Vail opens 2nd gondola for summer; bike hauls and roller coaster now available

VAIL — The scene at the top of the Lionshead gondola feels a little different this year, and not just because of the new snowmaking cannon towering over the digital welcome sign.

Guests now wear masks on the gondola, even when riding alone, and new walkways have been carved out atop the mountain to discourage people from congregating and using indoor spaces.

Gone, for now, is the series of eight ziplines, man-made climbing walls, ropes courses and animal abilities features alongside the trails, all which are considered high-touch areas capable of transmitting COVID-19.

But many of the amenities that have become familiar to visitors and workers over the last few years are still available.

Vail Mountain’s Lionshead gondola opened on Friday, and while it was the second gondola to open on Vail Mountain this summer, it was the first to allow bike hauls, inviting a new level of recreation to the area. 

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Mountain bikers were thrilled and hikers, too, enjoyed the new access the Lionshead gondola, known as the Eagle Bahn, provides. 

Visiting from Monument, Colorado, Tom Kapels hiked up the mountain with his children on Sunday. The family was headed for the Forest Flyer Mountain Coaster — an attraction which is set to remain open this summer — and the family was joined by a local friend who works for Vail Mountain and gave them the tip about hiking to the coaster to save money. 

“We’re getting a lot of front rangers, which is not our normal crowd,” the friend said. “Most of the people we talked to on Friday and yesterday hiked up.”

The Kapels family of Monument, Colorado, pauses their hike up Vail Mountain to take a photo on Sunday, July 19. The family was headed for Vail’s Forest Flyer Mountain Coaster.
John LaConte |

The Forest Flyer takes visitors through twists and turns on about a mile of metal track in the national forest, reaching speeds of 26 miles per hour on the roughly 6-minute journey. Accessed from the Lionshead gondola, it also opened on Friday. 

The opening of the Lionshead gondola now makes available the “gondola to gondola” option of luxury hiking, as well, where visitors are offered the option of taking the 0.8 mile Fireweed Trail from the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola to the top of the Vail Village gondola, a journey which winds through glades and across ski runs and takes guests down in elevation about 160 feet. From there, they can ride the Vail Village gondola back down the mountain, after receiving a quick intro to hiking via the Fireweed Trail.

‘It’s a very inspiring thing’

The Lionshead gondola also offers access to the Eagle’s Loop Trail, another intro-to-hiking option, where visitors will find informational displays about local flora and fauna. 

The Eagle’s Loop Trail and the Forest Flyer Mountain Coaster were part of a project called Epic Discovery, which Vail Resorts developed through a partnership with The Nature Conservancy. Carlos Fernandez describes the Epic Discovery center as a “win-win situation for everybody.” Fernandez is the State Director for The Nature Conservancy Colorado.

Users of the Epic Discovery center “will have fun, at the same time as educating themselves, to raise this kind of conservation ethic,” Fernandez told the Vail Daily.

Fernandez said a memorable portion of the Epic Discovery center for him was a display alongside the Eagle’s Loop Trail which describes the claws of a golden eagle.

“Look for golden eagles using updrafts to soar along ridge lines like those here at Eagle’s Nest,” the display reads, showing a localized touch, as the area atop the gondola has been dubbed “Eagle’s Nest” by Vail.

Fernandez said The Nature Conservancy had help from the locally-based Walking Mountains Science Center, and he was happy with the way the Eagle’s Loop Trail turned out.

“It’s a very inspiring thing, to bring kids and families,” Fernandez said.

No change in restrictions

Eagle County rolled back its public health orders to a more restrictive phase, limiting outdoor public gatherings to 175 people as of Friday, the same day Vail Mountain opened the Eagle Bahn Gondola.

Hanna Dixon with Vail Resorts said the new restrictions didn’t prompt any change in policy on Vail Mountain, where masks were already required for those wishing to board a gondola.

“None of our operations are considered outdoor public gatherings,” Dixon said. “General liftlines and people being out on the mountain — it’s a large enough space that it’s not considered a public gathering — so it’s not affecting us at all.”

Dixon said the county’s public order requiring face coverings, which preceded Friday’s issuance of new restrictions on gatherings, was a welcome change.

“I think it’s actually been really helpful in making other people really compliant with wearing the masks,” Dixon said. “Now we’re not the only ones enforcing mask wearing and social distancing, it’s across the board in the whole county.”

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