On the Hill: One big gondola | AspenTimes.com

On the Hill: One big gondola

This is the first in a two-part feature on the new “Peak to Peak Gondola” construction at the Whistler ski resort in British Columbia. See Monday’s Aspen Times for the conclusion.Not content with simply hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics, the Whistler ski resort in British Columbia will begin construction next month on a record-breaking lift.Dubbed the “Peak to Peak Gondola,” the lift will take skiers and summer sightseers on a high-elevation aerial ride between the resort’s adjacent Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. “There’s no lift of this size and type in North America, really the world,” said David Brownlie, chief operating officer of Intrawest Mountain Resorts, which runs Whistler-Blackcomb, in an interview Thursday. “It’s an engineering feat.”The $45 million gondola – the most expensive ski lift in North America – will be built over the next two summer seasons and open in December 2008. Its 28 “sky cabins” will each carry 28 people on the mountain-linking ride – up to 4,000 people an hour through the air at the resort about 80 miles north of Vancouver, B.C.To grasp the new gondola’s size, envision one of the world’s most iconic spans, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.The Golden Gate spans about 1.2 miles; the gondola will be a total of 2.7 miles long, with just four towers holding up its cables. The bridge is about 220 feet above the water; the Whistler gondola will travel as much as 1,361 feet above the ground.The gondola’s most striking feature will be its 1.8-mile-long unsupported span where it swoops high across the narrow, rugged Fitzsimmons Valley on cables suspended between a tower on the edge of each mountain.What Intrawest calls the world’s longest free span of its kind could be a breathtaking ride, especially if skiers or sightseers end up in one of the two cabins that will have glass-bottomed floors, giving an unobstructed view of Fitzsimmons Creek tumbling through the valley more than 1,300 feet below and of the jagged peaks and glaciers.

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