Ski lift maker marks 30 years in GJ

Welder-fitter Rick McLean splices pieces of a bull wheel for the Loveland Ski Area in the welding shop at Leitner-Poma of America. The company is celebrating its 30th anniversary in Grand Junction.

Leitner-Poma of America will celebrate 30 years in Grand Junction this Friday.

Three years ago, it looked like that milestone might not happen. The maker of ski lifts had outgrown the eight-acre site at 2510 Foresight Circle it moved into on Feb. 4, 1981. The company’s owners considered moving to Denver or Salt Lake City to be closer to a larger airport, President Rick Spear said.

Local business-assistance groups Grand Junction Economic Partnership and Industrial Development Inc. found out about the possible move and offered to help smooth transition to a new facility in Grand Junction. The company soon moved to a 19-acre site at 2746 Seeber Drive, Building A.

The recession hit soon after the move, but it didn’t much effect companies related to the ski industry, Spear said. Leitner-Poma usually has 12 to 14 orders for new lifts each year, he said, and that did taper off to five orders in 2009 and seven orders in 2010, but a month into 2011 the Grand Junction factory already has six orders.

A base of veteran, skilled workers and local assistance kept Leitner-Poma in Grand Junction, but what attracted the company with offices in Vermont, Canada, Italy and France to the area was a dry climate ideal for manufacturing and a prime location between two ski-friendly states, Utah and Colorado.

The company has produced ski lift and gondola systems used in nearby Aspen, Breckenridge and Telluride, but the equipment produced here has traveled to Australia, New Zealand, Columbia, Taiwan and Brazil as well.

Some systems are used at ski resorts, but Leitner-Poma also manufactures parts for gondolas, trams and urban transport rail systems, including supports and gears for a rail system in Italy and a gondola used by tourists in an Australian rain forest.

Sister companies have helped Leitner-Poma expand its brand over the years. French company Sigma produces the vehicles and gondola cabins used with Leitner-Poma parts, and most of the chairs for its chair lifts are made in Thailand. Prinoth, a company owned by Leitner-Poma, with offices next door to its Grand Junction headquarters, builds trail-grooming vehicles.

As Leitner-Poma grows, it may expand into the snow-making business, Spear said, and it definitely plans to keep expanding its wind-turbine offerings, a venture the company first started working on about seven years ago.

Even though Leitner-Poma’s other ventures, such as urban transportation, are gaining steam, Spear said the company will always rely on its roots.

“Ski lifts will be our bread and butter for years to come,” he said.


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