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Monday, December 22, 2008
Hot Lapping 'Big Red'

[Editor's note: For the last year, John Symms, pretty much single-handedly, has been banging out this here ESPN ski blog. Well, now we're—it's—expanding. Tim Mutrie, who you may recognize from the ESPN snowmobile blog, Sled Man Talking, is coming aboard as the big mountain skiing contributer, whilst Symms will be continuing to hold 'er down on newschool freeskiing fronts.]

Best known perhaps for his chimney downclimbing abilities, Santa proves he's pretty handy with a rope too. Here—Friday night during the unveiling of Jackson Hole's new tram—Santa rappels through a trapdoor in the floor of "Big Red."
"We're back in the box!"


This toast was heard repeatedly Saturday night. And there was much to celebrate in the big mountain mecca of Jackson, Wyoming. After two years without its famed Tram—aka, "The Box," "Big Red" and so on, which was retired after a 40-year tour of duty ('66 to '06)—Jackson Hole Mountain Resort debuted on Friday night a brand-new $32M version.

Despite frigid temps (-12 F) and snow, an estimated 2,000 people turned out for the unveiling ceremony at Teton Village. Fireworks, a rappeling Santa, snowballs blasting off the shiny new car, cheers and PBR tall boys all abounded. Then, Saturday morning, the new Tram began spinning in earnest, whisking skiers and snowboarders 4,139-vertical feet to the summit of the resort in an otherworldly nine minutes. Yes, nine minutes is all it takes now for one to be deposited on the moonunit-esque lander that is the new tram dock up top.

Cold weather and snow kept many folks away for Saturday's opening day though. Of course, this was just fine with locals (and others savvy enough to avoid wipespread frostbite that left many a mark), who simply resumed doing what they do best. And that is, in the words of local skier Rick Armstrong, "Spinning hot laps on Big Red. Just like ol' times."

A crew of Jackson locals convened for an après befitting the occassion—first at the Moose, then over at the Alpenhof, and finally at Pepi Stiegler's. "It's emotional. I never realized how much I missed it. But I did. Well, now she's back, and she's better than any of us could've imagined," Steve Jones, one of the founders of Teton Gravity Research, whose offices are just a few paces away from the new Tram station, says. "We're back in the box."

In addition to being a few minutes faster, the new Tram's capacity is 101—up from the old capacity of 62. (One of the old cars, by the way, is now serving as a wind shelter at the resort's Ranch lot.) And for comparison's sake, if the old tram was akin to one of those classic San Francisco streetcars, rickety and rich on character, the new Mother Ship has a distinct NASA feel—molded plastics meets tinted glass and glinting aluminum. But you're still packed in there like so many sardines at rush hour in a Manhatten subway. And that probably won't go a-changin' anytime soon.
Fireworks and frigid temps (-12 F) gave the Tram unveiling a fire and ice quality.
The old Big Red served a 40-year tour from 1966-2006. The new one is on Day 3 and counting...