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14 Things You Didn't Know About the Gondola

Tuesday • May 23, 2017

Just about everyone who has visited, lived, or worked in Telluride has experienced the Gondola that connects the Town of Telluride and Mountain Village. Passengers ride for free, and the views you get of the surrounding mountains and landscape while suspended in the air are stunning. It’s one of the most unique transportation systems in the world, and it’s right here in our backyard.

Maybe you’ve ridden the Gondola while on a vacation, or maybe you commute to work in one of its cars every day. Either way, there are probably some things you don’t know about the Gondola. Here are 14 of the most interesting facts:


The trip between the two towns via the roadways is eight miles long. By Gondola? Just three miles, and it only takes about thirteen minutes.


To carry the same number of passengers—900 people per hour and 2.61 million people annually—it would take eighteen 50-passenger buses. That would mean a lot more people on the road, and more carbon emissions.


Not all of the passengers who travel on the Gondola are humans. In Telluride, we love our furry friends, and 50% of the cabins are accessible to pets.


Thanks to an ambitious local initiative, the Gondola’s carbon footprint is completely offset by renewable energy blocks purchased through the San Miguel Power Association—and has been since 2007.


The Gondola is definitely a greener travel alternative, but it costs a lot of the other kind of green—money—to keep it moving. The initial cost was $16 million to construct it in 1996, and it takes $3.5 million and 82,000 hours of labor every year to run the system. 


Even where the Gondola sits on the ground, at the stations, it's pretty high in elevation: Station Telluride, the plaza on the south end of Oak Street is 8,750 feet; Station St. Sophia, atop the ridgeline at the edge of the ski resort, 10,540 feet; Station Mountain Village, where the town’s core meets the ski resort, 9,600 feet. The third leg that transports passengers to the Gondola parking lot sits at 9,500 feet in elevation.


In addition to the carbon offsets purchased, the Gondola’s emissions are also mitigated by solar panels installed on the terminals. The solar panels produce 240,000 kWh of energy every year. 


Each of the Gondola cabins, which run at an 11 mph speed, travels 52,000 miles each year, or a little more than twice the circumference of the Earth.


On the very rare occasions that the Gondola has had to shut down for mechanical or power issues (just a few times since it opened in 1996) there is a special crew on call to evacuate passengers. The crew is called the Mobile Action Response System (MARS) and they are trained to use a rope system and harnesses to evacuate people from the cabins. 


Race promoters who wanted to hold downhill mountain biking events recognized the potential on the Telluride Ski Resort for one major reason: the Gondola. No other place had this type of free way to shuttle riders to the top of the course. In 2019, the Telluride Ski Resort opened a brand-new bike park with freeride, technical and cross-country trails open daily with access from the gondola and Lift #4.


This year marked the 20th anniversary of our beloved Gondola, which went for its inaugural spin on Dec. 20, 1996. In honor of its two decades of service, there's a special fire-engine red cabin on the Gondola.


Ever wish you could get a great bird's eye view of the mountains around Telluride for a photo? Your wish has been granted. The Gondola offers a free ride up, and you can get off and take photos in the winter or summer. You don't need a drone to get some amazing shots of the scenery — just hop on board. There's a bonus: Riding high above the terrain below, there are lots of wildlife viewing opportunities. You can often spot bears, elk, deer, marmots, foxes or coyotes while you glide silently above.


The Gondola doesn't just welcome humans and their furry friends — you can also take your skis and bikes up, for free. There are special racks to accommodate gear safely.


There might be other Gondolas that shuttle skiers in the winter at resorts, but the Telluride Gondola is one of a kind. Our unique Gondola is the only free ride that runs year-round and accommodates hikers, bikers, skiers, commuters and anyone that wants to take the high road for a thrilling peak at the San Juan Mountains. They say the best things in life are free, and the Gondola is no exception.