County leaders check out squaw valley gondola | RecordCourier.com
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County leaders check out squaw valley gondola

by Christy Chalmers

Douglas County leaders took a field trip Tuesday to see a gondola like the one Kingsbury Summit Development wants to put on a slope above the Carson Valley.

The group, which included County Commissioners Don Miner and Kelly Kite, County Manager Dan Holler and Planning Commissioner Mike Hayes, headed to Squaw Valley USA to ride the only Funitel gondola in North America.

Kingsbury Summit, based in Incline Village, is considering a high-speed gondola that would move passengers between a loading station on 22 acres near David Walley’s Hot Springs outside of Genoa and a second station near Caesars Tahoe, 5.85 miles away. The gondola would pass the “Kingsbury Summit Complex,” a self-contained resort contemplated for 66 acres east of Daggett Summit. The complex could have 100,000 square feet of retail space, a 500-room hotel-casino, 300 time-share condominiums and 200 employee housing units. An ice arena, gymnasium and other recreational facilities are also included in the early plans.

Project Director Angelo Morales said he expects the gondola’s potential abilities to relieve traffic congestion on Kingsbury Grade and in the Lake Tahoe basin to draw investors to the project.

“It’s starting to become more of a reality,” he said.

“There’s been some interest,” added Joe Rainoldi, a Kingsbury Summit board member. “I think as we move along the process, there’s been some more.”

The Squaw Valley Funitel can carry up to 4,000 people an hour over its 9,065-foot route. Up to 46 cars that can hold 28 people standing can be attached to the system.

Morales says a gondola would provide a reliable, all-weather form of transportation. Diesel generators provide backup power in the event of an electrical failure, and operators said the system is equipped with computerized sensors that measure wind speed and other factors along the route.

Squaw Valley operators said they chose the $20 million Funitel because it can operate in heavy winds. The system, which took two years to build and began operating in December 1998, replaced an older gondola.

“We’ve only shut down a few times,” said Bruce Leach, manager of Squaw Valley’s Funitel.

“With the old gondola, 35 to 40 mph winds would shut it down,” said Jeff Archer, a mechanic.

“We don’t even slow down for that,” added Bruce Domman, an electrician.

Archer said the Funitel is also used to carry food, beverages and other equipment to the restaurants and facilities at the top of the resort.

“Everybody depends on the lift,” he said. “It moves a lot of equipment and people, and it seems like we’re the center of Squaw’s universe sometimes.”

While Morales insists the Kingsbury Summit project is feasible, a development schedule and a firm cost estimate have not been completed.

Rainoldi estimated the gondola will cost $30 to $40 million, while Morales said it could run to $50 million. Carl Skyling, a representative for Garaventa CTEC Inc., the Funitel manufacturer, said he hasn’t completed an estimate.

Morales said the gondola and resort aren’t economically feasible as separate projects, so both must be done if the proposal is to proceed.

Even with costs and financing in place, the project must clear several county regulations, including a master plan amendment and a zone change for the resort.

The land is currently zoned for forest and range use with one house per 19 acres. County leaders would have to approve zoning changes allowing tourist and residential facilities for the resort.

The next time a master plan change could be sought is June.