The Big Six: Great gondolas
Friday 12 October 2012
The “Long Way Down” Gondola Kitzbühel, Austria or Whistler, Canada
Advances in technology have made it possible to build gondolas higher above the ground, because fewer support towers are needed, so large valleys can be crossed in a single span. With cabins dangling hundreds of metres in the air, some people may not want to even look out of the window, while others will try to get on to one of the glass-floored cabins that have been added to the fleet of regular solid-floored gondolas at Kitzbühel and Whistler. Kitzbühel's 3-S-Bahn gondola soars up to 400m above the valley floor, while Whistler's Peak 2 Peak lift is an even more alarming 436m up at its highest point.
A one day ski pass at Kitzbühel costs from €34 (00 43 535 6777; kitzbuehel.com) and at Whistler Blackcomb from C$110/£69 (0800 587 1743; whistlerblackcomb.com).
The Revolving Gondola, Sattel-Hochstuckli, Switzerland
The Stuckli Rondo is the world's only gondola with fully rotating cabins. During the six-minute ride, each eight-seater cabins makes two full 360-degreee turns – fortunately around the vertical axis. That gives the passengers the chance to enjoy breathtaking views in every direction. The Stuckli Rondo, which was built in 2004 by Doppelmayr, lifts its passengers from the tiny Swiss village of Sattel (800m) to Mostelberg at 1200m.
A return trip is Sfr19 (£12); a day's ski pass is Sfr37 (£24) (00 41 418 368 080; sattel-hochstuckli.ch)
The Sauna Gondola, Yllas, Finland
The Scandinavian obsession with saunas has reached new heights in the Lappish ski resort of Yllas, where the world's first sauna gondola is situated. Wood-clad inside and out, it travels up to the top station at 718m carrying up to four sweaty people at a time. There is a main (normal) sauna at the top and from there up to 12 people can leave their belongings and rent the gondola for two hours at a time, taking turns in the gondola while friends relax at the top station.
Booking the sauna gondola and top station costs €1,500 for up to 12 people (00 358 40 550 2424; yllas.fi).
The Luxury Gondola, Yabuli, China
China's burgeoning ski industry has been criticised by visiting western skiers for its rudimentary standards, but as more and more western companies move in and the wealthy elite demand more, there's a luxury end to the market too. At the country's top resort Yabuli, where China's first Club Med opened last winter, the Sun Mountain hotel has opened a link to the slopes via an efficient gondola. It includes VIP cabins complete with leather seats, mini bar and a Bose soundsystem.
Club Med (0845 367 0670; clubmed.co.uk) packages from £1,041 include flights from Paris, full board and skiing costs.
The Wedding Gondola, Arber, Germany
This gondola – which serves the highest summit of the Bavarian Forest in Germany – contains a special "cuddle cabin" with tinted windows and leather seats. Technically, it's a six-seat gondola, but the cuddle cabin is limited to couples. No special booking or extra payment is required, but there can be scuffles as couples vie to get in as it comes through for the four-minute ascent. The cuddle cabin is also popular with bridal couples heading up to get married in the mountain restaurant at the top of the lift.
A one-day ski pass costs €30 (00 49 992 594 140; arber.de).
The Emirates Air Line, London, UK
The new gondola across the Thames does not, of course, access any ski slopes. It does, however, serve as inspiration to skiing Brits and Digby Rawlins (pictured), an employee of Ski Solutions (skisolutions.com), is believed to be the first to ride it in full skiwear. London's closest guaranteed snow, in Hemel Hempstead (thesnowcentre.com), offers 50 per cent off a beginner's lesson and a free drink to anyone presenting an Air Line ticket.
An Emirates Air Line gondola ticket costs £4.30, or £3.20 with Oyster Card. (0843 222 1234; emiratesairline.co.uk).
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