Copper’s gondola proposal up in the air |

Copper’s gondola proposal up in the air

COPPER MOUNTAIN – Intrawest is proposing to replace Copper Mountain’s current shuttle system with two gondolas – a proposal that has been received with mixed response.

One lift, known as the Village gondola, would carry guests from the Alpine parking lot, by Highway 91, to the Village at Copper. A second lift, the Union Creek gondola, would take guests from the American Flyer lift to the Union Creek Learning Center on the resort’s west side.

Though the Village gondola has garnered little comment, some people are vehemently opposed to the proposed alignment of the Union Creek gondola – particularly those at the Lodge at Copper.

The gondolas are a part of Intrawest’s long-term, build-out proposal known as the Comprehensive Development Strategy (CDS). The CDS is an amendment to Intrawest’s current planned unit development approval and includes a performing arts center, a large hotel and about 1,244 single-family, duplex, townhome and condominium units.

The gondolas would replace the resort’s current shuttle system, improving visitors’ overall experience by decreasing noise, reducing paved areas and increasing safety and aesthetics, Intrawest officials said.

The resort’s current shuttle system requires its own lane, as it cannot use county roads. Not only is the additional lane an inefficient use of land, officials said, but it creates confusion among drivers, which can be a safety issue.

Though many seem to support the general concept of a gondola system replacing the shuttle system, the alignment of the Union Creek gondola has been a subject of much debate – with homeowners at the Lodge leading the pack.

As proposed, the Union Creek gondola would run in a straight line from near the base of the American Flyer lift to Union Creek – passing between the Lodge and the mountainside en route.

Jim Kreutz, an attorney from Denver, is representing some of the Lodge homeowners who oppose Intrawest’s preferred alignment because “the proposed Union Creek gondola is not necessary” and violates the sub-basin plan, he said.

“It violates the sub-basin plan by impeding on the wetlands, impeding on the open space, destroying the aesthetics, chopping down numerous large trees and creating noise pollution – not to mention the fact that it’s about 30 feet or less from the corner of the building,” Kreutz said.

Some homeowners at the Lodge said the gondola would be an invasion of privacy, would decrease property values and increase the potential for crime (because people on the gondola could look into the building’s units). “Everything we’ve done with both the Village gondola and Union Creek gondola is to make sure that we are not impacting private property directly,” said Jim Spenst, vice president of operations for Copper Mountain. “We’ve carefully laid these out to avoid problems with airspace, infrastructure and easements.”

Intrawest officials have sketched six different alignments for the Union Creek gondola. Their preferred alternative is known as alternative 1. Alternatives 2 and 3 are variations of the first, but with a turn that allows the gondola to travel further uphill, Spenst said. Though that would move the gondola away from the Lodge building, it would require more clear-cutting and have a greater visual impact throughout the resort, he said.

Alternatives 4, 5 and 6 begin at the Beeler parking lot, near the EDGE employee housing and the Telemark Lodge, and follow the road to Union Creek.

Several Lodge homeowners and some members of the Ten Mile Planning Commission – in charge of reviewing Intrawest’s proposal – have voiced support for the latter three options, which would use the existing roadway. But Spenst said those alternatives aren’t viable for economic and technical reasons.

Under the preferred alignments, Spenst estimates the Village gondola will cost $8 million to $10 million and the Union Creek gondola several million. Each additional turn would cost another million, he said.

“In order to make one of these turns, you have to build two terminals,” Spenst said. “Think of the bottom of Super Bee (lift) – that’s half of a turn, and you need two of those.”

In addition, the latter three alternatives cross private property – including the Telemark Lodge, the EDGE employee housing and the Cirque and Blue Wing developments – or Forest Service land.

“We picked the option that stayed away from wetland setbacks and didn’t encroach on structures,” he said. “We looked for the least impact from an environmental and landscape (perspective).”

Other public concerns include the reliability of a gondola system and its cost and maintenance.

Intrawest officials said the proposed gondola system will be quieter and more dependable than the shuttle system.

“All you’re going to hear is the noise of the carrier going over sheaves,” Spenst said, adding that while Lodge homeowners might hear people inside the gondola, each carrier will be past the building within 20 seconds.

“Aerial tramways are the most reliable form of transportation known to man,” he said. “We operate less than 2 percent downtime … for all our lifts. While nothing’s 100 percent reliable, it’s a very reliable system.”

The resort would supplement the gondolas with buses, which are legal on county roads, Intrawest officials said.

Spenst said he doesn’t believe a gondola would have a negative effect on property values.

“I think it would raise real estate values because the property is ski-in and ski-out and it’s also really close to the transportation system,” he said.

Though security issues have not been a factor as gondolas have been built near buildings in other resorts, Spenst said, “we have offered to (homeowners) to put reflective material on the glass … and put large trees to shield (the Lodge from the gondola).”

Planning commissioners, county staff, Intrawest officials and members of the public will continue discussions about the proposed gondola and transportation today at 5:30 p.m. at the Buffalo Mountain room in the County Commons.

Lu Snyder can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or

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