After going most of the winter without a lift at Whistler Creek Whistler Mountain announced Tuesday a high-speed, six-passenger Poma gondola will replace the ill-fated Quicksilver Chair.
Construction of the $6.2 million Creekside Gondola, which will go from Whistler Creek base to the Redline, will start immediately and the lift will be ready for the start of the 1996-97 ski season.
David Perry, Whistler Mountain’s director of marketing, said the gondola will cost approximately $1.5 million more than a quad chair with a bubble, but the decision was made to go with the gondola because it is a more desirable access lift, given Whistler’s weather.
"It’s also a better anchor for our long-term development plans at Whistler Creek," he said, adding he’s confident Whistler Mountain’s long-awaited Creekside development will follow relatively soon after the installation of the new lift.
"A gondola is usually a premier lift," Perry said. "Even Vail is replacing its old Lions Head lift with a high-speed gondola.
"It will also give the resort three high-speed gondolas, which is unprecedented."
Whistler Mountain’s Quicksilver chair has been shut down since Dec. 23 when four chairs fell to the ground. Two people died as a result of the accident and another was left paralyzed. A coroner’s investigation is continuing and a final report is expected toward the end of May or early June. No explanation for the accident has been made public.
With the Express Gondola in the village Whistler Mountain’s only access lift skiers and boarders heading up the mountain experienced extremely long lineups on holidays and many weekends this winter. Despite that, Whistler Mountain’s skier visits for February and March were above last year’s numbers. However, businesses in the Whistler Creek area suffered all winter.
Perry says the new lift will not mean an automatic increase in lift ticket prices.
"I don’t see the two as being related. We had to put in a new lift. Lift ticket pricing will be a separate discussion."
Whether the cost of insurance for ski area operators will increase as a result of the Quicksilver accident, and subsequently force an increase in lift ticket prices, is "still speculative" and a decision that must be made by the insurance companies, Perry said.
Although the top terminal of the new gondola will be at Whistler Mountain’s original midstation, it’s possible a transfer station could be built and the gondola could some day be extended to the top of the Dave Murray Downhill. However, to do that now would mean revamping the mountain’s whole master plan, including where future food and beverage operations are located on the mountain and how skier traffic — both uphill and downhill — flows. Whistler Mountain also has long-term plans for an access lift from the Function Junction area.
Perry said earlier a six-passenger gondola from Whistler Creek to the top of the Dave Murray Downhill would cost approximately $15 million.
Whistler Mountain had sought quotes from two other lift manufacturers, Doppelmayr and Garavanta C-Tec, but decided to go with Poma because "they’re highly reputable, a leader in technology, highly reliable and we have two Poma lifts already," Perry said. The Express Gondola and the Harmony Express quad chair were manufactured by Poma. A third Poma lift will further the mountain’s working relationship with the company, Perry said.
The Creekside Gondola will carry 2,640 skiers and boarders per hour to the base of the Redline Express in 6 minutes, 50 seconds. Total lift time from Creekside to the alpine will be less than 15 minutes.
The 95 cabins for the gondola will be manufactured by CWA, the same company which built the cabins for Blackcomb’s Excalibur gondola and the largest manufacturer of lift cabins in the world. Seating in the cabins will be three per side, facing each other rather than back-to-back, with skis and snowboards stored outside each car.
The Quicksilver chair, which was only five years old and named to commemorate Whistler Mountain’s 25th year of operation, will be dismantled and put in storage.