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T-bar lift in Poronin (Poland)
A T-bar lift, also called T-bar, is a mechanised system for transporting skiers and snowboarders uphill, along the surface of the slope. In the United Statesmarker it is generally employed for low-capacity slopes in large resorts and small local areas servicing skiers numbered in the dozens rather than in the hundreds or thousands.

It consists of an aerial steel rope loop running over a series of wheels, powered by an engine at one end. Hanging from the rope are a series of vertical recoiling cables, each attached to a T-shaped bar measuring about a meter in both dimensions. The horizontal bar is placed behind the skier's buttocks or in between the snowboarder's legs, pulling against the inside of their forward leg's thigh. This pulls the passenger uphill while they slide across the ground. A single T-bar transports one or two people.

The same basic design principle as the T-bar can be seen in two related, single-passenger surface lifts: the J-bar, effectively a one-sided T-bar, and the platter, which involves the skier straddling the pole as one would a hobby horse and resting their buttocks on a single, usually plastic, platter (or button). The T-bar is considerably more common in North America than either of these related lifts, largely because it offers twice the lift capacity for the same motivator mechanisms. The first T-bar lift in the United States was installed in 1940 at Pico Mountainmarker ski area. It was considered a great improvement over the rope tow.

Older T-bars, J-bars and platter lifts employed a spring-loaded pole instead of the recoiling rope mechanism. These have fallen into disuse, as the spring-loading can produce wild swings and possible backlash, causing bruises or other injury if the unwary rider lets it go carelessly when dismounting. The retractable rope systems retract at a slower rate, and so are more tractable.

T-bars and related surface lifts are often misunderstood by beginners who incorrectly believe the objective is to sit down on the bar. This almost always leads to a fall as the T-bar is simply pulled to the ground along with the skier.

T-bars are rarely installed as the primary lift, save on small local slopes such as a golf course doing a seasonal business in local night skiing; generally chairlifts are the preferred, albeit more expensive option at established resorts. T-bars and related surface lifts are mostly found at beginner slopes or in locales where high winds may prevent chairlifts from running, or on in-between terrain to allow a short uphill fork over a ridge into the next valley that skiers would not otherwise be able to reach without climbing.

Besides lower expense, T-bars have another advantage over elevated chairlifts: the rider may leave the lift at any point, instead of being forced to wait until they arrive at the designated exit point at the top of the hill. Such mid-track unloadings are often discouraged by ski resorts, as the orange fences in the above photo show.

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