Denver, CO Feb. 15 (AP by Robert Weller)--Gondolas are becoming the rage for Colorado ski resorts, but not to drop skiers and boarders on the slopes.
Winter Park is the latest to propose a gondola as public transportation. Crested Butte also is considering one as a way to get people to the mountain without their cars.
It has long been a dream of Aspen to link some of its mountains with a European-style gondola system. Breckenridge has talked of a gondola from the town to Peak 8. The town of Avon has considered a gondola to Beaver Creek.
A gondola built by Telluride in 1996 is being used by more than 1.65 million riders a year. It connects the town and the Mountain Village, allowing people to travel back and forth to buy groceries, eat, drink or get to work.
``It's fabulous. Everybody loves it. Everybody uses it. It is faster than driving, and the views are beautiful and relaxing,'' said Telluride Town Manager Peggy Curran. She said air pollution in the valley is down significantly as a result of the use of the gondola, road paving projects and limits on wood burning.
Dust from roads and wood smoke are the main pollutants in the area.
Gondolas are not cheap. Telluride's cost $16 million, and in both Winter Park and Crested Butte they could cost as much as $20 million.
Edward Callaway, whose family is a co-owner of Crested Butte, said Gunnison County has signed an agreement with a consultant to study the concept of a gondola between Crested Butte and Mount Crested Butte.
Callaway said the ski area and the two towns, separated by a narrow, winding, three-mile road and 500 feet of elevation, would be equal partners in financing the project.
``Warp speed on this is probably five to seven years,'' cautioned Winter Park Mayor Nick Teverbaugh. ``I'm sure we will be involved in the financing. There is no way Winter Park by itself can finance that type of a capital improvement.''
Winter Park spokeswoman Joan Christensen said $20 million would be the resort's entire capital budget for four or five years.
But she said the gondola is an exciting idea that would help Winter Park stay competitive. ``It's also important because as more people keep coming we don't want to have an air pollution problem.''
One of the reasons Telluride built the gondola was to curb the pollution mountain towns often experience in the winter when temperature inversions trap air in valleys.
Winter Park also is hoping construction of a new base village with 230 housing units will make the hill itself a major destination area. ``When the gondola goes in people will be able to go back and forth to the town without the hassle of parking,'' Christensen said.
``People love to ride skyrides. There is a reason amusement parks put them in,'' she said.
The resort this month completed the purchase of land necessary for the three-mile-long gondola. It likely would be a 15- to 20-minute ride.
``It would help with air pollution and traffic, as well as making our town more available to day skiers,'' Christensen said.
Copyright (c) 2000 The Associated Press