Gondola at a glance
■ Free to public
■ Four pairs of six-passenger cabins
■ One-way trip takes 3 minutes and 30 seconds, including midway slowdown
■ Uphill capacity: 340 passengers per hour, expandable in future with additional cabins
■ No ski racks — bring your gear on board
■ Winter hours: 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
■ No need to step up or down — cabin exit is flush with loading platform
■ Parking: Leave your car at the rear of Meadows Parking lot and carry your skis across the Wildhorse Bridge on Bangtail Way.
■ Time between gondola car arrivals: 1 minute and 25 seconds
Steamboat Springs Colorado’s newest gondola opened to the public in a gentle snowfall Monday morning as Chris Wilson, a condominium owner at nearby Trailhead Lodge, ducked into the first cabin on the new Wildhorse lift, just down the hill from the slopes of Steamboat Ski Area.
Wilson’s joyride lasted 3 minutes and 30 seconds, and crossed traffic on Mount Werner Circle before descending steeply into the upper terminal at One Steamboat Place.
The new Leitner-Poma fixed-grip gondola, built in Grand Junction, is a first for Steamboat Springs. Sometimes referred to as a people-mover lift, it doesn’t deliver passengers to the top of a ski run, but instead to the bottom of the runs at Steamboat Ski Area. From there, people who carried skis or snowboards onto the gondola likely will catch either the Steamboat Gondola or the Christie Peak Express.
Kerry Shea, director of sales and marketing for Resort Ventures West, developers of the new Trailhead Lodge in Wildhorse Meadows, said guests and owners of the lodge will get off at the upper terminal and retrieve their equipment from Wildhorse Meadows Alpine Club within the larger One Steamboat Place building.
Shea thinks the new gondola conveys more than people; he suggests it sends a message about the local resort economy.
“It’s a strong sign for our market and the strength of our area,” Shea said. “For us, absolutely, it answers the question, ‘How do we continue to add value and reinforce real estate value for our homeowners?’”
Resort Ventures West development construction coordinator Gavin Malia oversaw the gondola construction from the developer’s perspective. The company has hired two Steamboat men with extensive experience in gondola operations: Former longtime Steamboat lift maintenance employee Tim McConnell is supervising operations, and former Doppelmayr employee Jack LeGrice, who has installed new gondolas all across North America, is also on the crew.
The $3 million-plus gondola is owned by the homeowners association at Wildhorse Meadows and was built as an amenity to the Wildhorse residential development. As a condition of its development permit issued by the city of Steamboat Springs, the new gondola is open to the public at no charge.
How heavily the gondola is used by the general public is an open question.
“The (Steamboat Ski Area) shuttles are operating, so I don’t think it will be as much of a demand in the morning,” Shea said. “At the end of the day, it might come much more naturally.”
The gondola will operate daily through ski season from 7:30 a.m., in time to serve people commuting to work, to 6 p.m., late enough to transport the après ski crowd back to their vehicles.
Riders can expect a 3 minute and 30 second ride including the slowdown in mid-transit while two pairs of cabins, one at the top and one at the bottom, unload as many as six passengers each.
Current uphill capacity is 340 passengers per hour. The gondola could be expanded in the future to six groups of three cabins.
For a time during the spring, it appeared Intrawest and Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. would partner on a $7 million gondola with much greater capacity, allowing it to substantially augment or replace a portion of the fleet of ground shuttles that carries day skiers from the Meadows Parking Lot to the Gondola Transit Center.
Although the alliance was announced in a formal press conference, Ski Corp. abruptly pulled out May 28 after Intrawest did not include the project in its overall capital plan.