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A trip up the fastest six-person chairlift in North America is short — so short I worried I wouldn’t have time to fish hand warmers out of my backpack before reaching the top.

From the ramp at the Mountain Village to the unloading zone 8,555 feet away, Swift Current 6, or “Swifty,” lived up to its nickname. I rode the lift for the first time just before Christmas, then returned to it Monday while taking a tour of Big Sky Resort.

The six-seater is equipped with heated seats, headrests and a blue weatherproof bubble. It travels at 1,200 feet per minute — about 14 mph. Local photographers snapped the images of area wildlife that are pictured on the chair backs.

Swifty speeds over some intermediate runs and a terrain park, then drops off riders along the “Jay Walk” — a green circle run where they can access a good chunk of the resort’s vast terrain.

With 39 chairlifts spread out over 5,850 skiable acres, Big Sky is expansive, and it can’t be experienced in just one day. It took a full day of skiing to get from the ski area’s southern end around Andesite Mountain to its northern end on Monday.

Five hours, eight lift rides, and one dizzying ride up the Tram after setting out, I made it across the mountain and back to the base area. Faster lifts like Swifty made it easy to get around, but I didn’t have enough time to get to the terrain on Lone Mountain’s south face.

Swift Current 6

Wind whips below Lone Peak as the 11,166 foot mountain juts prominently from the Madison range on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022.

Swift Current 6

Swift Current 6 unloads a group of skiers at around 3 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022. At night, chairs on the new lift are parked in a garage so staff at Big Sky Resort can better protect the machinery.

Stacie Mesuda, a spokesperson for Big Sky Resort, said Swifty’s debut on Thanksgiving day was a significant milestone for the resort. Replacing Swifty was part of Big Sky’s 2025 vision — a 10-year capital plan that calls for continuous improvements to the resort’s lift system.

Big Sky hope upgrades will disperse more people around the mountain, improve energy efficiency and enhance access to great skiing. Mesuda said Swift Current 6 is Lone Mountain’s main artery, and replacing it has always been a chief priority for the resort.

Big Sky kicked off its 2025 vision by replacing the Challenger lift and Lone Peak Triple in 2016. The high-speed, six-person Powder Seeker lift now takes visitors up toward the base of the Lone Peak Tram, which reaches the mountain’s 11,166 foot summit.

More improvements arrived in 2018, when the resort replaced a base-area lift called Ramcharger with the first eight-person chairlift in North America. Now, 3,600 people can get whisked from the base area to the top of the lift every hour.

While the Ramcharger upgrade was important, replacing the Swift Current quad is arguably Big Sky’s most significant on-mountain improvement to date, Mesuda said. Swifty is the resort’s most popular chairlift, and it connects skiers and snowboarders with access to Lone Peak.

Swift Current 6 can transport 3,000 skiers and snowboarders out of Mountain Village every hour, and staff think it will increase uphill capacity from the base area by up to 50%, Mesuda said.

Swift Current 6

Chronicle reporter Helena Dore takes a ride up Swift Current 6, Big Sky Resort’s latest high-speed chairlift, on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022. Chairs on the six-person lift are equipped with heated seats and blue weatherproof bubbles.

Swift Current 6

Swift Current 6, Big Sky Resort’s new high-speed chairlift, runs Monday.

Troy Nedved, general manager of Big Sky Resort, said in a news release that the base area’s two Doppelmayr D-line lifts — Swift Current 6 and Ramcharger 8 — bring Big Sky a step closer to becoming the home of North America’s most technologically advanced lift system.

Replacing Swifty also brings Boyne Resorts, Big Sky’s parent company, a step closer to meeting one of its goals. As part of its ForeverProject, Boyne is working toward achieving net-zero carbon emissions at all 13 of its properties by 2030.

Part of the initiative involves purchasing global renewable energy credits to offset all electrical energy use across the resort, which Mesuda said is important but not a perfect solution. Installing more energy-efficient lifts like Swifty reduces the use of fossil fuel derivatives, according to Big Sky.

When Swifty launched on Big Sky’s opening day, the resort hosted a party and offered a limited-edition beer crafted by MAP Brewing — the Swifty Session Pale Ale. A portion of the proceeds go toward a nonprofit called the Big Sky Sustainability Network Organization, which focuses on sustainability initiatives in town.

The Swifty Session Pale Ale hadn’t run out by Monday, so I decided to end my trek around the mountain with a glass. The beer tasted as good as it felt to be sheltered from the wind on Swift Current 6. Too bad the ride up was short.

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Helena Dore can be reached at hdore@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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