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At Jackson Hole, they need a lift

Special to The Times

WEARING four layers of clothing, you shoulder your skis and head to the first of four lifts that will carry you to the top of the newly tramless mountain.

That’s what it will take this year -- and next -- to access Rendezvous Mountain’s 10,924-foot summit in Jackson Hole, one of the nation’s premier ski destinations.

Until this season, 55 skiers at a time could huddle inside the aerial tram for a 12-minute ride up the mountain.

But citing safety reasons and high maintenance costs, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort administrators decommissioned the cardinal-red icon in October with the promise of a replacement by December 2008.

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Now, skiers must bundle up to ride a gondola, two quads and a new double chair to the summit, a 45-minute trip.

“No way is Jackson Hole the same without the tram,” said retired ski patroller Greg Miles. He and his buddies used to take “tram laps,” riding the car to the top, then racing 4,139 feet to “beat the tram down” just to get on the same car for another ride.

Telemark skier Jimmy Hartman said he would ski six to 10 runs -- top to bottom -- in a single day.

Skiers needn’t lament for too long. In about two years, lift manufacturer Doppelmayr CTEC will unveil a $25-million replacement tram that will take 100 skiers at a time up the mountain in about 7 1/2 minutes, nearly doubling its predecessor’s capacity and reducing travel time by about five minutes.

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“This new tram will certainly bring many more skiers to Jackson Hole,” said David Gonzales, author of “Jackson Hole: On a Grand Scale.” “After two decades of lackluster visitor numbers, the resort’s reputation for daunting heights and difficult terrain has made it a darling of skiing and adventure magazines worldwide.”

Indeed, numbers have surged in recent years, with skiers setting a 455,500-visit record last season.

Before the arrival of the next tram, some locals are hoping for a brief reprieve, a throwback to the days when slopes were nearly empty and lift lines nonexistent.

“Jackson [stinks]. Tell your friends,” said snowboarder Jeff Stein, who, like most locals, would like to keep the mountain to himself.

He may get his wish. December ticket sales were down 9% from last year, and reservations made through Jackson Hole Central Reservations were down 12%. But season pass sales are up from last year, said Anna Olson, resort spokeswoman.

Still, those who brave the tramless resort this winter may be happy they did.

“The skiing is going to be better just because there will be less traffic,” said Gonzales, who has been hitting the slopes here since 1997.


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