The Swiss ski resort of Flims Laax Falera will be home to the first on-demand gondola in the world. The ski resort is located just under two hours from Zurich airport and offers 140 miles (224 km) of groomed runs and five terrain parks serviced by 28 ski lifts. The majority of the resort is situated at an altitude of between 6,560-9,840ft (2,000-3,000 m), which makes Flims Laax Falera one of the most reliable winter sports regions in the world.
The new FlemXpress gondola will go from Flims via Foppa and Startgels to Segnes, where it splits off to the Fil de Cassons to one side and the Nagens Sura on the other side. Currently Foppa and Startgels are not connected by lift and you can only reach Startgels on skis or snowboard. This new revolutionary gondola system connects the resort all the way to the Cassons ridge which is the gateway to the UNESCO heritage listed Swiss Tectonic Arena Sardona.
The gondola lift is operated in a fully automatic and demand-driven way. The ‘Rope-taxi’ technology, which makes this possible, was developed by the lift operations company Weisse Arena Group and engineering company Bartholet Maschinenbau AG. Like any gondola, FlemXpress gondolas move on a cable throughout the journey; however, in the station the cabins move autonomously on rails by way of their own drive system.
The system works on demand, which means if a gondola is unoccupied and not needed, it will not unnecessarily travel the line and instead rests in the respective station. Furthermore, the storage of individual on demand gondolas in the station allows for level entry, enabling comfortable boarding with prams, luggage or wheelchairs, making the Sardona area uniquley accessible to everyone.
There will be 120 cabins with 10 seats each, totalling a peak capacity of 1,000 passengers an hour. The on-demand technology however ensures that peak capacity will only be utilized when used. The Flims Laax Falera ski area is open year round and offers hiking and mountain biking in summer, but it is estimated that over the 365 days of the year, 90% of gondola trips are empty gondolas. The new technology will ensure that this number is cut down significantly, resulting in energy savings of 50%. Less empty runs also means less wear and tear on cabins and cables, resulting in less maintenance and repairs.
The whole project is governed by sustainability. Some of the old infrastructure, like the existing station buildings at Flims and Foppa, will stay in use and adapted, while new buildings will be embedded in the terrain. The construction uses local resources as much as possible, concrete is being produced in Segnes while wood comes from the local forest.
The FlemXpress gondola will use less energy than the existing four lifts that service a similar area of the mountain and will create absolutely no CO2 emissions.
All 120 cabins are equipped with two phone charging stations and a ventilation system, so that the windowpanes do not mist up. At night, gondolas will have discreet outdoor lighting in order to allow guests to view the Flims mountain landscapes unobstructed.
The realization of the project will take place in two stages. In stage 1 the two sections Flims – Foppa and Foppa – Startgels will be completed by the end of 2023 and the old chairlifts from Flims to Naraus will be dismantled. Stage 2 will see the completion of the second section Startgels – Segneshütte, Segneshütte – Nagens Sura and Segneshütte – Ils Cugns, while the Startgels — Grauberg ropeway will be dismantled. The complete FlemXpress project is anticipated to be finalized by the end of 2024. The project is running on schedule and yesterday, Monday, August 7, 2023, the supports for the FlemXpress between Flims and Foppa were flown in and installed with the help of a Super Puma helicopter.
It will be exciting to see the new rope-taxi technology in operation in section 1 for the 23/24 ski season.