France: Skiers left hanging after gondola breakdown in French Alps

More than 100 skiers have been rescued after a gondola lift system broke down at the Chamrousse resort in the French Alps. Two helicopters were used to secure the stranded skiers and lower them to safety.

Scores of skiers were stranded for hours at the Chamrousse ski resort in south-eastern France on Sunday after a cable railway broke down, authorities said.

Two helicopters worked quickly to free the skiers and snowboarders from each gondola and the rescue operation was able to wrap up by nightfall.

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What we know:

  • Between 100 and 150 people were stuck in 70 gondola cars
  • Rescuers dropped into each car's roof hatch to release the skiers, secure them with ropes and lower them to safety
  • Some of those rescued had been dangling in the cars for up to two hours
  • No reports of injuries
  • It is still unclear what caused the system to malfunction

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Germany's highest building site

50 million euros were invested. No other cable car in the world traverses a longer unsupported span: more than 3200 meters from the support tower to the summit station. It has the world's tallest aerial tramway steel support, 127 meters in height. The cabins travel 4.5 kilometers, covering a difference in elevation of almost 2000 meters in one section. Those are technological world records.

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The first new cabin

Adorned with a white outline of the Wetterstein Massif, the new cabins offer more comfort and a better view. They have room for 120 passengers. The new cable car can transport up to 600 people an hour to the summit. When the glass-walled cabins whisk passengers at high speed over the single support tower, an adrenaline rush is guaranteed on the ten-minute trip.

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The new summit station

Engineers and technicians worked on the new cable car for three years. Now the cranes have been dismantled. The three-story summit station glistens from afar. It's fully glazed, including the station platforms, technical buildings and panorama restaurant. Even getting into or out of the cabin is a thrill: the new building hangs 30 meters above a precipice.

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Worn out after 54 years

The Austrian side already had a cable car to the Zugspitzkamm ridge, 2805 meters above sea level, in 1926. In 1963, the Bavarians went one better: in the following years, the Eibsee cable car took more than 21 million passengers up to 2960 meters. The last cabin traveled to the valley in spring 2017. Adding up all the kilometers, the old cabins circled the world more than 76 times.

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Around Lake Eibsee

The old cable car was named after Eibsee lake. This emerald-green mountain lake lies near the valley station, 1000 meters above sea level. Its name derives from the "Eiben", or yew trees, that once lined its shores in even greater numbers than now. Hiking trails lead around the lake, with its eight islands in crystal-clear water. You can also explore the area on a mountain bike.

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The cross on the summit

The golden cross at the summit was damaged by a crane in May 2017 during construction work. The crane's chain tore off several of the cross's golden rays. Some of them fell deep down but could be salvaged. On December 6, 2017, in a spectacular operation, the Zugspitze's 4.88-meter-tall landmark was put back in its place.

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Panoramic view

This view attracts more than half a million visitors a year. In fine weather you can see more than 400 peaks. Mountain enthusiasts know their names, but you can simply look them up on the Zugspitze app on PeakFinder AR. Still, many tourists are perfectly contented just enjoying the sun and magnificent view over Germany, Austria, and the Swiss Alps as far as the Dolomites in Italy.

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Zugspitze Plateau

The Zugspitze region is a veritable winter paradise and an ideal arena for winter sports, and it still has a lot of natural snow. The season for skiing and tobogganing on the glacier often lasts well into May. However, in recent years snow has rarely fallen as early as this winter. The Alps are already suffering from the early effects of climate change.

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The cogwheel train as an alternative

The Zugspitze cog railway first turned Germany's highest peak into a tourist paradise. It has been taking passengers from Garmisch-Partenkirchen up to the glacier since 1930. The final meters to the Zugspitze plateau are now bridged by a short aerial cable car. The trip on the historical cogwheel train takes about 75 minutes. In the summer, many hikers use this way to get to the summit.

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Germany's highest beer garden

Most tourists visit the Zugspitze in the summer, and the cable car operators rely on them. The slogan "a mountain experience for everyone," aims to attract more passengers with disabilities to the summit. The barrier-free cable car is expected to carry up to 600,000 passengers a year and run for at least 50 to 60 years. Whether there will still be snow-covered Alpine peaks remains to be seen.

'In time for Christmas Eve'

Local tourist office head Franck Lecoutre said: "They will all be home in time for Christmas Eve."

Praising the fast work of the rescuers, France's national police wrote on Twitter that "a hundred skiers stuck in gondolas will finally have a Merry Christmas" and will be able to open their presents after all.

Local media and witnesses also posted images of the rescue operation on Twitter:

High-flying cars: The gondola cars shuttle skiers and snowboarders up the mountain, running 25 meters (82 feet) above the ground. They can carry up to 10 people per car.

Bustling ski resorts: Tourists have flocked to ski resorts across Europe due to the Christmas holidays and prime weather conditions for winter sports.

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Kitzbühel, Austria

If you're looking for winter sport tradition in Austria, go to Kitzbühel. There you'll usually find yourself among the glitterati. If they don't actually have homes here, they usually come for the famous Hahnenkamm race in January. The course on the Hahnenkamm, Kitzbühel's local mountain, is considered one of the world's most dangerous downhill runs.

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Ischgl, Austria

The former mountain farming village of Ischgl has only 1,500 residents, but more than 10,000 hotel beds. From here you can reach one of the largest ski resorts in the Alps, the Silvretta Arena. In keeping with its status, at beginning and end of the season there are fitting celebrations with international pop stars at the "Top of the Mountain Concerts."

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Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

Germany's only glacier ski resort lies slightly below the 2,962-meter Zugspitze. People have been coming here to ski since 1949. Between 2,000 and 2,700 meters up there are 12 pistes ranging from easy to medium, with a total length of 20 kilometers. And above the cloud line, it's often sunny with wonderful views.

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Berchtesgaden, Germany

At 2,713 meters, the Watzmann in Berchtesgaden is Germany's second-highest peak, and it has a very distinctive shape. Together with the neighboring peaks of the massif, Watzmann's Wife (on the left) and her children, the Watzman provides a fantastic backdrop for a winter hike.

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Hintertux, Austria

The ski resort on the Hintertux Glacier has an altitude of 3,250 meters and people can ski on it all year long. Since the end of November 2015, yet another comfort has been added: a new six-person high-speed chairlift with heated seats and a weatherproof dome. It can take 2,800 skiers an hour to the upper terminus.

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Sölden, Austria

If this building looks familiar to you although you've never been in Sölden, it's certainly because of the latest James Bond film. The Ice Q restaurant, at an elevation of 3,050 meters, was one of the locations where it was shot. It combines gourmet cuisine, stylish architecture and stunning views - reason enough to make your way up to Gaislachkogl peak, even if you're not a skier.

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Alta Badia, Italy

The Dolomites are among the best-known mountain ranges in the Alps, with their distinctive peaks, such as the Tre Cime de Lavaredo, the Sella group, the Rosengarten group and the Langkofel. In addition to a ski resort with 1,200 kilometers of pistes, there are numerous routes for ski touring and snowshoeing, like this one on the Fanes high plateau.

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Sestriere, Italy

Sestriere, in the Piedmont Alps, epitomizes winter sports tradition at an elevation of more than 2,000 meters. And that, of course, also has to do with Turin and Fiat. As far back as the 1930s, Fiat founder Giovanni Agnelli had hotels and cable cars built here. The ski resort now boasts 400 kilometers of pistes. In 2006, Sestriere was a main venue for the Winter Olympic Games.

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Courchevel, France

Until the mid-20th century, there were only farmers grazing their flocks in summer in the Savoy Alps. Then, in the 1950s, the ski resort of Courchevel was created from scratch, as part of the largest contiguous ski area in the world. The Three Valleys, Courchevel, Méribel and Belville comprise 600 kilometers of slopes linked with one another by a network of ski lifts, gondolas and cable cars.

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Fiesch, Switzerland

Not only is the Aletsch Arena ski resort part of the Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here on the Eggishorn near Fiesch, there's an excellent view of what may be the most distinctive peak in the Alps: the 4,478-meter-high Matterhorn.

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St. Moritz, Switzerland

Winter sports have been fashionable in St. Moritz since 1864, not least due to enthusiastic British travelers. They had heard that the sun shone in winter in the Upper Engadine Valley. They ensured that wooden sleds became more than simply a means of carrying hay, and began to be used for sport. The rest is history. Nowadays St. Moritz is one of the world's most exclusive winter sports centers.

rs/aw (AP, AFP, dpa)

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