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Gondola eyed for Snowmass

Brent Gardner-Smith

If the Snowmass Town Council gets its way, a gondola will one day be an integral part of the planned new Base Village.

After trips to Whistler, Telluride and Park City, the council still does not have a definitive picture of what Base Village will be.

But one element of the plan to develop about 12 acres at the base of the Snowmass Ski Area has risen to the top of the Town Council’s list – a gondola that would connect the base area with the Snowmass Village Mall at the top of Fanny Hill.

“There is no issue about that,” said council member Arnold Mordkin.

And, Mordkin said, at least three of the five board members also feel an aerial connection should be extended from the bottom of Fanny Hill across Brush Creek Road to the Snowmass Center, home to the town’s grocery story and post office. “Somehow they all need to get connected.”

The Skico agrees, at least as far as connecting Base Village to the mall.

During a recent presentation to the Town Council, the Skico’s vice president of planning and development, Bill Kane, said that a mall connector will be part of the forthcoming Base Village plan. A “shared delivery” of skiers will occur between Base Village and the mall, he said.

The Snowmass Village Mall is currently the main arrival point for skiers and boarders, and it is also home to most of the town’s lodging, shops and restaurants. The prospect of a Base Village that weakens the mall has long been a concern of many in Snowmass Village. What’s emerging now, however, is a vision of a Base Village that complements the mall.

This type of development would have a transit plaza within a short stroll of a gondola or tram that would connect to the mall. It would have a day lodge full of skier services, some lodging and a limited amount of retail.

“It’s not a base village,” said Mordkin. “Nobody wants it to be a separate village. We’ve got to start calling it `the base of Snowmass Village’ and stop calling it `Base Village.'”

The Skico has also discussed building another gondola from the base area to the bottom of the Elk Camp portion of the ski area, which would replace the old Funnel lift and provide opportunities for summer and night use of the Caf Suzanne restaurant.

Connecting the disparate areas of Snowmass Village is not a new idea. Almost a decade ago, a community plan laid out the idea of some type of cable conveyance that would connect the mall, Base Village and the center. At the time, a “pulse tram” that moved between locations every few minutes was the focal point.

What type of cable conveyance might work now is up in the air. But the Town Council members recently checked out an open-air gondola at The Canyons ski area in Park City, Utah, that connected a lower parking lot with an upper base village. And they just got back from Telluride, where they rode a full-sized gondola that connects the old downtown with the new Mountain Village.

Gondolas, or other cable-based options, have the advantage of providing frequent transit service using few employees. They can be expensive to operate and build, however, which is why the Skico brought in a consultant last week to brief the Town Council on the advantages of public-private partnerships.

Ford Frick, a consultant with BBC Consulting, told the board that at least a dozen major resorts in the West are building gondolas as a way to connect a portion of newly constructed base areas with the mountain.

He pointed to a gondola proposal being worked out in Beaver Creek and Avon that will connect the town that sits near Interstate 70 with the posh ski area up the hill. Breckenridge is pondering a gondola to connect more of its bed base with its lifts, and Heavenly Ski Area in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., has built a large gondola to bring the mountain “closer to town.”

Frick also extolled the virtues of ski areas and communities working together to build resort infrastructure. He said that Breckenridge taxed itself heavily and built amenities such as a recreation center that locals and visitors can enjoy.

“They are now the largest ski area in America,” Frick pointed out, at least in terms of skier days.

Frick’s messages to the town about the benefits of partnering with the private sector for amenities such as a gondola seemed to hit home with some of the Town Council members.

“There has to be some sort of productive connectivity,” said board member Bob Purvis.

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Posted: Monday, March 5, 2001


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