile run.

For more than 50 years, people who glided their way down the quarter-mile sled run at Blackwater Falls State Park made the return trip to the top of the hill by using a rope tow powered by a pickup truck.

Actually, at least three trucks have been used to operate the homespun lift system since the sled run opened in the early 1960s.  By grabbing a thick rope threaded around one of the truck's rear wheels and then looped through a series of pulleys hanging from wooden derricks placed along the length of the slope, snow enthusiasts were able to ride their sleds to the top of the run.

"The rope tow's operator would sit in the cab of the truck and press the gas pedal as more people started using the lift," said Rob Gilligan, superintendent of Blackwater Falls State Park for the past 26 years. If sledders lost their grip on the rope, or had difficulty exiting the tow at the top of the hill, the operator would push in the clutch and halt the tow until the situation was resolved.

"The trucks served their purpose," Gilligan said, "but we thought it was time to join the 21st Century."

This winter, Blackwater Falls replaced the truck-powered rope tow with a new surface-level Magic Carpet conveyor system similar to those found in larger airports and at beginners' slopes in many ski areas. New Hampshire-based Stevens Engineering Co., which designed the new system, terms it "the world's longest conveyor" of people at snow resorts.

"People sit on their sleds when riding the conveyor to the top of the hill," Gilligan said, since the surface lift "kind of spits people off when they get to the top." Once at the summit, skiers use one side of the slope while sledders use the other, to make their downhill runs.

Sleds traveling uphill on the former truck-powered tow "created friction and melted snow" Gilligan said, requiring tow operators to shovel snow onto the tow route throughout a busy day. The new system avoids the friction problem while getting sledders and skiers to the top of the hill much faster than the rope tow it replaced.

"People have responded really well to the new system," said Gilligan. "Our January this year was the best we've had since 2003, and I have good expectations for our February numbers."

In addition to the new Magic Carpet conveyor, Blackwater Falls State Park is having snowmaking gear installed on the sled run, to keep it open throughout the winter when snow conditions are marginal.

"The snowmaking system is about 60 percent complete now, and should be finished by spring," Gilligan said.

While the conveyor system operated on a daily basis early in the season, it now operates on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Fees for morning or afternoon sessions and a rental sled are $7 for adults on weekdays, and $12 on weekends and holidays. For children under 5, fees are $3 on weekdays and $5 on weekends and holidays. Rental sleds and full-day access to the slope and lift are available for $12 for adults on weekdays, and $19 on weekends and holidays. For children under 5, the fees are $5 and $10. Personal sleds are not allowed on the conveyor.

Lodge guests get discounted rates on all sessions.

A warming hut and snack bar at the base of the sled run give skiers and sled riders a place to thaw and refuel.

Cross-Country skis, boots and poles are also available for rent at the Sled Run and Cross Country Ski Center building at the base of the sled run. The quarter-mile run is a good place for cross-country skiers to practice turns. More than 10 miles of cross-country trails can be found at Blackwater Falls State Park.

The conveyor lift is scheduled to remain open through March 15.

For more information, call (304) 259-5216, or visit the park's website at www.blackwaterfalls.com  and click "to do" and "winter fun."

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.

 


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