Mountains united: Base to Base Gondola connects Palisades, Alpine Meadows
ALPINE MEADOWS, Calif. — The long held dream of connecting Alpine Meadows and Palisades Tahoe via a lift is now reality and is slated to open to the public a few weeks after the resort’s scheduled opening of Nov. 22.
Last week, officials from Palisades Tahoe showed off the resrort’s Base to Base Gondola, part of $85 million in improvements that have been made ahead of the 2022-23 winters season.
“It truly is going to change the skiing experience and there’s no other skiing experience in California like it,” said Palisades Tahoe President and COO Dee Byrne. “As a skier, you’re going to be able to seek out quiet, intimate places, that unique experience compared to the high-octane, very active, maybe even a little more crowded slope experience in some pockets of the resort.”
The gondola will span 2.4 miles and ascend a total of 3,105 vertical feet, and will take roughly 15 minutes to take passengers from one base terminal to the other with a stop at the new KT Mid station.
The gondola will offer skiers and riders two ways to reach the resort’s iconic Kt-22 and has the capability of operating as one continuous lift or two separate lifts.
“We wanted the opportunity if given strong winds say on the Palisades side we could still operate the Alpine side,” said Casey Blann, senior advisor for Palisades Tahoe. “And we can, because they are joined at KT at the mid-station.”
Blann has been involved in building around 30 lifts and has been in the area since 1981. When approached by his bosses about the project, Blann said he was told the only limitations they had were on him and his team.
The gondola makes use of new technology, according to Blann. Instead of using an electric motor with a direct shaft and gear box like typical lifts, the Base to Base Gondola utilizes a direct drive on its bullwheels, which, “takes the electric current and puts it right to the bull wheel,” explained Blann. “All these other components, we’ve eliminated. And why haven’t others done this before us? Because it’s new technology, it’s cutting edge, and it’s some of the most efficient and quiet.”
The gondola will also be the first in North America to utilize fully-automated parking, allowing for its 96 cabins to be unloaded and stored indoors in 20 minutes at the push of a button. Storing the cabins indoors keeps ice off them meaning less were work for crews in the morning before allowing guests to hop on the gondolas.
The cabins will also have a one-way radio that will allow for mountain operations to communicate with guests about weather conditions, lift closures, traffic, and other information. In total, the gondola features four terminals, 33 lift towers, and 96 cabins, each of which seats up to eight people. It has the capacity to transport 1,400 passengers per hour. The terminal’s foundation at KT is made out of a portion of 12,000 cubic yards of material that was blasted and removed in order to keep the gondola as low in certain areas to avoid high winds.
“We were really thrilled to that we were able to recycle the mountain if you will to use the rock as the infrastructure to support the terminal,” said Blann.
The gondola will offer new accessibility to Palisades Tahoe’s 6,000 acres of terrain, along with the connection making the resort one of the largest in North America.
“All of a sudden being able to ski KT and then come over and then hike Estelle Bowl, or if you’re not an expert skier being able to have access to such a larger footprint of intermediate terrain or beginner terrain, it just really feels like a game changer for your whole ski experience,” said Tom Feiten, SVP of Business Development, Palisades Tahoe.
Along with the gondola, Palisades Tahoe has made $85 million in upgrades. After more than 30 years, the Red Dog Lift has been upgraded to a high-speed, six-seater with a new base terminal that offers direct access from the parking lot. The resort will also introduce an expanded and redesigned Funitel Plaza for easier lift access from The Village at Palisades Tahoe.
At Alpine Meadows a massive $7.5 million renovation of the Alpine Lodge has taken place, improving the flow of traffic through the breezeway and the expansion of the sun deck and snow beach. Additionally new snowmaking guns have also been installed on Weasel.
Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun, a sister publication of the Tribune.
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