The term "aerial ropeway" refers to an installation transporting passengers in carriers hung to one or more cables such as chairlifts, gondola lifts, funitels and other aerial ropeways (reversible or pulsed operation). On the contrary, draglifts are lifts where the users remain permanently in contact with the ground and funiculars are very similar to trains.
Aerial ropeways can be divided into several subsets:
- The stations : there are usually 2 (downhill and uphill), used for loading and unloading passengers
- The line: including the ropes and the towers supporting them between the downhill and uphill stations
- The carriers: Chairs, open carriers where the safety of the user against the risk of falling is partially linked to the user’s behaviour, or cabins, closed carriers. In exceptional cases, the carrier can be a bucket that is a partially closed cabin.
From a technical point of view, there are two main technologies used in aerial ropeways:
- Monocable technology
The term "monocable" means that one single rope carries (first function) and hauls (second function) the carrier that is hung to it. This type of rope is called a "carrying-hauling rope". Chairlifts, almost all gondola lifts, funitels and a few reversible or pulsed movement aerial ropeways belong to this category, representing 95% of aerial ropeways used by skiers in ski resorts worldwide.
- Bicable technology
The term "bicable" means that the two functions of carrying and hauling are filled by separate ropes. The ropes that carry the carrier are called the carrying ropes and those that haul carriers are called the hauling ropes. The majority of reversible or pulsed movement aerial ropeways all over the world fall into this category, as well as a few gondola lifts.
Bicable technology was first implemented in the beginning of the 20th century on reversible aerial ropeways whereas monocable technology only appeared in the 50’s with single-user chairlifts and fixed grips.
Each technology can be combined with two different types of movement in the hauling or carrying-hauling rope movement:
- Unidirectional movement: the ropes always turn in the same direction, either at constant speed (continuous) or variable speed (discontinuous or pulsed).
- Reversible movement: the ropes turn in one direction and then in the other; the speed of the rope depends on the position of the carrier that cannot be removed from the rope.
The choice of installation depends on the characteristics of the site (slope, length available, nature of the terrain flown over, environment), the performances required (transport capacity, speed) and the type of customers (skiers, pedestrians, disabled passengers, etc.).