Need a lift? Black Hawk helicopter helps with gondola construction at Steamboat Resort

A Black Hawk helicopter helps ground crews install gondola towers at Steamboat Resort on Friday. The retired military chopper worked from 6 a.m. until about noon, before heading to Winter Park to do similar work at its resort.
Courtesy photo/Larry Pierce

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — People in town may have overheard the low rumble of a Black Hawk helicopter flying over Steamboat Resort early Friday morning. 

It was the latest development in the resort’s new gondola project, which started in April. The craft, a retired Army chopper owned by Timberline Helicopters, helped ground crews install 18 gondola towers along the upper portion of the lift, according to Dave Hunter, vice president of mountain operations at Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.

“I look at today as a check in a huge box,” Hunter said. “Ninety-nine percent of the line is up.”

The work temporarily closed the multiuse trails on the mountain and delayed the opening of the Steamboat Bike Park as well as Christie Peak Express by an hour.

Work had to begin early Friday, at 6 a.m., when the temperature was cool enough to allow the helicopter to gain lift and carry more weight. 

“We wanted to get the heaviest pickups out of the way before it got too warm out,” Hunter said. 

To install the towers, as he described, the helicopter pilot picked up the tower’s base and flew it to a drop site along the lift line. Ground crews, working for Doppelmayr, the Austrian company building the gondola, secured the base with large nuts and bolts. As soon as that was done, they climbed up the length of the base and prepared for the next section. 

They repeated the process with another section, securing it to the base as quickly and efficiently as possible to avoid delays for the pilot. 

“Then they climb to the very top and wait for the cross arm to be delivered,” Hunter said. 

As he described, working so close to a military-grade aircraft is no easy feat. One of the tower pieces weighed 7,000 pounds, according to Hunter.

“When you’re under a Black Hawk helicopter, it’s a very intense situation,” Hunter said. “You’ve got dust flying all over the place, but the workers have to stay very calm.”

And they did. The helicopter finished its mission just before noon, according to Hunter, with no mishaps or injuries. 

The new gondola, which officials say will increase capacity and shuttle guests up the mountain two minutes faster than the old one, has required the brawn of other heavy machinery in recent weeks. 

Earlier in the month, a 240-ton crane was on the mountain, helping to erect towers closer to the base area. 

Only two towers remain, which will be installed using an even larger, 270-ton crane by the end of next week, according to Hunter. After that is completed, the next step will be to add a haul rope, to which the gondola cabins attach. Hunter expects that to happen in August.

The lift should be up and running by the start of the upcoming winter season.

The public can stay up to date on gondola construction and any closures on the mountain through the resort’s website.  

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo.

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