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Moving Carpet Ride

Investing in surface lifts to improve the beginner guest experience
Inside view of moving carpet with plastic enclosure

For many novice skiers and snowboarders, the thought of using a traditional chairlift can be a daunting prospect.

That’s one of the main reasons why Giants Ridge Recreation Area in Minnesota opted to install a Moving Carpet conveyor belt system developed by Austrian manufacturer Sunkid, prior to last season.

The state-owned ski area, located in the heart of Minnesota’s Superior National Forest, registered 91,000 skiers last winter, many of them beginners or people returning to skiing or snowboarding after a long absence. Mountain operations manager Benjamin Bartz says the park had been looking at how to improve the ski experience for newcomers at the resort for some time, especially after experiencing a bump in attendance during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, when the number of recreational opportunities was limited.

Inside view of moving carpet with plastic enclosure and lighting with Sunkid sign in foreground
Photo courtesy of Dusty Rose

“We had two of our best years that we’ve had here (in 2020–21 and 2021–22),” he said. “What we saw was a lot of people reentering the sport or just starting for the first time. A lot of people who hadn’t been out in years came out and gave it a try during Covid and then stuck it out after that.

“That was a big part of our decision to invest in our beginner experience because we saw how many people were starting out or starting over again. We wanted to improve that experience for them a little bit. It was always in the back of our mind to reorganize the beginner area and make it flow better. Seeing that increase in the beginner traffic during Covid, I think, was the linchpin for making it happen.”

The Moving Carpet system is tailormade for skiers and snowboarders with limited experience. It works much the same way as a moving walkway at an airport: a skier or snowboarder simply steps onto the carpet at the bottom of a run and is easily transported to the top. The system is designed to provide lengths of nine to 400 meters or more. It offers variable speeds of up to 1.2 meters per second and can be installed on virtually any kind of terrain.

Outside view of moving carpet with plastic enclosure in summer
Photo courtesy of Benjamin Bartz

Giants Ridge opted for the Evolus model of Moving Carpet. It features a clear plastic gallery enclosure to protect users from the elements. Bartz says that was something of a no-brainer considering the extreme winter conditions the ski area, located about an hour north of Duluth, often faces.

“When it’s snowing and really, really cold up here, we have difficulty running our other conveyor without people sliding down backwards and all that kind of stuff,” he said. “We wanted to provide shelter from the winds blowing down on us.”

The 210-foot-long conveyor was installed at Giants Ridge during the summer of 2021, and was one of the most popular attractions at the ski area this past winter.

Giants Ridge staff also added lights and a sound system to the gallery enclosure to provide a bit more atmosphere for users. “We found the kids really took to that,” Bartz said.

Outside view of moving carpet with plastic enclosure in Winter
Photo courtesy of Dusty Rose

“It worked out really well for us operationally. We aligned it to more directly serve the lowest and highest points of the beginners’ area. We had a lot less issues with people trying to load at the bottom than what we had with the original setup,” Bartz said.

“It was also easier for snowmaking and grooming. We kind of designed its layout so that you could snow groom around it quickly, without a bunch of back-ups, and make snow there without having to push snow from God knows where to get it in there. Our ski school couldn’t be happier with it. It was really easy for the instructors to get people up the hill and spread people out now having two conveyors.”

Staff at the ski area handled most aspects of installing the Moving Carpet system, but a service technician with North American subsidiary Star Lifts was on-hand throughout much of the process to provide technical support.

“That was hugely important,” Bartz said. “That’s part of the reason we went with (Star Lifts). Before we made the purchase, I drove around to a lot of other (ski) areas and talked to a lot of other operators, and people really seemed very happy with the service and support from (Star Lifts). They offered that as one of the main reasons to go with them and that really impacted our decision.”

Kullberg says what he likes most about the carpets is that they allow newer skiers to focus on skiing rather than worrying about having to use a lift.

The installation process took about four days and was completed relatively smoothly. Bartz says the biggest challenge was having to install four-foot-long anchors into the ground on both sides of the Moving Carpet. Staff also had to install a sump pit and holding tank to collect snow and water from the conveyor. In addition, a drainage system had to be installed at the base of the conveyor system after much of the area surrounding the ski hill unexpectedly received several inches of rain in December.

It would be difficult to find a bigger booster of Sunkid’s Moving Carpets than Karl Kullberg, who runs the family-owned Mount Peter Ski Area in Warwick, N.Y., along with his wife, Rebecca, and sister-in-law, Amy. They have already installed three of the carpets at Mount Peter, located about 50 miles north of New York City, and are installing a fourth in time for the 2022-23 season. Still, Kullberg admits he wasn’t always fond of the carpets.

“We were kind of late to the game with the carpets. I wasn’t a fan of them in the beginning,” he said, laughing. “I’m sort of old school and I just thought people needed to learn to get on a lift. That’s just part of the whole learning curve.”

Kullberg says what he likes most about the carpets is that they allow newer skiers to focus on skiing rather than worrying about having to use a lift.

“I think they’re just having fun on them,” he said. “They’re more relaxed. There’s no flight or fear factor like getting on a lift when you’re a beginner. In turn, that gives them a sense of accomplishment and they’re not as tense, they’re not as nervous.”

Staff assembling plastic enclosure
Photo courtesy of Benjamin Bartz

The first Moving Carpet installed at Mount Peter was a 200-footer for skiers and snowboarders. That was followed by a 300-footer for skiers and snowboarders, and a 500-footer for tubing. The fourth one is a 300-footer to help ease some of the demand on the two existing carpets for skiers and snowboarders.

“When someone is spending money on a private lesson and they’re spending a lot of time in a lift line, their experience isn’t good. We’re always trying to improve that experience for them. Adding another carpet is going to help a lot,” Kullberg said.

Most of the installation of the carpets at Mount Peter has been handled by mountain operations staff along with technical support from Star Lifts. Kullberg says the installations were relatively simple as the track comes in 10-foot sections that are easily bolted together and are then attached to six-by-six posts that are inserted into the ground. He says the biggest challenge was making room for the carpets since the family-owned ski area doesn’t have an abundance of space.

The carpets have received rave reviews from skiers and snowboarders at Mount Peter. That’s music to the ears of Christopher Koessler, head of marketing for Sunkid.

Koessler says the Moving Carpet has been one of his company’s best selling products since its introduction and experienced a major boost in sales since the start of the pandemic. Pre-Covid-19, Sunkid typically sold about 15 to 20 of the systems each year in North America; that number has now climbed to no less than 50 per year.

“I think a lot of that’s because of the fact that a lot of people, and especially families, came back to skiing or started skiing during the pandemic. Now resorts are investing more into family stuff and children and beginners’ areas, which is what our product is really designed for,” he said.

Another factor in the company’s strong performance the past several years is its focus on customer service. A company sales representative visits each prospective customer in person and provides recommendations on which product will best suit their needs. Technical staff then visit each site during installation to lend their expertise. The length of these consultations depends on the specific needs or wants of the customer, and Koessler stresses that it’s about more than just clicking a button and placing an order.

Star Lifts is projecting continued strong sales for the Moving Carpet in North America in 2022–23. Sunkid recently introduced the latest model of Moving Carpet, Type N, which is already on sale in Austria, and is expected to be available in North America next year.