Glenwood Caverns finishes Octoberfest with retirement of Iron Mountain Tramway
October 18, 2018
For a decade and a half, the Iron Mountain Tram traversed the 4,300-foot climb from the base of the Iron Mountain to the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park high above Glenwood Springs.
"I can hardly believe it's been 15 years; the Grand Opening and ribbon cutting seem like yesterday," co-owner Jeanne Beckley said.
From 1999 when the Caverns first opened, Steve and Jeanne Beckley transported people from the Hotel Colorado to the historic fairy caves via Transfer Trail in used buses that were purchased from Snowmass.
"After a couple of seasons, it became apparent that our business model was being challenged," Beckley said. "We were spending lots of money on bus maintenance and, being seasonal, generated revenue for only 6 months out of the year."
According to Jeanne, Steve Beckley (co-owner and her husband) remembered seeing an old article from the Avalanche Echo in the late 1890s that mentioned the idea of installing a tram as a way to get the top of the mountain. With the help of Chuck and Nancy Peterson, the concept of a new tram became a reality.
"The tram went in 2003 and changed our world forever," Caverns general manager Nancy Heard said.
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Fabricated by CWA Construction in Switzerland, the tram was designed and installed by Leitner-Poma, with 19 cabins and the capability to transport 300 people per hour.
The tram allowed people to be transported to the top of the mountain faster than the Beckleys could get them through the cave tours.
With only the cave tours and the restaurant inside the visitor center at the top of the mountain, the Beckleys built a nature trail for the visitors waiting the two to three hours for a cave tour.
"But that didn't quite solve the problem. it was clear that we needed more things to do for our guests," Beckley said.
According to Jeanne, after a trip to the International Attractions & Amusement Park Association tradeshow, the Beckleys decided to purchase their first attractions, the alpine coaster (the first in the United States), a giant swing and zip ride in 2005.
"It was a huge turning point for the direction of the company," Heard said.
Fast forward to today, 2.2 million guests and more then a half dozen attractions later, the park has decided to retire the tram and replace it with a new one.
The existing tram travels in groups of three cabins and must slow down for passengers to load and unload, transporting 300 passengers an hour.
The new tram will include 44 detachable, six-passenger cabins, spaced 100 to 200 feet apart. The capacity will increase to 1,000 people per hour. Trips up the mountain will average seven or eight minutes instead of the 12 to 13 minutes it takes now.
"I am most excited that the new tram will provide for a much better guest experience," Beckley said. "It will give us higher capacity, which means shorter lines at the tram base."
Moving at 600 feet a minute, the new tram will cut the ride time nearly in half and have a smoother ride.
"I can't wait for the next chapter," Beckley said.
GOING OUT IN STYLE
As the end of an era approaches, the park plans to send the old tram out in style.
While the park is in the middle of celebrating its annual Octoberfest this month, local band Alpine Echo performs along with traditional hayrides, face painting and kids games this weekend and next Saturday.
Sunday, Oct. 28, will be all about the tram. The park will host a farewell party, with a throwback to the year it opened. All tram rides will be back to 2003 prices of $10 per person. Atop the mountain there will be cake, drawings, prizes, giveaways, free refreshments and $1 hotdogs in the plaza.
One lucky person's name will be drawn, and will get to ride down the last tram of the day with owners Steve and Jeanne Beckley.
"This will be the time to say goodbye to the current tram and make our last ride down the mountain," Beckley said.
DISMANTLING AND CONSTRUCTION BEGINS
Dismantling preparation of the old tram will begin once the park closes Sunday evening.
Once dismantled the old tram will be shipped to the new owners Aeries Resort in Grafton, Illinois.
According to Jeanne Beckley, after lots of prodding, Steve Beckley agreed to negotiate with the new owners to keep tram car No. 1.
"He will be glad we did it 50 years from now," Beckley said.
Heard said it will go on display in the park for photo opportunities for visitors.
"It's such a significant symbol of the growth of the park that we wanted to hold onto a piece of it," Heard said.
The park will be temporarily closed for a four-month window during the tram dismantling and construction. Park staff will be busy doing various park projects, including helping with the tram.
"We're busy getting ourselves ready to wind down, Steve and Jeanne have been generous enough to maintain our full-time, year-round staff," Heard said.
The park is set to reopen mid-March with its new high-capacity tramway.
"This is probably the single biggest improvement we've made since we put the tram in the first time," she said.