Steamboat Resort unwraps ‘one-of-a-kind’ Wild Blue Gondola just in time for Christmas
With snow falling, Steamboat Resort opened the Wild Blue Gondola on Saturday, Dec. 24, just in time for Christmas. The debut was complete with a red bow on the first car, a ribbon cutting, a jingle of bells, and a long line of people waiting to board.
“It’s the day before Christmas. It’s the seventh night of Hanukkah. And Hanukkah is all about miracles,” said Steamboat Ski Resort Corp. President and Chief Operating Officer Rob Perlman ahead of the opening.
Perlman and Director of Operations Dave Hunter both said the pre-holiday opening of the Wild Blue felt miraculous. Years of work through the Full Steam Ahead capital improvement project led to Saturday’s opening, and the final push was a big one.
“This is the milestone,” Perlman said. “We wanted to get it open for the holidays, the peak season. We have a lot of folks that come in from around the world for the holidays and to learn to ski and snowboard. It was always our goal to have it open by the holidays and here we are on Christmas Eve.”
What opened on Saturday is just the first leg of the Wild Blue, which will stretch all the way to Sunshine Peak next year.
Section one has 10 towers and 58 10-passenger cabins and travels more than 19 feet per second, getting people to the top in four minutes. The haul rope is the largest in North America at 64 millimeters.
After the addition of section two, the gondola’s 171 cabins will travel 3.16 miles in 13 minutes.
“It’s one-of-a-kind in North America. There is not another one like it,” Perlman said to a crowd before opening a bottle of champagne with a ski edge. “We are so excited to open this gondola today. … It’s been a journey. We had a vision for this a long time ago to help out the experience of our guests.”
Following a four-minute ride, skiers and riders were greeted by hot chocolate, stickers and cookies at what will eventually be the mid-station of the gondola: Greenhorn Ranch Learning Center.
By the time people arrived, lessons had already begun at the terrain-based learning area.
Small slopes and slight declines help people new to the sports of skiing and snowboarding glide and slide and learn the feel of using and controlling skis and a board before learning how to stop.
It greatly differs from the previous style of teaching at Steamboat.
There are four magic carpets and a lift in the Greenhorn Ranch area, as well as a new lunch hall where anyone can pop in for a snack or bathroom break.
While the opening felt like a miracle to many, it certainly wasn’t accomplished through magic. Both Perlman and Hunter listed many names of team members who played large roles in finishing the first leg of the gondola and Greenhorn Ranch.
And of course, there were many that played seemingly smaller roles that were still crucial in the completion of the projects.
To his chagrin, Nelson Wingard was called out by Hunter during a champagne toast inside the building at Greenhorn Ranch. Wingard, the director of Snowsports School at Steamboat saw Greenhorn Ranch proceed from start to finish.
His job was to make sure the plans were executed by collaborating with people working at various parts of the project, from terrain, to snow surface to training staff and more.
He helped navigate a few hiccups and changes through the process before showcasing the final product on Saturday.
“Any time you open a space that’s brand new and shape it, what’s done in a drawing doesn’t always translate to snow,” he said. “The biggest challenge is taking the reality of the situation we have, where there is a rock we couldn’t move, or we had to put in a fire hydrant we didn’t expect, or the snow guns influence it this way, and the speed of the snow is different. All the variables that come with a mountain experience, we had to incorporate and change our drawings to make that work. The devil’s in the details.”
Shelby Reardon is the assistant editor at the Steamboat Pilot & Today. To reach her, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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