How ropeways are moving beyond the ski industry and transforming the way we move.
Ski season is underway, which means Bellows Falls Union High School students will be riding chairlifts a total of a few hundred times on Sundays. However, skiers and riders won’t be the only ones using ropeways this season; the technology that takes people up mountains has uses in many other industries such as tourism, mining, and public transportation.
Lately, as a side business, ski resorts have been using their chairlifts and gondolas to provide sightseeing opportunities for tourists as well as retrofitting mountain bike racks for summertime trail use. While skiers dwarf any mountain bikers or sightseers on the slopes, ropeway tourism has enjoyed greater success in purpose-built sightseeing gondolas such as the Ngong Ping 360 in Hong Kong. A 25 minute ride high above the city, the Ngong Ping 360 includes stops in the mountains above the city for passengers to get off, all without disrupting the ride for other passengers. The ability to incorporate stops without disrupting the ride for all the passengers on the ropeway is a result of detachable grip technology. As shown in the picture, detachable grips use springs to detach the gondola cabins from the cable, in which they are slowed down individually without slowing down the cable. Ropeways are also used in other forms for tourism. One method, using ropes to tow trains (funicular railways), are used in resorts such as Universal Orlando Resort’s Hogwarts Express. Funicular railways are perfect for tourist attractions because they require less cost, energy, and infrastructure, and do not need the speeds of a railway.
The detachable grip has also opened doors for public transportation use because the constant cable speed delivers efficiency of up to 4500 people per hour for monocable gondolas and up to 6000 people per hour for the larger tricable (3s) gondolas. Latin American cities have adopted the vast majority of gondola networks because of their low cost per passenger, low environmental impact, their ability to climb steeper slopes than any other vehicle, and the ability to build them over crowded neighborhoods without forcing anyone out of their homes.
Gondola networks’ affordable price allows major cities to connect neglected areas to the thriving central business districts to help lift their residents out of poverty. The largest of these networks in Mi Teleferico in La Paz, Bolivia. The network has multiple lines of cable-driven aerial gondolas with stations at the ends and mid-stations along the cables. The network models city subway lines, only there’s a ten second wait between gondola cabins and a quiet ride.
While it’s well-established that ropeways are unparallelled in carrying people, either on ski chair lifts or city gondolas, ropeways are equally useful for hauling other objects. One example is in the Sochi Olympic park. To save the environmental and economic cost of building a road to connect the olympic village to the event locations, a 3s gondola was built to not only transport athletes and event staff, but also their cars. Special car-carrying platforms were integrated along the line, which has two support cables to add strength and stability for carrying heavy objects such as a car. However, a far more common use of ropeways for hauling objects is in the mining industry. The cyclical motion of material ropeways and pass over terrain allows them to haul ore far more efficiently than trucks, and the systems can be designed to automatically dump their loads at certain locations along the line.
Ropeways have also transformed the mining industry through flying belts; the rope-hauled conveyor belts can span longer distances and carry material faster than trucks and require almost no infrastructure.
The next time you’re riding one of Okemo’s chairlifts, keep in mind that ropeways have far-reaching uses beyond ski lifts, and that they’re helping the global economy more than you think.