An ecofriendly ski gondola gives town of Breckenridge, Colo., a lift

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BreckConnect gondolaBRECKENRIDGE, Colo. -- The BreckConnect, a 2-year-old gondola that carries skiers and snowboarders between the ski resort and its namesake town, is meant to improve the visitor experience.



But it is also a good example of how ski areas and their host towns can work together to help the environment and reduce congestion.

The resort built the gondola in January 2007. It brings people, and their skis, boots, poles or boards from a parking lot in the town of Breckenridge to the resort's Peak 8 and Peak 7 base areas in 10 minutes.

The gondola, which can carry up to 3,000 passengers per hour, eight at a time, significantly reduced the need to use bus transportation to get from town to the resort. The resort estimates that the gondola will save more than 20,375 gallons of fuel per season.

"The BreckConnect gondola has transformed the way visitors access the mountain from town and sets a new standard in the role of mass transit in growth and development," Pat Campbell, vice president and COO of Breckenridge Ski Resort, said in an email last week. "The gondola enables the town and resort to strike the ideal balance that maintains the character and vibrancy of Breckenridge's Main Street and downtown."

The gondola, which has been open for two years, is a natural extension of a town that makes convenient, free public transportation a priority.

On a ski trip to Breckenridge last year, there was no need to rent a car in Breck. It was an easy, two-hour shuttle ride from Denver's airport to Breckenridge (starting from $55 one-way).

The town of Breckenridge and Summit County offer free public transportation around town, on a bus succinctly labeled Free Ride, and to the mountain.

Even a company that offers an off-slope activity like dogsledding, which I did at Goodtimes Adventures, located in the woods about 20 minutes outside of Breck, offers free shuttles back and forth.

And many of Breck's resorts and hotels have private shuttles.

The ResortQuest properties I stayed at had shuttles that whisked my group and me not just from our resort to the mountain but from the grocery store with 10 bags of food and to and from the ski rental shop with all of our equipment.

BreckConnect is one of the Breckenridge ski resort's environmental initiatives.

Starting last season, Breck's parent company, Vail Resorts, set a goal to reduce companywide energy use by 10% over two years at all its properties (Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone in Colorado and Heavenly in California and Nevada).

During the first year, 2009, the company reduced overall energy use by 6.1% compared with 2008.

At Breckenridge, the company said it improved the efficiency of its snowmaking system around its four peaks by installing 175 new snowmaking guns, which use half the energy of the older guns and automatically shut off when not needed.

Those upgrades alone resulted in an energy efficiency rebate of more than $100,000 from Breckenridge local utility, the mountain said.

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