Grünwaldkopfbahn Combi Gondola-Chairlift

This is a guest post by Ross Edgar. 

Image by Ian Edgar.

Grünwaldkopfbahn. Image by Ian Edgar.

The Grünwaldkopfbahn is a CPT system in the Austrian ski resort of Obertauern. Until recently it was a fairly unremarkable chairlift which did not stand out among the thousands of other chairlifts which serve the countless Alpine ski resorts. However, in recent years the Grünwaldkopfbahn has been refurbished and overhauled and features two new interesting design features.

Firstly, the CPT system has been equipped with terminus stations that allow for double-loading. Secondly, the Grünwaldkopfbahn features both gondolas and chairlift cabins/chairs on the same cable.


Skiers boarding chairlift. Image by Ian Edgar.

While gondolas and chairlifts utilise a variation of similar technology, it is very rare to see gondolas and chairlifts occupying the same cable. This is especially true in ski resorts where the two technologies utilise very different methods of loading. Skiers embarking onto a chairlift retain their skis and simply (or not so simply!) ski on and off the chairlift. However, skiers embarking into a gondola must remove their skis prior to entering the valley gondola station and re-attach the skis on exiting the summit gondola station. This would generally cause an operational headache when using gondolas and chairlifts on the same cable.

Two loading areas for skiers.

Two loading areas for skiers. Image by Ian Edgar.

However, the Grünwaldkopfbahn interestingly circumvents this issue by featuring a double-loading system whereby two different cable systems are operational within the CPT station alone; one system for the gondola cabins and one system for the chairlift chairs. In this instance, approximately every fourth vehicle on the cable is a gondola cabin and the remaining three are chairlift chairs.

Image by Ian Edgar.

Image by Ian Edgar.

Double-loading is by no means unique and will most likely be seen more and more in ski resorts as legacy chairlifts are replaced by more modern equivalents. In fact the Gondola Project featured an article some time ago on the Quick Silver Super Six (formerly the Quick Silver Quad) chairlift in Colorado which utilises a double-loading system. This ski lift has also been featured more recently in Billy Beasley’s guest post on innovative station designs. It is the combination of the double-loading system and the utilisation of both gondola cabins and chairlift chairs that makes this CPT system so interesting.

It could be argued that chairlifts have no place in serious urban CPT systems. However, what about inverting the Grünwaldkopfbahn principle so that three out of four cabins are gondola cabins and the remaining one in four is a specialist cabin? Again, drawing upon the experience of ski resorts, specialist cabins often include freight decks, ambulance cabins and maintenance vehicles. While freight decks have obvious urban applications, specialist cabins could be created specific to the urban environment.

Moreover, a double-loading system could provide valuable advantages in an urban environment. It has the potential to speed up loading times since having two separate boarding and alighting spaces could be useful in its own right. This principle could be used to segregate what would otherwise be one long queue in peak times for the purposes of crowd control. Or it could be used within a congested urban space to offer two different entrances from different streets or even different levels. Conceivably, it could even be a feature that’s designed to separate regular riders from priority passengers (i.e. parents with baby strollers, wheelchairs users and etc.).

With the two principles combined, specialist cabins such as freight decks could utilise their own embarkation point entirely separate to the boarding point for passengers, thus effectively creating two entirely physically separate CPT systems operating from the same cable. As alluded to in my preceding Gondola Diversification article, operating freight services using passenger CPT infrastructure could ensure the viability of freight CPT.

Perhaps in the future when gondola systems become inevitably increasingly complex, the two separate embarkation points could even serve two entirely different destinations with the routes diverging further down the cable.

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