Where’s my gondola? | AspenTimes.com
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Where’s my gondola?

Kimberly Nicoletti
Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times
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Paul Coffey wants to hang a gondola car in his living room, but there are none left. He thinks the Aspen Skiing Co., treated locals unfairly when it sold half of the Silver Queen Gondola fleet to Michigan businessman Don White.But the Skico says it simply underestimated demand. “The thought [of offering cabins to passholders or locals first] didn’t cross my mind,” said Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle. “And anyway, what’s so fair about that?”The Skico sold all 165 gondola cabins, which will be retired at the end of this season, within 36 hours, after placing a large poster on the plaza on Christmas Day and advertising the sale in the paper. Coffey thinks that as a passholder, he and other loyal snowriders should have had first dibs. “Why give a daytripper the opportunity to screw the locals?” Coffey said, adding that now he may end up paying double to buy a car from White. “If they want to be a local company, why do they sell them to out-of-towners?”Coffey criticized the Skico for not putting more thought into the sale process, and Aspen Mountain Manager Steve Sewell admits he underestimated how many people would like one of the Aspen icons.

“Given the popularity and the passion people showed, I would do it different. And in about 25 years, when these new cabins need to be replaced, the first thing I’ll do is call Paul Coffey,” Sewell said good-naturedly.In mid-December, the Skico posted fliers in lift ticket offices announcing the sale. The small fliers drew only a few calls of interest, and Sewell said he worried he’d be stuck disposing of the cars.”I really thought that we were going to end up hauling these things to the dump,” Sewell said. “That was my greatest fear. I thought 20 or 25 of them would sell.”So when White was one of the first people to call on Christmas asking to buy all of the gondola cabins, it blew Sewell away.”On one hand, it would have been great for me to say, ‘Sold.’ I wouldn’t have to worry about it,” Sewell said. But instead, he agreed to sell half of the cars to White. White plans to market them to sports manufacturing representatives in the Midwest, which is good for the Skico, Sewell said, because it puts Aspen’s name out there.Still, in hindsight Sewell wishes he would have sold only a quarter of the cabins to White, he said. The phones “rang off the hook” with people reserving cars – though Sewell still wonders what people would do with a gondola.

Coffey wants one to hang from the 18-foot ceiling in his living room, so he put his name on a waiting list – which is up to more than 60 people, Sewell said.”It would have been perfect,” Coffey said. “Now I have to go to Gart Sports and see it hanging there.”Coffey also wonders why the Skico sold the cabins for $550, as opposed to $1,000 or more. Sewell said he wanted to move the gondolas quickly. Several years ago, the Skico removed and refurbished chairs from Ruthie’s lift, and after years they still didn’t all sell at the premium price of $1,000.”The time it took to refurbish them and turn around and sell them, we weren’t making money,” Sewell said.This season, he just wanted to cover the cost of removing the cabins in the spring, transferring them to Buttermilk, then staffing the lot while people pick up their treasures. He also wanted to make them affordable for people with moderate incomes. And, since each cabin weighs 550 pounds, he thought $1 a pound was a good price.”We did the best we could, and we feel it was fair,” Hanle said. “We’re sorry if some people didn’t get what they wanted.”

But apologies aren’t helping Coffey.”I want my piece of Aspen history for one night of waiting tables,” he said.Kimberly Nicoletti’s e-mail address is knicoletti@aspentimes.com


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