Perspective from Silver Queen will change next year
Enjoy the view from Aspen Mountain’s Silver Queen Gondola this ski season: Your perspective will be completely different next winter.Passengers will be seated so they face inward rather than outward when the gondola cabins are replaced next summer.So instead of checking out the powder on the slopes and the groovy people skiing them, gondola passengers will be staring at the mugs of their fellow passengers.The 160 gondola cabins will be replaced between the end of the ski season – on April 16 – and June 30, according to Aspen Skiing Co. Chief Operating Officer Mike Kaplan. They will offer advantages over the old cabins, such as being at walk-in level with no step up required, they will have larger racks, and the windows will stretch from floor to ceiling, he told about 200 people attending the Aspen Chamber Resort Association’s annual membership luncheon.But Skico officials couldn’t find new cabins that are configured like the old ones and that could handle crowds efficiently.”We looked really hard. We looked at every cabin out there,” Kaplan said. “The only outward-facing gondola would have reduced capacity by 30 percent.”The new models of outward-facing cabins are larger than the existing cabins, Kaplan said. So the cabins would have to be spaced farther apart on the cable so they wouldn’t knock into one another at the bottom and top terminals. That would reduce their ability to haul people uphill by nearly one-third.Kaplan indicated he would prefer outward-facing cabins but not at the cost of creating longer lines at the popular lift.The Skico is spending several million dollars to essentially replace the Silver Queen. The grips that connect the cabins to the cables were replaced this spring at $30,000 per pop. A portion of the drivetrain called the gearbox will be replaced this fall. And the cabins will be replaced next summer for another $30,000 each.Even if passengers have to crane their necks for a better view, the new cabins won’t be a total loss. One astute skier noted that passing a joint will be easier because of the new configuration. And membership to the so-called “14-minute club” might be a bit more comfortable.A less optimistic wag groused that he would now have to look at the person in his cabin using a cell phone instead of just listening.Kaplan’s highlights of other developments on the slopes this summer included: Construction of the Deep Temerity chairlift at Aspen Highlands. Concrete for the lift tower pads was poured this week with the help of helicopters.The chairlift will let skiers and riders make quicker laps into the double black diamond terrain from Steeplechase to Highland Bowl. The lift will cover 1,750 vertical feet in 7.3 minutes.”It’s more like an elevator than a lift,” Kaplan said. The six-passenger Village Express is being constructed from the base of Snowmass’ Fanny Hill to the top of Sam’s Knob. It will cover the distance in just 9.5 minutes, with a capacity of 2,800 passengers per hour.The addition of the lift will mean skiers and riders can get to the Big Burn chair with just one ride rather than two.”No more Slowmass,” Kaplan said. The Sam’s Knob restaurant was leveled and won’t be replaced until the 2006-07 season. Construction of the first phase of Base Village also reduced the day skier lot in Snowmass from 200 to 150 spaces.Despite all the work, Skico officials said there is a misperception that Snowmass will be a mess.The on-mountain improvements will continue next year with the new gondola from the Snowmass base to the top of the Elk Camp section of the ski area.”God bless the Crown family,” said Skico Chief Executive Officer Pat O’Donnell, referring to the owners of the company. “They keep making investments on the mountain.”The praise for the bosses was also a theme in the presentations to the ACRA crowd by Kaplan and Skico Senior Vice President of Marketing and Sales David Perry.They spent some more of their bosses’ money by giving away swag that ranged from a full-season ski pass to hats with the Skico’s signature aspen leaf logo.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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