Tom Ross: Ski area gondolas don’t just go up and down, they come and go
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The timing of the news in late April that Martin Hart, the late chairman and CEO of Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp., would be posthumously inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame was uncanny.
Days earlier, the eight-passenger gondola cabins, which had ushered in a new era at the ski resort in 1986, were being stacked in neat rows in Meadows Parking Lot. Those 32-year-old gondola cars were once the first of their kind in the world and are probably the most tangible evidence of Hart’s 11-year tenure at Steamboat.
Hart led Northwest Colorado Ski Corp., which owned Steamboat Resort, from 1980 through 1989 and stayed on for two more years in support of a new Japanese ownership group, Kamori Kanko. He died Jan. 3, 2014, in Denver.
One of the first projects Hart took on was replacing Steamboat’s original Stagecoach gondola with a higher-capacity lift.
Former Ski Corp. Marketing Director Kent Myers “liked to say that Martin and his ownership group took this little old ski area in Northwest Colorado to one of the major ski resorts in the country,” said Rod Hanna, who also is a former marketing director at the ski area.
The old, new gondola boasted the largest uphill capacity in the ski industry at the time and cost $4.3 million. It was part of $30 million in improvements overseen by Hart and his executive team in that era.
A career in fast food
A self-described Kansas farm boy, Hart went on from Regis University in Denver to have a successful executive career in the fast-food industry. He was on the board of directors of Pizza Hut when it went public.
Hart, who often wore a suit and tie for speaking engagements in Steamboat, was no stuffed shirt, but he wasn’t really an avid skier.
“I truly think that Martin lived to make the next deal,” Hanna said. “That’s what really kept him going.”
And Hart remained a gentleman in public, even through years of government hearings over his plans with other investors to develop a second, larger ski resort at Lake Catamount in the south valley. It never broke ground.
Throughout the sometimes-rancorous public hearings, the developers found themselves at odds with one of the most beloved ranching couples in Routt County: Bob and Elaine Gay, who raised cattle just upstream from Catamount in Pleasant Valley.
To Hart’s credit, he was always a gentleman and remained cordial with the Gays.
“Martin would go to visit Elaine Gay at the ranch, she would serve him pie, and he would talk to her,” Hanna recalled.
Even after the Catamount deal foundered and he stepped down from the ski area, Hart remained active in Steamboat. Together with Kimihito Kamori, he developed the luxury home neighborhood known as The Sanctuary around what is now Rollingstone Golf Course.
One of the most tangible memories of Hart’s legacy in Steamboat resides in the twin bronze statues of cowboys by Irish sculptor Rowan Gillespie at either entrance to The Sanctuary. If you drive through The Sanctuary on Steamboat Boulevard today, you’ll notice that colorful bandannas have been tied around the necks of the cowboys.
Tom Ross retired from the Steamboat Pilot & Today in 2018 after 36 years in the newspaper business. He continues to write a regular column for the paper.
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