Fastest in North America: Steamboat Resort celebrates opening of record-breaking new gondola
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When asked what people think about Steamboat Resort’s new gondola during its premiere on Saturday, the consensus was clear: it’s fast.
Clocking a ride time of just under eight minutes, it’s the speediest eight-person gondola in North America, according to Rob Perlman, president and chief operating officer off Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp.
This has been a record-breaking winter season at the resort, and it has just begun. The mountain opened to the public last Friday, Nov. 15, the earliest start in its 57-year history.
Mike Maloney and his son, Sal, did not mess around when it came to being first in line for the new gondola when it opened at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday. They arrived at the resort at about 7:30 p.m. the night before, according to Loryn Duke, director of communications at the resort. They brought chairs and sleeping bags to keep cozy, wearing their ski boots, so they stayed warm throughout the night.
Their dedication to snagging the first cabin is on par with the Steamboat Springs Middle School student, Kasen Young, who arrived before dawn to be first in line for Christie Peak Express on last week’s Opening Day.
To celebrate the gondola’s debut, resort staff and Steamboat Olympians handed out free Champagne Powder donuts, hot chocolate and mimosas in the morning. The first 100 people in line for the gondola got a specially designed shirt from local fashion store, Ohana.
Perlman presented a $50,000 check on behalf of Ski Corp. to the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, then raised a flute of champagne to commemorate the opening of the gondola.
With 30 minutes before the lift started running, members of the Northern Ute Indian Tribe performed several dances, some of which are said to beckon snow. Adorned in vibrant garments — some beaded, some feathered and some passed down for generations — the dancers twirled and stomped to the beat of a drum circle.
With less than a minute before the gondola opened, some of the people in line started performing dances of their own, either as a way to stay warm or out of sheer excitement. As the clock struck 8:30 a.m. and the buzzer announced the gondola would start moving, Perlman popped a bottle of champagne.
With 12 additional cabins and the speedier ride time, he said the lift will be 38% faster in terms of uphill capacity. On peak days, when thousands of people flood to the resort, Perlman said those improvements will decrease the wait time by about 15 minutes.
“It’s a lift line gobbler of a gondola,” former World Cup alpine ski racer Billy Kidd said, who now serves as director of skiing at the resort.
Guests noticed the upgrades.
“The speed is amazing,” Steamboat resident Eliot Guin said as he rode up.
His friend, Ayden Duven, noted how the large crowd waiting at the start of the day dwindled in about 10 minutes, allowing them to make quick laps with hardly any wait by 9 a.m. They also appreciated the larger windows offering panoramic views of the Yampa Valley.
Guests also can access free Wi-Fi on the new gondola. Ruby McClellan, another Steamboat resident, appreciated the amenity but had not tried it out yet.
“I feel like I never use my phone when I’m skiing,” she said.
As of Saturday, Heavenly Daze was the only trail accessible from the gondola, one of 11 currently open at the ski area. Early conditions persist, including icy terrain and unmarked hazards. Resort officials are urging the public to use caution. A line of snowmaking towers extends down the middle of Heavenly Daze. For that reason, uphill access is not allowed for the duration of the weekend, according to a news release from the resort.