Jackson Hole's new Big Red tram

 
LA Times | Travel
 

The 34th World Championship Snowmobile Hill Climb up Jackson Hole's Snow King Mountain is wrapping up -- and so is the ski season. But the real buzz at this popular Wyoming destination has been this season's debut of the Big Red aerial tram. \"It was amazing, there were so many people out ther...

By Dominic Patten // 03.25.09
 

The 34th World Championship Snowmobile Hill Climb up Jackson Hole's Snow King Mountain is wrapping up -- and so is the ski season. But the real buzz at this popular Wyoming destination has been this season's debut of the Big Red aerial tram.

"It was amazing, there were so many people out there that night," recalls local resident Brian May of Dec. 20, where amid spotlights, the new $32-million tram made its maiden voyage. "I couldn't get on the first one, but I made it on the second trip up."

The return of a tram has been an important symbol for the resort, even as it's struggling with a tough winter. According to the local Chamber of Commerce, based on its tracking of lodging and air travel in the area, the bad economy is being blamed for the 10% decline in tourism in Jackson Hole this winter -- and that's before the vital summer vacationers have shown up. Middling snowfall this year, at least 120 inches less than last year's record, has also been a factor.

Built over 21 months, the new double-jig-back tram looks and travels a lot like its predecessor, with a few additions. Its capacity is up from 55 on the old tram to 100 passengers today. Its speed gets skiers to the uppermost peak of the resort in 9 minutes instead of 10.5. As veteran tram riders confirmed last week, wait times are less and, with 650 skiers an hour getting to the top, as opposed to the 300 on the old tram, there is simply more slope time to be squeezed out of the day.

The quick turnaround on the new tram is also a sign of Jackson Hole's push to do things bigger and better. Luxury hotels such as the Four Seasons and the eco-boutique Hotel Terra have set up shop as the mountain has become a world-renowned ski and snowboarding spot.