Shipping a gondola system from Austria to Juneau will cost more than double the initial estimate

People wait in line for a gondola
Eaglecrest Ski Area General Manager Dave Scanlan was at a ski area called Galsterberg in Austria in April to inspect this gondola system. Eaglecrest is buying the system and having it shipped to Juneau. (Photo courtesy of Dave Scanlan/Eaglecrest Ski Area)

Moving a used gondola system from Austria to Juneau’s ski area is going to cost a lot more than initially estimated.

On Wednesday, the Juneau Assembly narrowly approved spending an extra $500,000 to bring it to Juneau and awarded the transportation contract to Lynden Logistics.

Through much of the gondola purchasing discussions, Mayor Beth Weldon has been noncommittal. Wednesday’s special Assembly meeting was no exception.

“Since we now seem to own this gondola, what happens if we don’t pass this ordinance?” Weldon asked.

“We would be in a very difficult position, having spent a lot of money to purchase and own a gondola on another continent without the funds to move it,” replied City Manager Rorie Watt. “So, I don’t exactly know what we would do. … I cannot think of a good outcome.”

The city had solicited contracts to store the gondola in Europe for potential resale, an option the Assembly wanted in case it decided to abandon the project. But according to Eaglecrest Ski Area General Manager Dave Scanlan, no one bid on that contract.

The mayor ended up voting yes.

Gondola in Galsterberg 04 2022
Each cabin has capacity for 15 passengers. (Photo courtesy of Dave Scanlan/Eaglecrest Ski Area)

Assembly members Carole Triem and Alicia Hughes-Skandijs voted no. Hughes-Skandijs acknowledged her vote didn’t make sense given the situation.

“But even so, I can’t in good conscience put more public money towards a project that I don’t feel like we should have in the first place,” she said. “I feel like it’s a bad route for the city to go. I further feel that it was a bad process that we followed.”

Eaglecrest Ski Area officials asked for $2 million to buy the used gondola system in February, outside of the Assembly’s normal process for prioritizing competing requests for big-ticket projects. Eaglecrest’s general manager described it as a rare opportunity that would save millions compared to buying new, and shave years off of a goal to expand summer operations.

The contract to ship it from Pruggern, Austria, to Eaglecrest Ski Area will cost $845,000, more than double the initial estimate of $400,000. The contract award passed without objection. The system weighs several hundred tons and will take more than 25 truckloads to get up the mountain.

The loading process in Austria is expected to begin around May 20.

Eaglecrest officials say the gondola will serve winter and summer patrons. The tower placements being considered would make more winter terrain accessible for downhill and Nordic skiers.

Ski area officials foresee revenue from summer visitors eventually eliminating the ski area’s need for local taxpayer support.

There’s no funding in place yet for the gondola’s installation, though Goldbelt Inc. wants to make a deal to finance it. CEO McHugh Pierre recently told KINY that he’s at the very beginning of negotiating with city officials. Watt told the Assembly that he is very comfortable a deal will come together.

Jeremy Hsieh is the deputy managing editor of the KTOO newsroom in Juneau. He’s a podcast fiend who’s worked in journalism since high school as a reporter, editor and television producer. He ran Gavel Alaska for 360 North from 2011 to 2016, and is big on experimenting with novel tools and mediums (including the occasional animated gif) to tell stories and demystify the news. Jeremy’s an East Coast transplant who moved to Juneau in 2008.

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