First t-bar lift

“Ski lift” revolutionises skiing

90% ascending, 10% descending: An average beginners lesson on the ski slope. Until 1934. Because at that time on the Bolgen in Davos the first t-bar lift in the world started up, in order to ease the skiers' ascent. Invented by Zurich engineer Ernst Gustav Constam.

Nostalgics love them to this day: The T-shaped, black and orange ski lift bars, which have provided access to ski paradises in Switzerland for decades. Although many still remain - modern technology, demands for comfort from snow sports enthusiasts and more efficient spatial policies bring about their progressive demise every year. Something many people don't know: The first ski lift in the world and simultaneously the first ski lift in Switzerland operated on the Bolgen in Davos.

Placard of the Davos skiing school promoting the ski lift.
Bolgen lift as the first t-bar lift

At the end of the 1920s, a study by the Davos ski school revealed that ski students were spending just six minutes skiing for every hour of lessons. The remainder of the time was being spent climbing up the slope to get started. This problem was remedied by the Zurich engineer Ernst Gustav Constam . The passionate skier developed a drag rope system with winding cable. In 1930 Constam registered his invention with the patents office, four years later he worked together with the native hotelier and farmer, Leonhard (known as Lieni) Fopp , on a conveyor system invention, with Fopp interested in using a drag rope system on his agricultural land. On the 24th December 1934 the Bolgen lift finally went into operation. Its technical characteristics: 270 metres long, 60 metres vertical height difference, J-shaped single bar, valley station with a 24 HP electric drive, five intermediate supports and a top deflection station.

Modification to a double bar lift

At the end of the first season, the Bolgen lift had already transported 70,000 skiers - a complete success. Following on from this the conveyance capacity was doubled - the young ski instructor Jack Ettinger came upon the idea: He proposed that the J-shaped single bar be replaced by a T-shaped double bar. Constam, who liked the idea immediately, had the Bolgen lift modified and transformed into a double bar lift. The Constam t-bar lifts soon followed in St. Moritz, Mürren and France. "Constam" became the most widely used ski lift system.

More information on the history of ski lifts and the history of cable cars in Europe can be found at www.seilbahn-nostalgie.ch.  

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