The sign went up this week at Jackson Hole, which will become the 12th mountain in the United States with the distinction of having two gondolas. The new Sweetwater Gondola will replace the Eagle’s Rest and Sweetwater chairs in two stages. Built by Doppelmayr, it will boost out-of-base capacity by 25% and provide direct access to beginner and intermediate terrain at mid-mountain. In the future, a dedicated learning facility with dining, lessons and rentals will open at the mid-station just north of Sweetwater’s existing bottom station. Though expensive, gondolas have proven to be extremely efficient and less intimidating than chairlifts for people learning to ski and snowboard.
This section of Rendezvous Mountain has an interesting lift history. A Riblet double chair named Crystal Springs served a similar alignment but with no mid-station from 1978 until 1997, when it was removed to make way for the Bridger Center and Bridger Gondola. If you ride Eagle’s Rest today, there is still one Riblet tower where the old Crystal Springs crossed under on its way up. Eagle’s Rest is one of three original lifts opened at Jackson Hole in 1965, even before the first tram. When Eagle’s Rest is retired this spring there will be just six Murray-Latta lifts remaining in service worldwide. The new gondola also replaces Sweetwater, a triple chair that found its way to Jackson in 2005 by way of Winter Park. It was the Zephyr triple from 1983 to 1990 and Eskimo from 1990 to 1999 before sitting in storage for six years. Built by Lift Engineering, it was upgraded over time with Poma chairs/line gear and Doppelmayr CTEC controls. Assuming it gets re-installed somewhere, the equipment will be in its fourth home!
Sweetwater will get 48 CWA Omega IV LWI 8-passenger cabins to start with the option to add a dozen more. Slope length will be 4,196 feet, less than half the length of the Bridger Gondola and with a modest vertical rise of 1,276 feet. With only one haul rope, the two sections will always operate together. The drive station will be up top with cabin parking at the Solitude mid-station. Ride time for the combined lift is 7.5 minutes at 800 feet a minute. Similar to the Mt. Rainier Gondola and Buckaroo Express, a design speed of 800 allows for Doppelmayr’s shortest detachable stations in locations with limited space. Sweetwater will move 1,600 passengers per hour initially, bumping up to 2,000 when more cabins are added. It took nine years before extra cabins were needed for Bridger in 2006.
With a new gondola operational next fall, the 20-year old Sublette quad will be JHMR’s oldest lift. The resort will operate a total of 12 lifts including a $31 million tram, two modern gondolas and eight quad chairs. Another beginner chairlift and multiple magic carpets to replace Eagle’s Rest are also in the pipeline.
For the official Sweetwater Gondola announcement, click here.