The Old Red Gondola

Gore Mountain's old red gondolaIt’s one of my first ski memories — the early 70s, I am 10 years old, and making my first trip to a “real” ski area. After a few fitful starts at some local t-bar/Poma-lift hills, Dad took me with him to the mountain where he skied with some of his grownup friends.

The place is called “Gore,” just over an hour drive from the Colonie area north of Albany, and for this wide-eyed boy, it was if he had set me down somewhere in Austria.

I spent a season on the Goree Gully beginner lift, a long shuffle from the base lodge — “skating” was an adult technique I couldn’t comprehend at the time. I learned to connect turns, do a “stem Christie” (the popular intermediate turn at the time), and found myself making progress.

I graduated to the Sunway t-bar and its more “advanced” slopes. What intrigued my young mind most were the big red gondola cars rising over the t-bar, taking their occupants to some far-off mountain, seemingly miles from where I was learning my stem turns. It was scary and exciting, and I was determined to get better so I could ride it.

The day finally came. I remember standing in the line for maybe 20 minutes — it felt like two hours — next to my Dad, feeling all grown up. I was with all these skiers headed to the top of Gore Mountain!

We climbed aboard. I can still hear the “click” as the attendant locks the door with his special key: no turning back now! He swings our car onto the cable, and we are off. The Sunway t-bar suddenly looks very tiny to me, receding away, as we advance to heights I had only dreamed about.

Sunway T-Bar

We arrive at the top. Wait, it’s not the top; it’s only the mid station! Another attendant grabs our car and swings it onto the next cable that takes off at a different angle. As we depart the mid-station house, the car makes a whir-whir-whir sound, then all is silent.

What comes next is something unforgettable — we are suddenly strung on a long cable over a valley, with what seems like a half mile between towers. The wind sways the cabin and makes a wheezy noise blowing through the window cracks. My Dad says if we open both windows, it won’t sway as much, so we do.

We glide across the wide valley, up another hill, and then, to my amazement, down again! Only this time, a whole new world opens up before me. My Dad explains that they are the expert trails, Hawkeye and Chatiemac, and from above, the ungroomed moguls look to be as tall as I am.

view from Gore Mountain's Red Gondola

We head up the final ascent, then arrive in a rime-covered wonderland: gondola house, trees, radio towers. We have to jump out of the car quickly, as it is still moving. I have never seen anything like this before. Skis on, we head to Cloud, a narrow, scratchy trail with at least one or two boulders showing. It’s tough, unlike anything I have ever skied, but it feels like another world and I love it.

Over the next seven or eight years, I progressed from a beginner snowplowing his way down Cloud and Sunway, onto Showcase, Tahawas, and Gore’s other trails. Finally, I was able to ski Chatiemac. As my confidence and skills grew, there were always new sections of mountain to explore and conquer.

But my favorite memories are of the Old Red Gondola — soaring above that first valley after the mid-station, or making that final ascent into the rime-encrusted wonderland of Gore’s upper mountain. Sometimes the wind was so strong that I worried about the cabin plummeting to the ground over the valley crossing. Once, it stopped during that crossing, and our car bounced violently up and down.

old red gondola
Photo courtesy Saratoga Skier

But in the book of childhood memories, it’s my ski days at Gore that stick with me most. The instructor I had one season who taught me to parallel ski under the multi-colored Showcase chair. High-speed cruiser runs down the North Side. Dodging the bare spots and mud on Sunway, which in the mid-70s still had no snowmaking. And riding, riding, riding the Red Gondola.

It’s gone now, replaced by a faster, more efficient, and safer gondola. Some day, I will return and ride it. But to me, Gore remains as it was in 1975, and whenever I ski nowadays, though hundreds of miles away, I can close my eyes and still hear the whir-whir-whir of the cables, and feel the wind blow through the cabin of Gore’s old red gondola as we cross the valley to the upper mountain. And I am home.

21 comments on “The Old Red Gondola

  1. Great piece. I’m sure that everyone can identify with watching their father doing something, thinking it’s part of a mysterious grown-up world that you’ll never be be old enough to experience, and finally getting the chance.

    I’m sure that the lift know-it-alls on Snowjournal could provide the answer, but which company built that gondola? Which other ski areas had that one: didn’t Sugarbush and Steamboat?

    This has probably been discussed here at length, but I wasn’t paying attention — why didn’t Gore make the new gondola top-to-bottom with a mid-station: was budget the only consideration?

  2. The gondola lives on in Minnesota!

    Per Wikipedia… In 1989, Lutsen Mountains installed a German-made PHB Hall gondola to provide access between the base area and Moose Mountain. The gondola is the first, and currently the only, gondola in a mid-American ski resort. I’ve skiied Lutsen a couple times and always remember feeling like this is a blast from the past!

  3. The Northwoods Gondola was built to Bear Mtn instead of the summit of Gore as a method for better distributing skier traffic around the mountain. It opened up access to the trails from Bear and alleviated congestion on the summit. Some miss the direct access to the summit, but this is one bit of Gore planning that worked out as intended.

  4. I agree, bear mtn is better. Who wants to go bottom to top then down cloud to the bottom? Once you’re at the summit, it’s best to stay up there. Bear makes better use of the gondi’s mass transit aspect. The masses get more to ski off bear than the summit. This reduces summit crowding and gives the masses more terrain of their ability level to ski. If all those people went summit, the few blues up there would get trashed and be super crowded-not good for business. Chances are the gondi’s capacity would be vastly under utilized if it went to the summit. Enjoyed the tale, Kid.

  5. The gondola should have been built top-to-bottom, although perhaps with a mid-station. “Who wants to ski top-to-bottom?” Almost everybody I ever skied with on the old gondola! They wanted to ski the full vertical of the mountain down the trails of their choice, with the fewest number of times waiting in line. If I wanted to ski small verticals over and over, I could do that hours closer to home. That’s why you drive to big mountains! Relatively few skiers were there to ski the short expert trails and those that did already had their lift.

    Gore didn’t build the new gondola to the summit because they thought it was their job to send skiers to the areas where they didn’t ski very much, rather than where they preferred to go – the top. The problem is that making people put their skis back on, ski to another waiting line and riding an open lift on the highest, coldest part of the mountain doesn’t prevent them from getting to the top – it just makes it so much less pleasant! I’m pretty sure that, even with a mid-station, 90% of riders would ride to the top.

    As mentioned in this article, the ride up on the old gondola could be more exciting than the skiing down. I can’t remember a single ride, when you were suspended high above that valley and the wind was howling and the car creaking, when someone didn’t say “If that line snaps…..” especially when you rattled over the rollers on the highest tower. You felt like you were 500 feet above the trails below, unlike any other eastern gondola I’ve ridden. It made you feel like you were on a big, alpine mountain that was so big it needed a gondola to get to the top. I once rode the gondola down per a lift attendant’s suggestion (howling whiteout, zero visibility, no goggles) and it felt like a plunging elevator each time you came off the tower rollers. Far scarier than going up.

  6. I too have ridden the old RED, back in 1995. I fell in love with Gore as well. My father had taken me there after skiing the likes of Toggenburg, Snow Ridge and Greek Peak to a real mountain. I felt like I was in a different country as well. The mountain today has a different vibe from back then but still skis like the big mountain I had felt back in the Day. Cheers Mates.

  7. I agree with those who think the Northwoods Gondola is in the right spot. I bet that with the new layout, you can do more skiing than if you were lapping the old gondola’s route with a new lift. I do wish the money was available to remove the old gondi towers and the building at the summit. Awesome essay 70s Gore Kid.

  8. Much of the pleasure of the red gondola was the fact that it gave you such a panoramic view over the upper mountain, beyond what you’d ever see from a low chairlift. At many mountains, gondolas are pointless and overkill, but because of Gore’s layout where the peak is such a horizontal distance from the base, it made perfect sense to protect the riders. It also gave you the chance to share stories with co-riders in a way you never could on a howling chair.

  9. The Gore gondola is a JOKE!!! The Old red gondola was awesome!! They should have built the new gondola to the SUMMIT!!! PERIOD!!!! Yes with a mid station, of course!!! But a Gondola/tram, anywhere in the WORLD!!! goes to the summit of the ski resorts!!!!!! Not to Bear mt a hop skip and jump higher then the showcase chair!!! I’ve skied VT, the west, the alps all over, every tram/Gondola, goes to the summit. Fix the problem, take the new gondola and continue it to the summit!!!

  10. Another thing, they made the high peaks chair shorter also! Come on! Some one should buy gore mt! Take it from the state, make it a state of the art mt! Extend the cheesy gondola to the summit!!! Ok I’m done..

  11. The old gondola was taken out months before I was born, but I am still interested in its history. I think the new gondola should have been built with a mid-station on bear mountain, and then directed to the summit. The only reason why they didn’t do this was because an endangered bird was supposed to live on the mountain and they didn’t want to disrupt its habitat. Instead they cut 12 new trails, why not just another liftline!

  12. I’ve been coming to gore since 2009, having only been to Whiteface for my first 3 yrs of skiing. Gore usually had much better conditions and easier trails, but i was SO PISSED that like Whiteface, the Gore gondola didn’t go to the summit. They MUST extend it. Thank god they replaced the old 84 triple with the quad, tho. It’s amazing 😀

  13. I rode the old red gondola it was awesome. I totally agree the new one should have been built to the top. The high speed quad chair is only 300 feet less vertical than the new gondola. The new gondola is a joke I still love gore have been skiing there for 33 years.

    Kevin Gaczewski

  14. A great memory shared. Our family lived in Chestertown and skied Gore all through the 70’s. We all have fond memories of the mountain and remember riding the red gondola countless times. My young (at the time) son and husband became stranded on the red gondola for nearly an hour one very windy day in late Feb.; the car swinging wildly side to side and up and down. A very cold day, as well, and a 10 year old boy had a scary time of it. When the lift restarted, my husband recounts hearing loud “hurrahs” and whistles echoing across the valley…

    Gore Mt was much the “weekend babysitter” for our kids…the rule was ski where you want, but you must be back to our table in the lodge by no later than 4pm. We adults were generally done for the day by 1 or 2pm and usually were playing cards, telling stories, and enjoying a glass of Almaden white wine (ugh!!). Wonderful memories to be sure.

    Thank you so much for this wonderful flashback to great times in upstate NY

  15. Great Story. I too learned to ski on Goree Gully. I thought parallel meant legs together and straight done the hill NO turns. The Gondola was amazing and I soon became part of the Junior Ski Patrol. Lots of memories on that hill and lodge.

  16. The “old Red Gondola” blew me away as 14 year old kid from Minnesota when I first saw it circa 1978. I’d never skied at a place where I couldn’t see the top from the parking lot and up until that time most of the lifts I had ridden were rope tows or T-bars.

  17. Trying to track down and purchase one of the old red gondolas! Please contact me if you nave any information.

  18. I used to ski Gore Mountain in the 70’s. This article brought back vivid memories! The Red Gondola was a classic! Once around 1978 we went to Gore Mountain on the coldest day ever! It was minus 40 and the gondola was closed! We took the chair lift up to the halfway lodge. They gave us heavy weighted ponchos and sent us on our way! Right at the end of the chair lift we were above the trees and the wind was blowing around 20 miles an hour! They made you go into the lodge and stay for 30 minutes. The safety patrols were stationed at the door examining you as you went in. I was told I had frost bite on both of my cheeks! After putting my hands on my cheeks for 20 minutes the frost bite went away! After staying in the lodge for an hour we skied down to the bottom and were issued a refund because they closed down the Mountain! Oh! The glory of the good old days! We stayed at Giandreau’s (not sure of spelling) Cabins. Does anyone know what became of them?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *