It wasn't the mountain's legendary powder, but champagne was toasted nonetheless atop the Steamboat Ski Area on Wednesday.
Ski area officials, chairlift technicians and other employees joined local skiers and riders to celebrate the opening of the new Burgess Creek triple chairlift during a brief ceremony Wednesday.
Balloons, a banner and plastic cups of champagne were part of the celebration to recognize the ski area's first new lift since the Pony Express quad was installed in 1998.
At a cost of $1.3 million, the new Burgess Creek triple chairlift replaces the old double chairlift of the same name. The new lift is expected to increase uphill capacity by 64 percent and cut travel time by about 30 seconds. The original Burgess Creek lift was installed in 1969.
"The old Burgess Creek (lift) served us well, but it was time for a new chairlift," said Doug Allen, the ski area's senior director of mountain operations.
Replacing the original Burgess Creek lift with a triple chair was a priority for ski area officials because of the lift's role in the core infrastructure of the mountain, Allen said. The Burgess Creek lift provides access to Thunderhead and the gondola as well as a variety of trails for skiers of all abilities.
Employees of Leitner-Poma, the lift's Grand Junction-based manufacturer, and their ski area counterparts worked throughout the summer to install new towers and terminals for the lift. The lift was scheduled to open Dec. 15, but the hard work of the crew enabled the ski area to push forward the opening by one week, Allen said.
One of those workers, Steamboat native Dustin Pryke, said contributing to the construction of the new lift was a memorable experience.
"It feels good," Pryke said as he watched skiers and riders unload from the new triple chair. "I'll be able to come back here in 30 years and know that my kids can ride this."
The lift is powered completely by renewable wind energy recently purchased by the ski area. About 3 percent of the ski area's total electricity needs are met through renewable energy.
Tim Rehder, an environmental management system coordinator for the Environmental Protection Agency's Region 8 office in Denver attended Wednesday's opening and commended the ski area for its use of renewable energy.
About 80 percent of Colorado's electricity is generated by coal-fired power plants that emit a number of dangerous pollutants into the environment, Rehder said. The EPA is "very happy" about the ski area's use of wind energy and hopes Steamboat and other resorts will continue to move toward a higher reliance on renewable energy sources, he said.
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