VAIL, Colorado - The new Vail gondola has come together leaps and bounds since a helicopter flew in the lift towers just two weeks ago.
Since then, both the base and upper terminals have taken shape and Vail Mountain's stated opening date of Nov. 16 now seems more like a reality.
It always was reality for Clyde Wiessner, Vail's lift maintenance director, even as some questioned the pace of construction late summer. What didn't look like much progress to passersby was always on track for opening day, it's just that the visual progress has sped up in recent weeks.
Wiessner and Lift Maintenance Manager Scott Geno Leslie and Electrical Engineer Todd Ruoff showed off the gondola this week, giving local media a tour of the base area, cabin cars and Mid-Vail terminal.
The guys are proud of Vail's newest addition. They point out the most technical details about its construction and technology from the tires and belts that speed up and slow down the cars through the terminals to the amount of power it takes to run it. The gondola is truly state-of-the-art, Ruoff said.
A cabin car is now on display at the base area for folks to check out and sit in, putting into perspective how the relatively narrow cars will seat 10 people comfortably and haul as many as 3,600 people per hour up the mountain, a 40 percent increase in uphill capacity when compared to the former Vista Bahn chairlift.
Two rows of five face each other in the cabin. The goal is to fit all of the ski and snowboard gear on the outside, too, leaving more space on the inside, Wiessner said.
The cabins can carry eight snowboards and 10 pairs of skis, so the only time anyone will have to carry gear inside the gondola car is when there are more than 8 snowboarders riding at once.
New building at Mid-Vail
The new gondola isn't going to be housed inside a building at the base or upper terminals like the Eagle Bahn gondola in Lionshead. The base terminal looks like a regular chairlift terminal, as does the upper terminal at Mid Vail. It's the wave of the future for gondolas, plus it's less of a visual impact from the base, Ruoff said.
Crews have constructed a roughly 17,000-square-foot building to the west of the Mid Vail building and upper terminal, though, to store the gondola cars each night.
At the terminals, roughly 11 cabins will be in the terminal at a time from end to end, with loading and unloading happening on both ends.
LED lights on each cabin will make the lift line look like a "string of pearls," Wiessner said, while discreet Wi-Fi towers located along the lift line will give guests wireless Internet access for the roughly 7-minute ride to the top.
That building is probably the most significant visual change about the new gondola. Otherwise, the gondola line follows the same lift line the Vista Bahn followed, although some widening was necessary. The Vista Bahn had 33 lift towers, while the new gondola has 10 less at 23.
There will be 111 gondola cabins on the lift, many of which are sitting at the base area ready for installation. That should happen after the main haul cable is installed sometime next week.
The name of Vail's new gondola, which is still being called Gondola 1 commemorating Vail's original gondola in that location, hasn't yet been released.
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.