Governor Andrew Cuomo surprised many back in February when he committed $8 million in public money to erect a gondola and make other improvements at Belleayre, the smallest of New York’s three state-owned ski resorts. Reaction was swift with a vocal group of critics questioning the use of funds at a mountain with a modest 135,000 annual skier visits. “Gondola to nowhere,” one user wrote on the NY Ski Blog. “The stupidest lift ever built in the world,” said another passionate New Yorker. Yet another, simply “a waste.” Then came an anti-gondola petition.
The Olympic Regional Development Authority stuck to its guns and Doppelmayr USA won the contract, beginning work on June 21st. Just four and a half months later, a grand new machine stands with 13,615 feet of haul rope, 60 cabins and 16 towers coming together. The new lift rises 1,350 feet from Discovery Lodge to the summit with super views along the way.
When the Catskill Thunder Gondola carries its first skiers this December, it will usher in a new era for the region and change the way people ski the mountain. Despite all the naysayers, seeing the lift in person makes me a fan. Gondolas serve many purposes so even though some skiers will prefer to lap Tomahawk and Superchief, the gondola will appeal to others looking for longer runs and a fast, comfortable ride. The Riblet Lift 7 will be retired from summer use and the gondola will better serve non-skiers and guests with disabilities.
Interestingly, 15 towers were set by crane instead of helicopter. Only tower 12 and the cabins remain in the parking lot with the bottom drive terminal undergoing final assembly. The 45 mm Redaelli haul rope will be pulled soon and a new skier bridge will cross the road near the base of the Tomahawk lift, providing skiers a new top-to-bottom ski option. Belleayre is already making snow and on a frigid day like today, I bet even the critics will ride Catskill Thunder this winter.