Worn bearings in the Silver Queen Gondola’s massive bull wheel at the top of Aspen Mountain has disabled the lift for two of the busiest days of the year on Monday and Tuesday.
“It’s unexpected and unfortunate,” said Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle Monday morning while handing out doughnuts to customers with CEO and President Mike Kaplan and Senior Vice President David Perry as a goodwill gesture.
“Things happen, and you’ve got to deal with them,” Hanle said.
A shuttle was provided at the gondola plaza to take skiers and snowboarders over to the Shadow Mountain lift. They also had the option of riding the Little Nell and Bell Mountain chairlifts to the mountaintop.
Skico lift workers found an oil leak at the gondola’s upper bull wheel Sunday night during a routine inspection, according to Hanle. The decision was made to shut down the lift until the bearings could be replaced. Continued operation would have risked further damage, and it would have been potentially unsafe, he said.
Hanle said the timeline for fixing the gondola is uncertain because “we’ve got to find the part and then we have to get it here” before it can be replaced.
While it’s not exactly a tragedy, the disabled gondola poses an inconvenience on the two busiest days of the ski season. Skico’s companywide skier visits typically build from Christmas to New Year’s Day, with the busiest two days on Dec. 30 and Dec. 31, Hanle said. The company was just shy of 20,000 skiers and snowboarders at the four ski areas on Saturday and Sunday.
Skier visits were down on Aspen Mountain on Monday, but the loss was made up at the other three ski areas, according to Hanle. Skico did all it could to alert customers about the problem on Sunday night. Lodges and hotels in Aspen and Snowmass Village were notified and asked to inform their guests. The lift closure was highlighted in Skico’s online and telephone-message snow report. Bus drivers were asked to relay the information to riders.
For skiers and snowboarders who stayed on Aspen Mountain, the day had a retro feel to it.
“It will slow down the pace a little, and people can enjoy the sunshine,” Hanle said Monday morning.
The seldom-used Bell Mountain chairlift was fired up over the weekend to help with holiday crowds. The Little Nell chairlift had been scheduled to open Monday anyway for an Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club race. The racers would end up with thousands of extra spectators throughout the day, Hanle noted.