Vail High-Speed MDG



Correction: Vail Gondola Most Certainly Not The World’s Fastest Gondola

Last week I discussed the upcoming Vail, Colorado gondola and its promoters’ claims of it being “The World’s Fastest Gondola.” And while I correctly demonstrated how it couldn’t be the fastest gondola, in general, I readily fell for the marketing-speak and accepted without inquiry the idea that at 6 m/s the system could very well be the fastest MDG type gondola in the world.

However, since that post went live I’ve had several individuals inform me that while 6 m/s gondolas aren’t common, they’re not exactly rare either. One ropeway engineer even went out of his way to inform me that he’d build a 6.2 m/s gondola a few years back – though he readily admitted he couldn’t remember where and we’ve been unable to track it down.

To further the embarrassment even more, I stated in that post that the upper limit of an MDG gondola was 5 m/s which is completely and 100% incorrect.

And the evidence that it’s completely and 100% incorrect?

A little website known as The Gondola Project and it’s assertion that the maximum speed of an MDG gondola is 22 km/hr – which coverts into a little bit over 6 m/s. Guess who wrote that post?

Bingo, and I wrote that one about 2 years ago.

So three things to get out of the way here:

Firstly: Please accept my apologies for not taking the time to check my own website to confirm if something a project promotor says is accurate or not. It was hasty and unacceptable.

Secondly:  What’s the deal Vail, Colorado? How are you laying claim to “The World’s Fastest Gondola?”

Thirdly: Very sorry. Again.

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Is This The World’s Fastest Gondola?

(Correction/Update: This is certainly not the world’s fastest gondola. MDG systems routinely eclipse the 6 m/s threshold. For more details click here.)

A couple weeks ago I brought attention to a new gondola that’s going to be built in Vail, Colorado. While the system is in no way urban, it did have the curious feature of being Wi-Fi enabled – a concept I thought somewhat absurd. I didn’t, mind you, think it absurd to have a Wi-Fi enabled gondola. I thought it absurd that such a development would come initially from a ski resort installation rather than an urban one.

But I digress . . .

Now comes word that not only will this system allow you to update your facebook status while skiing (presumably with something like “hey, I’m skiing!”), but it will also feature an in-vehicle heating system and will be the “Worlds (sic) Fastest Gondola.”

I love superlatives like the word “fastest” as more often than not it’s more a reflection of marketing than of fact. If you dig deeper into the article you realize that this isn’t to be the world’s fastest gondola, but is instead to be “the fastest gondola of its type in the world.”

That’s important and you’ll see why in a minute.

All reports of the new Vail gondola indicate that it will seat 10 people, which immediately indicates the system will likely be a Monocable Detachable Gondola (MDG). Theoretically it could also be a Bicable Detachable Gondola (BDG), but those systems are quickly falling out of favour with both manufacturers and customers. So let’s assume it’s an MDG.

MDG technology generally tops out at around 5 m/s or 18 km/hr. Meanwhile, all reports of the Vail system are of a gondola that will travel 1,200 feet/sec or 6 m/s or 21.5 km/hr. For those counting, that’s a 20% increase in speed and most certainly makes it the fastest MDG system in the world.

But regular readers of The Gondola Project will note it’s still not as fast as the 3S or Tricable Detachable Gondola’s (TDG) current top speed of 7.5 m/s or 27 km/hr. (We could also note that it’s not as fast as the 12 m/s top speed of Aerial Tram technology, but wouldn’t be a fair comparison as Aerial Trams and Gondolas are two very different technologies.)

So yes, the phrase “fastest gondola of its type in the world” is accurate. Fastest gondola in the world, not so much.

Nevertheless, this is a pretty exciting development. The 3S/TDG is currently the heavy duty system of choice for high-speed, high-capacity gondola systems – but it also comes with a higher cost and longer construction times.

Leitner-Poma (the builders of the system) have now provided a new choice in the cable transit line-up by creating a (presumably) low-cost, medium-capacity system with a higher overall speed – making it instantaneously more attractive to many different markets.

They also claim it will have “40% more uphill capacity” but without further details it’s impossible to know exactly how they’re making that calculation and how valid the claim is so we can ignore it for the time being (but should certainly investigate further).

But there’s more to this system, I think, than mere numbers and statistics. My gut says this isn’t just about a ski resort in Vail.

Consider all the trappings of urban transit this system displays; heating, fast speeds and Wi-Fi. It’s also supposed to “establish a whole new standard for comfort in lifts” – suggesting a seating configuration or design different from the standard wooden or plastic benches that are the norm.

In all likelihood, this is probably Leitner-Poma’s answer to Doppelmayr’s Urban Concept vehicles in Koblenz, Germany. This isn’t just a ski lift, it’s a concept system typical of an industry that debuts new technology in their core ski resort markets rather than risk bringing new technologies straight into the urban market.

If this is, indeed, a volley for supremacy in the growing urban gondola market (through the back-door of the ski lift market), we could be at the start of something resembling an arms race between the industry’s two big players; Doppelmayr and Leitner-Poma.

And if that’s the case, we may see a whole lot more urban-centric innovations in cable in the coming couple years.

Which would be very exciting for everyone involved.

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