The Glaciers cableway

As early as 1902, the Swiss engineers Feldman and Strub came up with the idea of a lift made of a rack train between Les Pélerins and the Bossons glacier (8,038 ft) and three elevated funiculars (arrival at 12,369 ft).

On December 16th, 1905, baron Marc-Fidèle Eugster, a builder from Dijon, presented this project at the Chamonix Council. His partner was Emile Dollot, an engineer. The Council and the local government were cautious. After four years, on September 20th, 1909, a concession was granted to Eugster. But Ceretti and Tanfani's project of an elevated line broken into three sections and with many pylons (at the time, cables couldn't support heavy weights), was preferred to Eugster's project. The patent for the funicular belonged to Ceretti and Tanfani ; building work was done by Dyle and Bacalan, a firm from Paris ; Eugster and Dollot's consulting firm became a corporation : the société française du funiculaire aérien de l'Aiguille du Midi Mont-Blanc. Joseph Vallot, with 8%, was one of the stock-holders of this company ; Eugster had 75% of the capital. Work began in 1910, but as early as 1911, the arrival of the funicular was no longer planned at the top of the Aiguille du Midi. The summit being considered too narrow and the ridges impossible to get around, the funicular was now planned to arrive at the top of the Col du Midi. The building site was behind schedule and then was stopped because of World War I. Work started again in 1922.

In 1924, a first section of cable linked Les Pèlerins to La Para. This section was put into service in January, for the first Winter Olympics that were held in Chamonix.
Departure from Les Pélerins station, with three pylons.

The second section : La Para - Les Glaciers
A stop was planned half-way up this first section to give access to the bobsled track.

Three years later, on August 7th, 1927, the second section was finished, seventeen years, three months and ten days after laying the first stone. A stylish cable-car with balconies and a bobsled-like floor reached the Glaciers station at 7,920 ft.

Many political personalities were present on inauguration day.

The station at the bottom was a stone building with a waiting room, a small restaurant, two car parks and a room for the counterbalances (which weighed between 20 and 25 tons) of the cables. The first floor was turned into offices.

45 metal 39 to 108 feet-high pylons spaced every 130 to 295 feet, supported the cables. Each pylon had pare-avalanches at its bottom. Each section had two parallel bearings, separated by 13 feet, one going up and the other down. Those two bearings consisted of 6 cables : two of the cables supported the cable-car, one was used to pull it, one to guide it and the last two cables to brake the cable-car (see drawing). On each bearing, a cable-car was suspended to a carriage consisting of eight wheels set in pairs thanks to a balancing device. Under the wheels, there was an under-frame with a braking device, gripping the pulling cable. Automatic braking was insured by the weight of the cable-car, since it could weigh up to 4 tons when loaded. The body-work of the cable-car was made of wooden and mettalic parts. The entrance doors were on the sides ; the car could transport 18 people (12 sitting and 6 standing) together with the driver. The interior finishing was very meticulous.

  Photo tirée du livre "Au pays du Mont-Blanc de Servoz à Vallorcine" de C. Mollier et J.P. Gallay
Je sais tout, in December 1923
In 1933, the company created by Baron Eugster went bankrupt (the Brévent was finished and the techniques they used out of date). In fact, Eugster had sold his shares as early as 1917. A public limited company, la compagnie française des funiculaires de montagne, bought the concession. In 1937, since private investors showed no interest in the company, the state offered to grant a subsidy on condition that the county and the town of Chamonix also invested money in the company.

  Photo tirée du livre "Au pays du Mont-Blanc de Servoz à Vallorcine" de C. Mollier et J.P. Gallay
The carriage of the third section, Les Glaciers-Col du Midi, almost horizontal on departure got straightened up little by little ; film director Marcel Ichac said : "a passenger leaving lying down arrived standing."

In 1940, a service line was put into use between the Glaciers station and the Col du Midi station (at 11,621 ft). For the time, such acrobatic work was considered a real feat, requiring from the two mountain guides, Henri Farini and Laurent Cretton, and their companions, André Clerico and Francis Wenger, both technical skills and extensive knowledge of the mountains. However work was behind schedule, the government, with World War II, had other priorities and the Chamonix council also sought to withdraw from the project. Soon after the war, Marcel Auvert, an engineer, noticed that the service line of the third section presented danger (rocks could fall down) and that the upper anchoring points in the Col, being in cleaving rocks full of ice, were not safe. Moreover, techniques had evolved, in particular in the manufacturing of steel.
The government, taking the initiative again, was in favor of simply replacing the cableway. The Compagnie des téléphériques de la Vallée Blanche started building the Aiguille du Midi cableway in 1951.

The cableway line and the famous Glaciers slope, closed in 1956.
In 1948, the Arlberg Kandahar race took place on the Glaciers slope, the downhill race was won by James Couttet. In 1950 an agreement signed between the company and the Chamonix Council planned to repair the Glaciers cableway because at the time, only a few lifts permitted the practice of skiing. However, the Council didn't succeed in having the agreement respected and in 1951, the Glaciers cableway closed down. Until 1955, it helped transport equipment for the new cableway and up to 1958, it was used to maintain the high-tension lines to the Aiguille du Midi.
  Photo tirée du livre "La mémoire des sports d'hiver au pied du Mont-Blanc" de C. Mollier et J.P. Gallay
The first mountain-guide race on the Glaciers slope.
Today, only service cable-car can still be used to reach the Aiguille de Midi in case of an emergency.

More documents (accounts, photos ...) about the Glaciers Cablway : website.
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