Flying high

Inside Vail’s new gondola

A mockup of the new Vail gondola
Phot courtesy of Vail Resorts

Colorado´s ski industry is the leader in North America for good reason. Visitation to local favorite Vail exceeds 1.5 million skier days each year. That number, 1,750,000 skier days (one skier, skiing one day) last year alone at Vail, means that the ski area has the means to invest in the mountain. And Vail doesn’t hold back when it comes to on-mountain improvements.

The big news for Vail this year is the replacement of the aging Vista Bahn high-speed chairlift with the most technologically advanced lift in North America. Vail’s new gondola is a masterpiece of engineering.

The old Vista Bahn was Vail’s “gateway” lift. Rising out of Vail Village, the lift terminated at Mid-Vail and provided the main point of access to all of the ski area, including the Back Bowls. Because of this, lines could be long on Saturdays, especially after storms, when both locals and visitors choked Vail Village’s access to the ski hill during the powder morning rush.

With a capacity of 3,600 people per hour, which is 40 percent greater than the old chairlift, Vail’s new gondola rises 1,200 feet per minute at its fastest, a speed of approximately 13.5 mph. This is fast for a lift and “will reduce the wait time for our guests on peak days,” says Vail’s director of lift operations, Clyde Wiessner. Wiessner adds that foot passengers will also enjoy better access with the new lift, and can more easily join skiers for lunch at the resort’s mid- Vail restaurants.

But while the new lift’s capacity is impressive — the gondola can hold up to 10 people per cabin — it’s what you’ll find inside the cabins that vault the new lift into the 21st century. The seats are heated, you’ll enjoy Wi-Fi access, and nighttime riders will appreciate soft mood lighting as they take the gondola up the mountain for evening dinner or drinks.

Furthermore, the clunky days of bringing a snowboard or fat skis — too wide for many ski racks — into the cabin are over.

“The equipment racks on the outside of the cabins are designed for modern ski technology to fit bigger and wider skis and snowboards,” says Wiessner, adding that the improvement is courtesy of his staff, who designed the external equipment racks.

All this means that this year skiers and snowboarders will enjoy an impressive uphill ride at one of the world’s greatest resorts. But perhaps the best thing about the new lift — more than 70 percent of which was built by Leitner-Poma’s Grand Junction facility — is what happened to the old lift.

“We removed the Vista Bahn in 37 days,” says Wiessner. “A total of 682,840 pounds of steel was recycled, and many of the old lift components have been saved for reuse at Vail Resort ski areas.”

So, while the Vista Bahn may now be gone, it’s certainly not gone to waste. Even better: Those lift lines on weekend powder days should also be a thing of the past.

Vail’s New Gondola, By The Numbers:

Lift Capacity: 3,600 people
per hour

Cabin Capacity: 10 people maximum (1,700 lbs)

Ride Time: 7
minutes 30 seconds

Top Speed: 13.5 mph

Vertical rise: 1,997 feet