The T-bar is an endangered species in Tirol. This winter, a new tri-cable gondola whisks skiers up to the top at Stubai Glacier Ski Resort, new border-erasing gondola lines create Austria’s largest ski resort in St. Anton and Giggijochbahn Gondola in Sölden boasts a wheelchair accessible loading area. Somewhat sad for lovers of yesteryear’s T-bars and rope tows, these improvements will completely transform the guest experience for the 2016-2017 winter season.
Free Wi-Fi access. Cushioned leather seats. All-round glazing with panoramic windows. Designed by Pininfarina. A swift 12-minute flight up-mountain ride, taking skiers from 1,695 to 2,900 meters above sea level. A € 60 million investment. No, we’re not talking of a luxury passenger jet, this is one of the newest state-of-the-art gondolas in the country: The new 3S Eisgratbahn Gondola at Stubai Glacier Ski Resort is innovation on a different scale entirely: 49 giant cabins with the ability to carry 32 passengers each whisk skiers up to the top in total comfort. Replacing the old Eisgratbahn Gondola, the new tri-cable gondola, commonly called 3S, bumps up a notch in speed and capacity by halving the ride time and doubling the hourly capacity of skiers. And that’s what the new gondola looks like:
Seen it on screen? Nowadays, innovative contemporary lift terminals create a stimulating contrast to the typical mountain experience. The iconic top station of Gaislachkogelbahn Gondola at Ötztal Valley’s ski resort of Sölden, for example, played a leading role in the Tirol sequences of Spectre, the 24th film in the James Bond series, starring Daniel Craig.
This winter, Sölden re-imagines the ski experience with a new major ski area improvement: The new Giggijochbahn Gondola is an amazing upgrade, full of conveniences and modern features. The gondola loading area is wheelchair accessible and each of the 134 spacious gondola cabins is equipped with Wi-Fi access, speakers and innovative interior lighting systems. You will never want to leave! Both base and top buildings are architectural masterpieces that would fit perfectly into the fantasy world of yet another science-fiction-blockbuster.
Another game changer for ski vacation travellers happens in the westernmost area of Tirol, and not just because of the sheer size, though it is quite impressive. St. Anton am Arlberg was already huge, with an amazing array of black and double black terrain for even the highest level experts. For the upcoming winter season, four new border-erasing gondola lines create the largest ski resort in Austria. What’s more, new Flexenbahn interconnect gondola renders the car ride to Lech superfluous, eliminating 120 ski shuttle bus rides a day.
While we are speeding up the mountain twice as fast as last winter, Wi-Fi access allows us to surf the net and to use Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook. We have to hurry, though, as we ride up the mountain at warp speed in these space-age gondolas. The fancy cabins with heated, cushioned seats ensure a cosy ride in total comfort.
Do you remember the good old T-bar? Skiers and riders usually struggle heavily with trying to get on and out of the T-Bar and to its top. A ride you have to earn. And what about the famed one passenger chair lift (yes, a ONE seater chairlift)? A generation ago, the single chair was state-of-the-art—today, there are only very few single-chair lifts operating in the country, making it a truly unique piece of Tirol ski history. These lifts take one skier per wood-slatted chair on a half an hour journey from the bottom to the top. Obviously, it’s a lonely ride and a quiet, contemplative experience. And one where free Wi-Fi was quite handy. After all, you don’t have a lot of opportunity in life these days to have thirty minutes alone.
Bad news for all those of you who cherish nostalgia a lot: Old-school ski lifts like T-bars, rope tows and single chairs that remind us of ski days past, are an endangered species in Tirol nowadays. They are all being replaced by top-notch high-speed chair lifts and gondolas. Am I one of those nostalgia lovers? Well, ask me again – after my first ride on the new, high-speed tri-cable gondola.