A surface lift is a transportation system used to transport skiers and snowboarders where riders remain on the ground as they are pulled uphill. Once prevalent, they have since been overtaken in popularity by higher capacity aerial lifts) like chairlifts and the gondola lift. Today, surface lifts are most often found on beginner slopes and very small ski areas. Surface lifts have many disadvantages compared to aerial lifts: they require more passenger skills, surface must be continuous, impede skiable terrain, slow speed, and limited capacity. With the increase in snowboarding, surface lifts are replaced by chair lifts. They can still be found in glacier skiing resorts because their supports can be anchored in glacier ice thanks to the lower forces.
A steam-powered toboggan tow, 950 feet long, was built in Truckee, California in 1910. The first skier-specific tow in North America was apparently installed in 1933 by Alec Foster at Shawbridge in the Laurentians outside Montreal, Quebec.
The Shawbridge tow was quickly copied at Woodstock, Vermont in New England in 1934 by Bob and Betty Royce, proprietors of the White Cupboard Inn. Their tow was driven by the rear wheel of a Ford Model A. Wallace "Bunny" Bertram took it over for the second season, improved the operation, renamed it from Ski-Way to Ski Tow, and eventually moved it to what became the eastern fringe of Vermont's major southern ski areas, a regional resort still operating as Suicide Six. Their relative simplicity made tows widespread and contributed to an explosion of the sport in the United States and Europe. Before tows, only people willing to walk uphill could ski. Suddenly relatively unathletic people could participate, greatly increasing the appeal of the sport. Within five years, more than 100 tow ropes were operating in North America.
It consists of a cable or rope running through a bullwheel (pulley) at the bottom and one at the top, powered by an engine at one end. Passengers grab hold of the rope and are pulled along while standing on their skis or snowboards and sliding up the hill. The grade of a rope tow is limited by passenger grip strength. Metal handles can be attached to the rope to help grip.
The nutcracker was used on many fields in the 1940s. The rider wears a harness around the hips. To this is attached a clamp, much like the nutcracker from which it derives its name, which the rider attaches to the rope. This eliminates the need to hold on.
T-bar and J-bars
A T-bar or J-bar lift is employed for low-capacity slopes in large resorts and small local areas. It consists of an aerial cable loop running over a series of wheels, powered by an engine at one end. Hanging from the rope are a series of vertical recoiling cables, each attached to a T or J-shaped bar measuring about a metre in both dimensions. The horizontal bar is placed behind the skier's buttocks or in between the snowboarder's legs, and pushes the passengers uphill while they slide across the ground.
The first T-bar lift in the United States was installed in 1940 at Pico Mountain ski area. It was considered a great improvement over the rope tow. An earlier, potentially home-grown, T-bar was installed at Rib Mountain (now Granite Peak Ski Area), Wisconsin in 1937.
Invented in the 1930s, J-Bars were installed in the 1930s in North America and Australia, with The Ski Hoist at Charlotte Pass in Australia dating from 1938. J-bars have been superseded by T-bars which have twice the capacity. A J-bar closely resembles a T-bar, except each carrier holds only one passenger.
The platter lift consists of an aerial steel rope loop running over a series of wheels, powered by an engine at one end. Hanging from the rope overhead are equally spaced vertical poles or cables attached to a plastic button or platter that is placed between the skiers legs and pulls the skier uphill. Snowboarders place the platter behind the top of their front leg or in front of their chest under their rear arm and hold it in position with their hands.
One type of platter lift is the detachable surface lift, commonly known as a Poma lift after the Poma corporation which first made them.
Whereas most types of platter lifts are fairly similar to T-bars and J-bars with the stick attached to a spring box by a retractable cord, Pomas have a detachable grip with the button connected to the grip by a semi-rigid pole. Because they are detachable, most Pomas operate at speeds of over 4 metres per second, while platters and T-bars average 2.5 m/s. When a Poma's grip attaches to the cable, the passenger's acceleration is lessened by the spring-loaded pole (however on faster lifts there can still be quite a jerk when the pole becomes fully extended). The 1,070 metre long Summit Access / Howqua Poma at Mount Buller, Australia operated at 6.5 metres a second when it was built in 1964.
A magic carpet is a conveyor belt installed at the level of the snow. Some include a canopy or tunnel. Passengers slide onto the belt at the base of the hill and stand with skis or snowboard facing forward. The moving belt pulls the passengers uphill. At the top, the belt pushes the passengers onto the snow and they slide away. They are easier to use than T-bar lifts and Poma lifts.
Magic carpets are limited to shallow grades due to their dependence on friction between the carpet and the bottom of the ski or board. Their slow speed, limited distance, and capacity confine them to beginner and novice areas.
Some of the longest magic carpets are the 560-foot (170 m) long installation at Stratton Mountain Resort and the nearly 800-foot (240 m) carpet at Buck Hill in Burnsville, Minnesota, which has an overpass over a ski run.
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- Bousquet Tow Gripper
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