Breck modifies plan for gondola
When Roger McCarthy realized a gondola from the Watson parking lot to Peaks 7 and 8 was going to cost at least $22 million, he headed back to the drawing board.
Together with lift director Jon Mauch, the Breckenridge Ski Resort chief operations officer has since added a panoramic gondola to the list of possible lift conveyances to transport people from town, over Shock Hill and Cucumber Gulch and to the bases of Peaks 7 and 8.
He sold the idea to the town council Tuesday evening.
Now he wants to sell it to the public.
“We don’t want to be part of the, ‘We showed you this, we’ll give you that,'” McCarthy said. “We don’t want to do some kind of bait and switch.”
The panoramic gondola differs only slightly from a traditional gondola, McCarthy said.
The one the ski area is considering is round, surrounded by windows and accommodates eight people. The ride to Peak 7 is estimated to take six minutes; those who continue on to Peak 8 will be on the lift for another minute.
“This is different than what we promised the community,” Mayor Sam Mamula said.
“We have to bring the community back into the process, explain that the panoramic gondola is not a traditional gondola. But just remember what you’re replacing. You’re replacing a school bus.”
The ski area now plans to hold public forums to show people the advantages of the panoramic gondola and answer questions.
The idea of building a lift conveyance is aimed at connecting the town to the mountain to reduce traffic on Ski Hill Road, be part of the town’s transit plan and minimize impacts to the wetlands in Cucumber Gulch, over which it would pass.
Additionally, whatever is built must be done in a financially viable manner.
“When we saw the cost to build a 12-passenger, sit-down gondola was over $22 million, we said, ‘This is going to be a long conversation if this is stuck at $22 million,'” McCarthy said. “We can all dream in Technicolor, but at the end of the day, we have to get this thing built at a (reasonable) cost. We need to look at different options.”
The bulk of that cost comes in the form of a 25,000-square-foot building – something the size of the Stephen C. West Ice Arena – needed to store the gondola cars, whose windows and rubber parts are susceptible to erosion in the harsh, high-altitude sun.
Additionally, the complex door mechanisms increase the cost of maintenance, Mauch said.
Initially, ski area officials believed development planned for the Sawmill and Watson parking lots would provide enough revenue to justify a gondola.
But as the town and resort began hammering out the details of an agreement they eventually signed in May 2002, those potential revenue figures began to shrink.
Mamula noted that the resort agreed to sunset density on the two lots and eliminate most of the commercial uses at the Peak 7 and 8 bases. Suddenly, a $22 million gondola didn’t look very feasible, Mamula said.
Additionally, Shock Hill developer Ken Adams said he doesn’t want an easement offer to hang in the balance for more than five years, making the timing of a conveyance critical.
“I think it’s either that or nothing,” Mamula said.
“Kenny’s not going to go beyond five years, and if you look at the balance sheet of the ski areas, look at a business that is mature, I can’t see Avon coming up with 20 million bucks.
“The question is, ‘Is a (traditional) gondola feasible?'” he said.
“The answer is no. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Ski resort officials also entertained the idea of an open-air cabriolet at a cost of about $11 million. But that idea came under fire because of the potential for intentional or accidental littering in the gulch.
A six-passenger, high-speed lift would cost about $7 million, but would likely be rendered inefficient because there are six stops planned along the route between the town and Peak 8, and it would need mazes and ramps to accommodate people wearing skis and snowboards.
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