Gondola project shelved at skifield

Treble Cone skifield has shelved plans for its $20 million gondola "indefinitely" and will instead spend $200,000 on a five-year project to install safety barriers on its 7.5km access road.

Snowline Holdings Ltd, a company formed as a subsidiary of Treble Cone Investments Ltd to manage the gondola project, was granted resource consent in December 2008, but economic conditions have since kept the development on the back-burner.

The skifield released a press statement yesterday which listed the staged five-year road improvement project as one of several initiatives for the 2010 winter.

Snowline Holdings Ltd director Richard Hanson told the Otago Daily Times the gondola was a "chunky, expensive piece of equipment", and the prevailing economic climate continued to hamper the construction project.

"The intention remains to build it, but we have to make improvements to the skifield first," he said.

The project was shelved "indefinitely" and the road safety upgrade was an interim measure, Mr Hanson said.

Treble Cone Investment Ltd recently appointed Wanaka businessman Tom Elworthy as an adviser to its board of directors.

He said developing a gondola at Treble Cone was not an economic model which "stood up at the moment".

"It's a big-ticket item and, in the meantime, we can do a lot to improve the safety of visitors using the existing road access," he said.

More overseas visitors coming to the region for skiing holidays meant there was a need to improve road safety at Treble Cone.

Visitors were not used to driving on mountainous "winding gravel roads" and installing safety barriers was a starting point to help mitigate their concerns, Mr Elworthy said.

The upgrade would not involve any widening, or sealing of the road.

Barrier installation costs were not finalised but would amount to about $200,000 during the next few years, he said.

New Zealand Transport Agency Otago-Southland director Bruce Richards said he welcomed moves to improve road safety "anywhere".

The agency disliked the prevalence of tourist "rental car packages" as it added to traffic and often put drivers into unfamiliar conditions, such as on skifield mountain roads, he said.

Making public transport available to transport skifield visitors was more desirable from an agency perspective, although gondolas were a "long-term" option for New Zealand fields, "as they are in other countries", Mr Richards said.

However, there was no government funding available for commercial gondola projects, he said.


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