Magic Mile

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The present day Magic Mile chairlift rises out of the clouds and above the tree line

The Magic Mile is an aerial chairlift at Timberline Lodge ski area, Mount Hood, Oregon, U.S. It was named for its unique location above the tree line and for its original length. When constructed by Byron Riblet in 1938, it was the longest chairlift in existence, the second in the world to be built as a passenger chairlift, and the first to use metal towers.[1] [2] [3]

There have been three instances of the Magic Mile chairlift at Timberline. The first existed from 1938 until 1962. The second from 1962 through 1992.[4] The existing chairlift has operated since 1992.

Common characteristics[edit]

The loading station of all three chairlifts are or were located near the lodge at 5,950 feet (1829 m) elevation and transported riders to the 7,000 foot (2134 m) level, up an average gradient of 20%.[5] Except for the very lowest part of the route, the lift is not protected by trees or land features and faces the full force of snow storms. Heavy winds frequently produce huge snowdrifts and copious and dense snow challenge lift crews to keep the lift open. Procedure is to close the lift if winds exceed 50-60 mph or dense fog reduces visibility below approximately 25 feet (7.6 m). These conditions close the Mile approximately 40% of winter days.[5]

First chairlift 1938–1962[edit]

1940s image of the Magic Mile just above Timberline Lodge (center) taken by Ray Atkeson

Construction of the original Magic Mile began in mid-1938 and finished late 1939.[6] As the Riblet company's first chairlift, the design strongly resembled the company's previous efforts building aerial trams for mining material transport.[7]

Construction of the chair complemented the opening of Timberline Lodge in February 1938. The first magic mile chair loaded passengers on November 17, 1939 [6] and was dedicated by the Crown Prince and Princess of Norway[8] (later King Olaf[9]). A portable rope tow was erected for the previous season (1938–1939),[10] and remained in operation for at least several years.

The original chairlift was a single: each chair held one rider, but there were many chairs on the rope. The ride took 11 minutes and carried 225 passengers per hour. It was as popular a summer tourist attraction then as it is now.[9]

The lift line was situated slightly east of the present chair. The upper bullwheel was inside Silcox Hut, which is 212 m (700 ft) ESE and 40 ft (12 m) lower in elevation.[9] The bottom was east of the lodge about 377 m (1236 ft, one quarter mile) ENE at essentially the same elevation as the present chair.[11]

Timberline Lodge shut down for World War II and struggled financially through the 1940s and early 1950s. Mounting disrepair, vandalism, neglect and unpaid taxes closed it February 17, 1955 at which time the Magic Mile was nonfunctional. The lodge reopened late that year under Richard Kohnstamm's management.[12] The Mile was made functional again, and in the following summer, ski racing camps began.[6]

1950 Sky Riding Bus Tramway[edit]

In 1950 a cable car system that could carry up to 36 persons per "bus" began operation between the 3800 foot level to the Timberline Lodge at 6000 feet. A trip of 3 miles took 10 minutes. Many are confused thinking the cable cars are actually normal city buses which have wheels to operate when they reached either end. But the wheels on the cable cars actually have the cables wrapped around them and pull themselves up Mt. Hood.[13]

Second chairlift 1962–1992[edit]

By 1962, the Magic Mile had long been a challenge to maintain. The operator of Timberline had succeeded in making the lodge financially viable, and so removed the Mile and built a new double Riblet-made chairlift at the present location. It featured a midway station for loading and unloading. Midway unload allowed chairlift operation when conditions closed the upper mountain. The midway load was useful for mid-to-late summer skiing when little snow remained on the lower mountain.

The ride would have taken about the same time, at 10 to 12 minutes, but tighter chair spacing and two riders per chair made the capacity about 800-1000 per hour.[14]

The bottom of the Mile was placed at the west side of the lodge for easy lodge access, and for skier convenience from the top of the Pucci chairlift, which was installed in 1956.

The Palmer chairlift, which opened July 1, 1980, was situated for convenient skier and snowboard transport from the top of the Mile. The Palmer was upgraded to a high speed quad in 1996.

Third chairlift 1992–present[edit]

Magic mile lower terminal is just below the tree line.

The current chairlift named Magic Mile was upgraded from a fixed grip double to a detachable high speed quad in 1992, but is slightly longer at 5,500 feet (1,700 m).[15] The midway station was removed, and the top station is slightly higher than its predecessor.

This Poma-built chair has a capacity of 3,000 passengers per hour,[4] but is operated at 1,600 passengers per hour,[5] with a ride time of just under 6 minutes.[16]

The use of a detachable chairlift significantly reduces maintenance needed to clear the haul rope. When inclement weather is expected, the chairs are removed and stored in the lower lift house. The rope runs at low speed to prevent the buildup of snow and ice. The chairs are redeployed in an automatic operation which takes about 30 minutes.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Thomas P. Deering, Jr. (1986). "Mountain Architecture: An Alternative Design Proposal for the Wy'East Day Lodge, Mount Hood Oregon". Master of Architecture Thesis, University of Washington. Retrieved 2007-07-02. 
  2. ^ "Magic Mile Sky Ride". Timberline Lodge Ski Area. Retrieved 2007-07-02. [dead link]
  3. ^ "Alpenglow Ski Mountaineering History Project, Compendium of Northwest Skier Magazine". September 7, 2004. Retrieved 2007-07-02. 
  4. ^ a b "—Magic Mile Express—Timberline". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-07-02. 
  5. ^ a b c "Appendix G: Timberline Mountain Specifications Summary of Draft Environmental Impact Statement for The Timberline Express Proposal" (pdf). USFS. March 2005. pp. 2, 8. Retrieved 2007-07-02. 
  6. ^ a b c Arthur, Jean. Timberline and a Century of Skiing on Mount Hood. ISBN 0-9645477-0-8. 
  7. ^ "Riblet History". Riblet Tramway Company. May 24, 2004. Retrieved 2007-07-02. 
  8. ^ "Great Lodges of the National Parks—Pacific Northwest: Timberline". PBS. 
  9. ^ a b c Catherine Gleason, editor (1987). Timberline Lodge: A Love Story. Arts Center Publishing Company, Portland, Oregon -and- Friends of Timberline, Government Camp, Oregon. ISBN 0-932575-24-2. 
  10. ^ Grauer, Jack (1975). Mount Hood: A Complete History. ISBN 0-930584-01-5. Retrieved 2007-07-02. 
  11. ^ USGS topographic maps plot the lower station building at 45°19′53″N 121°42′30″W / 45.33135°N 121.70843°W / 45.33135; -121.70843 without notation. However, photos of the era show the lift line aimed for this area. Also, the small parking lot slightly to the east is sometimes labeled "Magic Mile parking".
  12. ^ The Kohnstamm family continues to manage Timberline to the present. The ski area Special Use Permit expires May 2022.
  13. ^ "Sky Riding-Bus." Popular Mechanics, November 1950, pp. 114-115
  14. ^ "Lift Basic". Riblet Tramway Company. May 24, 2004. Retrieved 2007-07-02. 
  15. ^ "Trail Information". Timberline Lodge Ski Area. Retrieved 2007-07-02. [dead link]
  16. ^ Calculated from Appendix G: Mountain Statistics figures of 5,359 feet / 950 ft/min = 5:38.5