Heavenly plans to build gondola base station

Orange lines in the parking lot of the now-razed Rodeway Inn mark the spot where Heavenly Ski Resort plans to build the base station for its gondola this summer.

The $35 million project is little more than a set of plans at this point, but in one man's mind the project is as good as executed.

Poking at the paint marks with his toes, Gary Burch, Heavenly's manager of lift maintenance and construction, talked about the vision that only he can see.

"Seven months from now, you'll be standing right here, getting ready to load onto the gondola," Burch said, pointing to a puff of dust in the air. "Over there, that circle on the ground - that's a tower. This square right here is the bottom station."

It's Burch's job to spin that vision into reality this summer.

Burch and at least 35 construction crew members will work six days a week, 10 hours a day in a fight to get the job done before the snow settles into the Lake Tahoe Basin next fall.

Burch is waiting on Tahoe Regional Planning Agency building permits, which are in the process of being approved, before his crew starts work on the gondola line that stretches from the plot of land behind Bandana's Gourmet Pizza on U.S. Highway 50 to Heavenly's slopes at the top of the forested ridge.

Dennis Harmon, Heavenly's president, said the permit may be issued soon.

Burch said even if the start of construction is delayed, the target opening date of Dec. 15 will not be pushed back.

"If there's a delay it'll just cost more money because we'll have to hire two crews to get the job done in a shorter amount of time," Burch said. "But it'll get done - it has to."

Curtis Kezich, Heavenly's assistant manager of lift maintenance, said the crew is looking to get a jump-start on the project any way it can.

"We can't waste a day," Kezich said. "It's literally that tight."

Preparation work for the project, which is considered the largest development in Heavenly Ski Resort's history, started two weeks ago with the building of 35 lift tower fittings.

Kezich said the fittings, which act as a cement pad for each tower, will be flown by helicopter from Heavenly's Boulder Base to specific locations on the gondola line sometime in June.

"By August we should be ready to fly the towers into place," he said. "We use a helicopter so there's minimal impact to the environment; there's minimal walking and no vehicle traffic on the hill."

The project includes the 138 gondola carsa, a viewing deck at a midway station and a 56,000-square-foot lodge at the gondola's top station on Von Schmidt flats.

The gondola system, made by Dopplemayr Corp. in Austria, is part of the city of South Lake Tahoe's Park Avenue Redevelopment Project, which also calls for a quarter-share hotel, retail shops and a cinema complex. About 34 acres are being leveled at the corner of Highway 50 and Park Avenue to make way for the development.

The gondola's base station is set for the area behind Bandana Gourmet Pizza, which is being spared demolition until next year. Heavenly plans to renovate the building in the fall and use it as a gondola ticket sales location and ski rental shop until its Grand Summit Resort opens in 2002.


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