Unwrapped and loaded: Crews safety-test new Steamboat gondola with state inspector

Two uncovered gondola cabins pass through the lower terminal at Steamboat Resort in October. A safety test determined the gondola was OK to operate, but it malfunctioned a day after opening. Crews hope to start work on repairs Saturday.
Derek Maiolo

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Safety testing the new gondola at Steamboat Resort, set to wrap up Thursday night, has taken some heavy lifting this week. 

The test required crews to load 54 gondola cabins with 1,600 pounds each and operate the lift to ensure it can handle the weight, even in emergency situations, according to Dave Hunter, vice president of mountain operations at the ski area. Instead of weighing them down with a posse of bundled-up skiers and riders, crews filled plastic trash bins with water and put eight in each cabin to simulate passengers. 

An inspector from the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board observed the operations from the top terminal inside Thunderhead Lodge, checking off the hundreds of requirements necessary to commission the gondola before people can ride it. 

As of Thursday afternoon, Hunter said the gondola was performing well. Crews still had several procedures remaining, such as unloading the trash bins and running the lift without any weight. He expected the safety test to conclude by sundown. 

This comes less than a month before the resort is scheduled to open Nov. 23 for the 2019-20 winter season.

The new, $15 million Doppelmayr gondola features several improvements, including a faster ride time of about two minutes and 12 additional cabins to increase capacity by 38%.

It also has some added safety measures, including twice the number of safety switches attached to the lift towers. As Hunter explained, the more switches on the gondola, the more operators are able to detect problems and fix them.

“When something starts to happen, you are able to diagnose it much faster,” he said.

With most of the construction complete, Doppelmayr employees who have been in Steamboat in previous months will leave Steamboat as early as tomorrow, according to Hunter. They have been training Steamboat Resort employees on how to run the new equipment. 

Thursday night also marks the closing of the online auction of 31 retired trail signs from the mountain trail. The proceeds will go toward Steamboat Resort’s Environmental Fund at the Yampa Valley Community Foundation, which makes annual donations to nonprofit environmental organizations in Routt County. As of 1 p.m., the auction had raised $23,500, according to Loryn Duke, the resort’s communications director. 

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

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