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Letters to the editor

editor@vaildaily.com

Some years ago I wrote to Vail Daily (February 2000) about the then proposed Beaver Creek gondola, train or cable car. The issue was embroiled in a the lack of commonsense thinking that preceded detailed planning and approval processes.

As we have all matured since then, it seemed reasonable to assume that this new gondola project was formulated around more standard commercial and commonsense planning – meeting a need, solving a problem, creating an opportunity, staying competitive, providing a service and so on. Clearly, putting people on the mountain to ski is a high priority of a ski resort. Putting them there cost-effectively and sensibly is equally important.

As a regular if itinerant visitor to this valley (and homeowner in Beaver Creek), I have watched in amazement this new “gondola at all costs mania” that has emerged again. Different route, same logical and commonsense issues!

First, it appears that the founders of this resort never really meant Beaver Creek to have a transportation system other than buses. If they did, then the appropriate planning and development would have included such a transportation system in the initial access road design. This it did not, as the last gondola exercise demonstrated. And if it did, then good old greed got in the way and the land was sold for housing development. Not an uncommon phenomenon all over the world.

So let us turn the page and consider the latest effort from Vail Resorts and friends. Fortunately, all of the evidence I have read in the press suggests that it will not be supported by federal, state or local money. And let me be very frank – I hope not from local homeowner or resident money either (at least not from Beaver Creek).

This effort is almost comical. I am assuming that the current concept (sic) is for a cable car or gondola or something swinging in the air to move from Avon to the entrance car park to Beaver Creek (so far so good), then to Bachelor Gulch (OK), and then to meander merrily to the top of Strawberry (a getting off place for skiers serviced at present by a quad chair lift). It is not exactly a hive of commercial activity or a gateway to skiing in the valley (Pitchfork, the principal access to Beaver Creek, is frequently icy and a good “blue” blue run), so access to anything (ski school, beginner slopes, rental equipment, restaurants, etc.) is more convenient via current methods (buses).

Had the plans for the contraption stopped at Bachelor Gulch, there may have been some merit. At least people could access the mountain from Avon and the car parks and then ski to Beaver and Arrowhead, although Intertwine may need to become a two-lane highway!

But there is no commercial hub in Bachelor Creek and limited restaurant facilities. Perhaps it would then have been called the Ritz Carlton Gondola and if it is not a “user pays” facility, it could be paid for by the hotel (but that is another issue). It would not address the total needs (for skiers, tourists, retail and skiing operators, restaurateurs, bus companies), but it probably has some value as a simple way to ferry people to a base point on the mountain. Especially as no one now has the wherewithal to design anything practical to get skiers to the commercial hub in Beaver Creek (other than buses).

It is the next step which really intrigues me – going all the way to the top of Strawberry in a covered vehicle and stopping there (when one could take two existing chair lifts to this location and it is not the most popular skiing configuration in the valley).

So what of the valley’s problems does this new Gondola help solve?

Consider the following:

A. Reduce the need for large polluting (bias evident here) buses into Beaver Creek? No, although the hybrid solution (gondola up and bus back springs to mind). A sort of creature based on Greek mythology – half bus, half gondola (called a pan-dola, I believe) may work.

B. Provide a way for Avon folks, visitors and their friends and families to access Beaver Creek efficiently? (Strawberry is a blue, or intermediate, run to a village which boasts the world’s best ski school) Efficient access could not have been an objective.

C. Facilitate use of Beaver Creek ski school and great facilities (according to national polls)? Only joking; see above.

D. Provide alternative to buses after skiing finishes and dinner or cocktails are over? Wrong. This strengthens the long-term role of the buses

E. Offer an environmentally friendly and aesthetically pleasing mobile feature to the already almost overcrowded mountain? Can’t comment, as there are chair lifts doing what this would do and new houses appearing daily. May be a moving panorama for Bachelor Gulch homeowners.

F. Provide a vehicle for fox and deer sighting (and hunting in season) and fine home viewing – a real estate broker’s dream? Excellent.

G. Encourage non-skiers to Beaver Creek retail and restaurant areas? Drunks with cowbells seeking safe passage from BC Village to Strawberry peak in winter may be amusing for some. Great opportunity for small stalls to set up business on the mountain and provide sustenance on the way to the gondola (after hours only). May need special Colorado liquor license.

H. Meet any of the 500 or so oft-articulated needs to improve transportation in the valley? Wrong question.

What am I missing here? It seems that this project bombs on the basics because it does not go to where most people want to be dropped off. It does not reduce the need for buses and does not help people who want to get efficiently (non-bus) to Beaver Creek to ski, to rent equipment, go to ski schools, have members hang in BC Village, grab a meal, have a drink, return after dark (well after 3:30 p.m.) and so on.

Whatever we like to believe, BC is the hub. Sane people will still ride the buses. And some will of course take the gondola if priced the same as the bus (free) at least to Bachelor Gulch. So how does this increase ease of access to the mountain and create demand? Stop the bloody thing at Bachelor Gulch if this genuinely assists people from Avon and the car parks to access the mountain. Or give some thought to alternative transportation to Beaver Creek.

It is hard to envisage what this project really does for the valley and what serious problems it solves or opportunities it creates. Probably no economics or finance 101 student would be able to make the math work. Although in these days of creative CEOs and CFOs, I am sure we could get one who is, shall we say, “between jobs” to have a reasonable shot at demonstrating a great IRR on the venture.

Come to think of it, these buses are starting to look pretty good!

John Tydeman


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