The world’s largest urban gondola network leaps forward this week with the addition of the Línea Azul (Blue Line) in the Bolivian twin cities of La Paz and El Alto. Since debuting with just one line in May 2014, the state-owned Mi Teleférico (My Cable Car) system has now transported more than 75 million passengers on its Green, Yellow, and Red gondolas. In 2015, My Cable Car committed $450 million to build six additional lines through 2020, and it ordered twomore last year. Mi Teleférico has quickly become one of Doppelmayr’s largest customers, exclusively utilizing the Austrian company’s ten-passenger monocable detachable gondola technology.
Construction commenced on Línea Azul in late May 2015 with cable pulling (by drone!) wrapping in September 2016. The first cabin launched later that month with Bolivian President Evo Morales taking the inaugural ride in November. After three more months of terminal buildout and system testing, the Blue line’s five stations are ready for show time. Línea Azul is La Paz’s longest to date, with 208 CWA Omega IV-10-LWI cabins that will cover an impressive 32,700 feet per revolution beginning March 3rd, just 645 days after groundbreaking.
Like the Red, Yellow and Green lines, the Blue line is actually two lifts with two separate haul ropes and two drive systems with cabins transferring between them. Nearly all of the Mi Teleférico network will be built this way, with multiple haul rope loops forming single “lines” with two to five stations each (most have either three or four.) Multi-stage gondolas operating with this principle in North America include WhistlerVillage and Excalibur at Whistler Blackcomb, Panorama at Mammoth and Revelation at Revelstoke Mountain Resort.
As one of America’s oldest resorts, Loveland Ski Area has welcomed skiers to the Continental Divide continuously since 1937. Although now surrounded by the likes of Keystone, Breckenridge and Winter Park and with I-70 literally cutting through it, Loveland remains a local favorite with plentiful snowfall and varied terrain served by nine fixed-grip chairlifts. The first double chair – a Heron – debuted at Loveland Basin in 1955. A second ski area, Loveland Valley, opened in 1961. A number of Heron, Heron-Poma and later Lift Engineering lifts were added through 1990. The first modern Poma quad chair debuted in 1996, followed by a series of Leitner-Poma triple and quad chairs to modernize the fleet. When Lift 9 opened in 1998, it became the highest-elevation chairlift in North America, a title Loveland held until Breckenridge opened the Imperial SuperChair in 2005.
Loveland now averages more than 300,000 skier visits annually and visitation increased by 45 percent between 2002 and 2010. The ski area is now implementing projects from its 2013 master plan, a road map aimed at improving the guest experience while maintaining a laid-back vibe. SE Group prepared the plan and notes, “Loveland has been known for its abundant, high quality snow; fun and diverse terrain; and uncrowded slopes.” I visited on a bluebird Sunday in January and never once waited in a lift line.
Loveland generally builds lifts below maximum capacity and skier density is much lower than the industry average, with 1,800 acres of skiable terrain and an hourly lift capacity of over 14,000 skiers. The development plan notes that Loveland’s lift network generally serves the terrain well, but some lifts are approaching the end of a typical 35-year lifespan and a few changes should be made. Just last week, lifts 1 and 6 had to be closed for multi-day repairs but have since re-opened.
A $15 million gondola system will connect the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse to a nearby amphitheater, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced this morning. “This is very, very exciting and it brings the energy of both facilities together for a synergy between the two,” Cuomo noted, calling the planned gondola “world class.” The lift’s 38 cabins will cross Interstate 690 along a 3,700′ route. The project still requires federal approval but is scheduled for completion in June 2018.
The gondola will link more than 15,000 parking spaces at the fair to the 17,500-seat Lakeview Amphitheater, which will host major acts such as Zac Brown Band and Third Eye Blind this summer. The amphitheater gondola station will also serve Onondaga Lake Park and its network of popular trails. The state- and county-owned facilities are currently connected by shuttle buses operating on a circuitous route during major events. Capacity of the eight-passenger lift will be 1,200 passengers per hour. An expansion to 75 cabins would achieve an ultimate capacity of 2,400 per hour. A manufacturer has not yet been selected and the state will hold a competitive bid process in the coming months.
A separate, privately-funded and operated skyride lift will also be built this spring, traveling 1,500 feet over the fairgrounds with between 100 and 120 double chairs. Dozens of fairs across the country operate either chairlifts or gondolas for fair-goers, among them a new Skytrac ride at Cal Expo, a Partek chairlift at the North Carolina State Fair and the Texas Skyway gondola built at the Texas State Fair in 2007.
Governor Cuomo also announced $20 million in improvements at the state-owned Belleayre, Gore Mountain and Whiteface ski resorts today, including a new enclosed upper terminal building for Gore’s Northwoods Gondola and a new lift connecting Whiteface’s learning center to mid-station. New York State owns more lifts than any other state – 27 in total – including the Roosevelt Island Tramway. The government has been a frequent customer of both Doppelmayr and Leitner-Poma over the years.
The Yellowstone Club in Big Sky, Montana will likely build not one, but three new lifts this summer as it adds Eglise Mountain to its expansive roster of ski terrain. The second section of a future two-stage gondola, along with a detachable bubble quad chair and new beginner triple chair are all slated to debut in time for the Club’s 17th winter season next year.
Doppelmayr USA will build the new lifts and already poured many of the tower and terminal footings last summer. The upper section of the 8-passenger Eglise Gondola will debut first, with the lower stage to be added when the 550,000 square-foot Village Core is substantially completed. That project, located adjacent to the Warren Miller Lodge, is also underway and currently the biggest construction project in Montana. A dedicated building in the village will eventually house the new gondola’s base terminal, not far from the Lodge lift.
Whitefish Mountain Resort will make a big lift move this summer, relocating Chair 5 from Ptarmigan Bowl to become a new East Rim lift. Chair 5, also known as Glacier View and at times High Five, has not seen public operation since 2014/15 due to its redundancy with the Big Mountain Express and will better serve skiers in the North Bowl. The $1.2 million project will cost more than double what the ski area paid for the original CTEC installation in 1981. Whitefish Mountain Resort has contracted with Skytrac to make the move.
“We are pleased to continue what has been a decade of steady improvements at Whitefish Mountain Resort with the re-position of Chair 5 to better utilize our lift infrastructure and improve the guest experience as we celebrate our 70th anniversary,” Whitefish Mountain Resort CEO Dan Graves said in a press release. Although technically it does not open any new terrain, the East Rim lift will create a new pod between Chair 1 and T-Bar 2. The new lift will rise 814 feet with a slope length of 2,540 feet and capacity of 1,600 skiers per hour. It will sport a new electric motor, drive, brakes, hydraulic tensioning, rebuilt gearbox and added restraining bars in the new location.
Whitefish has been all in on lift shuffling lately, acquiring the former Moab Scenic Skyway lift in 2006 and installing it as Easy Rider. The original Glacier Chaser Express quad moved to become the Swift Creek Express in 2007, the same year old Easy Rider became Elk Highlands. In 2011, Whitefish installed the Bad Rock triple which was relocated from a resort in Pennsylvania. The 2014 addition of the Flower Point triple came from Kimberley, BC. The new East Rim triple is scheduled to open in December 2017. You can find out more about the history of Chair 5 and the new lift on the Whitefish Mountain Resort blog.
In its home country of France, Poma Ropeways has won a $56 million tender to realize the first 3S gondola designed entirely for public transport. Téléphérique Urbain Sud (South Urban Cable Car) will link two hospitals to Paul Sabatier University in the city of Toulouse. You may know France’s fourth largest city, with 1.2 million inhabitants, as the global headquarters of the Airbus Group.
The gondola’s 1.9 mile route will ascend a 300-foot hill called Pech David before crossing the Garonne waterway. Factors leading to the selection of a 3S over a MGD were the need for long spans between towers (just 5 required instead of 20), the ability to more easily transport wheelchairs/bicycles as well as wind tolerance. Fourteen 35-passenger Sigma Symphony cabins will circulate between three stations with an hourly capacity of 1,500 passengers per direction. At 5 m/s, the system will achieve headways of just 90 seconds and a trip will take ten minutes each way, a 20-minute improvement from today in a car. Like other successful urban gondola projects, riders of the 3S will be able to use existing fare media and easily transfer to and from metro trains or buses. Additional stages are likely to be added to the ends of the new gondola in the future.
Telluride Ski Resort, which crested 500,000 skier visits for the first time last season and operates 14 chairlifts, released a new master development plan this month aimed at upgrading key lifts and adding a few new ones over the next decade. At opening in 1972, Telluride had just five double chairlifts but now, together with the town of Mountain Village, is home to North America’s largest gondola transit system and one of the most successful destination resorts.
Telski’s last MDP from 1999 included several lift projects that are still approved but not yet completed. Most notably, the Palmyra Basin lift would rise 1,165 vertical feet lift to serve intermediate terrain above the Prospect Express, which itself was built as part of a four-lift expansion in 2001. Also in this area, a new 1,500′ surface lift is approved to serve the Gold Hill chutes above the Revelation lift, which debuted in 2008 as Telluride’s only Leitner-Poma lift.
More lift upgrades are added in the latest master plan. The first is bringing Gold Hill Express capacity from its 1,500 pph to 2,200 by adding more chairs. This lift was initially approved as two separate lifts with 1,200-1,500 pph each, but was combined into one lift with a higher design capacity. Gold Hill is a 2001 Doppelmayr, one of four Telluride built in one very busy summer.
Another planned project that will surprise no one is a Plunge lift replacement. The existing 1985 CTEC triple has had a reduced hourly capacity of 1,042 pph ever since safety bars were installed, due to their added weight. At 6,260 feet slope length, a ride takes nearly 13 minutes. A 1,000 f.p.m. detachable quad is proposed to replace Plunge with an initial capacity of 1,800 pph and designed to reach 2,400.
8.5 miles. 12 stations. 500 cabins. $160-200 million. These are big numbers for a gondola in a town with barely 10,000 residents. Yet Branson, sometimes known as Nashville West, hosted more than eight million visitors last year. Jeff Green, President of American Gondola, Inc., says that fact combined with worsening traffic congestion make the city a prime candidate for one of the world’s largest gondola systems. “The need for a transportation solution when combined with the possibility of an entertainment attraction creates an opportunity to address both issues using a single system like an aerial gondola,” Green told me by email this week.
The privately-funded system along Highway 76 from Downtown to Silver Dollar City would cost riders $15 per day and be geared towards visitors. American Gondola is working with Leitner-Poma and showed a Sigma Diamond demo cabin at their first public meeting a few weeks ago. I asked Jeff Green about the decision to work with Leitner-Poma at this early stage. “Both [Doppelmayr and Leitner-Poma] have very competitive products and the ability to provide a solution,” he said. “We have found L-P to be extremely knowledgeable and very interested in working with us to address and resolve all the issues and problems and to help us assure a quality product is delivered.”
The system would most likely be constructed with five separate haul rope loops and cabins interlining between them. American Gondola seeks a Memorandum of Understanding with the city this month and hopes to begin construction in 2017. The company has a long way to go but its list of backers is impressive. “Our financial investors have said, that if we could get the MOU next week, they would have our funding in place by the end of the year,” says Green. Of course, that is contingent on achieving final design, obtaining necessary property agreements, easements and permits. Green is optimistic and noted that the demo cabin was already a big hit. “Everyone, including city officials, appreciated the efforts of AGI and Leitner-Poma to provide an example of a cabin they could actually touch and experience.”
Nine years since opening Montezuma Bowl to skiers and snowboarders for the first time, Arapahoe Basin is expanding again. The White River National Forest today approved the resort’s 338-acre Beavers Expansion as well as replacement lifts for Molly Hogan and Pallavicini. Under the approved plan, the Norway double will also be removed. These improvements will continue sustained capital investment by A-Basin owner Dream Unlimited since acquiring the mountain from Vail Resorts in 1997.
The west-facing Beavers terrain lies between Pallavicini and Zuma Bowl, making for popular lift-served backcountry skiing. Adding a chairlift and performing avalanche hazard reduction will increase public safety while addressing growing demand for high-alpine skiing in Summit County. In approving the plan, Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams noted visits to Arapahoe Basin, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Keystone and Loveland increased by 173,000 between 2002 and 2010.
“The Beavers will provide something exciting — a whole other new and different experience,” said Alan Henceroth, Arapahoe Basin Chief Operating Officer. “It’s just awesome out there. I’m very confident people are just going to love it.” The top-drive Beavers lift will be built as a fixed-grip triple or quad chair with an hourly capacity of 1,800 skiers and vertical of 1,499 feet, topping out at 12,462′. Slope length will be 4,169 feet, just one foot longer than the Zuma Quad. The Beavers lift is expected to open in 2018.
Once that project is completed, Arapahoe Basin will remove its three remaining fixed-grip Lift Engineering lifts, all built in 1978. Norway will not see a replacement given its proximity to the Beavers and redundancy with Lenawee Mountain. Modern fixed grip lifts will replace Pallavicini and Molly Hogan with the same hourly capacities – 1,200 and 1,000, respectively. Leitner-Poma is likely to build A-Basin’s new lifts, having supplied Lenawee Mountain, Zuma, and the Black Mountain Express.
Two months after Doppelmayr and McLaren Engineering Group launched one of the world’s most complex gondola systems at Wynn Palace Cotai, the two companies have teamed up again on a wholly different project spanning the Hudson River in Albany, New York. McLaren Engineering, headquartered in the region, and Doppelmayr, with an office in nearby Ballston Spa, self-funded the study.
A team of six professionals engaged with stakeholders over the past three months, culminating in the document’s release this week. The gondola would connect America’s 9th busiest Amtrak station with Downtown Albany utilizing a mid-station and possible angle change. Because it has all the components of a successful urban system – key points separated by a natural barrier over a modest distance – the study results are very positive. “After three months, the Project Team finds the CDG to be feasible,” the authors note. “It retains the potential of being a transformational project that will spark increased mobility, tourism, and economic development in two areas of the cities of Albany and Rensselaer that are currently underdeveloped.”
Albany’s train station moved across the river to Rensselaer in the late 1960s, separating the city from its major transit hub. Goals of the gondola project include addressing the physical separation, providing a new pedestrian and bicycle connection and improving quality of life in the Capital District.