In California, Parks & Zoos Wow with Gondolas

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Oakland Zoo stepped up its game this year, building a major expansion accessed exclusively by gondola, one of many across California.

From flying over bison to coasting through redwood forests, wine tasting and beach cruising, visitors to California can do it all by gondola even when far from ski country.  In every major region of the vast California Republic, gondolas greet more than 250 million annual tourists, providing unique experiences and spectacular views in one of America’s most diverse states.

California Trail – Oakland Zoo

California’s newest gondola debuted at the Oakland Zoo in June, whisking guests on a three minute safari to an $80 million experience called California Trail, which features animals native to the Golden State.  In some ways this is America’s first urban gondola with the top terminal located in the basement of a combination transit station, restaurant and visitor center.  The Doppelmayr UNI-G system sports 17 cabins that can move 1,000 guests each hour between California Station and the new hub for wolves, bears and mountain lions.  Even though the exhibits don’t open until next year, the gondola is already so popular that the zoo’s chairlift rarely runs anymore as guests binge-ride the California Trail lap after lap.

Skyfari – San Diego Zoo

The VonRoll-built Skyfari is a big reason why the San Diego Zoo grew to become the most-visited zoo in America.  Since 1969, 42 four-passenger cabins have transported some 75 million riders from the east side of the park to the west.  Today, the Skyfari operates more than 3,300 hours a year and an impressive 60 percent of zoo guests choose to take the ride, making it by far the most-ridden gondola in this most populous state.  The lift’s four towers reach up to 89 feet, yielding zoogoers spectacular views of their surroundings and downtown San Diego.  Now presented by Alaska Airlines, the ride is impeccably maintained and features updated Doppelmayr controls and automated cabin launching.  Just based on ridership, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it replaced with a modern system with more capacity in the coming years.

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News Roundup: Shuffle

News Roundup: Confirmed

  • $150 million Raymond James settlement includes $762,503 for Burke Mountain’s new Leitner-Poma T-Bar.
  • Power outage leads to rope evacuation of Loveland’s newest lift.
  • Steamboat gondola refurbishing begins  (I got to tour Northstar’s gondola this week which received a similar upgrade in 2015.)
  • Orlando Sentinel confirms Walt Disney World is building three Doppelmayr 10-passenger gondolas with six stations.
  • Crystal Mountain breaks away from Boyne Resorts, orders five additional gondola cabins and plans to build new Discovery and Gold Hills lifts in 2018.
  • Eldora is selling Hall and Heron chairs as six-pack construction begins.
  • Preview Oakland’s new $13 million restaurant accessible only by gondola.
  • Sunday River’s new owner commits to replacing Spruce Peak.
  • This week’s cities floating gondolas include Edmonton and Burlington, Vermont.
  • Fatzer delivers four 153-ton track ropes to Germany’s Zugspitze using two trucks linked together for the entire journey.

Innovative Gondola Coming to Oakland Zoo’s California Trail

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Berkeley-based Noll & Tam Architects designed California Trail’s striking hilltop visitor center integrated with the gondola’s top terminal.

This fall, the Oakland Zoo will open a unique new gondola serving a 56-acre expansion called California Trail, enabling the zoo’s 750,000 annual visitors to enjoy two distinct complexes less than four minutes apart.  It’s only logical that a ropeway system will serve exhibits on a summit featuring grizzly bears, mountain lions and gray wolves. By choosing to build a gondola, the zoo avoided the environmental impacts of roads, trails, and exhibits on steep slopes and won’t have to run higher-impact shuttle buses. Nik Dehejia, Oakland Zoo’s Chief Financial Officer notes, “the gondola system will be the first urban gondola of its size in Northern California and the second in the state. It will be an iconic feature for the Bay Area, drawing thousands from all over the region to Oakland.”

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Doppelmayr crews building the top terminal.

The detachable 8-passenger system is being built by Doppelmayr USA under general contractor Overra Construction.  The gondola will feature 16 CWA Omega IV cabins and 7 towers that are up to 68 feet tall.  Slope length of the lift is 1,780 feet with a vertical rise of 309 feet.  The system will move up to 1,000 guests per hour/per direction initially with the option of adding 8 cabins to reach 1,500 per hour.  Ride time will be a quick 3.95 minutes at an operating speed of 450 feet per minute.

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News Roundup: Ice Heist

  • Luckily Manning Park Resort was in on letting pro mountain bikers pretend to break into and operate one of their lifts.
  • When chairs can’t spin because there’s no one to staff them.
  • BMF opens its sightseeing aerial tramway in Puebla.  Its 35-passenger cabins were manufactured in Austria by Carvatech.
  • 12 year-old boy falls out of a chair at Wachusett, avoids serious injury.
  • Snowboarder accuses skier of shoving him off Aspen Highlands’ Loge Peak lift mid-ride in a story that goes viral.  Just one day later, the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office thinks they’ve identified a suspect.
  • Doppelmayr is building an 8-passenger gondola this spring at the Oakland Zoo to serve a $62 million expansion called California Trail.  The lift will have 7 towers, 15 cabins and open in late 2017.  The zoo will continue to operate its Safari Sky Ride triple chair that was built by SkyTrans.
  • DCC (Doppelmayr Cable Car) wins a $24 million contract to build its 10th cable-propelled automated people mover in underground tunnels at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.