By Katy Savage
When Killington Resort replaced its 26-year-old K-1 gondolas in 2018, Dominique Bastien bought all 57 of them.
Bastien, who owns The Gondola Shop, a small gondola repair shop in Fruita, Colorado, had worked on Killington’s gondolas for 15 years. The Montreal native spent a month in Killington every few years to work. She removed graffiti and scratches from the gondolas, polished the Plexiglas, cleaned the floors and restored hardware.
“That’s why when it came time to buy it, they trusted me,” she said.
Bastien was in Killington performing what would be her last maintenance check in 2017 when she heard Killington was replacing the old gondolas with new ones and her maintenance services would no longer be needed.
“When they decided to change the gondola, I was right there with them,” she said. “I don’t know what came to my mind but I was like, ‘what if I buy it all?’”
Bastien trucked nine of them at a time to Colorado. Within four days, all of them were in her shop.
Bastien has service contracts with the largest ski resorts in the world, like Whistler, Vail, Keystone, Breckenridge and Aspen, but when the pandemic hit, Bastien lost all of her service contracts. Within two weeks of the pandemic, Bastien started turning gondola cabins into saunas, photo booths, coffee shops, bars and DJ booths and private dining cabins. She installed overhead lights, heaters, funky upholstery, flooring and sound systems, and her phone hasn’t stopped ringing.
Now, two of the old K-1 gondola cabins have made their way back to Killington — as private dining cabins.
Still on the Mountain, a new restaurant and distillery, opened the private dining gondola cabins in December.
The cabins seat up to four people. Dining in one of them costs $100 to rent on weekends and $50 midweek on top of food and drinks.
“People are calling us and requesting one month in advance,” said Slor Bolite, a hostess at Still on the Mountain. “We actually get calls everyday. We wish we could have more.”
The gondolas, which are placed on a deck overlooking the mountain, have been rented at least 150 times since opening in December. For Still on the Mountain owner Caroline Wise, the gondolas were a “no brainer.”
The gondolas are owned by Wise’s friends Erin and her wife, Kate Moran, who own the Gondola Group.
Kate, an interior designer, and Erin, a project manager, split time between Killington and Massachusetts. They started the Gondola Group as a side business last year. They found the gondolas online and spent three weeks adding their own design touch. They installed new flooring and lighting and made pillows, flannel curtains and cushioned seats. Each gondola has its own heat pump and its own Sonos music system. Guests can control the temperature to their liking.
“A lot of the restaurants in Killington are amazing, but you get a lot of the same thing,” Erin said. “It’s nice to have a unique dining experience.”
It’s simply by chance that Killington’s gondolas returned home. All of the former K-1 gondolas have been sold and repurposed. At least seven of them are in Vermont, Bastien said.
Bastien said she’s obsessed with gondolas. She started restoring them about 20 years ago. She was working at Whistler in the winter and needed a summer job. She met a friend who knew how to polish airplane windows and had an idea to do the same with gondolas. Bastien has had success pitching resorts in the West, but Killington is the only resort she’s had a contract with in the East.
“Aesthetics are different back East,” Bastien said. “It’s a tough sell for the ski resort to worry about aesthetics. They don’t understand that if you pay $200 for a ticket, you don’t want to sit in a gondola with graffiti in front of you.”
Bastien said the age of Killington’s gondolas made them difficult to work with.
“Some of the hardware didn’t want to come off,” she said. “They were really rusty — it’s more humid back East.”
Bastien previously repurposed gondolas just for fun between service contracts, but private gondolas became popular with social distancing mandates.
Bastien converted 47 gondolas in a span of four months with a team of seven people last summer. Her team learned to weld and upholster and many other tasks.
“We all learned new skills,” she said.
Bastien said it takes about 120 hours to repurpose each gondola.
“We are detail oriented,” she said.
Her refurbished gondolas sell for $5,000 to about $15,000 each. They are currently located all through the nation.