Post by Nick Chu
This is a guest post by Ross Edgar.
Madrisa Bahn in Klosters, Switzerland. Image by Ross Edgar.
The preceding article in this two-part series discussed how Scottish ski resorts are beginning to embrace the notion of diversification in their use of rural cable systems. However, as previously noted, cable system diversification is something that Alpine ski resorts have been experimenting with for years, and with great success. This is particularly true of Austria and Switzerland where rural cable systems are prevalent and where much of the sector’s technical expertise originates.
As in Scotland, Alpine cable systems were largely established for and continue to serve the lucrative winter sports market. However, significant potential has been identified in utilising such rural cable systems during the off-season summer months. This is often achieved by promoting their use as a means to access adventure sports high up in the Alps. Swiss lifts such as the Madrisa Bahn gondola in Klosters and the Parsenn Bahn funicular in Davos parallel the Scottish example and facilitate access to the mountains for hikers, mountain bikers and paragliders alike. However, the Alpine ski resorts have developed this model far beyond these constraints and continue to do so.
In some ways urban cable systems would do well to re-learn the simple lessons embraced years ago by their rural counterparts. For example, the first article examined the potential of the ‘freight deck’ as used by the Nevis Range gondola and many others around the world as a means of transporting materials and equipment.
Trailer on Parsenn Banh Funicular in Davos, Switzerland. Image by Ross Edgar.
Another example of this concept can be found on the Parsenn Bahn funicular which effectively carries a ‘trailer’ attached to the end of the funicular cars. This ‘trailer’ offers cargo space for equipment such as mountain bikes, skiing paraphernalia and parasails without encroaching on the valuable passenger capacity of the cars themselves. Thus, the passenger space is fully utilised, offering a significant advantage over the gondola ‘freight deck’ which requires the removal of a passenger cabin to accommodate it.
While cabin utilisation is important during peak skiing periods, it is even more critical for busy urban transit routes. The gondola ‘freight deck’ and the funicular ‘trailer’ present a means of carrying passengers’ personal luggage and equipment or even commercial freight by means of a passenger cable system without compromising valuable cabin space.
Mountain bike course under Gotschnabahn in Klosters, Switzerland. Image by Ross Edgar.
A number of Alpine cable systems now offer downhill adventurous activities above and beyond mountain biking. For example, mountain karts are available in Flachau (Austria) and mountain scooters are available in Klosters (Switzerland), with mountain boarding a possibility elsewhere. Cable systems have also been used extensively as a means to gain the required altitude for Alpine Coasters — such as in the now famous Sommerodelbahn in Mieders, Austria. The potential is also there for a cable system to fulfil the very similar requirements of an extended downhill zip line.
Mountain scooters at Madrisa Bahn. Image by Ross Edgar.
Then of course, there are numerous outdoor activities where the uplift offered by a cable system is not essential but it could offer a new dimension to an outdoor pursuit. Examples, to name a few, include horse riding, quadbiking, snowmobiling, hiking, rock climbing and Via Ferata. The uplift offered by a gondola can remove an over-facing climb from the equation or simply supplement breath-taking views to an activity that would otherwise take place at sea level.
Suspension Bridge at top of gondola above Bad Gastein in Austria. Image by Ross Edgar.
For the less adventurous, a number of Alpine cable systems are realising the potential of high-altitude tourist attractions. Peak-to-peak suspension bridges are becoming increasingly popular with examples at Bad Gastein (Austria) and Mount Titlis (Switzerland), with the latter claiming the title of highest suspension bridge in Europe. Such attractions offer an exhilarating experience without the exertion associated with adventure activities. More traditional tourist traps include mountain restaurants and bars, as well as solidly constructed paths or boardwalks leading to spectacular viewpoints. Finally, cable systems can provide ready access to otherwise inaccessible tourist attractions such as the ice caves at Werfen (Austria) and numerous Alpine glaciers.
Werfen Ice Caves in Austria. Image by Ross Edgar.
The potential for adventurous activities and attractions served by rural gondolas is all but endless and the opportunities are as varied as they are numerous. Moreover, the scale of gondola diversification is currently at a level never seen before. In the past gondolas constructed within a rural setting have been established exclusively for the winter sports market, with any additional activities constituting a mere afterthought. However, projects around the world are now starting to emerge where gondolas are being built without exclusive consideration to either winter sports or to urban transit.
A prime example of this transition is the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish (British Columbia, Canada). While the Sea to Sky Gondola does promote backcountry ski touring, it does not offer the extensive network of ski lifts and downhill pistes associated with a fully-fledged and purpose-built ski resort. Instead it offers a diverse range of activities which include walking, hiking, mountaineering, rock climbing, snow shoeing and mountain biking, as well as attractions such as viewing platforms, a summit restaurant and a suspension bridge. Have gondolas, therefore, reached a point in their evolution where they can be considered tourist attractions in their own right, or even hubs for outdoor pursuits all year round?
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