Q: What is a pulse gondola?
A pulse gondola is a ski lift with enclosed individual cabins that stay permanently fixed to the haul rope cable, configured in groups (pods) of 2 or 4. As pods arrive at the top and bottom stations, pods will simultaneously arrive at a midway station. As the cabins approach the station, the haul rope decelerates to an incredibly slow pace to allow for easy loading and unloading. Once passengers are safely on board, the haul rope returns to a speed of 7 meters per second, typical for aerial tramways.
Pulse gondolas are mechanically simple, durable, and easier to maintain than traditional detachable gondolas.
Q: Why am I just hearing about this?
You may remember the Eaglecrest Summer Operations Task Force planning efforts and frequent public meetings during 2019. The following year, the assembly was busy navigating the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Task Force did not reconvene until August. During this break, the Eaglecrest Board continued brainstorming how they might expand summer operations and create a more vibrant and financially sustainable year-round Eaglecrest. GM Dave Scanlan kept an eye on the market for new and used lifts and conveyance systems from this point onward.
Like many other industries, the market for ski lifts has been skyrocketing due to high demand and global supply chain issues. The current wait time for a new gondola is upward of 5 years and would cost roughly $22 million.
Recently, the perfect-sized used gondola went up for sale in Austria for $2 million. It is a pulse gondola that would provide an optimal configuration at Eaglecrest. Because of these lifts’ rare nature and the high demand at ski areas globally, timing is an essential factor if Eaglecrest is to acquire the gondola in question.
Q: I’ve heard about a $2 million cost and a $7.5 million cost. Which amount is correct?
$2 million covers the initial purchase, transportation, and preliminary engineering of the Austrian pulse gondola. The funding ordinance currently under review is for this sum.
$5.5 million covers the cost of installation and additional infrastructure. Eaglecrest may eventually seek this sum as a loan to be paid back by summer operations. This number will be refined in the months ahead as we continue work with the Eaglecrest Board and Eaglecrest Summer Task Force to examine the business case and evaluate future costs.
Q: Isn’t this project competing with the private sector?
We view this project as a small business incubator, with Eaglecrest/CBJ owning the backbone infrastructure of the gondola, allowing private tour operators an abundance of new capacity to be creative and develop tour products utilizing the trail and lift infrastructure.
Q: Where would the gondola be placed?
The final gondola alignment is still in the evaluation stage. However, our preferred alignment would travel from the base of Hooter, up the side of Raven, to the top of the ridgeline close to the western ski area boundary (Heavenly or Parkers). This location allows for activities to be developed in all seasons and would provide a suitable area for a gondola midway station.
We are going to the ski area planners, engineers, and contractors guide us to the best, most constructible alignment. The most important criteria determining gondola placement are that it offers interconnectivity to existing ski terrain and serves the widest array of summer and winter activities possible.
Q: Why doesn’t Eaglecrest buy a high-speed quad to replace Ptarmigan instead of purchasing a gondola?
A high-speed quad in Ptarmigan’s existing footprint would transport too many skiers per hour to the unloading terminal, overwhelming the space we currently have. In addition, the location of the base of Ptarmigan is not conducive to summer visitor traffic– tourism industry experts have expressed that the typical visitor would prefer a fully-enclosed ride to the top of the mountain. Replacing Ptarmigan is important, but wouldn’t be very helpful in bringing in year-round revenue.
However, a fixed-grip quad replacement for Ptarmigan would allow increased uphill capacity without overwhelming the physical space at the loading and unloading terminal.
Q: Does Eaglecrest have any plans to replace Ptarmigan?
A primary goal of acquiring the gondola and expanding summer operations is to create an ongoing funding mechanism to pay for the replacement of Ptarmigan and Hooter in the years ahead. If the financial model proves true, it would be realistic to see a replacement of Ptarmigan happen in five to eight years.
Q: How will the gondola handle rime ice, wind, and inclement weather?
Any lift that arrives at the top of the ridge will be more exposed to high winds and rime ice conditions. The unique configuration of the pulse gondola allows the cabins to be parked in a fully enclosed structure at the base, midway point, and top of the mountain for overnight storage; they would not be exposed to the elements when parked. This will significantly reduce the time and resources spent breaking up rime ice.
Aerial tramways can typically perform well in windy conditions; a common practice is to place ballasts (water barrels) inside cabins to reduce swaying while the gondola is in operation. It would be possible to ballast down each cabin during high wind conditions.
Q: How will the gondola impact winter operations at Eaglecrest?
During winter operations (depending on the final alignment), the gondola may have the ability to offer easy access to a high elevation Nordic skiing experience. It will disperse existing alpine ski/snowboard traffic, spreading riders across a larger geographic area. A midway station will give skiers and riders the option to ski the top half of the mountain during scenarios where there may not be cold enough weather for snow at the base.
Q: How will increased summer tourism impact Eaglecrest’s summer users?
The design of summer activities associated with this concept involves keeping commercial activities isolated to the far west side of the mountain. By doing this, we hope to preserve the existing summer experience locals know and love: hiking the summer road to the top of Ptarmigan or Black Bear chairlift.
Q: How do you know that enough tourists will come to Eaglecrest?
The SE group is confident that Eaglecrest will be able to earn sufficient revenue to fund the ongoing development of summer operations, improve the pay scale for Eaglecrest employees, and ultimately eliminate the ongoing need for CBJ support.
The Southeast Alaska Southeast Conference estimates that 1.5 million visitors will come to Juneau in 2022.
GM Dave Scanlan will be hosting a public zoom webinar on Wednesday, February 23rd at 6:00pm to discuss the project in greater detail. There will be time provided for a Q&A session at the end.
Please click the link below to join the webinar:
+1 346 248 7799
Webinar ID: 873 3352 0820
As always, feel free to reach out via email at: email@example.com.