Winter Park Resort gondola construction continues, plaza almost ready for debut
Skiers, snowboarders and guests will have the opportunity to spend more time on the mountain at Winter Park Resort this season thanks to the resort’s new $16 million gondola.
The Gondola, the official name of the ski gondola replacing the Zephyr Express lift, is scheduled to open in mid-December and is a significant upgrade for the resort. It runs from the main resort base to the Lodge at Sunspot on the top of the mountain.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Steve Hurlbert, director of public relations and communications for the resort. “A resort our size, to not have a gondola is (…) something that we’ve needed for awhile and I think people are going to like it and it’s going to really enhance the skier experience.
Each gondola cabin holds up to 10 people, whereas the Zephyr was a four-person lift. Hurlbert said this increase the uphill capacity by 3,600 people per hour, which means a 15 minute decrease in wait time during peak usage.
“Once people get out of their car and they get to the lift, they’re anxious to get on the mountain as soon as possible and this is really going to enable them to do that,” he said. “This basically eliminates lines at the base of Winter Park.”
The Gondola remains accessible for differently-abled skiers and riders through an adaptive mobility device, similar to a wheelchair, an extra wide gondola door on each cabin and a zero entry height.
“It actually increases access to Sunspot for a lot of people who are in the disabled recreation program for the (National Sports Center for the Disabled),” Hurlbert said.
All of the towers for the gondola have been constructed and crews are currently working on the terminals at the top and bottom of the mountain.
The gondola is a Leitner-Poma model and cabins will be delivered Nov. 15, 22 and 29.
With the new gondola, the resort will be offering Mountaintop Après from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. every Thursday through Sunday starting Jan. 3. It will also feature live music on Fridays and Saturdays.
The gondola will offer free rides after 2:30 p.m. on weekends.
Hurlbert said the resort is eager to see how else the gondola can be used once it’s operating.
“The application that people think of is to get skiers and riders up on the mountain, but really it’s so much more than that,” he said. “It opens us up to a lot of different fun things we can do and (…) I think that once it gets in and we start using it I think a lot of other really cool ideas on how to use it will come up as we get used to this new gondola world.”
Also debuting this season is the resort’s new plaza area in front of the Zephyr Mountain Lodge.
The $1.75 million improvement project, orchestrated by the Winter Park Village Company Master Association, will be completed on Nov. 7.
Improvements include adding a snow melt system under walkways, a new fire pit, a small stage for events and chairlift swings, which were repurposed from the historic Timberline lift.
Hurlbert said the goal with these improvements was to open up the space so that it was more inviting, more aesthetically pleasing and less crowded.
“The plaza creates a little piazza in the middle of the village for an area to congregate with a nice fire pit there,” Hurlbert said. “We thought that by opening it up it would make it a lot more welcoming and it would help with egress through the village.”
While no events have currently been planned for the new space, Hurlbert said the improvements allow for events like small concerts or weddings, and like the gondola, give the resort the ability to get creative with its uses.
“I think once people see what the new space looks like, I think it’s going to be very organic and I think it’s going to be inviting enough that people will just take to it instinctively almost,” he said.
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Editor’s note: The following letter to the community was submitted to the Sky-Hi News by Winter Park Mayor Nick Kutrumbos.