Summer of SAM

As we reported last week the 17th SAM (Salon de l’Aménagement de la Montagne) exhibition has been held in Grenoble. The SAM is a showcase for 480 businesses from 52 countries. The giant Alpexpo exhibition hall lets them demonstrate their technological prowess in the sector of mountain and ski resort development. Glacier aware lifts, high-resolution web cams, heated chair lifts and ecofriendly snowmaking were all on show. Well the last is a bit of an oxymoron.

sam poma

The show alternates between the two self styled capitals of the Alps, Grenoble and Innsbruck. This year there was a strong Asiatic and Russian presence, particularly on Isère lift builder’s Poma stand. The Chinese market is developing rapidly at the same time that Poma’s domestic French market, with the exception of a few mega projects such as a possible the l’Alpe d’Huez – les Deux Alpes link, is maturing. The Chinese and Russians were also shopping for piste bashers, smart signposting and hands free lift pass systems. Overall the SAM attracted slightly more than 12,000 visitors; 18% of whom were non-French including (apart from people from Southern and Eastern Europe, Iran, South-America and Australia.

sam poma

As well as exporting to countries new to winter sports, such as Dubai, lift makers are breaking out of ski resort infrastructure to provide urban and tourist transportation solutions. Poma has completed the Quito gondola in South-America with a 7km length and a top station at nearly 4000 meters. Doppelmayr is building a 3 km long cable pulled shuttle train at Mexico city airport. It has already installed similar systems in Birmingham (UK) and Toronto airports. Leitner has built a gondola linking Hong-Kong’s international airport with the tourist center of Ngong Ping.

There is still a strong market for upgrading lift installations. Particularly the replacement of old drag lifts with high speed chairs and even gondolas. These enable ski resorts to reduce the number of pylons in their ski domain as well as reducing lift queues. However the downside can be more crowded pistes.

During 2005, 66 new lifts were installed in France for a cost of 227 million euros, an increase of 30%. The 3,962 lifts in France are split between the Savoie (25.4%), Haute-Savoie (19.3%), Southern Alps (18.1%), Pyrénées (11.6%) and the Isère and Drôme departments (11.2%). Jean-Charles Simiand, president of the the lift operators syndicat (SNTF) said that the high altitude domains were largely up-to-date and with good lift pass receipts this winter mid-mountain areas should be able to invest for the following season. As an example Les 7 Laux near Grenoble had a 2006 season lasting 150 days, its turnover increased 4.6% compared to a very good 2005 and it will reinvest 10% of its receipts in replacing the key Ours chairlift.

sam piste bully

Austrian’s Doppelmayr were showing the technology behind a maintenance friendly glacier lifts. Glaciers are in constant movement and the lift pylons periodically have to be repositioned. The new lift has pylons that sit on steel rails. The pylons can be tilted in a variety of directions without reinstallation or shifted sideways using a snowcat. Last summer Doppelmayr replaced lifts on the Hintertux glacier with this system. The material was lifted into place by a giant Russian Mi26-T helicopter capable of transporting 20 tonnes.

sam doppelmayr.jpg

Doppelmayr have also just completed the world’s first chair lift with heated seats. Opened at the start of the season in the Flims/Laax area it should mean no more wet and cold bottoms. The company is also proud of its high configurable Telecombi lift installed at les 7 Laux which combines six seater chairs and 8 seater gondolas on the same wire. The gondolas are ideal for children, especially ski school groups and walkers while older children and adults can opt for the convenience of the chairs.

Snowmaking is the big growth area in France. Currently 15% of the surface area of French resorts has facilities for artificial snow cover and this figure is expected to rise to 20-25% over the coming decade. Snowmaking has really been the saviour of French ski areas in the 1990s enabling a much better management of the ski season. However man made snow is not without problems. Lack of snow has been accompanied by an overall drying-out in the Alps leading to conflicts with farmers and local communities over water usage. St Gervais under Mont-Blanc has suffered water cuts this season and there have been recent problems with drinking water in both Val d’Isère and les Arcs. Snow making in France currently uses the same amount of water as a large town and the average resort uses more energy over a typical season to make snow than run the lift installations. The effects of additives such as York Neige’s Snomax are still not fully understood even if initial studies have shown them to be benign.


The Italian firm Snowstar were showing its Ecosnow catalyser which can be used with all types of snow canon. The product is reminiscent of water softeners which were popular in homes in the 1990s. It claims to “re-organize the molecular structure of the water in order to help crystallization”. It achieves this using the vibration frequency generated by the device. Snowstar says this results in 10% increase in snow production, a 1°C increase in operating temperatures giving dryer, more compact snow that better resists rain and warm temperatures.

vega snowcanon

If you are looking for a sexy snow cannon for the slope in the back garden we recommend the Snowstar Vega. Its 280 nozzles arranged in 4 groups can produce between 9.5 to a massive 75 cubic meters of snow per hour (attention avalanches!) although it will need to be below zero to run. It will take 30 meters cubed of water and 18 kilowatts to do this and produces 65 dBa of noise at 50 m.

Futher Information

Posted by on Thursday, 04 May, 2006 at 04:40 PM

First heated chairlifts in Flims/Laax ?? Heated chairlifts are allready available in both Lech and Warth in Austria.

Posted by Rolf on  Wednesday, 10 May, 2006  at 03:01 PM

Just goes to show you can’t trust anyone’s marketing department.

Posted by davidof on  Wednesday, 10 May, 2006  at 04:36 PM
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