$7M gondola project aimed for January 2010 completion | SteamboatToday.com

$7M gondola project aimed for January 2010 completion

— Steamboat Springs could have a new people-mover gondola by early next ski season.

Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. officials and Wildhorse Meadows developers confirmed this week that they are close to finalizing a cost-sharing deal that would allow construction of a new, eight-passenger public gondola this fall. The goal is to open the gondola as soon as January 2010. It would link a remote parking lot and new luxury condominium hotel with the base of Steamboat Ski Area.

“Now is the best time to get it done,” Wildhorse principal Brent Pearson said. “We’re working well with everyone, but we’re not done yet. We’ve got a lot of things to work out between ourselves.”

Pearson also is chief financial officer for Resort Ventures West, developer of the soon-to-open Trailhead Lodge. A similar gondola has been a part of the original proposal for Wildhorse and has been promised to buyers. However, Resort Ventures West and Ski Corp. have been discussing the latter’s invitation to partner in a high-capacity gondola since 2005.

The fully enclosed gondola now poised to move forward comes with an estimated cost of $7 million.

Initial uphill capacity on the new gondola will be 1,800 riders an hour, with the ability to upgrade volume to 2,400 an hour with the later addition of more cabins. The trip will take three minutes.

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In comparison, the existing Steamboat gondola has an uphill capacity of 2,800 per hour, and the new Christie Peak Express can carry 3,200 riders per hour. Ski Corp.’s fleet of shuttle vans transports 750 people per hour.

City Planning and Community Development Director Tom Leeson confirmed that City Manager Jon Roberts has cleared him to fast-track the development permit process for the new gondola. The lead time for manufacturing several key components of the new gondola makes it necessary for Resort Ventures West to have its permits in place by early June in order to meet the aggressive timetable.

“It’s not going to be business as usual,” Leeson said. City planners will begin processing the permit application even as the developers work to refine the design.

In the beginning

Resort Ventures West originally estimated it would spend $3 million for a lower-capacity, pulse gondola such as the gondola ride in Glenwood Springs. It would have been public, but the uphill capacity would have been geared toward meeting the needs of Wildhorse residents and guests. The slower gondola would have stopped to load and download every time one of four cabins arrived at a station.

Ski Corp. Vice President of Resort Services Mike Van DeGroff said the long-term goal for the high-capacity gondola would be to virtually replace the current fleet of ski area vans used to ferry skiers and visitors from the Meadows Parking Lot to the Gondola Transit Center.

The transition would take place over time, DeGroff said, and an undetermined number of vans would be kept as a backup to the gondola.

The lower gondola terminal would be situated between the eastern boundary of the Meadows lot and Trailhead Lodge, scheduled to open in Wildhorse Meadows this summer. The upper terminal would be just outside a public plaza in the new One Steamboat Place condominium complex, a location designed to provide a natural pedestrian path for skiers to the existing Steamboat gondola.

Ski Corp. Vice President of Mountain Operations Doug Allen said he expects the new gondola to clear up congestion at the Meadows lot and in the vicinity of the Gondola Transit Center.

“We think it will provide a better opportunity for our guests,” Allen said. “It’s nice to see it getting closer to fruition.”

Allen said he could identify the successful bidder on the construction of the gondola as soon this week. He has been in talks with Leitner-Poma, of Grand Junction, and Doppelmayr Garaventa U.S.A., which has a manufacturing plant in Salt Lake City.

Fast climber

The gondola will be aided by a new technology developed in Europe that will help it climb more steeply immediately upon leaving the lower terminal. That will help it climb rapidly to the elevation of Mount Werner Circle before crossing the road and traversing a 150-foot-wide easement between The West condominiums and the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel, Allen said.

Allen added that the new gondola cabins are likely to be built by a Swiss company, CWA Constructions. Although they will closely resemble the cabins in the existing Steamboat gondola, at 192 centimeters, the new cabins will allow a 6-foot-tall person to stand up inside.

Some of the urgency attached to ordering and installing the new gondola this year is attributable to the economic downturn, and the potential for reduced costs with highly motivated lift manufacturers in a competitive bidding environment. Both parties to the construction also acknowledged that the current availability of financing is a factor, but they declined to elaborate.

DeGroff added that plans to expand the Meadows lot this summer, the completion of Trailhead Lodge and the pending completion of construction adjacent to Gondola Square all contribute to the desirability of pursuing an aggressive timetable for gondola construction.

Planning hurdle

Leeson said the biggest hurdle from a planning perspective is ensuring that the new upper terminal allows the Gondola Transit Center to function well.

The upper terminal would be moved from the originally planned location within One Steamboat Place because of the new gondola’s added size and weight. The change means a triangular median at the entrance to the transit center, where the first parking stall will be removed.

“We want to ensure that turning motions into the transit center are still workable,” Leeson said.

The lower terminal will be moved closer to the Meadows lot by about 200 feet from the previously planned location, immediately north of Trailhead. That will make a shorter walk for skiers and riders.

DeGroff said plans are in the works to create a drop-off lane allowing families to exit their automobiles on the east edge of the parking lot close to a new pedestrian bridge that would span wetlands.

DeGroff said there are no short-term plans to begin charging for parking in the Meadows lot. The gondola also will be free to riders, Ski Corp. spokesman Mike Lane said.

At a glance

– The new gondola will be public

– Initial uphill capacity will be 1,800 riders an hour, expandable to 2,400, not quite matching the existing gondola’s 2,800.

– Gondola cabins will carry eight passengers, with a three-minute trip time

– Ski Corp. shuttle vans gradually will phase out

– Goal is construction this fall with opening as soon as January 2010