The Pustevny double chairlift is a popular recreational installation.
Photo: Radim Polcer
New ropeways

ANNIVERSARY

80th anniversary of the Pustevny chairlift

Eighty years ago the first chairlift in Europe was opened in the Moravian-Silesian Beskids in the Czech Republic.

Created by Roman Gric

Necessity is the mother of invention

With the annexation of the border areas of Czechoslovakia by the German Reich in autumn 1938 and the loss of Slovakia and the establishment of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia in March 1939, Czechoslovakia – among other things – lost most of its mountainous areas. With the exception of the Petřín funicular in Prague, the Czechs thus also lost all their ropeways. Of the remaining mountains, only the Moravian-Silesian Beskids reached an altitude of 1,000 m. At that time the Czech mechanical engineering company František Wiesner of Chrudim already had experience with the construction of material ropeways as well as four aerial tramways in Czechoslovakia. The original plan for a tram to be built to serve one of the peaks in the Beskids was discarded due to the impending war and a cheaper solution sought that could be implemented quickly. In December 1939, the Czech Ski Association in Prague decided to commission the Wiesner company to design and build a chairlift leading from the district of Ráztoka in Trojanovice to the Pustevny mountain saddle at 1,020 m above sea-level.

The area of Pustevny and Radhošť

In 1899, picturesque mountain chalets designed in a fusion of folk architecture and Art Nouveau by the Slovak architect Dušan Jurkovič were built on Pustevny, and in 1898 a chapel dedicated to the Slavic apostles St. Cyril and St. Methodius, the highest sacred building in the Czech Republic, was built on the nearby mountain Radhošť (1,129 m a.s.o.). After the First World War the two mountain hotels Tanečnica and Radegast were constructed on Pustevny. The Pustevny – Radhošť area was and still is the most popular tourist area in the Moravian-Silesian Beskids and also a place of pilgrimage.

Lift construction in record time

The construction of the first fixed-grip single chairlift in Europe was completed in an extremely short period of time, even by today’s standards, and in extremely hostile weather conditions with temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees. Construction of the top station began on January 8, 1940, and the lift was opened to the public on March 4 of the same year. The 36 kW drive was located in the top station; the return sheave at the bottom station was tensioned by means of a reel with block and tackle. The bullwheel and return sheave both had a diameter of 3.00 m. The chairs are made of bent steel tube with an articulation and had seats made of oak. The chairs were attached to the haul rope by means of patented permanent grips; there was a basket on the side of the chair for transporting skis and a hook for a small item of luggage. Footrests and restraining bars were still unknown in those days. The towers and station buildings were built of wood.

During the first year of operation, problems arose with the wooden towers, which had been anchored in the frozen ground, but they were solved in 1941 by reinforcing the towers with curved railway rails. In addition to the chairs, the lift also had seven freight carriers, which were used to carry luggage. The chairlift was both popular and profitable.

Operation and modernization in the post-war years

Following the dissolution of the Czechoslovak Ski Association in the course of the political upheavals after 1948, the ČSD (Czechoslovak State Railways) took over the management of the chairlift. In 1956 the ČSD started work on a complete refurbishment of the lift. In addition to a new drive, new control system, new chairs and a stronger haul rope, the original towers were replaced by new lattice towers. For the transition from the bottom station to the steep gradient of the line, two large deflection sheaves were used instead of the more usual compression sheaves. The ropeway engineering for the new installation was supplied by Transporta Chrudim as the nationalized successor to František Wiesner’s company. A few years later the chairlift had another change of ownership, from the ČSD to the Czechoslovak Union for Sport and Physical Education (ČSTV). Until it ceased operating at the end of 1982, this pioneering installation carried a total of about 6 million passengers.

New ropeway with a modified line

Although the decision to replace the chairlift with a new installation was taken in the 1970s already, implementation of the project under the conditions of a socialist planned economy took three years, from 1983 to 1986. The replacement installation was a fixed-grip double chairlift built by the Slovakian Tatrapoma company under licence from Poma. The bottom station was moved further down into the valley, which almost doubled the length of the line. Capacity was also significantly increased. The drive and hydraulic tensioning system were again located in the bottom station. The design of the Delta type station, with its timeless looks, was created for the Poma company by the industrial designer Alphonse Lisa. He was also responsible for the water-droplet shape of the chairs, which were in use until 2012. The return station at the top was built as an open structure. In 1991, the chairlift was acquired by the Skialpin Pustevny sports club, which was converted into a limited liability company in 2006. Today the installation is operated by Pustevny s.r.o, with the municipality of Trojanovice as a minority shareholder.

In 2012 the original chairs were replaced by a newer type of Tatrapoma chairs from the Ustroń – Czantoria double chairlift in Poland, which was replaced by a Doppelmayr detachable quad chairlift in 2006. In 2016 the original multi-purpose building at the top station was demolished and replaced in August 2017 by a new structure made of stone, wood and glass. Access to the cable car is now through this building, which houses a restaurant and a souvenir shop in addition to the restrooms.

The celebrations to mark the 80th anniversary of the Pustevny chairlift, including a full supporting program, were held on March 3-8, 2020, just before restrictions were imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Future plans

Sitting in open chairs moving at a fair-weather speed of 2.0 m/s is particularly problematical in poor weather and no longer up to standard in terms of the quality of the ride. Plans were drawn up some years ago to replace the present double chairlift with a gondola lift, and in autumn 2019 the approvals were issued for the construction of a 10-passenger gondola lift with a capacity of 1,100 pph. The new installation requires far fewer towers on the line than the chairlift. The planned total spend for the new installation of about 150 million Czech korunas (about 5.7 million euros) means that a contribution from the government’s regional development fund is required.

Factbox

  • The first attempts to transport people to higher altitudes sitting on a chair suspended from a steel cable were made with military installations on the Dolomite front during the First World War.
  • In the 1920s, a chairlift was installed in a coal mine in Hungary to transport seated miners through the underground galleries.
  • Sun Valley holds the title for the world’s first recreational single-seater chairlift, which was built to serve Proctor and Dollar Mountain in Ketchum (Idaho, USA) by the Union Pacific Railroad Company in 1936.
  • The first single chairlift in Europe, from Ráztoka to Pustevny, opened in March 1940.
  • In the Alps the first chairlift, a single-seater from Trübsee to Jochpass in Engelberg, opened in 1944. For test purposes, the installation was also equipped with two simple cabriolet-type gondolas for bad weather. In winter it was operated as a surface lift.
  • The first detachable chairlift with double chairs facing in the direction of travel was the Flims – Foppa chairlift built by the Swiss Von Roll company in 1945.
  • There are currently 102 chairlifts operating in the Czech Republic, including 28 detachable installations.

Technical Data

Three generations of the Ráztoka – Pustevny chairlift

Type of installationsingle chairliftsingle chairliftdouble chairlift
Elevation of bottom station716 m716 m620 m
Elevation of top station1,020 m1,020 m1,020 m
Line length887 m887 m1,637 m
Vertical difference304 m304 m400 m
No. of towers182118
Haul rope diameter23.5 mm28.0 mm33.5 mm
Drivetop stationtop stationbottom station
Rated output 36 kW47 kW160 kW
Tensioning systembottom stationbottom stationbottom station
No. of chairs81 + 7 freight carriers89164 (new 162)
Max. line speed1.2 m/s1.8 m/s2.5 m/s
Transit time12.0 min8.1 min10.9 min
Rated transport capacity216 pph321 pph900 pph (in winter)
ManufacturerFrantišek Wiesner, ChrudimTransporta ChrudimTatrapoma, Kežmarok
Operational1940 – 19561956 – 1982January 1, 1987 – date

 


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