Glenwood Caverns officials plan improvements to tram, tripling capacity

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, the mountain-top theme park located in Glenwood Springs, is replacing the tramway that carries guests up 1,400 feet from the floor of the Roaring Fork Valley to the top of Iron Mountain next winter.
Chelsea Self/Glenwood Springs Post Independent |

Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park is eyeing a major upgrade for 2019 that will increase loading capacity, reduce waits and make the Iron Mountain tramway more reliable during inclement weather.

Starting in November, after the peak season is over for this year, the park will begin replacing the existing 18 tram cars with 44, detachable, six-passenger cabins. The upgrade will increase capacity from 300 people an hour to 1,000.

The tramway is the primary method of carrying guests up the 1,400 feet from the floor of the Roaring Fork Valley to the top of Iron Mountain where the caverns and amusement park are located.

That and several other improvements that are part of the development plan received positive feedback from the Glenwood Springs City Council during a conceptual review last week. The plan also includes construction of a two-story building at the tram base that will house ticket sales, a retail shop, restrooms, tram operations, administrative offices and meeting space.

“This will help us enhance our guests’ experience by reducing wait times to board the tram and reducing the frequency of weather-related tram closures,” Nancy Heard, general manager for Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, said in a statement.

“It will be more stable in high-wind conditions, and will eliminate 80 percent of the shutdowns caused by wind and lightning,” she said.

When those shutdowns occur, guests either have to wait it out or take one of the park’s 35-passenger, open-air adventure vehicles up and down the mountain via a rugged dirt road.

The project will go through additional planning and review by the city and Garfield County before it’s formally approved.

Construction work and installation of the new tram cars is expected to last four months starting Nov. 1. During that time, the park will be closed. Annual passholders will have four months added to their passes to compensate for the closure, Heard said.

“We will take this opportunity to remove the utilities from the tram line and bury them,” she also explained. That will help reduce the wind load on the tram, which allows the tram to sustain higher winds.

The Tropical model cabins also will feature more ventilation, which will help with temperature control during the heat of summer.

“We will also add a tower communication system that will allow us to have one-way communication with our guests,” Heard said. “This system is a series of bullhorns located on select towers that will project the communication up and down the tram line.”

Leitner-Poma, with offices in Grand Junction, built the original tram and will handle construction of the new one. The existing towers will be used, but terminal equipment at the base and the top of the mountain will be replaced.

With the greater capacity, the ride time will be seven minutes, compared with the current 12- to 15-minute ride, Heard said. So, barring severe weather or mechanical issues, the new tram will essentially eliminate the wait time, she said.

“This is music to our ears for all of our Music on the Mountain guests who have experienced long wait times to get off the mountain at the end of the concerts,” she said.

The detachable tram also better distributes the weight of the cabins across all the towers, allowing it to sustain higher winds without impacting operations.

The new tram will also be less susceptible to lightning closures, for two reasons, according to the statement.

First, operators will have the ability to clear people off the tram in seven minutes rather than 15. Second, the new tram will have lightning arrestors that will dissipate the electricity and minimize the potential damage to the tram.

“This will allow operators to wait to see if the storm develops before deciding to shut down the tram,” the statement said.

Now, the tram is often closed for precautionary purposes and in some cases the storm never develops, resulting in unnecessary delays.