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Airway to Heaven — Game-Changing Lifts

by Dan Giesin | March 1, 2022

A new lift is always an occasion for excitement and anticipation among skiers and snowboarders as they bring the promise of the opening of new terrain or a quicker, more efficient way of getting to existing terrain.

And sometimes a new lift can change the whole zeitgeist of a ski area. We call these game changers.

Over course of next four years, four such transport systems — all of them either gondolas or trams — will sIgnificantly change the way skiers and snowboarders experience their respective resorts. Here’s a brief look at each of them.

Palisades Tahoe

The long anticipated — well, for as long as Alterra has owned the property — Base to Base Gondola will make its debut next winter, linking Olympic (née Squaw) Valley with neighboring Alpine Meadows.

The $65 million, four stage Leitner-Poma conveyance will take riders from one base area to the other, with a mid-terminal atop Olympic Valley’s KT22 ridge, making the now-lift connect resort the third largest in the United States at 6,000 acres (heretofore, the only way to ski or snowboard either aspect of Palisades Tahoe in the same day was to drive or use a shuttle bus).

The Base to Base gondola — with the Olympic Valley terminal situated looker’s left of the Funitel and the Alpine Meadows terminal looker’s left of the main lodge — is the first gondola in North America to have four terminals connecting two base areas.

Steamboat

The first leg of the two-stage Wild Blue Gondola will open next winter, transporting Steamboat guests from the base area to the new mid-mountain Greenhorn Ranch learning center near Bashor Basin.

The second phase of the $90 million project will connect Greenhorn Ranch to the top of Sunshine Peak and is expected to be open for the 2023-24 winter season.

When completed the 3.16-mile Wild Blue Gondola will be the longest gondola in North America and the fastest 10-person gondola in the United States.

Eaglecrest

The small (640 acres) ski hill owned by the city of Juneau is expected to receive a large influx of visitors when a repurposed pulse  gondola from Austria is installed in the next couple of years.

The $7.5 million gondola, which will have 12 15-passenger cabins moving in a stop-start fashion, will be aligned along Eaglecrest’s right-hand border and rise 1,700 vertical feet over its 6,600-foot length from the base area. There are three proposed top-terminal locations along the resort’s crest.

Eaglecrest officials not only think the year-round gondola will greatly increase the number of summer tourists to the area, but also greatly pique the interest of skiers and snowboaders outside southeast Alaska.

Big Sky

An ambitious, $150 million-plus project is expected  reach its fruition in 2025 when Big Sky’s base-to-summit gondola/tram system is completed.

The first phase of the project will be the realignment and serious upgrade of the existing Lone Peak tram (artist’s rendering above), which will have a new bottom terminal farther down the Big Bowl and a greatly expanded upper terminal with food and beverage options and a large, glassed-in viewing platform.

Part II will be the installation of a two-stage gondola, starting at the main base area (roughly following the Explorers chair line before changing direction) and ending in The Bowl near the bottom terminal of the tram.

 

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