Mechanical Wizard Keeps Thrill Rides Rolling

Mike Liebelt is a whiz at all things mechanical. As Lead Mechanic at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park he does whatever it takes to ensure thrill rides are open and ready for Park visitors.

While visitors to Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park get an adrenaline rush from thrill rides like the Alpine Coaster, Giant Canyon Swing, Cliffhanger Roller Coaster, Canyon Flyer, Soaring Eagle Zip Ride and the Haunted Mine Drop, the Park’s Lead Mechanic Mike Liebelt gets his from making sure the rides perched on the pinnacle of a mountain in Glenwood Springs are all in top form and running like well-oiled machines.

Liebelt grew up living between Elitches and Lakeside, two Colorado amusement parks. The irony that he’s now employed at one isn’t lost on him. “I loved those parks when I was growing up. When I came here I quickly fell in love with Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park,” he said. “Working here is serendipitous and wonderful!”

Liebelt started as an attractions attendant in 2012, working at the Alpine Coaster. When the season ended he was hired on to spend the winter digging, clearing and expanding areas in the caves. Not only was he grateful for the job, he was all in for the laborious, difficult and exhausting work ahead. “For five months I smashed rocks. It was great,” he said, laughing at the memory. In 2014, he transferred to the maintenance department full time.

“Mike’s knowledge of rides is unmatched. He has been absolutely invaluable with his skills, experience, dedication and ‘can do’ attitude as well has his mentorship of new mechanics,” Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park General Manager, Nancy Heard said.

In the eight years since he began, Liebelt has been part of the installation of all thrill rides since the Alpine Coaster at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park. In addition to Lead Mechanic, Liebelt is also Lead Ride Inspector certified through the National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officers (NAARSO). For trainings he’s traveled to major theme parks including Hershey Park in Pennsylvania and Carowinds in North Carolina. The most recent training took place in-house with Utah-based Apollo Engineering and S&S Worldwide, the largest U.S. manufacturer of amusement park rides and roller coasters.

When it comes to his personal favorites—to work on and ride on—roller coasters are the hands-down winner for Mike Liebelt. He’s particularly excited for the new experience visitors will have on the Cliffhanger Roller Coaster beginning in the spring of 2020. “The Cliffhanger is being completely redone and will basically be a new ride when we’re through. It’s going to be all magnetic, with no moving parts. Guests will experience a smoother, quieter overall ride. My job right now is to make sure it’s open and ready to go by May 22,” he said. “I’m confident we’re going to make it.”

Mike Liebelt, Lead Mechanic at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park

Another ride that’s getting an overhaul under Liebelt’s eagle-eye is the Alpine Coaster. The Park’s first and most popular ride is being upgraded with new computers and receiving all-new wiring for its entire length along the mountainside. For guests, it will mean more fun and shorter wait times.

As Lead Mechanic, Liebelt is also the go-to guy when a ride experiences a problem. Sometimes closures are scheduled. When a ride undergoes a mandatory inspection, it may be closed for as long as a day. In that case, the Park posts the closure in advance at the base, the mountain-top and on the Glenwood Caverns website under Ride and Attraction Status.

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Other times mechanical issues arise. “We take a ride being down personally,” he said. “I happen to be very good at problem solving and can quickly diagnose and troubleshoot.” Liebelt is particularly proud of last summer’s nearly flawless operational record. “With safety as our number one priority, our goal is to keep every ride open and operating at all times.” When a ride does have to close down for a maintenance issue, Liebelt tells guests “not to worry, the average repair is completed within 30 minutes.”

What’s the best part of his work? “I love this job. On any given day I might be woodworking, painting, pouring concrete, fixing rides, doing maintenance or weekly inspections, but it’s the people that keep me here. I’ve never worked at a place that feels more like a family.” Liebelt is pretty sure guests feel the same vibe as well, “On a summer day, everywhere you go you see people—families and friends— smiling and having fun,” he said.  That’s reason enough for Mike Liebelt to keep those rides running day in and day out.

Lead Mechanic at Glenwood Caverns, Mike Liebelt often works behind signs like these. Authorized Personnel Only image by StickerMule

Post Independent Spotlights Caverns Employee Cole Newton

The Glenwood Springs Post Independent recently ran a feature story on our very own Cole Newton, cave tour supervisor at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park. Read Cole’s fascinating story and why he has a special affinity for all things caves.

Sunday profile: Glenwood Springs native seeks the undiscovered underground

by Josh Carney, [email protected]

When he was just 2 weeks old, Glenwood Springs native Cole Newton found himself deep underground with his parents, Ken Newton and Kathy Keeler, who met while caving. Since then, caving has been a way of life for the 26-year-old Newton.

At 7 years old, Newton became the youngest person to date to submerge to Sub 1 (submerge level 1 for scuba divers in the water flow) inside Spring Cave outside of Meeker.

That passion for caving has created a unique purpose for Newton’s life – educating the public on the wonders of caves, exploring new and exciting places within caves and working to preserve them for future generations.

 

UNDERGROUND EDUCATION

“I really hope we can continue to education people on why caves are important to our ecosystem on the surface and underground,” Newton said. “They can be a wonderful environment to study and protect. We don’t want to throw garbage into that hole, because that hole can lead to a city’s water supply and other things like that. It’s not a trash can just because it’s a hole in the ground; I want to change that perspective about caves for the general population because caves are important and special.”

Newton originally went to college to become a music teacher, but realizing that teaching in a classroom wasn’t his cup of tea, Newton went back to his passion of caving, which later led to him teaching (in a sense) tour guides all there is to know about the beautiful caves only a short trip away from Glenwood Springs.

Giving tour guides each and every day during peak season on the mountain seems like it could be a drain, but Newton attacks each tour with a uniqueness that can’t be found elsewhere.

“I don’t script my tour guides,” Newton said. “I try and read the tours and let the guests kind of feel me, in a way. It all depends on the makeup of the tours. If I have a bunch of little kids, I talk more about the dragons and the fairies within the caves; if I have a lot of adults, I’ll focus more on the science of things. I want them to get what they want out of the tour, so if I do that, every tour isn’t the same, which keeps it fresh.”

EXPANSION, PRESERVATION, AND EXPLORATION

When not giving tours through the cave systems on Iron Mountain, Newton is in charge of updating the new stairs within the cave system, leading the project to put in new concrete and steel, guiding concrete and steel workers on where to place the materials. On top of that, Newton has been mapping and navigating the new King’s Row Loop tour, playing an integral part in hoping the loop comes to fruition.

What Newton loves most though is traveling around the world to visit other cave systems in hopes of learning about the geological systems within the cave.

“A lot of times, I’m looking at the geological aspects, like how is this cave different from caves in the western U.S. versus the eastern U.S. or south U.S, etc.,” Newton said. “Because the way that geology works across the world is that every cave is a little different. They all have a little different influence on how the water would have formed the cave, or whether it was lava or water, things like that. They all create different features, which I find fascinating.”

Earlier this year, Newton traveled to the Frasassi Caves in Italy, which is Italy’s top cave system. The immense cave system was discovered in 1971, and part of the caverns was opened to visitors in 1974. The caverns can be visited only on guided tours, which Newton went on.

The huge rooms of the caverns are filled with stunning stalactites and stalagmites, and highlights of the tour include the Ancona Abyss, a room so large that Milan’s Duomo (the world’s largest Gothic cathedral) could easily fit inside it, a crystallized lake, a Grand Canyon, and a room filled with formations that resemble candles.

“The stalagmites were just gorgeous,” Newton said. “They’re 30, 40 feet tall and have these amazing little cuts on the side of them, so instead of being flowy, they have these extra little features on them.”

Aside from educating himself on the geological systems within the caves he travels to see and explore, Newton also pays attention to the tour guides and how they’re structured as he’s always learning and looking to improve.

“It’s important for me to do that, because if I can learn from others and see how they’re running their own tour guides, I can bring something back from that to the Glenwood Caverns and try to make the tours I give the best possible experience they can be,” he said.

In the end though, the free exploration is what drives Newton. Moving deeper into caves is supposed to be fun for cavers, and without fun it’s not successful.

“There’s got to be some fun in it; you want to have fun,” Newton said. “That’s why you do it. That’s where you get your energy. If one person has that energy, it makes for a successful and fun trip for the group.”

That sense of fun and excitement continues to drive Newton today through his passionate daily tours of the Fairy Cave and King’s Row Cave, and during his free time caving on his own, discovering all there is to see deep beneath the earth’s surface.

[email protected]

Smile! She Captures Life’s Happy Moments at Glenwood Caverns

Making memories that last a lifetime—for Tiffany Adams, the photo department manager at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, that phrase is much more than a saying. It’s her calling, her life’s work. What started out solely as a job to make some money, has become a career that includes managing the Caverns’ souvenir photography business and providing consulting services to other resorts and attractions.

You never know where a job might lead

When Tiffany started out in the souvenir photography business more than 14 years ago, she had no idea that accepting the photographer job at Monarch Ski Resort would change her life. “I had no photography experience and was really just looking for a job and thought, why not give it a shot,” she said. “I was pretty point and shoot at the time and not good at talking to and photographing people. I didn’t know why my backgrounds were terrible either. It would take a few years for me to become a better photographer.”

Acquiring skills and building a resume

A Glenwood Caverns souvenir photo flyerAs her skills improved and so did her career prospects. Now Tiffany shares her knowledge and skills with her staff and helps other attractions build successful photography programs. “Over the years I have learned so much about the art and business of photography. It feels good to be able to pass those skills on to others,” Tiffany explained. “It took a lot of practice, but I became very good at interacting with guests and getting them to smile in photos. For the first time in my life, I was making a real difference in people’s lives. This sense of satisfaction re-enforced my belief that I had found my calling.” Tiffany’s resume includes managing souvenir photography at some of Colorado’s biggest resorts including Keystone, Copper Mountain and Snowmass. She also helped launch the photography program at Squaw Valley Ski Resort in California. Not limited to winter season photo shoots, during the summer season Tiffany shot river rafting and managed the photography business for the Durango Railroad and the Grand Canyon Railroad. It was a summer gig that initially led her to Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park where she was quickly promoted to manager, but left at the end of the season to work in Durango. Tiffany spent about three years away from Glenwood Caverns. Her Caverns boss, general manager Nancy Heard, a natural at spotting and cultivating talent, kept in touch with Tiffany as the years ticked by. According to Tiffany, “The whole time I lived in Durango, Nancy checked in with me to see how things were going and if I was ready to come back to Glenwood.” When she was ready to relocate, Tiffany met with Heard and Caverns owner Steve Beckley. “They had me convinced. To this day, I have never looked back and Steve and Nancy have kept every last promise that they made to me.”

Opportunities keep coming

As a manager at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, Tiffany participated in the 53rd National Caves Association convention held this year in Glenwood Springs. The event brings together members representing over 80 show caves in the U.S., Bermuda and Barbados to exchange and share ideas on topics related to owning and operating a cave attraction. It was here she met John Graves, owner of Luray Caverns in Luray, Virginia. After getting the go-ahead from Beckley and Heard, Graves and his brother Rod invited Tiffany to visit their attraction to consult with retail, maintenance and IT managers about adding souvenir photography to their operation. After arriving home in Glenwood, Tiffany got back to work. “Then one day, Nancy asked me to call Colossal Cave Mountain Park in southern Arizona about their budding photography program. Their general manager had also been at the NCA convention!” Tiffany will be heading there soon to share her expertise in souvenir photography. “Wow! What a privilege.”

We’re hiring

Making people smile comes naturally to Tiffany. It’s one of the reasons she’s a great fit for Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park where our mission is: To Make People Smile! But every employee at Glenwood Caverns has that same potential to enhance guest experience and find value and meaning in helping others. Starting out at a seasonal job could have life changing consequences. You never know, so why not give it a shot, like Tiffany did.  Glenwood Caverns is currently hiring for the upcoming spring and summer seasons.

Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park: Who Does That?

Ever wonder who works the various jobs at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park or what it’s like to be employed at America’s only mountain-top theme park?

As Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park prepares for a hiring spree for the upcoming summer season, three employees share their insights and experiences. To learn more about summer employment, check out the video above. Our mission is to make people smile; if it’s yours as well, we invite you to apply for an opportunity to join our team.

RYAN MOREAU

What’s your job at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park (GCAP)?

Tram base supervisor. I pretty much take care of operations at the base and that includes running the tram, manning the register and supervising the day-to-day operations at the tram base.

How long have you been at GCAP?

About nine months.

What keeps you at GCAP?

I love it! I’ve worked lots of retail jobs; the people at those other jobs were never happy—neither my fellow employees nor the customers. My naturally happy personality didn’t fit in there. Nancy, who is the general manager at the Park, noticed me at my old job and scouted me out.  She liked my work ethic and said she was going to hire me one day. She did! Thank you Nancy!

What’s the best part of your job?

I get to sell smiles for a living and it’s fantastic! GCAP is a very unique workplace. I have never experienced anything like it. I am part of an awesome company that feels more like a family than a job. GCAP is a company that’s going nowhere but up, and I want to be on board with them for the ride so to speak.

Do you have a memorable customer story?

I love the guests. There are a lot of neat people who visit the caverns. There are so many great stories, but one of my favorites is of a guest who was afraid of heights. She was very nervous about riding the tram. She wanted to see our amazing caves so bad though that she was able to tackle her fear of heights, get on top of that 7,100 foot mountain, and have fun. It was awesome!

DAN CHANEY

What’s your job at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park (GCAP)?

I’m a cave tour guide. I do all the tours — walking and crawling.

How long have you been at GCAP?

I just wrapped up two years.

What keeps you at GCAP?

This job suits me to a T! I’ve been an earth sciences nerd for ages. I’m an amateur geologist, fossil hunter and prospector, so to say I’m at home in a cave is an understatement! Glenwood Caverns has a great product and outstanding management; it’s a testament to who Steve and Jeanne Beckley (the owners) are as people that working here it feels like a family.

What’s the best part of your job?

I love that I get to share what I know with the public. I’m one of those people who can remember details for 30 years—I’m a top-notch Trivial Pursuit player—I’ve been called the Bill Nye of Caves!

Do you have a memorable customer story?

You mean have I had a personal moment with a customer? Yes! Every day! One that stands out is when I had a geophysicist on one of my tours. This is a scholarly guy who really knows his stuff. Well, after the tour he let me know that he learned a few things he hadn’t known before. I took that as quite a compliment. Another time involved a grandfather and his grandson. After learning something new about cave science, I remember the boy saying with such enthusiasm, “Wow grandpa! That’s so neat!” It’s rewarding to engage with all kinds of guests, from all backgrounds, from all over the world.

DONNA WALKER aka “MAMA DONNA”

What’s your job at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park (GCAP)?

I’m a grill cashier at the Lookout Grille.

How long have you been at GCAP?

I’ve been in Colorado for eight years — transplanted from Georgia — and worked at the Caverns for five years.

How did you get your nickname?

(Laughs) A bunch of guys in the kitchen started calling me that and it sort of stuck. I like to take care of people and make them smile.

What keeps you at GCAP?

It’s a great place to work! I love the location on top of a mountain and riding the gondola to work every day.  I love the customers, especially the kids. I’ve been able to see some of the kids of our regular customers grow up over the years and that’s a lot of fun. I also like the fact that GCAP offers military discounts. My son Dusty Walker is a bomb specialist in the US Army, and I’m proud of him and of all our veterans. When veterans visit, I like to go out of my way to thank them for their service.

What’s the best part of your job?

I’m a people person. If I can make someone’s day better I will. If I see a mom is struggling with her kid for example, I’ll make a whip cream face on a plate with chocolate eyes and a smile. That pretty much turns the kid’s day and the mom’s day around right away.

Do you have a memorable customer story?

This one time a gentleman gave me a great compliment. He said I should be on the Dr. Phil show to show other people how customer service is done. I just like to work with the public. It makes me happy to make other people happy.

If you’re on a mission to make people smile, consider joining the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park team this summer. Visit glenwoodjobs.com for more information.

The Lookout Grille | Away From It All

On a clear morning in early February, feeling cooped up but with work still to do, I decided to change up my routine and take the tram up to the Lookout Grille at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park for some coffee, a snack, and some views.  I boarded the tram, headed up, and marveled at the 360 degree view of Glenwood – you could see it all! The steam rising from the Hot Springs Pool, the winding Colorado River flowing westward through the valley, Iron Mountain in front of me, Coal Seam Mountain behind, Mount Sopris in the distance. Vehicles on 1-70 began to look more like toy cars as we ascended. Arriving at the top, I stepped out of the tram car and headed into the restaurant.

It was a quiet mid-morning, with a few visitors eating an early lunch and people coming in from their adventures, ready for a hot chocolate after a coaster ride or cave tour. The employees chatted warmly with the customers and each other. I found a quiet corner at one of the wooden tables. A hot cup of coffee and a stone fireplace kept me warm as I worked on my laptop, using the free wi-fi available in the restaurant. I broke occasionally to look out the large windows at the surrounding mountains and valley below.

An hour or so later, having had my fill of caffeine and work, I packed up and took the tram back down the mountain. It had started to snow lightly, and I as I descended I watched the flakes fall across Glenwood Springs, and felt lucky to live in such a beautiful place. With a pleasant respite from the “real world,” I felt ready to face whatever the rest of the day would bring!

Glenwood Caverns’ First Employee Looks Back

Bob Koper knows a thing or two about being underground.
The longtime Glenwood Caverns tour guide has been sharing his enthusiasm and knowledge about the historic caves since 1999, the first year they were open to the public. Steve Beckley, Glenwood Caverns co-owner and operator, hired him on as the very first employee, as a manager and as the first tour guide.

Prior to joining the Caverns, Koper taught science at Rifle High School for 30 years. Among the many outdoor excursions he took his students on were field trips to the Fulford Caves, so he had some experience as a cave guide. After retiring from teaching, guiding cave tours at the Glenwood Caverns seemed like a natural position for someone who loved the outdoors and teaching. Koper wasn’t ready to give up working completely just yet and it helped generate more income. This definitely bucks the trend that we have seen lately of people preferring to seek Key’s equity release advice in order to raise money to enjoy in retirement instead. But Koper has never been one to follow the crowd.

Tour Guide manager Bob Koper in King’s Row at Glenwood Caverns
Kelly Cox photo

Twelve years later, he is still going strong as the Caverns’ most experienced tour guide, leading the Wild Tours as well as educational programs for both local and national school groups. He serves as a manager and trainer of new tour guides, and he also finds time to teach geology and astronomy at Colorado Mountain College. Clearly, Koper is really enjoying his job at the Glenwood Caverns. The company must really know a lot about the retention of employees for Koper to have been working there for 12 years, despite him being eligible for retirement. It seems that he is working happily, with no signs of wanting to leave the company or job. Keeping employees passionate about their role is becoming increasingly difficult for many employers these days, perhaps they should take a look at Glenwood Caverns and their long-serving staff members.

For Bob, the best part of the job has been watching the Caverns change and grow year after year. “Steve [Beckley] is so innovative. He is truly a visionary, and it has been so much fun to see the progression. Every year, there’s something new and exciting,” he says.

Koper’s enthusiasm for the park has spread to his family members. About two years ago, he brought his granddaughter Gabby, then nine years, to the Park with him. She wanted to ride the Giant Canyon Swing, so he left her in the capable hands of the swing attendants and went to do some work. Some time later, he realized that she had been gone for awhile, so he went back to the swing, and she was still on it. She had ridden it 47 times! And she wasn’t done, either. She ended up riding the swing 72 times that day.

Koper says that being a tour guide is a life changing experience. “You become more outgoing. You learn how to stand up in front of people and feel comfortable. You’re not afraid to speak and show your excitement. It really changes a person in that way,” he says.

For his day to day work as a tour guide, Koper is challenged to keep introducing an exciting experience for guests every day – but he doesn’t find it difficult. “It’s very rewarding to see people’s smiles and to share in their excitement,” he says. His enthusiasm and energy spreads to the guests, and vice versa, which keeps every day interesting and invigorating.

Koper’s dedication to teaching people about the caves and his camaraderie with his fellow employees keep him going year after year, and he is excited for the future of the park, which will continue to expand. He proudly mentioned that the caverns just had a good year, even in the rough economy. “Especially considering that people aren’t traveling as much, we’ve had a great year,” he says. That’s no accident, though…and a lot of credit goes to the passionate and hardworking employees, just like Bob Koper!