Due to its liberal economy, early industrial development, wealth, scenery and tourism, Switzerland has more mountain railways and cableways in relation to its size and population than any other country. The first ones were an aerial cableway used to ferry workmen across the Rhine at Schaffhausen (1866), a rack railway up to the Rigi (1871), a cable railway (funicular) in Lausanne (1877) and the world first mountain aerial cableway for public passenger to the Wetterhorn in Grindelwald (1908).
There are still several cableways manufacturer in business: Bächler Top-Track, BMF Bartholet Maschinenbau AG, Borer Lift AG, CWA Constructions SA, Garaventa/Doppelmayr AG, Inauen-Schätti AG, NSD Niederberger AG, Rowema AG Swissrides AG and Von Rotz Seilbahnen AG. Others stopped manufacturing, sold on or disappeared such as Annen, Baco AG, Bell Maschinenfabrik AG, Brändle, Constam, WBB Bühler, Elbag, GMD-Müller, Georg Fischer AG, Garaventa, Giovanola Frères SA, Habegger AG, Küpfer Maschinenfabrik, Lauber Seilbahnen, MWB Metalwerke Buchs, Odermatt, Oehler Eisen- &Stahlwerke Co, Norro, Rickenbach, Rowema, Sameli-Huber, Skimag Ski- und Sessellifte, Streiff, TEBRU, Vogler, Von Roll AG and WSO-Städeli.
90% ascending, 10% descending was an average beginners lesson on the ski slope. Before 1934, several ski areas were already using horse drawn sleds, funicular cable railway or funicular cable sleds as well as adapted tractors to solve the never ending climbing up the slopes.
1934 will be remembered as the birth of history’s most influential ski lift design. Ernst Constam, an engineer from Zürich, built the first “J-bar”, later a “T-bar” at Bolgen in Davos (patent 179310). In 1940 he immigrated to the U.S. where he further developed the business of ski, chair lifts, and gondolas. All over the world he must have sold over 200 installations – many more copied. There are still today thousands of T-bars in operation worldwide. These lifts had a strong impact, not only on the ski industry, but on tourism.
Also in 1934, Gerhard Müller a rope ski lift (CH174250). One year later, Beda Hefti built the first ski lift which permitted curved sections. Instead of bars, there were belts around the hips. In 1946, Heinrich Vogler invented the ski lift “Trainer”, a lightweight removable, inexpensive lift, ideal for short slopes; it could cope with lengths of up to 1000 meters and height differences up to 300 meters and is still highly popular.
Currently (2016), Switzerland has 2450 ski lifts which includes 345 chairlifts, 812 T-Bars, 130 gondolas, 119 aerial cable cars, 52 funiculars, 507 small ski lifts (low cable for children), 251 learning carpets, and 234 smaller cable systems.