People-mover gondola explored

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If built, a proposed people-mover gondola from the Meadows Parking Lot to the base of the Steamboat Ski Area would differ significantly from the gondola that ferries skiers and snowboarders to the summit of Thunderhead.

City Transit Director George Krawzoff said Friday that a "circulating gondola" such as the one at the ski area has been ruled out based on a report from a manufacturer. Instead, Krawzoff said, a "detachable pulse" gondola would be a better fit. Such a gondola would transport skiers and pedestrians in pulses of six or eight cabins that would come to a complete stop at either terminal.

Krawzoff's comments came Friday during a meeting of the urban renewal authority, or URA, advisory committee, which is advising the City Council about how best to use the URA funds to redevelop Steamboat's mountain village.

The intent of the authority is to raise money for public improvements at the base of the ski area. It is financed by future property tax and sales tax growth within URA boundaries.

The people-mover gondola first was proposed by Whitney Ward, who is a principal in the Wildhorse Meadows development adjacent to the Meadows Parking Lot. Ward is also active in the development group for One Steamboat Place, which would be built where the gondola parking lot at the base of the ski area is located.

The new gondola would have terminals within the two developments. It also could ferry people from the remote parking lot to the ski base.

Ward is seeking financial participation from the ski area and the city. However, Steamboat Ski Area President Chris Diamond said he isn't convinced the people-mover gondola offers sufficient cost benefits over the present system of shuttling skiers and riders to the base area in vans.

Diamond said the circulating gondola is impractical because the mechanisms that accelerate and decelerate the gondola cars require larger buildings. The larger gondola terminals wouldn't fit inside the two proposed developments.

A pulse gondola car would accommodate eight standing passengers and their ski equipment. That arrangement would better accommodate people with luggage or shopping bags, Krawzoff pointed out.

The gondola would cost between $4.5 million and $6 million. Ward has sought an equal split among his developments, the city and the ski area. Diamond said a rough estimate of the operating cost for the people-mover gondola during the four months of the ski season is $150,000. That includes creation of a reserve fund for mechanical repairs. Intermittent operation during the summer would be far less costly, he said.

Diamond said that during a recent peak day, the ski area counted about 1,300 cars in the parking lot, resulting in the need to transport an estimated 3,400 people in three hours. Krawzoff said the people-mover gondola could be configured to carry about 1,700 people an hour. Wildhorse Meadows would generate some traffic of its own.

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