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Ropeways & Wire Rope

What's a Ropeway?

Gondola with mountains in backgroundRopeway is defined as a system for transporting materials and/or passengers in carriers suspended from or controlled by ropes. Examples include: aerial tramway; gondola; chair lift; wire rope tow; funicular.

The "ropes" are almost always constructed of inter-twining wires forming strands that make up the rope.

Types of Ropeways

Ropeways are broadly classified as transporting either Materials or Passengers

Materials Ropeways

These ropeways have been used to carry materials, for example construction materials, equipment, ores, military supplies, etc., quickly and efficiently over steep or obstacle-laden terrain. They are usually simply classified as either:

  • Monocable -- One rope serves to both support and control the carriers in transit.
  • Bicable -- Uses two ropes: a static "track cable" (support rope) and a moving "haul rope."

Passenger Ropeways

These ropeways are more specifically classified according to operational characteristics and type of carrier. The following are most common:

  • Aerial tramway -- Uses larger carriers (cabins) and travels high above the ground. The carriers travel between Three red gondolas, Royal Gorgethe terminals, stop, and then reverse direction and travel back on the same (usually stationary and counterweighted) track rope. Carriers are said to "reciprocate" between terminals. The systems are commonly referred to as "reversibles"; carriers can be single (one) reversible or double (two) reversible. Larger cabin reversible systems are found extensively in Europe. In the US, these system locations include: Estes Park and Royal Gorge, Colorado; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Palm Springs, California.
  • Gondola -- Small carriers set a close regularly-spaced intervals. These systems continuously circulate, with carriers passing around the terminal bull-wheels. Carriers detach from the hauling rope in the terminals, are decelerated and carried through the unloading and loading areas at very slow speed, then accelerated for reattaching to the haulage rope for high speed travel "on the line" between terminals. These systems are popular in ski areas and amusement parks. Gondola system locations include: Vail, Steamboat Springs, and other areas in Colorado; and extensively in ski areas in other parts of the US and Europe.
  • Funicular going up inclineFunicular -- A wire rope controls the carrier or chain of carriers as the funicular travels on tracks, at ground level or on a structural support. Examples include: Royal Gorge funicular, Colorado, USA; Hungerburgbahn, Innsbruck, Austria; Stoos Bahn, Switzerland. [Some people consider the Royal Gorge funicular to be an "inclined elevator" (not a ropeway), but it is officially considered a ropeway by the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board.]
  • Chair Lift -- 
    • Detachable chair lift: Very similar to the gondola, but the carrier is a multi-passenger open chair for 4 or more passengers, with a restraining bar and footrest. Loading for maximum capacity at a comfortably slow carrier speed is common, followed by travel at a high line speed.
    • Fixed-grip chair lift: These were standards of the industry from the early 1940s to the mid 1980s. Multi-passenger carriers circulate between and around terminals at a constant speed. This feature is a drawback, as the carrier speed comfortable for loading/unloading is slow "on the line" between terminals. Systems are popularly designated by carrier capacity: single-chair; double-chair; triple; quad, etc.
    • Chair lifts on a snowy mountainsideSurface lift: Used largely in ski areas to move skiers along the snow surface using an overhead haulage rope with attached towing devices. Loading/unloading is done between terminals with empty carriers circulating around the terminal bull-wheels at a constant line speed. Systems are designated by carrier type: disc; J-bar; T-bar, etc. 
  • Special Type -- Unique passenger ropeways not fitting into the above categories. An example is the Funitel, a high-capacity ropeway using carriers clamped between two cables and spaced closely together, first introduced in Europe.