A “3S” is a detachable gondola with two track ropes and one haul rope. It combines the speed and stability of a tram with the capacity of a gondola. Cabins generally hold about 30 passengers. 3S systems can move up to 4,500 passengers per hour at up to 8.5 meters per second. They can withstand high winds and traverse long spans between towers. These highly capable lifts are also expensive. Only 12 3S gondolas have been built. Perhaps the most famous of them, Whistler’s Peak 2 Peak, cost $51 million!
The 3S was developed by VonRoll of Switzerland. The first one to open was the Alpin Express at Saas-Fee in 1991. A second section opened in 1994. When Doppelmayr merged with VonRoll in 1996, they inherited the 3S technology. Doppelmayr built its first 3S in 2002 at Val d’Isere, France. Called L’Olympique, it accesses the famous ski area of Escape Killy.
Kitzbuhel, Austria opened the 3S Bahn in 2004. It connects two ski areas across a valley with an 8,200 foot-long unsupported span. Four years later, Doppelmayr connected Whistler and Blackcomb with the Peak 2 Peak, featuring an even longer unsupported span of 1.88 miles. Peak 2 Peak’s highest point above ground is an incredible 1,427 feet. It remains the only 3S gondola outside of Europe.
Leitner got into the 3S business in 2009 with a system in northern Italy. The towns of Renon and Ritten were connected by a 2.8 mile-long 3S. This was the first 3S built outside of a ski resort. Another urban 3S was built across the Rhine River in Koblenz, Germany in 2010. This Doppelmayr system moves 3,800 passengers per hour in each direction. Also in 2010, Doppelmayr built the Gaislachkogl 2 at Solden, Austria.
Doppelmayr built two 3S lifts for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The Olympic Village 3S connects to the downhill finish zone at Rosa Khutor ski resort. It is the only two-stage 3S built to date. In addition to moving 4,500 persons per hour, it has special carriers for automobiles. This lift is no longer shown on the resort’s trail map and has apparently not operated since the games. (Many of the 35 lifts Doppelmayr built in Sochi are abandoned.) The second 3S at Rosa Khutor is called Psekhako. It’s the longest and fastest gondola in the world, spanning 17,671 feet at 8.5 m/s.
Poma built its first 3S in 2013, the Prodains Express in France. It replaced a 50 year-old jig-back tramway connecting the ski towns of Morzine and Avoriaz. It features 30-passenger Sigma Sapphire cabins.
The newest 3S is the Pardatschgrat, built by Doppelmayr at Ischgl, Austria. It replaced a 4-passenger gondola for the 2014-15 season. It has the largest vertical rise of any 3S at 4,100 feet. 31 of CWA’s new Taris cabins hold 28 passengers each.
See above for a statistical comparison of all of these lifts. I think we will continue to see a couple 3S gondolas built each year. Just last week, Leitner and Zermatt announced plans for the world’s highest elevation 3S to open in 2018.