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Aerial Trams: If you’re so inclined

Photo by Tim Jewett Photography, Courtesy Visit Portland

The photographs and films that bank directors show at their preview parties for a tour that includes a tram ride are sure to be spectacular. And pictures rarely accurately portray the real thing.

The real thing includes not only an exhilarating trip aboard a windowed gondola slithering across a cable wire but also panoramic views, often from thousands of feet above sea level. Depending on your location, snow-capped mountain peaks, desolate deserts, glacier-carved canyons and wildlife envisioned only on a National Geographic television special are the stars of the show.

Best of all, a trip aboard a tramway offers a high level of adventure for all bank group members. One need not be a marathon runner or even a 5K walker to participate; all one needs to do is step aboard.

Portland Aerial Tram
Portland, Oregon

The Portland Aerial Tram was originally built as a commuter tram for students and patients from the South Waterfront neighborhood on the Willamette River to the Oregon Health Science University atop of Marquam Hill. Today, it is also a major tourist attraction.

Traveling 3,300 linear feet and rising 500 feet in elevation, each cabin is shaped like a bubble to offer the best views during the ride.

“There are spectacular scenes of Mount Hood, Mount St. Helens, downtown Portland and the river below. The upper campus is very group-friendly with a huge outdoor deck. This is the place to get the best photo shots in the city,” said Deborah Wakefield, vice president of communications and public relations for Travel Portland.

During the four-minute ride, groups will also enjoy a personal narration from tram operators that includes an orientation to Portland.
(503) 275-9750

Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway
Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Groups will enjoy the best views of the Great Smoky Mountains while riding Ober Gatlinburg’s tram, according to Jim Davis, public relations coordinator for the Gatlinburg Department of Tourism.

       Courtesy Gatlinburg Dept of Tourism

“Those views encompass Mount Le Conte, one of the highest peaks east of the Mississippi River, and the chalets that dot the mountainsides. One looks like Barbie’s dream house,” said Davis.

The tram carries up to 120 passengers over two miles from downtown Gatlinburg to the Mount Harrison summit, where a ski resort and an amusement park offer more fun for groups.

“The tram operator tells great stories all the way up on this tram, one of the top five attractions in the state. You can see the town of Gatlinburg from above, and no matter the season, the sites are fantastic. Autumn colors in fall, Christmas lights during the holiday season — there are always dramatic views,” Davis said.
(865) 436-5423

Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway
Franconia, New Hampshire

This seven-minute ride on an 80-passenger tram of the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway takes groups over a mile to the 4,080-foot summit of Cannon Mountain, whisking them above the timberlines of two mountain ranges along the way.

By Greg Keeler, courtesy Cannon Mountain State Park

“We are the oldest tramway in North America. We are part of the Franconia Notch State Park, and visitors won’t find a McDonalds or Wal-Mart — not even condos. It is underdeveloped,” said Greg Keeler, marketing director.

At the top, groups will find an observation deck that offer views of the White Mountains, and on a clear day, Maine, Vermont and even Canada are part of the scenery. The New England Ski Museum and a cafeteria are also places to enjoy the mountain-fresh air.

Keeler added that while in the park, groups should not miss a visit to the Flume Gorge, a natural granite gorge extending 800 feet at the base of Mount Liberty. “After leaving the visitors center, you’ll be surrounded by moss-covered granite walls, cascading waterfalls, covered bridges and glacial boulders,” he said.
(603) 823-8800

Wyler Aerial Tramway
El Paso, Texas

The trip on the snakelike road up the Franklin Mountains to the Wyler Aerial Tramway is nearly as dramatic as the tram ride. At 4,692 feet, visitors have a sweeping view of El Paso and cacti gardens even before they board.

The four-minute climb on a bubble gondola features views of reptiles, birds and a canyon that is 240 feet deep. Passengers are treated to the narration of a knowledgeable cabin attendant along the way.

When groups arrive atop Ranger Peak, the Hueco Mountains, New Mexico’s White Sands and, even, Mexico are part   of the Southwestern views. Wyler  Observatory, at 5,632 feet, offers a 360-degree view, and groups can take advantage of high-powered telescopes to enhance the experience.
(800) 792-1112
(915) 566-6622

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
Palm Springs, California

Passengers on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway compare the views on the 15-minute ride to vistas ranging from the Sonora Desert of Mexico to the Alpine Fringe in Alaska. The tram, which traverses the rugged Chino Canyon, takes groups from the floor of the Coachella Valley to near the top of San Jacinto Peak.

“At 8,516 feet, the mountain is the second-highest in Southern California,” said Lena Zimmerschied, public affairs manager.

The ride, supported by five towers, takes groups through five different ecosystems. “Between towers are the ecosystems. The views begin with cactus and desertlike plants and glimpses of lizards and jackrabbits and ends with few trees and little vegetation at the top,” said Zimmerschied.

After arriving at the mountain station, groups can enjoy a natural history museum, two restaurants, films that document the construction of the tram and a hiking excursion.

Zimmerschied added, “In the wintertime, you can swim at the pool at your hotel at the bottom of the tram and go to the top and throw snowballs. But no matter when, bring a jacket, as the temperatures are 40 degrees cooler at the top.”
(888) 515-8726

Sandia Peak Tramway
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Golden eagles, black bears and the granite rock formations of the Sandia Mountains are part of the views on the three-mile sky ride.

From the observation deck atop 10,378-foot Sandia Peak in the Cibola National Forest, the 11,000-square-mile panorama features the Rio Grande River, an eroded volcano, the largest volcanic crater in the world, Santa Fe and a variety of mountain ranges.

Groups may want to dine at one of the two restaurants on hand: The High Finance Restaurant and Tavern is atop Sandia Peak, and Sandiago’s Mexican Grill is in the Tram Lobby. The New Mexico Ski Museum also is at the base of the tram.   
(505) 856-7325

Summit Skyride
Stone Mountain Park, Georgia

This high-speed cable car provides a view of the Confederate Memorial Carving as it transports groups more than 825 feet above ground to the top of Stone Mountain.

          Courtesy Stone Mountain Park

“Stone Mountain is the world’s largest exposed piece of granite. Our Confederate carving, carved out of that granite, is of three generals: Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. One of the carvings was done by the same man who did Mount Rushmore,” said Jeanine Jones, public relations manager.

Once on top after a three-minute ride, visitors enjoy vistas of the Atlanta skyline and the North Georgia Mountains. Jones suggested that bank groups visit during the Easter holiday to enjoy Easter Sunrise Service, a 60-year tradition at the top of the mountain.

“While in the park, don’t miss the evening Lasershow Spectacular. This signature event, combining lasers, music and special effects, transforms Stone Mountain into a natural amphitheater,” Jones said. 
(770) 498-5770

The Roosevelt Island Tramway
New York City

The Roosevelt Island Tramway is an interesting way to see New York sights, as it travels 3,200 feet and rises to 250 feet, often parallel and slightly above the Queensboro Bridge.

Beginning on Roosevelt Island and ending in Manhattan, this commuter tram offers groups a five-minute ride that crosses the West Channel of the East River and features views of apartment buildings on Roosevelt Island and the East Side of midtown Manhattan.

Movie buffs may recognize the Roosevelt Island Tramway; it was featured in a climatic battle in the film Spider-Man. In the film, Green Goblin throws Mary Jane off the Queensboro Bridge, and Spider Man must choose between saving her or the passengers on the tramway.

Once on Roosevelt Island, groups may tour this small but interesting piece of Manhattan real estate that boasts distinguished architecture.
(212) 832-4555