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Sandia Peak thrill ride: open house today about proposed mountain coaster

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Nearly two years after announcing the project, the Sandia Peak Ski Co. will have an open house today about its proposed mountain coaster, which is envisioned by the operators of the ski area as a year-round attraction for tourists and locals.

Attendees will be able to see visual displays, a site map and a timeline of the proposal, and staff members will be on hand to answer questions, said Ben Abruzzo, general manager of the Sandia Peak Ski Area.

Abruzzo said the program will be informal and representatives will collect comment cards that will be made available to the U.S. Forest Service.

“We’ll give the public plenty of opportunity to comment, ask questions and express any concerns,”Abruzzo said.

He said the coaster is the centerpiece of the ski area’s quest to become an income-producing summer recreation area to help offset the financial struggles caused by lean snow years.

“It’s just good business to be able to maintain your workforce throughout the year,”Abruzzo said.

RIGHT: A preliminary site plan, with the route of Sandia Peak’s proposed mountain coaster. (Courtesy of Sandia Peak Ski Co.)

The operator plans to invest $2 million in the mountain coaster, which would be set up between two existing chairlifts. The current site map shows the coaster crisscrossing one of the ski runs. The coaster would affect that course, but Abruzzo said the run is rarely used.

Abruzzo expects representatives from the U.S. Forest Service to attend the open house, because the property is on federal land.

Mountain coasters, popular attractions at many Western resorts in both (Courtesy of Sandia Peak Ski Co.)

Installation of the mountain coaster would need approval by the Forest Service, which said in a news release that it “will conduct a thorough environmental analysis to determine the potential effects that the use will have on resources such as wildlife, vegetation, cultural sites and the watershed.” That process includes a public comment period.

Abruzzo said he believes the agency might make a decision in the next six months.

“Assuming they say ‘yes,’ construction would begin in spring or summer of 2019, with an opening later that year,” he said.

He said the company has obtained approval for industrial revenue bonds from Bernalillo County. The company would be responsible for repaying the bonds, but IRBs usually reduce borrowing costs and provide tax breaks.

The coaster, which would be elevated 3 feet off the ground for 85 percent of the ride, would help boost business and employment opportunities at the recreation area, he said.

The coaster would run nearly 3,000 feet, sending riders on a course of twists, turns and dips through the trees and would feature a vertical drop of nearly 400 feet. It would reach speeds of 25 to 30 mph.

The proposed mountain coaster also would have “nice synergies” with the new restaurant being built on Sandia Peak, Abruzzo said.

A rider heads down the track on a mountain coaster. (Courtesy of Wiegand Sports)

The coaster is manufactured by Wiegand, the No. 1 producer of mountain coasters worldwide. Abruzzo said Wiegand has sold the rides to five operators on Forest Service land in the West, including the Vail, Copper Mountain and Purgatory resorts in Colorado.

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