History of the Planpraz cable car in Chamonix

I often ponder what places would have looked like in years past. This reflection has lead me to investigate the history of the ski lifts that I know and use. Recently, I have been collecting information and pictures about cable cars in the Chamonix Valley and specifically about the Planpraz lift. This was actually the third cable car in the Chamonix Valley completed in 1928. As the table below indicates, the first lift in Chamonix and France was opened in 1912.

1905 First proposal for a cable car Les Pelerins to Aiguille du Midi
1909 Aiguille du Midi proposal taken on by French company
1912 First proposal for a cable car to Planpraz
1921 Chamonix council agrees to construction of Planpraz and Brevent cable cars
1924 Cable car Les Pelerins to La Para opened- the first in France
1927 Second section La Para to Les Glaciers opened
1928 Planpraz cable car opens
1930 Planpraz to Brevent cable car opens
1936 Bellevue cable car completed
1951 Les Pelerins to Les Glaciers cable car closed
1953 Flegere cable car opens
1954 Planpraz original cable cars replaced and Altitude 2000 chairlift opened and new/present Aiguille du Midi lift completed
1979 Planpraz cable car replaced by detachable telecabins old cable line and pylons used
2010 Completely new Planpraz telecabin station and line opens
2012 Last reinforced concrete pylon of original Planpraz lift removed

I want to acknowledge the websites listed at the end of this blog for much of the information and the pictures I have used.

Planpraz is a plateau area at roughly 2000m on the North side of the Chamonix Valley; it overlooks the town. The idea of a lift there, and beyond to the top of Le Brevent (at 2525m), was first seriously pursued in 1912 by Alfred Cachet, the owner of the, still very grand, Majestic Hotel.

Hotel Majestic (Auguste Couttet, coll. Laurent Berne)

Hotel Majestic (Auguste Couttet, coll. Laurent Berne)

His idea was inspired by the concept of the Aiguille du Midi lift. His plans were put on hold by WW1 but in 1920 he put the proposal to Chamonix Council. They approved of the plan in 1921 and a concession was signed in 1922. But development was then delayed because it involved clearing of a section of communal forest for the pylons and cable. It took a Presidential intervention to clear this obstacle in 1925. However, this proved to be too late for M Cachet who had run up substantial debts in the meantime and was forced to pass the concession on.

In some respects, however, the delay was good for the project because new technical developments made the project more feasible and a new route and plan was developed. This picture shows the route and provides a good picture of Chamonix in the 1920s.

Route of Planpraz cable car in 1927

Route of Planpraz cable car in 1927 (Auguste Couttet, Coll. Laurent Berne)

The revised plan utilised 6 reinforced concrete pylons, in contrast to the 23 in the Cachet plan. These pylons stood until 2012 and were as high as 35m containing up to 200 tonnes of concrete. The lift opened in 1928 and offered a carrying capacity of 150 people per hour in each direction and operated both summer and winter.

The cable car from Planpraz to Brevent was opened in 1930. In 1935 an accident happened on the Planpraz cable when the descending car was blown into a pylon and derailed from the cable but, luckily, it was still suspended by the brake cable. The cable car operator apparently improvised a rope with items of clothing and a belt to assist the rescue.

By 1938 Chamonix appeared to be a fully functioning ski resort as this “piste map” shows. Of course there would have been no piste makers or perhaps markers used then!

"Pistmap£ showing the ski lifts and major ski routes

“Pistmap” showing the ski lifts and major ski routes

I think it is interesting that this plan shows two button lifts (teleskis). One is on what is now known as the Savoy ski area. There is still a teleski in that area called “Grand Teleski de la Cote! and it looks to be more or less in the same place as it was then.

Teleski de la cote

Teleski de la cote

The other teleski, Vioz, looks to me to be more or less where the current Telski Du Stade is. It is interesting that the blue piste that goes from top to bottom of this lift is called Vioz.

In 1945 the Planpraz cabins were modified to provide ski carriers (and foolhardy individuals, unless this is how ski instructors had to travel!)

The new cable cars iwth external ski carriers

The new cable cars with external ski carriers

And, in 1954, alongside a substantial renovation of Planpraz a chairlift was constructed, one of the first by the French company Poma, linking the top of the Planpraz cable car with the top of the ski pistes. When I first visited Chamonix, this Altitude 2000 chair lift was still in operation. It had two seats at that time but was one of the clunkiest and most difficult chairs I can recall riding on. I had previously, in Austria, ridden on one of these single chair chairlifts; quite a unique experience.

Chairlift Altitude 2000

Chairlift Altitude 2000

In 1979 the 2 cable cars of the Planpraz lift were replaced by 55 detachable cabins but the route and pylons of the original system remain, although, the arrival point at Planpraz was moved to the position of the roof of the old station. The capacity of the lift went up from 240 to 1500 people per hour. In 1992 the gondolas were replaced by new ones. Finally, in 2008 the station closed and construction of a new lift began. This one started at the same location but within a new building and just about everything else changed. Although roughly the same route was followed, the old concrete pylons were no longer required and the arrival point moved up the mountain to a new location, removing the need for the Altitude 2000 chair lift.

Finally, after what seems to be have been quite a wrangle between the lift company(ies) and the Chamonix Council the old concrete pylons were dismantled and removed completely in 2012.

These are the sources I have used but since most are in French any errors are bound to be mine and for which I apologise





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1 Response to History of the Planpraz cable car in Chamonix

  1. Franci says:

    Enjoyed reading your article, and thanks for posting your research. I became interested in the Brevent cable car when while riding it I noticed that the operator used a hand crank to open and close the doors, thus causing me the question how old is this car.

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