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Ski Lifts International (SLI) History

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#1 Kelly

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Posted 12 April 2012 - 10:36 AM

Ski Lifts International (also known as SLI) was an Austrian chairlift manufacturer that was imported into the United States between 1965 and 1972.
Key Players
Sam Bonasso was a minor partner, but perhaps the term “North American sales engineer” is a better term.
Joe Sugarman was also a minor partner, but perhaps the term “marketing director” is a better term.
Some parts were made in Austria, some were outsourced from American manufacturers.
The Austrian firm entered the North American market in the mid 1960s at the height of ski lift building and ski area rebuilding.
Due to large sales in the Lake Tahoe area – Homewood, Incline Village, Heavenly Valley, Squaw Valley…and Heavenly Valley’s Maintenance Supervisor/Chairlift builder who happened to live in Incline Village NV (and who spoke the language) … a small space dedicated to parts/shipping/storage/sales was then established in Incline Village*.
The company has been mistakenly identified as originating in Incline Village NV.
Sugarman was asked to leave the company and Bonasso soon followed…with 20 other manufacturers there was some pretty fierce competition in this time period…survival of the fittest they say.
The ownership of the small amount of parts left in Incline Village and various ski area parking lots and bone-yards became an issue when the Austrian company’s “North American division” finally went bankrupt due to the aforementioned sales climate.
A “bankruptcy auction” was held with what was thought to be single bidder – that being being Heavenly Valley’s (trying to snag low cost replacement parts for his then new chairlifts) owner Hugh Killebrew…however Tony Sowder, Riblet Tramway’s owner won with the higher bid… much to Killebrew’s surprise.
Riblet Tramway made many aftermarket improvements to the SLI product, this association along with the bankruptcy “sale” is often attributed in history as Riblet buying SLI.
SLI still existed in Europe and sold parts to North American owners for a number of years until they went bankrupt.
Some SLI Peculiarities
In SLI’s final years in North America it was found that the profit margin was going to be quite slim or nonexistent – most chairlifts built that year were minus a tower – the “extra span” was spread among the remaining towers…you can still see the long spans in the original lifts still standing.
The bullwheel gage was narrower than the line gage…shipping issues I guess.
The sheave assemblies where quite large and did not flex – good for alignments but very difficult to rebuild or change because of the weight.
The carriers were touted a being maintenance free…they had galvanized stems and bails with fiberglass seat slats – no paint or stain needed.
The fiberglass slats were never strong enough, they needed constant changing or replacement with wood slats, so not really maintenance free after all.
The carriers were extremely light and very top heavy due to the light seat design, because of this they swing very easy in light winds. If you have ever ridden in a fixed quad chair (very bottom heavy) in the wind you can see the benefits of the design change.
Other stuff
Bonasso was long associated with the B-77 ropeway standards committee.
Bonasso Links: http://www.mechanicalconcrete.com/
Sugarman in his younger years was a spy for the CIA (hence the European connection) and the marketing genius behind “blueblocker” sunglasses and was the original (before Bonasso) salesperson for SLI.
SLI sales brochure: http://www.chairlift.org/sli.html

*Also in Sparks NV - This is a partial history - If you have any more information feel free to post.

#2 iceberg210

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Posted 12 April 2012 - 12:58 PM

Great information Kelly, really appreciate the research and information done on this one.
Erik Berg
Bald Eagle Lifts: Defying Gravity

#3 SkiBachelor

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Posted 12 April 2012 - 03:52 PM

If I remember correctly, it was mentioned in SAM that Riblet did acquire SLI or it's American counterpart.

In addition, Sugar Bowl also had an SLI, the former Lincoln double.
- Cameron

#4 Kelly

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Posted 17 May 2012 - 04:59 AM

Recently I spoke with another past Riblet employee who reconfirms the information given in the original post.
Most of the remaining SLI components that were awarded in the winning bid were installed as a single lift at 49 North ski area in 1980 (I believe this is Payday). This install is mentioned in 49 North’s history page. He also confirmed Riblet was never a sales agent for SLI but did modify existing SLI’s and sold old SLI line machinery (this was my experience also).
49 North resort location is about 49 miles north of Spokane Washington – Riblet was based out of Spokane.
Payday - SLI- carrier with an external grip.
Attached File  Payday grip.jpg (271.66K)
Number of downloads: 66

49 North history page on web: http://www.ski49n.com/content.php
49 North picture set topic: http://www.skilifts....?showtopic=6983

#5 Emax

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Posted 17 May 2012 - 05:58 AM

How did Helmet Raeberger fit into all of this?
There are three roads to ruin; women, gambling and technicians. The most pleasant is with women, the quickest is with gambling, but the surest is with technicians. Georges Pompidou

#6 sheave

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Posted 04 January 2021 - 10:49 AM

View PostEmax, on 17 May 2012 - 05:58 AM, said:

How did Helmet Raeberger fit into all of this?

Helmut Rehberger was president of SLI.

#7 sheave

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Posted 18 March 2021 - 10:09 AM

I spoke with Sam Bonasso and others about SLI, here is what I can add:

Joe and Sam knew each other from College. When Joe returned from Europe in 1964, he told Sam about the European ski lifts and they decided to start a business. Sam went to Austria on Jan 20 1965 to visit Toni Wiedermann, an engineer with Wito (Wito is short for WIedermann TOni). The contact was established through Hilbert Trading of Basel, Switzerland that both Joe and Wito had made business with. Sam and Toni were quickly able to agree on a collaboration. Since Wito wanted to focus on surface lifts and Sam's focus were chairlifts, they decided to create an own brand for the US, SLI. Sam became the owner of SLI, Wito was supplying the lift design and some parts.

The first SLI lift was installed at Bryce Mountain, VA (Chair #1). Chairs, towers and sheaves were made in the US. Other parts like bullwheels and brakes came from Europe (Austria and Germany). Not all chairs were of Wito's design, some came from a supplier in New Jersey (centerpole chairs at Bryce and bail chairs at Sapphire Valley). Grips were Schneider and later Girak.

In 1968, Sam sold the company to Helmut Rehberger, a relative of Toni. Helmut wanted to expand the business quickly. Later that year, he submitted a proposal to erect and operate a gondola or tramway to Mt. Wilson near Pasadena, CA. The project was never realized. He also built a gondola cabin prototype. It is not clear with what knowledge he could have built that lift.
Despite selling lifts and installing their first and only Quad at Homewood in 1972, the company was losing money. At the end of 1972, SLI had accumulated a loss of $243,617. Heavenly was interested in buying the remaining parts at the auction in 1973, but they were advised not to do it for liability reasons. Helmut started working for Lift Engineering before he died in 1975.

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