Can Chairlifts, Pulsed Gondolas and Cabriolet Gondolas be Used for Urban Transit?

Post by Gondola Project

This is a guest post by Billy Beasley.

Urban gondolas are revolutionizing the field of urban transportation today. Cities across the globe are utilizing this technology to improve the transit system in their community. However, the Urban Gondola idea may be impractical or impossible for some cities to implement due to a number of reasons, one of them being money.

Urban gondola installations, similar to other transit technologies, can be subject to unanticipated and/or unforeseen implementation costs. For example, the Emirates Air Line in London went over budget, suggesting that although useful and innovative, urban gondolas can sometimes be impractical. Living in Colorado and being an avid skier, I used ski lifts many a time to head up the slopes. So why aren’t these types of lifts being talked about for urban applications? In my opinion, there are three types of lifts that are typically used in skiing and could be used to transport people in a city.

#1 Pulsed Gondolas

Kadenwood Gondola, Whistler, BC is used to transport guests from the mountain base up to a private neighbourhood of 60 homes. Image from kandenwood.

For those unfamiliar with pulsed gondolas, this type of cable technology involves fixed grip cabins that travel in groups or “pulses” along the line where the entire line slows down or comes to a complete stop when cabins arrive at stations. Pulsed gondolas are most often used by ski resorts today to provide transport between a real estate development and a mountain.  The Kadenwood Gondola in Whistler Blackcomb, Canada, the Wildhorse Gondola in Steamboat, Colorado, the Waldorf Gondola in Canyons, Utah and the Highlands Gondola in Northstar, California are all pulsed gondolas which serve real estate developments.


Waldorf Gondola, Canyons, Utah. Image from luxurycondoparkcity.

All of these systems are also primarily in place to provide real estate access to a lodge or condo development from a base and are mostly used for pedestrian transportation, both uploading and downloading. Two other notable pulse gondola systems are the Iron Mountain Gondola in Glenwood Springs, Colorado which is built to serve a mountaintop amusement park and cavern which has uploading and downloading and the Sky Cab in Snowmass, Colorado. The Sky Cab does go up a ski hill but its main use is to be an aerial shuttle bus between two of the base areas at Snowmass, thus the name Sky Cab. This system also has both uploading and downloading capabilities.


Iron Mountain Gondola, Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Image from glenwoodcaverns.

A pulsed gondola would be a great and economical solution for a city with less money and for transporting people over short distances. The only drawback to this type of system is its capacity, a pulsed gondola has a very limited capacity and wouldn’t be a good option for a city that needs a capacity of say 2,800 people per hour as the Sky Cab, a six passenger pulse gondola with four pulses, has a capacity of 530 people per hour.




#2 Cabriolet Gondola

Village Cabriolet, Winter Park, Colorado can transport 2,800 people per hour which makes it just as effective as a gondola. Image by Billy Beasley

A cabriolet gondola is a gondola that has open air cabins instead of the usual enclosed cabins. The cabins can fit 8 people and allow guests to experience the open air. Other than the cabins, cabriolet gondolas work the exact same as a regular, Monocable Detachable Gondola, right down to the grips and stations. Cabriolet gondolas are used mostly at ski resorts for transporting guests from parking areas to the main base village. This way, the base village can have no cars and guests can experience the scenic alpine base village. A superb example of a cabriolet gondola is the Village Cabriolet in Winter Park, Colorado. This cabriolet gondola takes guests from Winter Park’s main parking lot to its base village where the lifts are a short walk away and replacing an overused bus system. Although they are used mostly at ski resorts, they are almost solely used for transport and foot passengers with one exception that I know of, the Cabriolet in Mountain Creek, New Jersey. Other examples of cabriolet gondolas include the Cabriolet in the Canyons, Utah and the Cabriolet in Mont Blanc, Quebec. Both of those cabriolet gondolas are also used for transportation to the base of the ski lifts and the base village. Since these systems feature open air cabins, they would be better suited for urban areas with warmer climates.


#3 Chairlifts

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Colorado. Image by zoochat.

This is the most radical of the three ideas.  Chairlifts can come in two models: Detachable Chairlifts work just like a detachable gondola except that instead of sitting down in an enclosed cabin, passengers sit down on a chair that faces up the lift line. Meanwhile, Fixed Grip Chairlifts stay fixed onto the cable the entire time which makes them travel at slower speeds. Chairlifts are known for being used primarily at ski resorts for transporting passengers up slopes since skiers don’t have to take off their equipment to ride them. However, some chairlifts are used for applications not involving skiing. Many chairlifts at ski resorts operate in the summertime while some chairlifts are also open for downloading from the mountain for skiers who aren’t able to make it down the mountain.

Orange Bubble Express, Canyons, Utah. Image from canyonsresort.

Several chairlifts are also used outside of ski resorts. At the Blizzard Beach Water Park at Walt Disney World, there is a fixed grip triple chairlift to take people up to the top of the water slides. There is also an urban chairlift at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado where the Mountaineer Sky Ride takes guests over zoo exhibits and to a scenic overlook. Chairlifts can also be outfitted so that the rider is not exposed to the elements as much. Two good examples of this are the Orange Bubble Express high speed quad in Canyons, Utah and the Bluebird Express high speed six passenger chairlift in Mount Snow, Vermont. The Orange Bubble Express and Bluebird Express both have a bubble over the chair to keep the elements out. Bubble chairlifts on an urban chairlift could provide the comfort of a gondola at a lesser price. Chairlifts can also have mid stations like the Peak 8 Superconnect in Breckenridge, Colorado. These mid stations could be applied in urban applications for unloading and loading at certain destinations and for the lift to turn around major obstructions. Chairlifts also have similar capacities to gondolas as the Bluebird Express at Mount Snow has a capacity of 2,400 people per hour. Chairlifts also take less time to load then a gondola and would streamline the unloading and loading process. Fixed grip chairlifts are less expensive and have a lower capacity so they would be better for shorter, less crowded applications while detachable chairlifts could be used in the same situations as a detachable gondola.

That’s it from me. All statistics about the individual ropeways are from http://www.lift-world.info/en/start.htm , a great website about all sorts of aerial transportation. Check it out! Feel free to comment about what you think of the ideas and have a nice day.

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. Matt the Engineer
    I've considered chairlifts as well. I see two issues. 1. Drunk or irresponsible people. There isn't much to drop or thow at a ski lift, and there isn't usually much under you anyway. But travelling over sidewalks and buildings I can imagine dropped or thown beverage containers being a hazard. (this would be a specific problem where I was considering a chair lift, at a sports arena) 2. Cost. There's a clear cost and maintenance advantage to fixed vs. detachable lifts. But once you go detachable, are you really saving money compared to gondolas? You still have the same complicated mechanics, you're just saving some material in the cabins. But you'll need more chairs to provide the same capacity. I think you'll find most of the cost in an urban environment won't be in the equipment at all. An MDG gondola was recently built in a ski resort near me, and cost between $5M and $8M. But build that same system in a city, and you're going to need to buy land (expensive), build nice stations instead of off-the-shelf boxes (expensive) and add utilities (expensive). I have a feeling these costs will be as much or more than the machinery itself. At that point, saving a few dollars on open air rather than enclosed boxes doesn't seem significant.
  2. Transport and Traffic
    Hello from Germany. You are totally right by saying that urban gondolas can be subject to unanticipated and/or unforeseen implementation costs. But in your example, the Emirates Airline in London, it wasn´t the system that made the gondola so expensive. In London they spent millions just for designing the towers. They could have been much cheaper. For the systems you mention I see some problems. At first some information to the pulsed gondola system: With pulsed gondolas you can´t spare any money compared to a MGD. This kind of ropeway got a really high point load and because of that you have to calculate extra costs for infrastructure (towers…). Also the maintenance-costs are higher than the ones of a MGD. You also mentioned the point that the capacity of a pulse gondola is quite low. That is a very important fact and limits the frame of the system-use very much. Additional to the low capacity you got users with specific needs in urban transport. Some bring their bicycle their shopping or need a wheelchair. Then the already low capacity sinks even more because of the limited space of one pulse of cabins. Also you take out the most important pro of the cable cars. With a pulse gondola you don´t have a continuous conveyor anymore. Another fact is that pulse gondolas are not state of the art anymore because of their limited technical possibilities. If you really want to try to save some money and have a really small capacity you should aim on a group lift like the one at Huilo Huilo in Chile, a monocable aerial tramway with a pulse of three small gondolas. The second system you mention is the cabriolet gondola. The whole system makes no difference in building compared to a normal MGD. Because of that also the price is about the same. By bad weather like heavy rain or snow you get wet in the cabins. For an urban transport system this is a no go. Nobody wants to be completely drowned by arriving at work. The small cabins also hinder people with wheelchairs and bikes from using the gondola. The most important con about this gondola-system are the open cabins. Like Matt told in the comment before me but referring to the chairlift, that people could throw stuff out of the cabins onto the sidewalks or the street the gondola is crossing. Also cigarettes (even if it is prohibited in the gondolas) are a big problem, especially in dry summers. Because of that the gondolas in Algier are completely closed. You can´t open any gondola window there because of that reason. Here in Europe I don´t think that any authority would allow such a risk in a city and I think it is the same in many other parts of the world. Cahirlifts, as Matt already mentioned got the same problem. They are also not save against the weather. Even a bubble doesn´t shield you completely against rain. Another point is that you again can´t take your bike or shopping with you. Also dogs have to stay on the ground. The transport of disabled people is hardly not possible if they are alone, normally you have to sent someone with them on a chairlift. Older people around 60+ often try to evade chairlifts because they don´t feel save there. I recognized that by working at a chairlift for a while. Once an old women told me that she is always afraid in chairlifts because she doesn´t feel comfortable with nearly nothing beyond her feet. Also the risk in chairlifts is much higher than in gondolas. There are much more deadly accidents happening. People open the bow or do other things they shouldn´t and fall out of the chairlift. I don´t know the exact numbers how many accidents happen with chairlifts but I´m quite sure that the numer is higher than the accidents with gondolas. Urban ropeways are a great possibility for urban transport. But I think not every system can be used in the city. A MGD is not that expensive anymore and Matt is here to 100% right. The cost of the ropeway is not that high. It is the infrastructure that makes ropeways in citys expensive. But they are still a cheap option compareing 1kilometer of ropeway to 1 kilometer underground. Feel free to comment or ask questions.
  3. I'll be honest, I'm not big on the idea at all. Notwithstanding Matt's significant concerns, my biggest worry is one of pure optics. We're already towing the line of what's considered innovative and what's considered ridiculous. Dipping our tows into "let's use chairlifts as transit" will tilt us a little too far into the ridiculous territory.

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