Vail proposes new gondola
VAIL, Colorado – As Vail gears up for the resort’s 50th anniversary, Vail Resorts Monday announced the main candle on the birthday cake – replacing the Vista Bahn chairlift with a new, high-capacity gondola.
The irony of the announcement wasn’t lost on long-timers in town, since a gondola was the first lift that clattered to life Dec. 15, 1962, the day the new resort opened.
“It’s like deja vu all over again,” said Rod Slifer, who got to Vail before the lifts opened that first season.
That first gondola remained in place until the 1970s, when it was replaced by a traditional chairlift. The current Vista Bahn was installed in 1985. At the time, a high-speed, four-person lift was as good as things got in the world of hauling people up ski hills.
Today, the company intends the new gondola to be a quicker ride up the hill, and to take more people per car. The technology won’t stop at speed or capacity, either, as plans include having wi-fi capability in all the cars. The Vail Village lift terminal will be open-air, instead of having a dedicated building the way the Lionshead gondola does.
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According to a Monday press release from Vail Resorts, the new gondola will be built where the Vista Bahn now sits. That could make approvals from the U.S. Forest Service a bit easier to come by.
Since Vail Mountain operates on National Forest property, any changes to facilities on the mountain has to pass through various regulatory steps imposed by the National Environmental Policy Act.
Matt McCombs, the deputy district ranger for the Holy Cross Ranger District, said he hasn’t seen a formal proposal for the gondola yet, but if the proposal matches what’s been described so far, the plan may be allowed to go through a “streamlined” approval process.
McCombs said the project as he understands it sounds fairly straightforward. But, he added, the approval process will still have a public comment period. Still, he said, “we’ll do our best to help them meet their (time) guidelines.”
In Vail Village, American Ski Exchange owner Tom Higgins said the gondola plan is a good idea, but it could be better.
“I’d love to see it go all the way to the top of the mountain,” Higgins said. “This way it’s only half as good as it could be. I can ski down to have lunch at Mid-Vail if I go all the way to the top.”
But, Higgins said, the new gondola may be a “huge attraction” for Vail Village, and will make mountain access more convenient for the town’s guests.
Slifer said he sees the gondola plan as a winner for both the town and the resort.
“It’ll be quicker, and you’ll be able to use it in more weather conditions,” Slifer said. “It’ll give you the ability to do something in the summer, too. I think it’s a great idea.”