George Boyden’s 52-year Career of Lift Mechanics at Sandia Peak Tramway

July 23, 2018

George Boyden on a morning inspection, over 10,000 feet above sea level and approximately 1,000 feet above ground. He performed these daily inspections for the majority of the Tramway’s first 40 years in rain, snow, shine, wind, and ice weather conditions.

A little pre-ski history of Taos Valley

“Spanish armies came up the Rio Grande River in search of the Seven Cities of Gold, a rumor during ancient times of the 1500’s. Some say that the golden sunsets were the gold that Native Americans talked about and that the physical gold didn’t exist at all. That said, 350 years later, there was quite a bit of gold mining throughout southern New Mexico.”

The remarkable golden sunsets at Taos Ski Valley.

“At the base of Gold Hill after the first strike, a tent city named Twining, grew to over 1,100 squatters in a year. During the discoveries of gold deposits, miners also found rich copper ore. There were loading trestles, ore cars, and a big smelter right where the parking lot is for the ski resort. Eventually, the gold craze concluded, the copper supply ended, and everything left this little valley except for a few settlers. These bygone events developed well-established roads to a canyon with North facing slopes, avalanche chutes, and a great open base area at 9,400 feet to found Taos Ski Valley.”

“My grandchildren on a Gold Rush-era air compressor”

“My parents introduced me to skiing back in 1955 when I was ten. As I got older, I continued to ski and worked at La Madeira Ski Area, which in 1962, changed to Sandia Peak when the first chairlift was installed. During the summertime, I would roll rocks, cut trees and brush that would earn me a season’s pass. I also did yard work where I gained experience with sprinkler systems and plumbing and learned electricity from my best friend’s electrician uncle. Tinkering with hot rods, I gained mechanical knowledge. Unknowingly, I was priming myself for future work at the Tramway. But when it snowed in the mountains, all day time jobs were off. I went skiing.”

Bob Beattie with Jimmy Heuga,and Billy Kidd circa 1968
Courtesy of the New England Ski Museum

“I studied for two years at the University of Colorado and had the opportunity to train with the University of Colorado ski team under the renowned Bob Beattie. That was a point in the University’s ski history when Spider Sabich, Billy Kidd, Jimmy Heuga, Jim Barrows, Ni Orsi, and Bill Marolt were training on the team.

After those college semesters, I took the next year off to repair skis and mount ski bindings in Alburqurque, as a Vail dream job fell through.”

“Here I am doing layout flips in 1970 with my friend Trey. I quit doing flips and hang gliding in 1998 as I got older and wiser.”

“I had a one-track mind that the skiing lifestyle was my direction in life, the very meaning for everything for which I was working. After the snow melted in Sandia Peak, in 1965, when I was working as a certified ski instructor, I got a call from our general manager, Will Jackson. He offered me a job at the Sandia Peak Tramway, which was near the end of its two years of construction. So here I was, my passion and goal were to ski, and I find myself working at the new Tramway with Swiss engineers Adolf Zubruchen and Thomas Horst. My opportunity to get this job was probably because many of the construction workers were burned out from two years of adverse weather conditions, the broken German-English directions from the Swiss engineers, and impatience with the metric dimensions and tools.

Adolf taught me much about ropeway construction, and Thomas educated me on electricity. It was like having two personal tutors. I learned to use a cutting torch and a welder long before I ever operated the Tram. I found that experience can teach as much as a book. During the time of the Tramway’s acceptance test, we looked like muscle men after lifting hundreds of fifty-pound sandbags repetitively in and out of the tram cars to verify the cable tensions and required braking parameters.”

“This is some really old guy bending over the straightened wires forming the ‘flower’ that is pulled into the socket. Then the socket is poured, inspected and reattached to the tram carriage.”

Eskimo Lift destructive testing, 1990

“Industry people learned a lot about acceptance tests from the 1990 Eskimo Lift destructive testing at Winterpark. It wasn’t known prior to this testing, what could happen to a chairlift when it goes through different mechanical failures. A program of destructive testing was planned above and beyond normal operating forces, speeds, and control limits to find the breaking points or adverse reactions.

The results from these experiments were a real eye-opener. The construction of the Tramway was a similar experience of discovery as we were building, rigging, pouring the first sockets, and shortening cables. We learned everything right there on site. Some of these functions we performed only happen once every few years. The Tram is a bi-cable system that works like two buckets in a well. While a tram cabin is moving down, it is pulling the other tram cabin up. Because trams are unique, the ropeway employees are a family that connect with other tramways in the U.S., especially for big jobs and technical incidents.”

“I went for a ride with Benny Abruzzo on his 1995 Classic Collector Harley Low Rider. I was on my 1990 1200 Harley Sportster. I rode BSA from 1966, built a flathead chopper,sold both and bought this sportster. I have a 2000 Harley Road King now.”

“I’ve gone to help out at Stone Mountain Tramway in Georgia, the Palm Springs Tramway in California, and Jackson Hole Aerial Tram, Wyoming. If there is rigging to do, the experienced maintenance guys, engineers, those with ropeway equipment knowledge, like Jan Leonard, Howard Anderson, Jim Ellis, and Maynard Russell have chipped in to help. Sam Geise was always the been the go-to guy with answers in his back pocket involving wire rope and cable technology. I have been one of the luckiest guys in this industry because I was able to learn from and work with the best.”

“In 1997, the cable crew had 4 weeks to replace all four of the cable tracks when two, 3-foot snowstorms hit. Along with clean-up and other maintenance work the Tram was closed almost 7 weeks.”

Lift Mechanic’s challenges vs benefits

“One year we had an ice storm where two of the cables rubbed together and caused some damage. Following the “Standards” directions to the letter, we couldn’t repair or splice a strand in a rope if there were more than six broken wires in a one lay length (as opposed to every lay length from deterioration or wire fatigue), therefore we had to replace the ENTIRE haul rope in order to be in code ..all 15,000 feet of 1-1/4” cable.

As a mechanic, a benefit on the other hand, is that you must do the daily inspections and, if you plan this out correctly, you’re the first person at the top to ski down through the powder. Goodness knows we must double check everything and get a couple of runs before you put any paying passengers on the lift. It can be a tough job. But it is a great life. Most of us love the work by reason that it is both mentally and physically demanding and also rewarding.”

Skytrac Celebration Dinner for George’s 52 years of service at the Sandia Peak Tram, Marco Island, 2018

Dale Walters, P.E.

“Dale had a dry sense of humor, and a temper! Although he would do all of the required rope testing, Dale, like many of the old school splicers, through practical experience had a feel for rope and could tell from the history, ropeway and a visual inspection if a replacement or repair was needed. And he would banter about the engineers with book knowledge that were always asking him questions about wire rope strength, and many other things. After he had retired he was at one of the trade shows, I saw him across the room, and we made eye contact. I was glad to see him again. We shook hands and he said: “Oh George, you haven’t seen my new cards!”

The card he gave me said –Dale Walters P.E. I asked, “What? You went back to school and got a degree?” Dale scowled at my remark. Then I realized and said, “P.E. must stand for Practical Experience.”

Dale shook my hand hard and said, “You are the first to recognize that!” Dale was a great man. I miss him and so many others we have lost in our industry. I am thankful for the knowledge and memories that so many in our ropeway industry have shared so freely for so many years.”

8 thoughts on “George Boyden’s 52-year Career of Lift Mechanics at Sandia Peak Tramway

  1. Ross Stevens

    Well Done George! It’s been a pleasure knowing you and working with you on the ANSI B77 committee. ‘All the best to you and your family

  2. Tom Scully

    George is such a class act! Thankful to have the pleasure of knowing this man. He has so much knowledge and truly enjoys sharing his experiences and other tidbits with anyone! Enjoy the rest of the ride George!

  3. Wally Shank

    Great reading. Thanks George for sharing your memories.

  4. George ( & Tooey ) Boyden

    Russ, Tom, Wally,

    Wow, thank you so much !.

    Skiing is my passion and uphill transportation provided the means.

    I have enjoyed the opportunity to experience and learn from each of the you.

    I believe our “ropeway family” has, and will continue to improve the safety
    and operation of ropeways through all of your unselfish time and efforts.

    I hope to be able to contribute to this industry for many ski seasons in the future……..

    See you soon,

  5. Maynard Russell

    Great friend who I have enjoyed on both a personal and professional level in many states and countries. George enthusiasticly shares his knowledge and passions throughout the ropeway industry. Nice article!

  6. Doug Allen

    Congratulations on 52 years in the industry. I only made it to 44 years and don’t regret a minute. Serving with you and the many other dedicated tramway experts on the B77 committee was frosting on the cake, man did we learn a lot and shared some great stories along the way.

    I hope you enjoy retirement half as much as I do. I get up in the morning with nothing to do and when I go to bed I’m only half way done.

    Hope to see you and Tooey real soon.


  7. George s. Boyden

    Doug thank you for the kind words !

    You and I have had some great opportunities, education, and fun on ropeways, slopes, and over a beer or two with all the great stories ……..
    Steamboat has been a long drive — very worth it for my junior ski racing family and the “big snow” years up North !

    Can you send a little more snow at least 1/2 way to Sandia Peak this year ? The extra vertical from Jan’s new Kachina Peak lift at Taos will take us “old guys’ “ breath away ( over 12,000 asl).

    Hope to get up to do some powder runs together,

    Give Susie a hug for me,
    George. & Tooey

  8. Peter R Brockhoff

    Congratulations on your long history with the Tram, I will never forget my ride on the top of the car! This was way back around 1972 when I worked as a lift operator at the ski area. Many best wishes to you and yours!
    Peter Brockhoff


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *