LAAX Switzerland launches world-first on-demand Gondola

LAAX Switzerland launches world-first on-demand Gondola

New service, inspired by Uber’s on-demand model, will cut emissions by 50%

Swiss Alps ski resort LAAX Switzerland has announced that following 15 years of development it will launch stage one of its first-of-a-kind uber style gondola, the FlemXpress in December 2023. 

LAAX, the “leading resort for sustainability” in the Swiss Alps, has pioneered the introduction of new technology to replace its chairlifts and reduce energy consumption by up to 50% with the new system. 

Spearheaded by the Weisse Arena Group and the community of Flims, through an investment of CHF 80 million, stage one of theFlemXpress, encompasses the first two segments of the new gondola and will open for public use ahead of the 2023/24 Winter season. 

Through “world-first” engineering inspired by Uber’s model of on-demand transport, the new gondola will provide “better connections” for those looking to visit the famous UNESCO World Heritage Tectonic Arena Sardona. 

The route begins by connecting Films and Foppa, then Foppa to Startgels in stage one, before expanding to Segnes, Nagens Sura and Cassons in later stages. 

On FlemXpress, the gondolas travel in the stations at a speed of 1 m/s by way of their own eMotion vehicle drive system which enables self-propelled, autonomous travel. 

To supply energy for this system, kinetic energy is converted into electric energy as the gondola decelerates when entering the station and accelerates when exiting. 

This energy is used to operate the gondolas in the station but all gondolas are equipped with two batteries that guarantee the completion of each journey, which are charged while the guests enter and exit the gondolas.

The new Ropetaxi gondola system invented between Bartholet Maschinenbau AG in Flums and the Weisse Arena Group enables the cabins to autonomously travel in the station. 

Despite the absence of tyre conveyors in the stations, the level of safety is said to be the same as in conventional gondola lifts. 

This also guarantees “quieter travel, less maintenance work and a reduced need for wear parts”. 

Any empty gondolas are then taken off the track, so there is no extra energy in use to transport empty cars.

Roland Bartholet, CEO of Bartholet Maschinenbau AG, says: “With a conventional gondola lift, around 90% of the cabins travel empty. With FlemXpress, at least one person will be present in the cabin and the gondola goes wherever you want it to. That makes our gondola lift much more sustainable than it has ever been possible up until now.”

The key goals of the FlemXpress are to give all guests easier and disability-friendly access to the UNESCO World Heritage Tectonic Arena Sardona, restore access to the local Fil de Cassons mountain in Flims, with as little interference as possible with the surrounding nature, to enable flexible tourism all year round and to keep nature at the core of it.

Reto Gurtner, chairman and delegate of the Board of Directors for the Weisse Arena Group, said: “We have established mutual trust [with environmental conservation groups] by striving to find a solution that goes beyond our obligations, i.e. beyond the minimum legal requirements.

“Our goal was to create what is known as ‘non-architecture’ – architecture that does not interfere with the mountain or negatively impact the surrounding nature. The emphasis should be on the landscape and not the gondola systems.”

Once in use, the new gondola will use “up to 50% less energy consumption than the previous chairlifts”, alongside its “significantly shrunk footprint”. 

All new stations have been designed to blend into the natural surroundings and use local materials for contruction.

Each gondola is equipped with two phone charging stations and will be able to hold 10 people, and in the summer can hold five people and their bikes. 

At full capacity the gondola will be able to transport 1,500 people per hour.