Long-time Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park employee, now Glenwood Gondola Supervisor, Tommy Sweeney gives us a peek at what’s involved in running those iconic orange gondolas up and down the mountain!
Most days, he’s the first person you’ll see when you debark the Glenwood Gondola at the top of Iron Mountain, the mountain-top theme park’s point of entry. Right now, because it’s winter and the region is experiencing a particularly frosty cold snap, Tommy is bundled up from head to toe. Despite the layers though, there’s no way to hide his exuberant personality!
New Role for Long-time Employee
Tommy started at Glenwood Caverns as an attraction attendant in 2008. Over 12 seasons, he’s held various positions, increasing in knowledge and responsibility with each one. This past November, he was promoted to Gondola Supervisor. It’s a role he relishes, even on the coldest Colorado winter days.
In addition to greeting guests as they arrive, Tommy is also in charge of much of what goes on behind the scenes including overseeing daily operations, troubleshooting, scheduling and hiring. While the park opens to the public at 10 a.m., he’s on the job long before the first guest or employee arrives.
Safety First for Glenwood Gondola
Every day begins with the morning gondola inspection, similar to a pre-flight check for a pilot. “It takes us about 45 minutes to make sure all the mechanical parts and safety switches are functioning properly,” he said, explaining that his inspections are reported to the Colorado Tramway Board which oversees all lift operations in the state.
While most days it’s a smooth seven-minute ride from the valley floor to the mountain-top, there are times when operations get interrupted. Wind and lightning are the two main reasons. “The gondola can run safely in winds up to 40 or 45 mph. Above that, we clear the line which means we unload guests between gusts and don’t load anyone else until the wind subsides,” Tommy said. There are three wind gauges—at the bottom, middle and top—located on the gondola towers that monitor wind speeds. “The Glenwood Gondola is pretty sophisticated. If there’s a reading over 35 mph, the gondola will automatically slow down; if it’s over 50, it’s going to stop.”
For lightning, the Adventure Park uses a weather alert system. If there’s a strike nearby, all park managers receive a text message warning. In addition, the gondola control room shows how close the strike was in relation to the gondola. Having this information ahead of a coming storm allows supervisors to keep both guests and equipment out of harm’s way. Fortunately, most lightning storms pass through the area quickly and guests can resume boarding the gondola and outdoor rides fairly soon afterward.
Great Views are Part of the Perks
When asked what the best part of his job is, Tommy doesn’t hesitate. “The view! We are very lucky to live here. There are millions of people who don’t ever get to see this kind of beauty ever. There is nothing like this view, this park and this company. I like that we’re a close-knit group, that the owners Steve and Jeanne (Beckley) care about their employees and take the time to get to know us personally. It’s this environment that keeps me around.”
What’s his advice for guests? Tommy suggests guests visit the Adventure Park within two weeks on either side of Memorial Day and Labor Day. “The Park is fully open, including all the rides but there aren’t the crowds.” His other tip is to purchase an Annual Thrill Pass. “No kidding, it’s a really great deal because if you come twice, you pay for it. If you come more than that it’s going to be an even better bang for your buck!”
“The job is always an adventure. You never know what you’re going to deal with on any given day—the weather, the guests, the employees or whatnot. Every day is an adventure!”