Gondola Eyed to Link Timberline & Summit Ski Areas on Mt. Hood

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When the family that operates Timberline Lodge & Ski Area bought nearby Summit Ski Area last year, an interconnect immediately entered the realm of possibility.  The Forest Service recently accepted RLK and Company’s new Summit Master Development Plan, which includes a 10 passenger gondola from the Summit base area in Government Camp to historic Timberline Lodge.  The combined resort would feature a vertical drop exceeding 4,500 feet, longest in the United States with all lifts open.

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A Timberline Gondola would span 12,952 feet with a vertical ascent of 1,890′.  It would require a boundary expansion of 228 acres between the top of Summit’s Homestead double chair and the bottom of Timberline’s Jeff Flood Express.  Importantly, the Summit base area would become a transit and parking hub for both mountains, reducing congestion and parking demands at higher elevations.  An approximately 30,000 square foot base lodge would replace the existing one at Summit.  Guests from Portland would save almost 12 miles of driving each day, instead enjoying an 11 minute flight from Government Camp to the base of Timberline’s Magic Mile quad.  “The gondola would not only provide direct, aerial access to Timberline from the Summit’s base area, for both guests and employees, it would also alleviate the congestion on Oregon Highway 173 and re-prioritize the need for additional parking at the bottom of Timberline’s Molly’s Chairlift,” notes the master plan, which was prepared by SE Group.  The gondola would travel up to 1,200 feet per minute with a capacity of 2,400 passengers per hour in each direction.  It would operate approximately nine hours per day in both winter and summer, serving skiers, snowboarders, sightseers and mountain bikers.

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Additionally, the plan prescribes replacing Summit’s 1980 Riblet double with a fixed grip quad called Summit Pass.  This lift would parallel the gondola for 1,933 feet and terminate at 4,290 feet in elevation.  “By upgrading the existing chairlift conveyance, the overall guest experience would improve by having updated lift technology, allowing ski school and parties of four or less to ride the chairlift together,” the plan notes.  Capacity would increase from 1,200 per hour to 2,000.  A new carpet lift would also be installed.

The Forest Service’s acceptance of the master plan does not constitute approval of individual projects and, if approved, gondola construction is likely still years away.  Timberline’s immediate next lift project is set to be a detachable replacement for Pucci, benefiting beginner and intermediate skiers.  The gondola link would be even more impactful with major environmental and guest service benefits year round.

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“Ever since the company went public in 2014 it has taken advantage of its improved access to capital to finance large infrastructure projects that may have led to growth in visitation and revenues, but haven’t resulted in better earnings or cash flows.”

Timberline Purchases Summit Ski Area

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The Homestead lift replaced a T-Bar at Summit in 1980 and will now be operated by nearby Timberline Lodge.

The Pacific Northwest’s oldest ski resort has a new owner from just up the road – Timberline Lodge.  With its purchase of Summit Ski Area, Timberline parent RLK and Company brings together two of the five ski resorts that surround Oregon’s Mt. Hood.  Family-owned Mt. Hood Meadows bought Cooper Spur Mountain Resort back in 2001 and Mt. Hood Ski Bowl is operated by a third local entity.  Situated in Government Camp directly below Timberline’s Jeff Flood Express, Summit operates a 1980 Riblet double chair and sells lift tickets for just $35.  “We are very pleased with the acquisition and plan to operate Summit Ski Area as a family oriented, affordable, friendly mountain resort,” noted Jeff Kohnstamm, President of Timberline in an afternoon press release.

The long term possibilities of two ski resorts in such close proximity are intriguing.  From bullwheel to bullwheel is just under a mile and there is already an unofficial ski trail between the two areas.  Total vertical could theoretically reach 4,540 feet – far and away the longest in the Pacific Northwest.  But even if the ski resorts never link by ski runs, they could by gondola.  Timberline’s news release notes, “With Portland’s population growing rapidly and more people visiting Mt. Hood, Timberline also views Summit Ski Area as an opportunity to help address public transportation and parking needs while having a greater connectivity to Government Camp.”  A gondola from Government Camp to Timberline would make a lot of sense because of challenges maintaining a road and parking lots above treeline.  There was a gondola lift of sorts way back in the 1950s and RLK has in the past proposed a two stage version along a similar route.

“We look forward to an open-minded approach and discussing opportunities with the community,” says Kohnstamm.  “It will be exciting to see what the future holds for Summit, Timberline, Government Camp and all who visit.”