Steamboat Goes Big – Earning bragging rights as the second largest ski resort in Colorado with the fastest and longest gondola in North America.
Helicopters fly overhead, hauling large parts up and down the mountain as construction is underway for the second phase of the Wild Blue Gondola, providing a lot of action during an otherwise sleepy off-season. As the blades of the massive aircraft echo through the Yampa Valley, flying against the dramatic backdrop of a mountain aglow with golden Aspens and the peak of fall foliage in full display, the energy and excitement for the upcoming banner season is palpable.
Very rarely do ski resorts see such vast improvements in such a short period of time, but Steamboat Ski Area has put its money where its mouth is with Full Steam Ahead, a $200 million improvement plan, with some of the biggest and most exciting phases coming to fruition this year. In addition to a new and improved Base Area, the Wild Blue Gondola and Mahogany Ridge expansion will make Steamboat the second largest ski area with the longest, fastest gondola in North America.
That’s not just a term of phrase. “The Wild Blue Gondola will be the longest, fastest 10-person gondola in North America bringing our guests from the Base Area to the top of Sunshine Peak in just 13 minutes,” says David Hunter, VP of Resort Operations for Steamboat Ski Area. The first phase of the gondola, from the Base Area to Greenhorn Ranch, opened in late December 2022, and as soon as the ski area closed for the season in spring of 2023, construction began on section two of Wild Blue, the longer and final phase to Sunshine Peak. Wild Blue Section 1 operates at 6 meters per second with its own independent haul rope, and Section Two also has its own independent haul rope that will run at 7 meters per second. That way, if there are high winds on Sunshine Peak, the two ropes can be disconnected to slow the speed at higher elevations if needed, or if the gondola has to be shut down up high, the lower section can remain open.
With a total of 171 cabins (58 on the lower section, 113 on the upper section), the Wild Blue Gondola will increase the out-of-base capacity from 6,000 people per hour to 10,000 people per hour. Helping significantly in redistributing skiers and riders across the mountain, Wild Blue will especially ease morning congestion at the base area and afternoon congestion at the Sundown/Elkhead saddle.
Over the course of the 3.16-mile distance, there are two spans with over 1,100 feet between the towers with the highest point on the gondola being 136-feet off the ground where it crosses Rainbow Saddle. “I think our guests are going to be blown away,” Hunter says. “When they experience it, I think everyone will truly understand how transformational this gondola is to this world class ski area.”
On the ground, the Mahogany Ridge expansion will open 650 additional acres of expert and advanced terrain that will take Steamboat from the fifth largest to the second largest ski resort in Colorado. It will also dispel Steamboat’s previous reputation as a less-than-extreme ski area by offering steep, gladed terrain that will up the ante for expert skiers and snowboarders.
To say Steamboat will be put on the map as one of the biggest and best resorts in Colorado is an understatement. To witness its transformation is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but the end result is one its guests will enjoy for many years to come. //fullsteamahead.steamboat.com