Breck’ considers cabriolet instead of gondola |

Breck’ considers cabriolet instead of gondola

Jane Stebbins/Summit County Correspondent

Chief operations officer Roger McCarthy said gondolas are substantially more expensive than other modes of uphill transportation. The same debate over whether to build a gondola is taking place between Avon and Beaver Creek Mountain.

Preliminary cost analyses for Breckenridge indicate the gondola ski resort officials propose could cost as much as $18 million, of which the town has agreed to pay $6.7 million.

If a lift or cabriolet is built instead, the cost to the resort could fall to $9 million, and the town’s obligation could dip as low as $3.35 million, said Town Manager Tim Gagen.

A cabriolet is similar to a gondola car except they are not enclosed and passengers stand rather than sit. The Canyons in Utah installed a cabriolet lift three years ago.

Breckenridge Ski Resort officials are pricing cabriolets to see if the change will be feasible. They also want to determine if another type of lift would provide the same level of service for skiers and protect the delicate wetlands in Cucumber Gulch.

“They have a nice ambiance,” Gagen said. “You’re kind of a standing visitor looking out over the world, viewing it, which is kind of cool. With a lift or gondola, you usually can only look in one direction.”

The cabriolet would leave the Watson parking lot in town, ascend to Shock Hill, go over Cucumber Gulch to a new Peak 7 base, then dog-leg south to the Peak 8 base.

Skier and boarders would then board the regular chairlifts.

The goal is to alleviate traffic on Ski Hill Road, facilitate the merging of the town and ski area’s transportation systems and get skiers and boarders onto the mountain faster.

Gondolas aren’t cheap because there is only one company in the world that makes them, McCarthy said.

Additionally, gondola cabins have windows that degrade in ultraviolet light, complicated door mechanisms and they must be stored when not in use. Also, their heavy weight requires big stations.

Another hurdle is that the money used to build the gondola was to have been derived from sales of housing units on Peaks 7 and 8.

A development agreement forged between the town and ski company requires the resort to build the gondola before the 300th unit of density is approved for occupancy at the base area. But a soft economy has slowed development plans.

It has frustrated all those involved, including Breckenridge Lands, whose officials want to begin construction of luxury homes on Shock Hill where a gondola mid-station is planned.

Breckenridge Lands officials want the gondola built as soon as possible to serve their new subdivision.

“Shock Hill is looking for a guaranteed date things are going to get built, and in today’s world, you just can’t do that,” McCarthy said. “I’d say there’s every chance the thing will get built within the parameters Shock Hill wants it built. But given the economy, we can’t guarantee that.”

A cabriolet could change that, McCarthy said.

“If we change the mode of transportation, we could reduce the cost,” he said. “If we can cut the cost in half, we can get the thing built a lot quicker.”

It is possible a cabriolet could be under construction by the summer of 2005, he said. A gondola would require even more time.

Currently, the ski area and Breckenridge Lands officials are working on an agreement to establish an easement through the subdivision. Once that is ironed out, Breckenridge Lands could proceed with its development plan.

Litter among issues ski area faces with cabriolet

By Jane Stebbins

Word count: 543

BRECKENRIDGE – Replacing the proposed gondola with an open-air cabriolet might save Vail Resorts and the town of Breckenridge a lot of money, but some are concerned about the health of Cucumber Gulch if the Breckenridge Ski Resort forges ahead with its plans.

The town and ski resort spent months developing criteria by which the gondola would comply to protect the delicate wetlands in the gulch.

One of those criteria was that gondola cabins would be enclosed to prevent people from tossing trash or dropping ski equipment into the wetlands below. Cabriolets are not enclosed like gondolas.

“(Any mode of transportation) will still have to meet the standards the gondola had achieved when it went through the variance process,” said Town Manager Tim Gagen. “That means protecting the gulch.”

The wetlands are home to a wide array of animal life, including otters, fish, beavers and the endangered boreal toad.

The Colorado National Heritage Program gave Cucumber Gulch its highest rating for urgent protection and management; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stated that the wetlands complex includes irreplaceable fens and is an aquatic resource of national importance; and the Fish and Wildlife department said it is a Resource Category 1 – the highest rating a wetlands can be.

The Town Council, in turn, delineated an area around the wetlands as a “Preventative Management Area” – or PMA – that protects the aquatic resource from development.

Protecting the gulch is of utmost importance in the mind of Jim Lamb, the Town Council’s only Green Party member.

“During the PMA (Preventative Management Area) process, one of the big issues with the gondola going through Cucumber Gulch was that nothing fell out of the gondola cars,” he said.

“I’m not opposed to a cabriolet, but I want to know how they’re going to address that issue. That was a huge issue in the PMA. It’s a precious wetlands.”

Breckenridge chief operations officer Roger McCarthy said he believes the best way to get people to respect the wetlands – and subsequently not toss cigarette butts and other litter from the cabriolets – is to educate them.

Much of that information could be disseminated on signs in the loading areas, on lift towers and in the cabriolets themselves.

“The gulch has changed in the minds of many people,” he said. “It’s being seen not so much like a time capsule, but more as an opportunity to recreate and educate. A cabriolet would be a lot more realistic and in keeping in with what’s going on up there already.”

No amount of education, however, will prevent skiers from accidentally dropping ski equipment.

McCarthy said it would be easy to organize clean-up crews to retrieve things that have fallen from the lift, particularly if operations are done when snow still covers the ground.

Councilmember Greg Abernathy said the problem could be mitigated by putting up screens on the windows, trash cans in the cabriolets, banning cigarette smoking and erecting signs demanding that people throw nothing out of the lift.

“Cucumber’s pretty sensitive, and I’d hate to sacrifice Cucumber Gulch for uphill transportation,” he said. “But if they can figure out a way to take care of that, I’d be all for it. Litter stops the whole thing for me. Cucumber Gulch is too pristine.”

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