Sochi’s Olympic Gondolas – Game Changers in Waiting

Post by Steven Dale

No, this is not what it will look like - but it's still a pretty great photoshop, no? Via Ski-Buzz.co.uk.

While everyone’s all a-buzz about London successfully completing their cable car in time for the Olympics, the subsequent Olympic cable cars may, in fact, be of far greater importance to the technology’s spread.

While no one can doubt the importance of having cable transit on display in one of the world’s most-touristed cities during one of the world’s biggest events, the system itself is highly unremarkable. With the possible exception of the custom-designed towers, there’s hardly anything noteworthy about London’s off-the-shelf MDG system. That’s not a criticism, it’s just a fact.

2014’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, however, are going to push cable technology in directions its never been before.

While the 20-odd lifts being installed are largely for alpine/resort locations, the technological advancements are huge:

  • Two of the lifts will be of the advanced 3S variety.
  • The first of the two lifts will have an intermediary station – the first 3S ever to have such a feature. No word yet if there will be an turn co-located at the station.
  • The first of the two lifts will also have the capacity to transport cars as well as passengers. We know this has already been accomplished with Funitel technology but this would be the first 3S to ever have such a feature.
  • The second of the two 3S lifts will be the longest 3S in the world at 5.383 km.
  • The second of the two 3S lifts will also approach and possible eclipse the 30 km/hr barrier – the first known detachable gondola to ever reach such speeds.

These are the kind of technological leaps the industry isn’t known for, but should be.

If the big industry players (and their customers) can commit themselves to continual improvements and advancements such as these, the future for the technology looks great.

Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.

Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.


  1. Thank God for Sochi! But the industry is so small and the initial "early adoption" is so slow that it's a perfect storm of overpriced systems. It's essentially an "oligopoly" which means low volume (too much customized installs and no economies of scale) and not big incentives to "push the envelope" or innovate (due to lack of demand, competition and public participation that fears innovation,etc) that it will take a whole bunch of Sochis to get us off the dime.
  2. How much innovation do we need? It's a gondola. I have a hard time believing that the problem is that immature technology is preventing adoption. We already have the technology we need to satisfy the majority of the performance requirements for urban applications where cable systems are appropriate. Also, I'm not sure where the perfect storm of overpriced systems is occurring. Oligopoly does not imply low volume and all customized installs -- see the cellphone and automotive industries. The problem is that very few people are buying these systems for urban applications. So why innovate? A ski hill won't pay for innovation -- moving skiers to the top of the mountain is a problem that hasn't changed in 50 years. I won't let ropeway manufacturers off the hook entirely. They are conservative by nature and should be doing a better job promoting themselves to urban markets. They have made recently made a strong push to enter these markets, and in 10 years I expect there to be a number of high profile systems on the magnitude of London (large city, transit integration, etc).
  3. Touche, Sean... much is lack of demand. Maybe I should clarify... I think we need to find innovative ways at the top, middle and bottom of the market. And that we need to find ways to drive the cost down. One of the best ways to drive down price is if there is much higher demand so it justifies increased expenditures and R&D, etc. On top of all of this is behavior of the end user consumer who is so wed to the car and may not be willing to walk far. But unless/until we have (whatever mode it is) public transit that is more readily available, timely, more comfortable and affordable... then we can't get them out of their cars. And then there is the budget constraints that we live with in cities.... and examples of how expensive much of these urban gondola projects are (yes, i know still much cheaper than light and heavy rail) which leads me to believe unless some fundamental "innovation shift" changes we'll be on our slow trajectory of more improved transit. Nothing wrong with that per se, I'm just more impatient. LOL

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