VAIL, Colorado - Pete Seibert Jr. looked delighted Friday morning as he waited to cut the ribbon to open Vail's new Gondola One nearly 50 years after his father's dream came alive.
Pete Seibert Sr. and Earl Eaton celebrated the opening of their brand new Vail ski resort in 1962. Vail Councilman Ludwig Kurz, who arrived in Vail in 1966, looked at the new high-speed gondola with heated seats and free Wi-Fi access Friday and chuckled as he remembered the original gondola.
"Nothing was automated," Kurz said. "There were guys that were pushing the cars onto the (cable) line."
At the time, Vail was leading the way within the ski industry, Kurz remembers. Sure, there were other ski resorts, but Vail changed the game.
"The interest of people in skiing was on an upswing, but there wasn't the magnitude of what happened here anywhere else - it didn't exist at the time," Kurz said. "This was the first resort that became a real economic success and with that, a lot of others followed."
Starting off the 50th anniversary season with the opening of Gondola One proves the resort continues to be a leader within the ski industry, Vail Resorts Chief Executive Officer Rob Katz said.
"The work that we're doing and the success that we're doing today are literally only building upon all the work and success that everyone who's come before has done," Katz said. "When you look at Vail, both the community and the resort, what you see is just a continuous piece of improvement - we're constantly rethinking, constantly being daring, being bold, being big - and that's how you create an amazing resort."
Hundreds gathered at the base of the new gondola to celebrate Vail's latest improvement. With an uphill speed of 1,200 feet per minute, the gondola increases uphill skier capacity by 40 percent, from 2,400 skiers per hour on the former Vista Bahn chair lift to 3,600 skiers per hour.
The cabins can seat 10 people, and heated, cushioned seats and free Wi-Fi access make it state-of-the-art.
Katz wouldn't have it any other way.
"I think our vision is ultimately making sure that we are a leader," he said. "(That we're) pushing the industry to change and doing it in a way that makes the experience better for the guest. I think everybody in our company needs to wake up every day and say how can we make this experience better for the guest."
Pete Seibert Jr. cut the ribbon just after Sheika Gramshammer helped smash a bottle of Veuve Cliquot Champagne to kick off the ceremony. Pete Seibert Jr. knew his father would have enjoyed the moment.
"He always wanted Vail to be the best and here we are getting on this gondola, the first of its kind, and so it just follows everything and it's great to see that continue," he said. "I think he'd love to see what happened with the renaissance (in Vail), with all the new building and everything else, and the way things fit together now. He liked the process, too, so he would have liked the crane period we went through."
Vail Mountain Chief Operating Officer Chris Jarnot called the gondola opening a momentous occasion - and one Katz said wouldn't have been possible without Jarnot's vision.
"I think it took incredible gumption in the middle of the worst snow year in history to suggest that we build a new gondola," Katz said. "I think Chris's vision and confidence that this was absolutely the right thing to do for the community, for the resort, right at this moment in time - I think without his pushing this forward and pounding the table, it never would have happened, so my hat's off to Chris."
The majority of the gondola was manufactured in Grand Junction at Leitner-Poma of America. Rick Spear, president of Leitner-Poma, said the design was a bit of a clone of some European gondolas, but made better for America. Spear said he's grateful to Vail Resorts for supporting the 22,000 work hours that went into building it.
"We thank Vail for that - to support work in Colorado and support business - and most of all a great lift for skiers. You guys are going to enjoy this for the next 25-30 years," Spear said.
For those who remember the old days, like Jim Conroy, who bought a condominium in East Vail in 1967, calling the new gondola a "great lift" is an understatement. Conroy remembers how long it used to take to ride the old gondola - he said skiers in those days needed to bring their lunches along for the ride. After he rode the new gondola to the top Friday, he wished he could still ski so he could enjoy that part of the experience. Either way, he was happy to take part in celebrating Vail's latest upgrade.
"Never did I believe such beautiful equipment would be here," Conroy said.
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or email@example.com.