What’s a chairlift?

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A chairlift is a transportation system used in ski resorts to transport skiers up a mountain. It consists of bench-style chairs suspended by a loop harness system. Chairlifts are referred to as ski lifts and are defined by the number of people each chair can carry. A detachable grip chairlift is known as a “high-speed lift”. The braking system is located at the guide terminal and some chairlifts have braking systems built into the pulley assemblies. Chairlifts are also used in amusement parks, but are often enclosed or elevated trams.

A chairlift is an overhead transportation system primarily associated with winter ski resorts where it is used to transport skiers up a mountain. Bench-style chairs or seats are suspended by a motorized loop harness system threaded between finials. Fixed-grip chairlifts move slowly enough for passengers to disembark while the chairs are in motion, once they reach their destination. To ride a chairlift skiers step into the path of a chair, then sit down when it reaches them. Between the entry and exit points the chairs could travel over points where the mountainside recedes some distance.

Chairlifts in ski resorts are commonly referred to as ski lifts and are further defined by the number of people each chair can carry. A “double” chair seats two, a “triple” three, a “quad” four, and a “six pack” lifts six people. While the aforementioned fixed-grip chairlift moves slowly to allow loading and unloading while remaining in motion, a detachable-grip chairlift releases the pulley cable for loading and unloading. This allows the chairs to move slower for this operation, but faster for the actual uphill journey. Therefore, a detachable grip chairlift is known as a “high-speed lift”.

A terminal post is attached to each end of a chairlift’s course, each terminal supporting a torsion wheel that redirects the lift up or down the mountain. One of the two wheels is the drive wheel, the other is the return wheel. The driving wheel is where the motorized mechanism is located. Between these two terminals there are usually a series of intermediate towers where sets of sheaves (pulleys) support and guide the wiring.

A chair lift is sometimes referred to as a cable car, although the “rope” of a chair lift is made up of many wires wrapped around each other in specific patterns and orientations. This gives the harness its strength. Cable cars also need to be lubricated to allow the harness to remain flexible and reduce the friction that could cause fraying, particularly as the cable bends and flexes to pass over tower midpoints and around bull wheels.

The braking system on a chair lift is located at the guide terminal, with an emergency brake which acts directly on the support wheel. With the drive mechanism stationary and the position wheel locked in place, the chairlift cannot accidentally “slip” or reverse. Some chairlifts also have braking systems built into the pulley assemblies located on the towers. Bullwheel placement is also adjustable to maintain proper cable tension.

In addition to ski areas, chair lifts are sometimes used in amusement parks. More often, however, these are enclosed lifts or elevated trams.

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