VIPs extol virtues of Heavenly gondola during inaugural run |

VIPs extol virtues of Heavenly gondola during inaugural run

by Sally J. Taylor, Tribune Special Sections Editor

South Shore’s future rode cables into the sky on Thursday as regional officials and community members gathered to open the Heavenly Ski Resort Gondola.

The gondola is the first feature of the $250 million Park Avenue Redevelopment project to open to the public.

“It’s one of the most exciting days in 30-plus years of the city,” said South Lake Tahoe Mayor Hal Cole. “It’s the beginning of the redevelopment of all the adjacent properties. The city will change like it hasn’t changed since the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics.”

Les Otten, chairman of Maine-based American Skiing Company, Heavenly’s parent company, recalled efforts in 1959 to connect the Stateline corridor with the mountain by Jack Van Syckle. The lift-cut that was never used is still visible north of the Heavenly gondola.

“This is the first day that proves what was started more than 40 years ago was the right think to do,” Otten said.

Rochelle Nason, executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, reminded those gathered that it was the environmental contributions of the project, including reducing the need for cars by connecting the lodging core to the mountain, that secured the environmental organization’s support.

“Over the years we’ve had serious differences of opinions between regulatory, economic and environmental interests. Here we’ve worked out a plan that not only meets economic needs but environmental needs,” she said.

“Overall, (the project) creates value not only in adding new development but in replacing deteriorating development that is here.”

Besides Cole, Otten and Nason, diplomats celebrating the opening of the gondola also included Juan Palma, executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, El Dorado County Supervisor Dave Solaro, Jane Oden, special uses program administrator for the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, Dennis Harmon, Heavenly’s president, and John Wagnon, Heavenly’s vice president of marketing and sales.

Harmon used the opportunity to announce Heavenly Ski Foundation alum Jonna Mendes had been promoted to the “A” team on the U.S. Ski Team.

In honor of their contributions to the project Stan Hansen, ASC’s western vice president of real estate development, Gary Burch, Heavenly’s lift maintenance and construction manager, and Malcolm Tibbetts, Heavenly’s vice president of mountain operations, sat in the hot seat – the gondola’s utility chair – during the ceremony.

On the inaugural gondola tour up the mountain, the League’s Nason expressed her pleasure with cleared tower lines that are narrower than most gondola developments. Fewer trees were cut and others allowed to grow closer to the gondola line minimizing the bare scar on the mountain.

“The visual effect is a good one,” she said.

Due to high winds, only about half the gondola cars were loaded before boarding stopped (it did resume at 3 p.m.) and those who rode up the mountain continued around without disembarking to take in the scenic views at the observation deck.

ASC’s Otten considered the winds, which gusted to 65 mph, a positive test of the new system.

“This proves we can run it in high winds,” he said. “It’s a great day to start off. I’m impressed with how stable it is.”

Mayor Cole provided a preview of the mountain-top view visitors can expect in the future.

“I thought I’d seen Lake Tahoe from every vantage point but Stan Hansen took me up to the observation deck a few weeks ago,” Cole added. “The view is breathtaking. I expect it to rival Emerald Bay as the most photographed scene at Lake Tahoe.”

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