The first Ski lift in Nepal – Backyard engineering 2.0

IMG_1423The first time I visited Kalinchok in Dolakha was in 2011. As a “backpacker”, I ran into a group of youngsters who began to study tourism at the Nepal Academy for Tourism and Hotel Management (NATHM). The idea to open a skischool in Nepal was only put in concrete terms when Utsav Pathak, one of the students, suggested in 2015 to start a ski project in Nepal. Subsequently we decided to collect used Skitour gear and Snowboards through friends and family in Germany and Austria. In a next step, several friends joined me to teach a group of 15 students and mountain guides how to ski and shred in Rolwaling Valley in Dolakha. It was my second time in Dolakha and once more, after the trip to the high mountains, we trekked up to Kalinchok to scout the area for possible ski slopes.

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Utsav and his friends returned dozens of times to their local mountain to Ski and suggested to me to look into building a Ski lift. It took several months until Florian Trittler, a fellow ski instructor from Germany who also skied in Nepal with me, and my Nepali friends continued to look into the matter. Florian also works in a cable car company in Austria as an engineer and together we drafted the first protype on paper. Our approach of German engineering, mixed with a Nepali cost-benefit analysis, eventually ended in a rope tow system, powered by a gasoline engine.27018429_1955470457854692_366574133_o

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We did not want to errect a permanent structure to keep the footprint light, since Kalinchok is not only part of a conservation area, but also an important religious shrine. Therefore, the poles and bottom- and top station are held in place by metal poles. In addition, electricity in Nepal is scarce, hence we decided to opt for a combustion engine for the first prototype. After looking at backyard rope tows on youtube and historical ski lifts from the alps, we wanted to keep it simple and as cheap as possible.

When I begann to search for reduction gear boxes on Kathmandu markets, I realized it will be a long journey to design and built the lift completly by ourselves. Hence, we approached Guna Raj Dakhal, one of the leading cable car engineers in Nepal, who instantly was interested in pioneering the first ski lift in Nepal. Guna is one of the engineers who is part of the recent boom of cable cars in the country. In contrast to European or American cable cars, the infrastructure is commonly used to transport pilgrims (and goats) to religious shrines. The business model remains similiar. After four to five years, the cable car is paid off. This led to the errection of Manakamana, Chandragiri, Kalinchok and finally a new project in Sarangkot.

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Our vision however is different. We only realized that promoting skiing to beginners is not so easy without a ski lift. Although it worked for the first generation of Skiers in Nepal, it is incredbly exhausting to skin up with skis and to focus again while going down. At least for the very beginners. Therefore, we decided that a rope tow lift, up to 80m is sufficient to introduce beginners to the sport while limiting the environmental footprint to a minimum extent. We still believe in a Skitour & Splitboard tourism in Nepal that can attract foreigners while we establish a Ski culture for Nepalis.

How does it work? This season we faced some temperature issues with the carburator. Also the large iron rebars that we used to fix the system loosend in the soil. We are looking forward to operate again next January and February with some technical improvements. The interest of the locals and Kathmandu tourists was definitely high! Overall at least 250 youngsters came out to Ski with us, hence its a major success to bring more people on the slopes! Ski on! #skisnowboardnepal

Here is the first 100% Nepali Ski Movie filmed and edited by Rupak Tandukar

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Inauguration ceremony with high level guests. Jevan Ram Shrestra President of the Olympic Committee, Vice-Mayor of Charikot, District Chief of Police Dolakha

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Two poles are needed to increase the rope tension. An old rice bag serves as counter weight.

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A reduction gear and a car transmission provide the necessary low speed while permitting enough torque to pull up to 10 persons at the same time

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