Park City Mountain looks to avoid controversy with new gondola

Sunrise Gondola expected to lessen impact of wind holds at The Canyons, which is overseen by a different planning commission than the one that denied the resort approval for two lifts on the Mountain Village side.

Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune The Red Pine Gondola transports skiers at The Canyons Resort, Friday, December 26, 2014. Because the lift spans deep valleys, it often is put on wind hold. Park City Mountain wants to build the Sunrise Gondola, which will run in conjunction with the Red Pine Gondola and also terminate at the Red Pine Lodge but will follow the contours of the mountain to avoid wind issues.

It took no small amount of effort for Park City local Sharon Kellner to get to The Canyons Village at Park City Mountain to ski one day last winter. Yet after lugging her gear onto a municipal bus and then onto the Cabriolet lift that delivers guests to the northernmost base of the country’s largest ski area, Kellner couldn’t backtrack fast enough.

Kellner described the lines to the Orange Bubble Express and the Red Pine Gondola — the only two lifts skiers and snowboarders can take out of Canyons Village to access the majority of the mountain — as “mind-blowing.”

“This is not even worth it,” she said to herself. “‘It’s like, ‘It’s not even moving. I don’t know how long it’s gonna be. I’m just going to go back home.’”

This summer, Park City Mountain introduced its salve for that pain point. It plans to build the Sunrise Gondola, which would carry up to 10 people per cabin between the Pendry lodge in Canyons Village to the Red Pine Lodge at mid-mountain. Perhaps its biggest selling point, though, is that its route would be aligned so that it should be protected from the wind, which often cripples the other two lifts.

Resort staff presented its plans for the gondola at an open house at the Grand Summit Hotel on Thursday evening. As Kellner studied the roughly 15 panels detailing its alignment and the planning process, she felt relief.

“After this winter, between the weather holds and just the crush that this place is getting,” she said, “I’m glad that there’s some plan to get more people out of the base faster.”

Several factors contributed to glut of visitors at Canyons Village base last winter.

For one, Park City Mountain began charging $25 for parking in the lots at Mountain Village, the base closer to the town center. That drove many skiers and snowboarders to Canyons Village, where some parking remained free. Meanwhile, the resort was operating at less than full lift efficiency because many of the eight-person cabins for the Red Pine Gondola had become unusable due to age. (New cabins are being installed for the 2023-24 season).

Then, the weather threw Park City Mountain a curveball. Utah saw record snowfall last season, which came with wind and an uptick in avalanche mitigation. None of that boded well for the Orange Bubble nor the Red Pine Gondola as both run up the front mountain along a ridgeline.

Park City Mountain spokesperson Sara Huey did not have a count of how many times one of both of the lifts were put on wind hold last season or how often it happens on average. Because Red Pine also serves as one of the main modes of returning to the base, at times when it was put on hold skiers were stuck on the mountain, sometimes for hours.

“It creates a significant impact,” Huey said, “if we have to hold Red Pine and the Orange Bubble.”

The Sunrise Gondola could assist with some of that. It would replace the seldom-used Sunrise lift, which begins at the same location but terminates midway up the front mountain, just below the Over and Out lift. Huey said it will be more resilient to high winds because it will follow the contour of the terrain, including dipping into valleys, rather than crossing over wide expanses. It is also expected to be tucked just below and to the south of the ridgeline and Huey said the weight of the 10-person cabins should make it more stable.

Mike Sonzini, a Park West resident for more than 30 years, said he’s been stuck on the mountain when the lifts go on wind hold “every time it’s happened.” So that was his main point of concern when he attended Thursday’s unveiling of the new gondola.

Sonzini said he used to do hot laps on the Sunrise lift on days when the other two were closed. He’ll miss the lift for that reason and because he learned to snowboard off that lift, which at one point led to a halfpipe, he said. Nonetheless, he said he thinks the gondola will be an overall improvement.

Yet with the exception of people like Sonzini, most local passholders likely won’t use the gondola. Its location is somewhat remote, about a 15-minute walk from the main plaza and Cabriolet lift dropoff. Huey acknowledged it will serve mostly guests of the hotels and condos in the village. She countered, however, that those people will then not be in the queue for the other lifts, which should shorten lines across the base.

The lift is expected to cost about $27 million. Vail Resorts, Park City Mountain’s parent company, will pay the majority of the cost. However the Canyon Village Management Association, which oversees village development and aesthetics, has agreed to pay $9 million of that, according to a report by KCBW. Part of that contract, KCBW reports, stipulates that the lift must be built within three years of receiving all approvals.

Development on The Canyons side of the mountain does not go through all of the same agencies as those on the Mountain Village side because it is in a different permitting jurisdiction. That likely comes as a relief for resort managers who saw their request for two new lifts on the Mountain Village side denied on appeal by the Park City Planning Commission last year after a group of locals raised concerns about the path of one of the lifts and overcrowding at the resort. That case is still in court.

Approvals for the Sunrise Gondola will go through the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission. That agency approved the last lift to be installed at Park City Mountain: Over and Out, which was completed in 2019.

Huey said resort officials see the two lift applications as two completely separate processes. Vail Resorts has not set a timeline for the gondola’s competition, she added.

“We’re really committed to being deliberate and going through one phase at a time with this,” she said. “And I’m hopeful that at the end of this three-phase, multi-year project that we’ll have something that our guests will be able to enjoy: significantly reduced wait times, significantly reduced impact and just overall make it smoother to get to that (Red Pine area).”

Correction• Aug. 8, 1:45 p.m. >> The Sunrise Gondola will be overseen by the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission because the Canyons is in a different jurisdiction than Park City Mountain not because of a holdover policy from before the merger of the two resorts, as previously stated in this article.

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