Berkshire East Mountain Coaster Construction



Berkshire East Mountain Coaster Construction

Once there were many but now there are few. Some owners blame the lean snow years in the early eighties. Some blame the rising cost of insurance. However, they should have blamed themselves because they didn’t have vision and they didn’t have the will to succeed. But there was one area that did survive and it grew by building a base of loyal local customers and it was managed by a family where failure was never an option.

In the fall of 1976, Roy Schafer drove his young family out from Petoskey, Michigan to manage the perjury ski area and to rescue it from bankruptcy. The Schaefer family eventually purchased the area and today their vision is just as optimistic as it was when I first met them nearly forty years ago. While the Schaefer’s continue to improve the area by upgrading the snowmaking and adding a new lift, the real reason for my recent visit was to see the construction of their new mountain coaster. It looks somewhat like a roller coaster that runs close to the ground on steel tracks. Last December, the trial month, the Planning Board approved the Schaefer’s request to build the largest mountain coaster in North America and construction began soon thereafter.

Producing a structure this magnitude requires tons of hardware and thousands of feet of galvanized steel to support the stainless steel tracks and then there is the necessary skill and craftsmanship required to engineer, build and install the structure. This is not a cookie-cutter project as each section is unique and designed to adapt to the contours of the steep mountain terrain.

Nearly a mile of the mountain coaster track has already been installed, 110 foot section at a time. Once the track is fitted, the rails are then bolted together where they will be further tuned and aligned at the base of the mountain. The individual cars will be housed in a matrix of sliding tracks similar to that of a railroad yard. The 400 feet of vertical ascent begin with the individual cars being towed by a continuous steel cable.

The stainless steel rails have been carefully sculpted to adjust to the terrain transitions during this ascent. As the coaster cars approach the top the track, it becomes progressively steeper and while this is a relatively large construction project it fits in beautifully to the undulating terrain and has a minimal visual and environmental impact on the landscape. The mountain coaster will be powered by an electric motor that pulls the coaster cars to the top by way of a halt cable. Then strategically released with the descent, the coaster cars will travel down the track at about 27 miles an hour and they’ll be outfitted with a computer-assisted safety system that will stop the coaster in the event that the seat belt is disengaged.

The energy to power Berkshire East mountain coaster won’t require any fossil fuel. Instead the system will be using the on-site 900 kilowatt wind turbines as well as the array of solar panels that provide an additional 400 kilowatts for the area. I hope that you’ll be able to join me to ride the Thunderbolt Mountain Coaster!

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