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ORDA eyes Whiteface gondola replacement

The Whiteface gondola casts a shadow as seen in spring of 2014. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

LAKE PLACID — The gondola system at Whiteface Mountain Ski Center may get a facelift for the first time in 20 years.

The state Olympic Regional Development Authority’s Board of Directors is set to vote on a contract that would overhaul the gondola system at Whiteface Mountain. The board’s meeting is this Friday at 11 a.m. in the Conference Center.

The more than $2.4 million contract, with Salt Lake City-based transportation company Doppelmayr USA, calls for replacement of all the gondola cabins and associated infrastructure at Whiteface, as well as the replacement of communication lines and control systems, and the addition of a fiber optic line.

The Whiteface Cloudsplitter gondola was installed in 1999. Then-Gov. George Pataki — calling Whiteface “a jewel in the Adirondacks” — unveiled the new amenity on Nov. 23 that year, ahead of the first-ever winter Goodwill Games in 2000. The gondola cost $5 million to install. It was among a slate of upgrades to Olympic facilities funded by the state under Pataki’s administration.

Doppelmayr manufactured and installed the original gondola and has been contracted to maintain it ever since.

“The gondola has never been replaced, it’s the original equipment,” said ORDA spokesperson Elise Ruocco. “We are proactively looking ahead to the next spring’s schedule and are planning to replace certain gondola components as needed.”

Asked why the system is being replaced, Ruocco said, “In particular: low voltage controls, safety switches, communication cables, cabins, drive and motors are being looked at.”

If the contract with Doppelmayr USA is approved by the Board of Directors, the company would have until October 2020 to complete the bulk of the project.

This latest proposal comes at the heels of other state-funded improvements at Whiteface Mountain.

ORDA completed a $5 million rehabilitation of an elevator at the top of the Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway toll road in May. The elevator had been closed for reconstruction since 2017.

At the opening of Whiteface this year, ORDA launched its new radio-frequency identification cards, or “SKI3” cards. With the purchase of a reusable SKI3 card — which retails for $899 for one adult season pass — visitors to the Whiteface, Gore or Belleayre Mountain ski centers will be able to pass through gates and access ski lifts without taking the card out of their pockets. Visitors can also reload their ski card accounts remotely, use the same card over multiple visits and at any of the three ski centers ORDA manages. ORDA CEO Michael Pratt said in August the new ski card system, which is already common at other ski areas around the world, will cut down on lines at the ski lifts.

The agency has also made improvements to some of the buildings atop Whiteface, updated the electrical system and widened or expanded some ski trails.