When Vail opened the 10-passenger Gondola One in 2012, it marked the return of gondola service to Vail Village for the first time since 1976. Gondola One is named after the original Bell gondola at Vail, which opened fifty years earlier in 1962. After a de-ropement on
that gondola the Lionshead gondola that killed four, various chairlifts served Vail Village for the next thirty years. Gondola One replaced the Vista Bahn, one of Vail’s original detachable quads from 1985. The Vista Bahn was a beast of a lift – over 9,000 feet long with 216 bubble quad chairs that could move 2,650 skiers per hour to the heart of Vail Mountain. By 2011, the Vista Bahn had reached the end of its useful life and needed replacement.
Gondola One is an impressive upgrade, full of modern features and an example of how the gondola is staging a comeback. Built by Leitner-Poma, it has 120 10-passenger Sigma Diamond cabins with heated seats, LED lighting and Wi-Fi. Cabin 50 is painted gold to celebrate Vail’s 50th anniversary which was celebrated the year it opened. Exterior ski racks on the cabins have space for ten pairs of skis or six snowboards and bikes can fit inside the cabins in the summer.
Gondola One leaves from the heart of Vail Village and rises 2,000 vertical feet to Mid-Vail. When all 120 cabins are on-line, it can move 3,600 skiers per hour at 1,200 feet a minute, tied for the fastest monocable gondola in North America. At that speed, One covers over 9,300 feet in 7.8 minutes. Leitner-Poma was able to cut the number of towers by a third, from 33 on the Vista Bahn to 23 on One.
Gondola one’s drive terminal at Mid-Vail has the nicest cabin storage and maintenance facility I have seen (and we have a pretty nice one at Jackson Hole.) Even though the drive motor is rated at 1,400 horsepower, it still fits inside the spacious LPA terminal rather than in a vault. The cabin facility can store all 120 cabins in rows on two levels. There are multiple grip maintenance bays and even a wash bay. Vail parks every cabin every night, even in the summer.
One is among Vail’s workhorse lifts, operating day and night in both winter and summer. It is an example of where a gondola makes total sense – a long access lift which skiers typically don’t cycle and non-skiers find more comfortable than a chairlift. Since installing One, Vail has installed two more six-packs in their quest to have one of the newest and fastest lift fleets anywhere.