Keystone to get new gondola | AspenTimes.com

Keystone to get new gondola

Bob Berwyn
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

A pair of River Run gondola cabins meet above the nearly deserted night skiing slopes at Keystone Christmas Eve. Vail Resorts will replace the vintage conveyance with a state-of-the art eight-seater in time for the 2008-09 season. (Bob Berwyn/Summit Daily)

KEYSTONE, Colo. ” Keystone skiers and snowboarders enjoying the great early season conditions right now can look forward to next season, when the resort will offer a new and deluxe ride to the top of Dercum Mountain.

The Dec. 21 announcement that Vail Resorts’ biggest on-mountain project in 2008 will be the installation of a state-of-the-art eight-passenger gondola at its Summit County area came as an early ” and welcome ” Christmas present for many loyal Keystone guests.

“It’s about time,” said Texan Jesse Durbin, who said he’s been skiing at Keystone for 15 years. “This one is too slow,” Durbin said, wiping his goggles during a Christmas Eve ride up the mountain. “I hope what they put in is like Vail,” he said.

Durbin’s wish will be answered, as the new gondola will transport twice as many people up the hill per hour as the existing lift. The bottom-to-top ride (climbing 2,307 vertical feet) will be cut to 12 minutes, carrying up to 2,400 passengers per hour, winter and summer.

The new gondola is designed with passenger comfort in mind, including floor-to-ceiling windows and room to accommodate skis and snowboards inside the passenger cabins. Level, heated loading and unloading stations will be redesigned and offer convenient access for wheelchairs, mountain bikes, strollers, sight seers, mountaintop tubing hill guests and night-time dining guests, reflecting the fact that Keystone Mountain has evolved to offer much more than just skiing and riding.

The new River Gondola represents the first step in some significant new developments planned at Keystone. The resort recently announced plans to redevelop the Mountain House Base, and there are also plans to reconfigure services at the summit, with the potential for a new restaurant and lodge at the top of Dercum Mountain to replace some of the services currently offered at the Outpost.

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“Our mission at Keystone is to provide our guests an exceptional experience,” said chief operating officer Pat Campbell. “The new River Run Gondola will represent the most significant on-mountain project at Keystone since the opening of the Outback Mountain in 1990,” Campbell said.

The new gondola will be 30 to 40 percent more energy efficient than the existing one, Campbell said.

Although many locals have great stories to tell about gondola rides up Keystone Mountain, few will be sorry to see the vintage conveyance replaced by a more modern and functional ride.

“It’s been fun,” said a local ski tuner who only identified himself as “Gravy” Davy.

“We’ve done some crazy things in here over the years. There’s a lot of memories in these cars,” he said, wiping the frost off the window to get a glimpse of some friends on the trail below. “But it’ll be nice to get up here faster on powder days and for sure, the lines won’t be as long,” he said.

The bottom terminal of the gondola will be relocated across the Snake River and into the River Run base area complex, easing gondola access both for resort guests and day skiers flocking in from the remote parking areas.

In the second phase of this project, a new skier bridge will be constructed to replace the current pedestrian bridge, enabling guests to ski directly from the mountain into a newly enhanced skier plaza and skier services area in the River Run Village.

The upgraded River Run Gondola will follow the same alignment as the existing gondola with the top terminal located in the same location at the summit of Dercum Mountain. A new mid-station will be constructed halfway up Dercum Mountain with loading and unloading in both directions, giving skiers and snowboarders an option to access the upper trails from mid-mountain and to download at the end of their ski day.

Construction is expected to begin April 2008 with a planned opening for the 2008-09 ski and snowboard season.

bberwyn@comcast.net.

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