Posts Tagged: Vail



Tower Removals

Ever wonder how towers are removed when an old cable system is dissembled? Well Vail Resorts released a video documenting the entire process which showcases the precision helicopter work that was required. Check it out!

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A quick look at some of the things that happened this week in the world of cable cars, urban gondolas, and cable propelled transit:

BMW 7-Series Gondola Cabin. Image from


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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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What Wi-Fi Equipped Gondolas Teach Us About The Cable Industry

Vail Resorts in Colorado just recently announced plans to replace a 4-seater chairlift with a new gondola system. That in itself isn’t particularly exciting or interesting. What is, however, is the plan to equip each and every gondola with a Wi-Fi connection.

Why a skier would need such a connection escapes me, but it’s a welcome addition to the technology.

As we’ve seen before (here and here, for example), many (if not most) of the major advances in cable technology have been developed with the alpine/resort market in mind. Yet a Wi-Fi enabled gondola system is far more useful in an urban commuting situation. Why then do we not see more innovations such as this developed specifically for the urban market?

Simple: Economics.

While there is a clear shift in the cable industry towards the urban market, the vast majority of the industry’s income still comes from the alpine market. It’s their bread and butter and innovations will necessarily have to privilege a large, existing customer base rather than a small, emerging market. That makes logical sense.

Trouble is, a policy of ignoring a small, emerging market often leads to disruptive situations where smaller, unknown agents are able to spot the needs of the emerging markets and satisfy them better than long-entrenched industry players. This situation leads, in turn, to the established players playing catch-up while the smaller, more nimble player gradually begins to dominate. Look at what happened with High Speed Rail in China (or Apple – to trot that cliché out yet again).

If the two existing players in the cable industry (Doppelmayr and Leitner/Poma) want to maintain their dominance, they need to begin to see that the needs of the urban market are different than the needs of the ski resort market. A Wi-Fi equipped gondola is a nice frill for the privileged few who ski on a regular basis. But for everyday commuters it would be a godsend – not to mention far easier to implement than in an underground, metro situation. Upon further reflection, it’s positively absurd such a development would have to wait for a ski resort to explicitly ask for it, rather than it being offered directly from the industry itself.

It’s a question of being proactive rather than reactive.

Here’s a prediction:

It won’t be too long before a company (probably from China, India or Brazil) recognizes all the little improvements that could be made to the technology specific to the urban market – and that such minor changes will dramatically increase the technology’s uptake in the urban environment. This company will recognize the opportunity and go for it – and take the unexpected step of completely ignoring the ski resort market entirely. Sounds like madness, doesn’t it?

Not really.

There are far more developing world citizens who live in poor but up-and-coming cities with horrible traffic congestion than there are wealthy white people who ski. That may sound glib, but it’s not. Skiing is still primarily an activity that appeals to a shockingly small number of (predominantly white) people due to the financial and topographical constraints of the sport. Yet the urban market is far, far, far larger than the ski market. That’s just a fact.

How long until someone figures that out?

And how long until the company that figures that out develops a product aimed exclusively at the urban market that not only dominates that market, but presents such a compelling product it eventually begins to penetrate back into the ski market, eroding market share from the existing players? That’s an incredibly plausible scenario and one the cable industry needs to devote serious time and energy contemplating.

It’s worth thinking about.

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