Surface lift

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T-bar lift, a style of surface lift, in Are, Sweden. T-bar lift.JPG
T-bar lift, a style of surface lift, in Åre, Sweden.

A surface lift is a means of cable transport for snow sports in which skiers and snowboarders remain on the ground as they are pulled uphill. While they were once prevalent, they have been overtaken in popularity by higher-capacity and higher-comfort aerial lifts, such as chairlifts and gondola lifts. Today, surface lifts are most often found on beginner slopes, small ski areas, [1] and peripheral slopes. They are also often utilized to access glacier ski slopes because their supports can be anchored in glacier ice due to the lower forces and realigned due to glacier movement.


Surface lifts have some disadvantages compared to aerial lifts: they require more passenger skill and may be difficult for some beginners and children; sometimes they lack a suitable route back to the piste; the snow surface must be continuous; they can get in the way of skiable terrain; they are relatively slow in speed and have lower capacity.

Surface lifts have some advantages over aerial lifts: they can be exited before the lift reaches the top, they can often continue operating in wind conditions too strong for a chairlift; they require less maintenance and are much less expensive to install and operate.


The first surface lift was built in 1908 by German Robert Winterhalder in Schollach/Eisenbach, Hochschwarzwald and started operations February 14, 1908. [2] A steam-powered toboggan tow, 950 feet (290 m) in length, was built in Truckee, California, in 1910. [3] The first skier-specific tow in North America was apparently installed in 1933 by Alec Foster at Shawbridge in the Laurentians outside Montreal, Quebec. [4]

The Shawbridge tow was quickly copied at Woodstock, Vermont, in New England, in 1934 by Bob and Betty Royce, proprietors of the White Cupboard Inn. Their tow was driven by the rear wheel of a Ford Model A. Wallace "Bunny" Bertram took it over for the second season, improved the operation, renamed it from Ski-Way to Ski Tow, [5] and eventually moved it to what became the eastern fringe of Vermont's major southern ski areas, a regional resort still operating as Suicide Six. Their relative simplicity made tows widespread and contributed to an explosion of the sport in the United States and Europe. Before tows, only people willing to walk uphill could ski. Suddenly relatively nonathletic people could participate, greatly increasing the appeal of the sport. Within five years, more than 100 tow ropes were operating in North America. [6]

Rope tow

A rope tow consists of a cable or rope running through a bullwheel (large horizontal pulley) at the bottom and one at the top, powered by an engine at one end.

In the simplest case, a rope tow is where passengers grab hold of a rope and are pulled along while standing on their skis or snowboards and are pulled up a hill. The grade of this style of tow is limited by passenger grip strength and the fact that sheaves (pulleys that support the rope above the ground) cannot be used.

Handle tow

A pony lift Ski tow in Valle del Sol.jpg
A pony lift

A development of the simple rope tow is the handle tow (or pony lift), where plastic or metal handles are permanently attached to the rope. These handles are easier to grip than a rope, making the ski lift easier to ride.

Nutcracker tow

Nutcracker and belt Nutcracker3.jpg
Nutcracker and belt

Steeper, faster and longer tows require a series of pulleys to support the rope at waist height and hence require the use of some sort of "tow gripper". Several were designed and used in the 1930s and 40s, but the most successful was the "nutcracker" attached to a harness around the hips. [7] [8] To this is attached a clamp, much like the nutcracker from which it derives its name, which the rider attaches to the rope. This eliminates the need to hold on to the rope directly. This system was used on many fields worldwide from the 1940s, and remains popular at 'club fields', especially in New Zealand. [9] This type of ski lift is often referred to as a nutcracker tow.

J-bar, T-bar, and platter lift

Coldspgs j bar lift.jpg
A J-bar lift
Two hangers of a platter lift

J-bar, T-bar, and platter lifts are employed for low-capacity slopes in large resorts and small local areas. These consist of an aerial cable loop running over a series of wheels, powered by an engine at one end. Hanging from the rope are a series of vertical recoiling cables, each attached to a horizontal J- or T-shaped bar – which is placed behind the skier's buttocks or between the snowboarder's legs – or a plastic button or platter that is placed between the skier's legs. Snowboarders place the platter behind the top of their front leg or in front of their chest under their rear arm and hold it in position with their hands. These pull the passengers uphill while they ski or snowboard across the ground.

Platter lifts are often referred to as button lifts, and may occasionally feature rigid poles instead of recoiling cables.

The modern J-bar and T-bar mechanism was invented in 1934 by the Swiss engineer Ernst Constam, [10] [11] with the first lift installed in Davos, Switzerland. [12] J-bars were installed in the 1930s in North America and Australia, with the Ski Hoist at Charlotte Pass in Australia dating from 1938. [13]

The first T-bar lift in the United States was installed in 1940 at the Pico Mountain ski area. [14] It was considered a great improvement over the rope tow. An earlier T-bar was installed at Rib Mountain (now Granite Peak Ski Area), Wisconsin, in 1937.

In recent years, J-bars are no longer used in most ski areas. Some operators have combined T-bar and platter lifts, attaching both types of hanger to the cable, giving skiers and snowboarders a choice. Hangers designed to tow sledges uphill are installed on some slopes by operators, and some operators convert hangers in the summer to tow cyclists uphill.

Detachable platter or Poma lift

A variant of the platter lift is the detachable surface lift, commonly known as a “Poma lift”, after the company which introduced them. Unlike most other platter lifts, which are similar to T-bars with the stick attached to a spring box by a retractable cord, Poma lifts have a detachable grip to the tow cable with the button connected to the grip by a semi-rigid pole. Platters return to the bottom station, detach from the cable, and are stored on a rail until a skier slides the platter forwards to use it. Most detachable surface lifts operate at speeds of around 4 m/s (13 ft/s; 8.9 mph; 14 km/h), while platters and T-bars can operate up to 3.0 m/s (9.8 ft/s; 6.7 mph; 11 km/h), although are generally slower. When the grip attaches to the cable, the passenger's acceleration is lessened by the spring-loaded pole.

Magic carpet

A magic carpet in use, operated by two attendants Magic carpet uphill loaded P1437.jpeg
A magic carpet in use, operated by two attendants

A magic carpet is a conveyor belt installed at the level of the snow. Some include a canopy or tunnel. Passengers slide onto the belt at the base of the hill and stand with skis or snowboard facing forward. The moving belt pulls the passengers uphill. At the top, the belt pushes the passengers onto the snow and they slide away. They are easier to use than T-bar lifts and Poma lifts. [15]

Magic carpets are limited to shallow grades due to their dependence on friction between the carpet and the bottom of the ski or board. Their slow speed, limited distance, and capacity confines them to beginner and novice areas.

Some of the longest magic carpets are the 560-foot-long (170 m) installation at Stratton Mountain Resort [16] and the nearly 800-foot (240 m) carpet at Buck Hill in Burnsville, Minnesota, which has an overpass over a ski run. [17] The longest carpet lift is a Sunkid carpet lift, 1312 feet (400 m) long, installed at Alpine Centre, Bottrop, Germany. [18]

Related Research Articles

Chairlift Type of aerial lift

An elevated passenger ropeway, or chairlift, is a type of aerial lift, which consists of a continuously circulating steel wire rope loop strung between two end terminals and usually over intermediate towers, carrying a series of chairs. They are the primary onhill transport at most ski areas, but are also found at amusement parks, various tourist attractions, and increasingly in urban transport.

Detachable chairlift

A detachable chairlift or high-speed chairlift is a type of passenger aerial lift, which, like a fixed-grip chairlift, consists of numerous chairs attached to a constantly moving wire rope that is strung between two terminals over intermediate towers. They are now commonplace at all but the smallest of ski resorts. Some are installed at tourist attractions as well as for urban transportation.

Ski lift Transport device that carries skiers up a hill

A ski lift is a mechanism for transporting skiers up a hill. Ski lifts are typically a paid service at ski resorts. The first ski lift was built in 1908 by German Robert Winterhalder in Schollach/Eisenbach, Hochschwarzwald.

Cypress Mountain Ski Area

Cypress Mountain is a ski area in West Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, located in the southern section of Cypress Provincial Park, operated under a BC Parks Park Use Permit.

SilverStar Mountain Resort (SilverStar) is a ski resort located near Silver Star Provincial Park in the Shuswap Highland of the Monashee Mountains, 22 km northeast of the city of Vernon, British Columbia, Canada. SilverStar's snow season runs from late November to mid-April weather permitting. SilverStar provides summer lift access for mountain biking and hiking from the end of June through to September.


Snowbasin Resort is a ski resort in the western United States, located in Weber County, Utah, 33 miles (53 km) northeast of Salt Lake City, on the back (east) side of the Wasatch Range.

Copper Mountain (Colorado) Mountain and ski resort in Colorado, USA

Copper Mountain is a mountain and ski resort located in Summit County, Colorado, about 75 miles (120 km) west of Denver on Interstate 70. The resort has 2,465 acres of in-bounds terrain under lease from the U.S. Forest Service, White River National Forest, Dillon Ranger District. It is operated by POWDR.

Mount Hood Meadows

Mount Hood Meadows is a ski resort on the southeastern face of Mount Hood in northern Oregon, and is the largest of the mountain's ski resorts. It is located about 67 miles (108 km) east of Portland, and 35 miles (56 km) from Hood River along Oregon Route 35. It has both Alpine and Nordic ski areas and offers night skiing, lessons and equipment rentals. There are no overnight accommodations at Mount Hood Meadows itself, but a number of hotels and motels nearby offer shuttle services to the resort. There are also condos in Government Camp.

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (JHMR) is a ski resort in the western United States, at Teton Village, Wyoming. In the Teton Range of the Rocky Mountains, it is located in Teton County, 12 miles (20 km) northwest of Jackson and due south of Grand Teton National Park. It is named after the historically significant Jackson Hole valley and is known for its steep terrain and large continuous vertical drop of 4,139 ft (1,262 m). JHMR appears frequently in the media as one of North America's most expensive ski resorts. Regularly priced full-day adult lift tickets were $158 for the 2018-19 season.

Magic Mile

The Magic Mile is an aerial chairlift at Timberline Lodge ski area, Mount Hood, Oregon, U.S. It was named for its unique location above the tree line and for its original length. When constructed by Byron Riblet in 1938, it was the longest chairlift in existence, the second in the world to be built as a passenger chairlift, and the first to use metal towers.

Poma, incorporated as Pomagalski S.A., and sometimes referred to as the Poma Group, is a French company which manufactures cable-driven lift systems, including fixed and detachable chairlifts, gondola lifts, funiculars, aerial tramways, people movers, and surface lifts. Poma has installed about 7800 devices for 750 customers worldwide.

Berkshire East Ski Resort

Berkshire East Ski Resort is a medium-sized alpine ski area in the northeastern United States, located in the Berkshires on Mount Institute in Charlemont and Hawley, Massachusetts.

Schweitzer Mountain

Schweitzer Mountain Resort is a ski resort in the northwest United States in northern Idaho, 11 miles (18 km) northwest of Sandpoint. Located in Bonner County in the Selkirk Mountains, it overlooks Lake Pend Oreille to the southeast with views of the Bitterroot and Cabinet mountain ranges. The ski area is approximately 45 miles (70 km) south of the Canada–US border.

White Pass Ski Area

The White Pass Ski Area is a ski area in the northwest United States, in the Cascade Range at White Pass, Washington. Located 53 miles (90 km) west of Yakima on US-12, and 54 miles (90 km) east of Morton. As the crow flies, the pass is 25 miles (40 km) southeast of the summit of Mount Rainier and 30 miles (50 km) north of Mount Adams.

Hanmer Springs Ski Area, located on Mount Saint Patrick, South Island, New Zealand is a club skifield 17km from the town of Hanmer Springs. It has New Zealands longest Poma lift at over 800m, a nutcracker rope tow and a new beginners fixed grip rope tow, giving access to trails rated as 10% beginner, 60% intermediate and 30% advanced. Elevation is 1769m at the top of the field with 52ha of ski terrain.

Snow Valley Ski Club is a ski area located inside Edmonton, Alberta just off the Whitemud Freeway in 119 Street in Rainbow Valley. The resort functions as a not-for-profit organization. The slope caters primary to beginner skiers and snowboarders, with only 15% of the area designated as advanced.

Bousquet Mountain

Bousquet Mountain is a local ski area serving skiing and snowboarding located on a northern summit of Yokun Ridge in Pittsfield, Massachusetts within the Berkshire Mountain Range. It is now owned by Mill Town Capital and has a consulting contract with the Schaefer family which are owners of Berkshire East and Catamount.

Burke Mountain Ski Area

Burke Mountain Ski resort is a mid-size ski resort open to skiing and snowboarding in northeast Vermont. It is located on Burke Mountain and is home to Burke Mountain Academy, a ski academy.

Ski Santa Fe Ski resort in New Mexico, United States

Ski Santa Fe or Santa Fe Ski Basin is a major ski resort located in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Santa Fe County, New Mexico, United States, 16 miles east of the state capital of Santa Fe. It includes 7 lifts and 86 runs at elevations of over 10,000 feet (3,000 m). It is the southernmost major ski resort of the Rocky Mountains, and one of the oldest and highest in the nation.


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