Open-air gondola central to Base Village | AspenTimes.com

Open-air gondola central to Base Village

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

It would just be a little lift, providing a short ride in an open-air gondola car for skiers and visitors in Snowmass Village.

But a new cabriolet lift is central to the proposal from the Aspen Skiing Co. and Intrawest for a new village at the base of the Snowmass Ski Area.

It’s 1,250 feet long and would whisk people from Base Village to the mall in three to four minutes.

“It’s almost like a public elevator,” said Bill Kane, vice president of planning and development for the Skico.

But it also serves as the primary access lift for day skiers to the Big Burn, a kid’s lift and a ski-school lift.

The cabriolet would not be the first of its kind. Intrawest is operating one at Mount Tremblant in Quebec, Canada. And the Canyons ski area in Utah has a cabriolet between its main skier parking lot and the plaza of its new village.

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Katie Eldridge, public relations director at the Canyons, said people like the lift because it is free, it goes to the center of the village, and kids think it is fun.

“It’s a signature item,” she said. “You can get a feel for the resort, if it is your first time coming here. You can see where the hotels and shops are, and you can take it all in.”

In Snowmass, the bottom terminal of the cabriolet would be 20 feet below the Fanny Hill lift, which is to be removed.

The top terminal would be next to the Cirque restaurant at the end of the mall on land owned by the Skico.

Across Fanny Hill from the mall would be a new high-speed lift in the same alignment as the Burlingame lift, which would also be removed. This new lift would run to the top of Sam’s Knob, making it possible to get from the mall to the top of the Big Burn in two lifts.

From Base Village to the top of the Burn, however, it would still take three lifts, the first leg of the journey being on the cabriolet.

In a new Base Village, visiting skiers would park in an underground parking garage. Once on the plaza level, they would find shops, bars, restaurants, skier services and the children’s ski school. And they could then choose between taking the cabriolet to the mall or a gondola to the bottom of Elk Camp.

The cabriolet would also serve guests staying in one of the 630 new condos in Base Village. They could ride the cabriolet to the mall for meals, shopping and entertainment throughout the day and into the evening. And guests staying above and below the mall could ride the lift to Base Village, which is to include a jazz club and outdoor, heated pools.

Given that, indeed, the cabriolet runs in both directions, Intrawest and the Skico are looking for financial help to run the cabriolet lift after the ski area closes for the day.

For that, they have turned to the Snowmass Village Resort Association, a resort district along Fanny Hill with taxing ability. In turn, the SVRA has suggested that Base Village volunteer to become part of the SVRA taxing district.

At the Canyons, the Resort Village Management Association and the American Skiing Co. split the cost of running the cabriolet, which has run about $200,000 a year so far, depending on how many days it has been used winter and summer.

“That’s likely to rise,” said John Young, the head of the Canyons resort management association and a former town manager of Snowmass Village. “It’s an emerging budget item for us.”

The resort is currently building an ice rink near the bottom of the lift, which could increase its use as a day and night link to the village core, Young explained.

“People really do like it,” he said of the open-air lift. “It’s a relaxing thing to do, although it wasn’t so fun when it was 10 below.”

In Snowmass, the aerial connection between the mall and Base Village has also prompted a strong interest from the Town Council in a second aerial connection to Base Village, this one from the Snowmass Center across Brush Creek Road.

But Intrawest and the Skico have not proposed building a second cabriolet across the road to the Center, home of the town’s grocery store and post office. Nor are they showing a loading platform for such a connection to and from the Center.

“We are trying to show connectivity to the Center through a pedestrian crossing,” said Paul Shepherd, a vice president with Intrawest in charge of the Snowmass project.

Shepherd questions whether a tram or a gondola is the right solution over Brush Creek Road. “It wouldn’t be a detriment,” he said. “How many people are going to use it, and how functional is it if people want to get groceries and bring them back?”