Ski Lifts Designed to Cope With Melting Glaciers

Glaciers around the world are melting fast due to climate change, including those at ski areas.

That’s part of the reason why the number of summer ski areas in Europe has halved over the past decade, and that the 20 or so still operating have repeatedly cut their season length back.  

But the thawing glaciers cause practical problems for ski area operators too, as the points at which lifts can be fixed can keep shifting. Solutions to date have included finding fixed rock anchor points that stand out from the ice in order to set lift foundations, where that’s possible, as was done for the Ice Flyer chairlift at Engelberg or installing lifts that are easy to move with the ice.

That second option has been the route taken at another swiss resort Glacier 300, located between Les Diablerets and Gstaad. Here the Tsanfleuron glacier is melting at an average speed of 5 metres (17 feet) per year along its edges, and 50 centimetres (20 inches) from the depth at the centre.

Their answer was to install a removable Sunkid Mega Comfort Star surface tow which lifts skiers and boarders to the starting point of the Combe-d’Audon slope, from where they can carve down the resort’s famous seven kilometre (4.5 mile) long black run.

A special steel structure was created to replace the conventional anchored concrete foundations to permit temporary use of this 150 metre long ski lift. Buried in the snow, it can be removed without any residue or irreversible consequential damage to the terrain after the skiing season ends. The metal foundation is quick to install, mobile in its use, and reusable, which saves both time and costs for Glacier-3000-Seilbahnen.

The flexible setup and removal are necessary, as no lift would be able to continue to operate as the glacier flow moves its foundations.

Bernhard Tschannen, director of the Glacier-3000-Seilbahnen lift company says the lift was chosen not only because of its mobility, but also as it is designed to be able to be raised from its normal one metre operating height in the daytime top five metres high at night for grooming.

“Construction of this lift posed previously unknown challenges to Borer Lift AG. A construction site at an altitude of 2729 m above sea level is not comparable to one near the valley at all. For one thing, there is no mains grid for power. The lift parts cannot be delivered by truck either but must be brought in by a particularly powerful helicopter. Weather kept interrupting plans. Strong snowfalls, wind, limited sight, and other issues influenced construction work. On top of that, gigantic amounts of snow needed to be moved at the installation site on the glacier to produce an appropriate route. Though all of this required vast flexibility from the team, we were able to rise to this great challenge with outstanding success,” said Axel Halder, managing director of Borer Lift AG, part of the Sunkid group.

All images credit Borer Lift AG

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