It’s spelled F-U-N-I-C-U-L-A-R
The metallic tracks are giant as they climb a hillside just outside Snow Park Lodge in lower Deer Valley, looking almost like a miniature ski jump across a small road from the Snow Park parking lots.
The tracks appeared in the last few weeks, after excavation crews dug out enough earth to install them, and they are part of a developer’s plans to install a people mover between Snow Park and Deer Crest, the slopeside project under construction on the eastern edge of Deer Valley.
Funicular cars, which are popular in Europe but rare in the U.S., will run on the tracks, taking people between two sections of the St. Regis, which is planned as a condominium hotel with some traditional condominiums as well. A check-in lobby and a valet driveway are among the offerings that will be at the lower funicular terminal, and the primary St. Regis building will be at the upper stop. Trips are expected to take 90 seconds.
"We want our owners and guests to have a comfortable ride," says David Castleton, who handles sales and marketing for DDRM, the developer of the Deer Crest St. Regis.
The St. Regis will feature two 15-person funicular cars, and both tracks are under construction in a highly visible location. The tracks will each be about 500 feet long. Funicular cars are typically shaped like rectangles, and they climb and descend on individual tracks.
The Deer Crest models are made by Doppelmayr, a company that is known locally for its ski lifts and gondolas. Castleton says the funicular cars, the tracks and the construction cost about $5.2 million. He hopes to test the funicular cars by December, but they would not start operating until the St. Regis opens. That is planned in spring 2009.
Only St. Regis owners, people staying there or people with reservations at a restaurant inside the St. Regis will be able to board the funicular cars.
"It will be a smooth ride. It will have incredible views," Castleton says, describing the cars as having plush interiors and large tinted windows.
The developers considered installing a ski lift or a gondola instead, but windy conditions at the location influenced them to choose a funicular. Mike Beeley, a vice president with Doppelmayr CTEC, a domestic wing of the parent company, says alternatives like a gondola would involve more land than the funicular does as well.
He says two or three similar funiculars are installed each year worldwide.
"This is going to be more a feeling of riding on a cloud . . . It should be a soft ride," Beeley says.
The St. Regis anchors Deer Crest, which stretches eastward from Snow Park to a location just off U.S. 40 in Wasatch County. Deer Crest, along with Empire Pass at the southwest edge of Deer Valley, represents a major expansion of residential development and ski terrain at the resort.
Bob Wells, the vice president of Deer Valley Resort and the official who guides the resort’s development plans, says St. Regis owners and guests will enjoy the funicular.
"It’s not going to be ruined," he says about the view of the hillside with the funicular. "You will see the effect of a ‘hill-a-vator.’"
Wells, a longtime figure in Park City development, says St. Regis chose the funicular as a method to reduce traffic as well. It will especially cut the number of drivers heading to the St. Regis on Queen Esther Drive and the northern stretch of Deer Valley Drive, Wells says.
The three Park City-area mountain resorts in the last decade have aggressively pursued upgrades, as the ski industry has enjoyed record-setting numbers. Castleton sees the funicular as another resort improvement that will be memorable.
"Wow factor," he says.
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