Leitner-Poma lands big Vail job

Grand Junction-based Leitner-Poma of America will design, build and install one the world’s fastest gondolas later this year at Vail Mountain.

The chairlift maker signed a contract with Vail last week to make a gondola with wireless Internet access and heated seats for 10 passengers per cabin. The 111-cabin gondola that will replace Vail’s Vista Bahn gondola will make a round trip in 15 minutes, three minutes faster than Vista Bahn’s round-trip time.

The new gondola will be the first in the world to travel 1,200 feet per minute and accommodate 10 people per cabin, according to Leitner-Poma President Rick Spear. Leitner-Poma has made gondolas with cabins built for eight that move 1,200 feet per minute, the quickest pace of any gondola on Earth. Because of that previous experience, Spear said he has no concerns about the new gondola’s speed.

“We’re comfortable for sure,” he said.

Vail Mountain spokeswoman Liz Biebl said Vista Bahn will be dismantled this summer, and the new gondola will follow the old one’s path. Biebl said Vail plans to open the gondola to skiers Nov. 16.

Biebl said there was nothing mechanically wrong with Vista Bahn, just that the ski resort is “always looking for ways we can improve the guest experience.” She said the resort looks forward to increasing the mountain’s uphill capacity and getting people uphill faster.

The new gondola will be the ninth lift out of Vail’s 31 lifts constructed by Leitner-Poma.

“It’s great news to be working with them again and keeping it local,” Biebl said.

In addition to working on the world’s fastest gondola of its kind, Leitner-Poma announced in November it will build cabins for the world’s largest observation wheel, set to open in 2013 in Las Vegas. The company is also set to build lifts in California, Minnesota and Ontario this year.

Some subcontractors will be hired in Vail for the gondola project there, and the gondola cabins will be manufactured by France’s Sigma, which is owned by the same company that owns Leitner-Poma. Spear said Leitner-Poma will supply Grand Junction supervisors and specialists while the gondola is installed, and all steel work on the gondola parts will be done here. He estimated local workers will provide 20,000 man hours for the project.

Spear said he still has two and a half months to go in this year’s sale season, so he isn’t sure what will happen with employment at Leitner-Poma. He said he suspects there’s a good chance the company will add positions to help complete this year’s projects.

“It’s early, but business is looking good for 2012,” Spear said.

Spear declined to say how much the gondola project contract is worth.


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