Ode to the Gondola: 30 years and still kicking

Eugene Buchanan

If only our cars enjoyed this kind of longevity.

In 2016, the Steamboat Gondola, once affectionately known as the Silver Bullet, celebrates its 30th year of operation, a milestone for any machine helping us access the goods.

Steamboat’s first gondola, the Bell-made Stagecoach Gondola, was originally built in 1970 and ran for 17 winters before being replaced by the current one. “It was one of the great attractions in northwest Colorado,” says vice president of mountain operations Doug Allen. “It put Steamboat on the world’s ski map. Resort founder John Fetcher once said, ‘We went out on a limb to build a gondola that ended up building Steamboat.”

It was forward thinking, Allen says, with Fetcher traveling to Switzerland to purchase it. When Allen arrived in 1986, the resort was turning it out to pasture for the current one, a “monumental project that attracted the attention of all European lift designers.” Engineers were just perfecting the monocable lift system whose detachable grips would allow cabins to slow down for loading and unloading. The design also eliminated the need for track ropes, enabling faster speeds and higher skier capacity.

Now the grand ol’ machine is entering its fourth decade delivering skiers and snowboarders to the slopes of Mt. Werner. By next summer, it will have amassed 80,000 hours of operation. “We know of no other gondola anywhere in the world with so many successful hours of operation,” Allen says, touting its nighttime use as well.

Allen says the resort is working on plans to replace Old Faithful in the coming years, but that in the meantime, like a horse with life still in its legs, it’ll continue its tireless task. “It’s remained the standard in the industry for reliability,” Allen says, crediting its redundant safety systems for its almost continuous operation. “It almost never stops.”

Steamboat Gondola stats

1970 Year Stagecoach Gondola was built

1986 Year current gondola was built, the world’s first eight-passenger gondola

2,800 Skier capacity per hour

80,000 Hours of operation it will accumulate by its 30th birthday next summer

2.8 Million miles these 80,000 hours would equate to were it a bus traveling at 35 mph

908,800 Miles the haul rope will have traveled, four times the distance from the Earth to the moon 

11.36 miles per hour the haul rope travels

766 Kegs of sponsor Coors Light beer (Silver Bullets) used for initial ballast testing

Did You Know?

The Steamboat Gondola originally was named the Silver Bullet for its silver cabins and Steamboat’s western heritage. For its preliminary load tests, the resort used 766 kegs of sponsor Coors Light beer (Silver Bullets). “It was quite the scene when it arrived,” says Allen, adding that once Anheuser Busch became the resort’s sponsor they changed its name. “Some of our gondola mechanics still have “Silver Bullet” embroidered on their uniforms.” 

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