A long-awaited gondola connecting two Lake Tahoe ski resorts that was embroiled in a legal battle will be completed for the 2022-23 ski season in Palisades Tahoe, resort officials say.
Alterra Mountain Co., the resorts’ Denver-based parent company, broke ground last spring on the $65 million project that it says will effectively create the third-largest ski area in North America.
The 2.2-mile-long (3.5-kilometer-long) gondola had been controversial because it will travel near the edge of federally protected wilderness on national forest land above Lake Tahoe. A settlement was reached with the conservationists two years ago.
The gondola will carry up to 1,400 people per hour in eight-passenger cabins. A 16-minute ride travels approximately 2,000 vertical feet (609 meters) over the ridge separating ski areas to reach panoramic alpine lake views between Tahoe City and Truckee, California.
Its 6,000 acres (2,428 hectares) of newly connected ski terrain will rank only behind Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia and Park City Mountain in Utah. The resort hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics.
The company confirmed the planned opening for the upcoming winter season last week when it detailed plans to spend $344 million this year on capital improvements at its 15 North American resorts. The bulk of the investment will expand infrastructure at Palisades and Mammoth Mountain in California, Steamboat Ski Resort in Colorado, Deer Valley Resort in Utah and Crystal Mountain in Washington State.
“This historic investment is clear evidence of our commitment to providing a top-notch guest experience in our North American destinations and our commitment to the long-term future of our mountains,” said Alterra Mountain CEO, Rusty Gregory.
The Tahoe Gondola is expected to eliminate about 100 vehicle trips per day on California Highway 89, the access road between the two resorts, Alterra said.
A years-long legal battle is being waged in the California Court of Appeals over further expansion plans at the stations. Conservationists say they will harm the surrounding environment and dramatically increase traffic in the highway corridor along the Truckee River, which could prove dangerous in the event of a wildfire evacuation.
Conservationists agreed to drop another lawsuit specifically targeting the gondola project two years ago in exchange for purchases of nearby land and other wildlife protection measures.
As part of the settlement with the Granite Chief Wilderness Protection League, Palisades Tahoe has agreed to permanently protect 27 acres (11 hectares) of habitat for the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog and to contribute approximately $500,000 over the course of the next decade for the purchase of land.
It has also banned all road construction in the nearby Granite Chief Wilderness Area of the Tahoe National Forest and dictates that the gondola will only operate during the winter, closing no later than April 30 each year.
Forest Service officials said the original plans could have passed as close as 75 feet (23 meters) to the wilderness boundaries, but the approved route will not come within 1,000 feet (335 meters) .