A one seat ride to an elevation over 10,000 feet would be an absolute game changer for Steamboat. The lower section was already approved under the name Bashor Gondola but was never completed and not envisioned to continue another 2,867 vertical feet. The longer gondola would be built in two sections capable of being operated independently. The mid angle station would likely house both drive systems and 28,000 feet of cabin storage. With a line speed of seven meters per second, Wild Blue would be a beast of a lift.
Also at the mid-station, a new teaching hub would include a indoor dining, five carpet lifts and two new chairlifts. This would allow for three existing conveyors and the Preview chairlift to be removed from the village, freeing up needed space and offering an improved experience for beginner guests. The move would follow similar efforts at the likes of Beaver Creek, Park City and Jackson Hole to give first time skiers and riders the chance to learn away from congested base areas.
A second key component of Steamboat’s vision is the Pioneer Ridge expansion, which would make Steamboat Colorado’s third largest resort. Already approved by the Forest Service, these trails were expected to open for the 2020-21 season until Coronavirus hit. When completed, Pioneer Ridge will feature 355 acres of glades and a 6,700 foot detachable quad. As part of the project, 27 chairs will be added to Pony Express to improve circulation in the vicinity of the expansion.
Not yet approved but envisioned in previous master plans is Sunshine II, a new trail pod south of the Sunshine Express. A 2,400 skier per hour detachable quad would service eight new low intermediate trails in a spectacular high alpine setting.
Steamboat’s leaders would also like to update some of the resort’s most popular lifts. Thunderhead Express, Sundown Express and Elkhead Express are all identified to be replaced by 2,800-3,200 capacity six packs. During Peak periods, wait time at Thunderhead eclipses 25-40 minutes. Elkhead is only four years old but already deemed lacking in afternoon throughput under new ownership. Other aging lifts such as South Peak, Storm Peak and Sunshine Express may also come up for replacement over the next ten years. The Priest Creek double, Steamboat’s oldest which operates an average of only ten days a year, would be removed without direct replacement.
Steamboat may also partner with the owners of the low capacity Wildhorse Gondola to build a detachable version to service the Meadows parking lot. This project would vastly improve the beginning and end of day experience for day visitors, eliminating the need to ride in shuttle buses.
SE Group crafted the master plan amendment to bring Steamboat to a comfortable carrying capacity of 16,310, up from 13,050 today. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that spacing is important and situations beyond skiing can get in the way of even the best laid plans. Thankfully Steamboat has the benefit of a loyal following and well-capitalized ownership. The first suite of new projects will go through Forest Service scoping this year with implementation possible as early as 2021.