Last Weekend for the Gondola
The only good news about Sun Valley’s gondola closing for the summer after this weekend is that it means another ski season is on its way.
The summer crowds, however, enjoy riding the “gondie” as much as skiers and snowboarders do.
“99% of the people who come down off the gondola are smiling ear to ear,” Wes Armand said, as mountain bikers, hikers and sightseers loaded on and off the gondola earlier this week.
Wes has been working on the gondola crew for four years now and the 81 year old really enjoys it. He said people come from all over the place to ride the gondola during the summer months, especially this season from New York, Texas, Seattle, Boise and Twin Falls.
“People who don’t ski have a little bit of trepidation, so we keep things slow. We’re here to help. We want people to have the best experience they can,” Wes said, adding that it’s easy for people in wheelchairs, children in strollers or for those with other physical challenges to load on to the gondola.
The Roundhouse restaurant, where the gondola tops out, is also wheelchair accessible in the summer. It is a renowned restaurant and is beloved for its fondue and views of Ketchum and the Pioneer Mountains. “People just rave about the Roundhouse when they come back down the hill,” Wes said.
There are a maximum of 56 cabins on the gondola during the winter, with 8 removed in the summer and replaced with bike racks. Mountain biking, hiking, sight seeing and dinning at the Roundhouse are the reasons people ride the gondie. Paragliding—or just watching the paragliders sail high above Bald Mountain—is also surprisingly popular, Wes said. Tickets are required to ride up the gondola and are available at the River Run Lodge. Rides back down are free.
One of the gondolas was painted by renowned local and Western artist, Ralph Harris. “Kids love to ride in the painted one. It’s the lucky one. The magic one,” Scott Greenwalt said.
Scott recently returned to his Idaho roots with his wife, but even though he’s reached retirement age, he doesn’t want to. So the Gooding native now enjoying his second year working for Sun Valley. “It’s a lot of fun and it gets me out of the house,” he joked.
Connor Brittingham is nearly half-century younger than his gondola co-workers, but he’d be hard pressed to outdo their youthful enthusiasm. The gondola crew clearly enjoys their work.
“It’s real fun,” Connor said. “We get to meet people from all over the world who come here to enjoy the mountains and we get to help them.”
For those who wish to go beyond where the gondola ends at Roundhouse (8,000’), the Christmas Lift picks up where the gondola stops, and ends at the top of Bald Mountain, some 9,100’ above the sea.
“It’s one of the most beautiful 360° panoramas from the top you’ll find anywhere in the world,” Wes said, about reaching the top of Baldy. “It’s a wonderful experience.”
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