A gondola lift, also called a cable car, is a type of aerial lift which is supported and propelled by cables from above. It consists of a loop of steel cable that is strung between two stations, sometimes over intermediate supporting towers. The cable is driven by a bullwheel in a terminal, which is typically connected to an engine or electric motor. They are often considered continuous systems since they feature a haul rope which continuously moves and circulates around two terminal stations. Depending on the combination of cables used for support and/or haulage and the type of grip (detachable grip vs. fixed grip), the capacity, cost, and functionality of a gondola lift will differ dramatically. Because of the proliferation of such systems in the Alpine regions of Europe, the French language name of Télécabine is also used in an English language context.
Gondola lifts should not be confused with aerial tramways as the latter solely operates with fixed grips and simply shuttles back and forth between two end terminals.
In some systems the passenger cabins, which can hold between two and 16 people, are connected to the cable by means of spring-loaded grips. These grips allow the cabin to be detached from the moving cable and slowed down in the terminals, to allow passengers to board and disembark. Doors are almost always automatic and controlled by a lever on the roof or on the undercarriage that is pushed up or down. Cabins are driven through the terminals either by rotating tires, or by a chain system. To be accelerated to and decelerated from line speed, cabins are driven along by progressively swifter (or slower) rotating tires until they reach line or terminal speed. On older installations, gondolas are accelerated manually by an operator. Gondola lifts can have intermediate stops that allow for uploading and downloading on the lift. Examples of a lift with three stops instead of the standard two are the Village Gondola and the Excalibur Gondolas at Whistler Blackcomb.
In other systems the cable is slowed down intermittently to allow passengers to disembark and embark the cabins at stations, and to allow people in the cars along the route to take photographs, such as Lebanon's Téléférique which offers an exceptional view to the Mediterranean, the historical Jounieh Bay and the pine forest at the 80% slope which this gondola lift goes over. Such a system is called Pulse Cabin because usually more than one cabin are loaded at a time before the trip begins.
Another type of gondola lift is the bi-cable gondola, which has one other stationary cable, besides the main haul rope, that helps support the cabins. One of the world's famous examples of this type of lift include the Ngong Ping Cable Car in Hong Kong, the Singapore Cable Car, and the Sulphur Mountain Gondola in Banff, Canada. This system has the advantage that the stationary cable's strength and properties can be tailored to each span, which reduces costs. There are also tri-cable gondolas that have two stationary cables that support the cabins. They differ from aerial tramways in that the latter consist only of one or two usually larger cabins, moving up and down, not circulating. Bi and tri cable systems provide greater lateral stability allowing the system to operate in higher cross-winds.
Open-air gondolas, or cabriolet as commonly called, are fairly uncommon and are quite primitive because they are exposed to the elements. Their cabins are usually hollow cylinder, open from chest height up, with a floor and a cover on the top. They are usually used as village gondolas and for short distances. An example of these are the Cabriolets at Mont Tremblant Resort in Quebec, Canada and at Blue Mountain Ski Resort (summer only, in the winter it is converted to a six person high-speed chairlift.) in Ontario, Canada, The Canyons Resort in Park City, Utah, Mountain Creek, and the new Village Cabriolet at Winter Park Resort in Colorado. Open-air gondolas can also come in a style similar to a pulse gondola, like the Village Gondola at Panorama Ski Resort, British Columbia.
The first gondola built in the United States for a ski resort was located at the Wildcat Mountain Ski Area. It was a two-person gondola built in 1957 and serviced skiers until 1999. The lift was later demolished in 2004. The lift and its cabins were manufactured by a former Italian lift company: Carlevaro-Savio. One of the longest gondola rides in the world, Gondelbahn Grindelwald-Männlichen, is in the Bernese Oberland in Switzerland and connects Grindelwald with Männlichen.
A ropeway conveyor or material ropeway is essentially a subtype of gondola lift, from which containers for goods rather than passenger cars are suspended.
Ropeway conveyors are typically found around large mining concerns, and can be of considerable length. The COMILOG Cableway, which ran from Moanda in Gabon to Mbinda in the Republic of the Congo, was over 75 km in length. The Norsjö aerial tramway in Sweden had a length of 96 km.
Conveyors can be powered by a wide variety of forms of energy, electric, engines, or gravity (particularly in mountainous mining concerns, or where running water is available).
While gondola lifts are traditionally used for ski resort purposes, in recent years they are finding increased usage in urban environments as seen in the installations of the Metrocable (Medellín), Portland Aerial Tram, Metrocable (Caracas) and Cable Aéreo (Manizales). The Metrocable systems in Medellin and Caracas are fully integrated with the public transit network which provides passengers the ability to seamlessly transfer to the local metro lines. London, UK, built Emirates Air Line (cable car) for the 2012 Summer Olympics.
List of accidents
- January 29, 1983: The Singapore Cable Car disaster, which saw seven people killed when two cabins plunged into the sea after the cableway was hit by a Panamanian-registered oil rig being towed.
- September 5, 2005: Nine people died and ten were injured when a 750 kg concrete block was accidentally dropped by a construction helicopter in Sölden, Austria. Hundreds had to be evacuated from the lift.
- July 13, 2006: Five people, including a three-year-old girl, were injured after 2 cable cars collided and one crashed to the ground. The accident took place at the Nevis Range, near Fort William in northwest Scotland. There were no fatalities and the gondola was deemed safe for operation shortly after the accident.
- February 18, 2007: A gondola car derailed from the cable at Ski Apache and rolled backwards hitting another car. Eight people were involved in the crash but only two suffered minor injuries.
- March 2, 2008: A man fell out of a gondola in Chamonix and died, perhaps after he and one of his friends leaned on and broke the plexiglass window.
- December 16, 2008: Ten people were injured (none seriously), and others left stranded after a tower supporting the Excalibur gondola lift on Blackcomb mountain collapsed, at the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort in Whistler, Canada.
- January 31, 2011: A 10-year old boy fell 10–15 metres from a gondola in Hafjell, Norway. He suffered minor injuries.
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