With a splash of champagne and a cheer from a crowd, an upgraded method for buzzing up the Sandias to mountain trails and ski slopes was unveiled.
New tram cars were put into motion at Sandia Peak Tramway on Saturday morning for a private audience that included many of the stockholders whose relatives helped build Albuquerque’s famous tram. The cars opened to the public at 1 p.m., replacing 30-year-old cars to commemorate the tram’s 50th anniversary.
The tram cars were christened with the crash of a champagne bottle – smashing a bottle of booze onto a new vessel to bring safe travels is a superstition in some circles.
“You can leave the desert floor, go through seven of the climatic life zones and end up in a blizzard on top,” said Louis Abruzzo, president of the Sandia Peak Tram Company. “I live five minutes from the tram and, in 20 minutes, I can be skiing powder on the backside of the mountain, come down midday and go for a bike ride.
“It’s a very unique situation we have here.”
Gov. Susana Martinez praised the tram for being a “must do” activity for visitors to the state, while Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry said, “It puts us on the world map.”
The two new cars, which were made in Olten, Switzerland, have a little bit more room than the previous ones and have rounded corners. The outer design looks similar to the previous cars, but Abruzzo said the tram company wanted to give back to the city and state by putting “Albuquerque” on the front and back, and the Zia symbol on the bottom.
The cars take travelers from the foothills at around 6,500 feet above sea level over 2.7 miles of steep and rocky terrain before dropping them off at the top of the south side of Sandia Peak, at about 10,300 feet.
There’s a visitors’ center, an overlook, a ski area and a network of trails at the top.
The tram was planned and constructed in four years and opened on May 7, 1966. The founders sold shares in the tram to contractors and other workers to finance the project, and many of the families of those original workers are still stockholders today, Abruzzo said.
This is the second time the cars have been replaced. They were swapped in 1986, and the original cars were split in half and are used as ski shacks near lifts at Ski Santa Fe. The Abruzzo family also runs the ski areas in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
The recently replaced tram cars are currently at the base of the tram. Abruzzo said plans for the cars are still being considered. One may become some sort of concession stand at the Sandia Peak Ski Area, and there may be a contest to decide what happens to the other.