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Chronology of Ringer Chairlifts
| A total of eight Ringer
chairlifts were installed in four western states between 1951
and 1953, seven of them being the Double Swivel. Here are the
locations where they were located.
1. 1951 Chewelah, Washington (Now 49°
North). 3,800 feet long.
2. 1951 Holiday Hill, California (Now
Mountain High East). Over 5,000
feet long with a vertical of 1,600 feet.
3 & 4. 1952 Mt. Baldy, California.
4,000 feet long with a vertical of 1,330 feet. 2,600 feet long
with a vertical of 1,020 feet.
5 & 6. 1952 Reno Ski Bowl, Nevada
(Now Mt. Rose). Transportation
lift from Sky Tavern, abandoned after an all season road was
constructed. The Towers are still visble along Mt. Rose Highway.
The other lift was 4,500 feet long and operated until 1971 when
it was converted to a Riblet.
7. 1953 Snow Summit, California. America's
first monocable detachable.
5,000 feet long with a vertical of 1,150 feet.
8. 1953 Terry Peak, South Dakota.
4,500 feet long with a vertical of 1,150 feet.
In March of 1943, a young ski racer from Germany, Karl Ringer,
was riding a train from Munich to Nikolajew, a town right on the
Black Sea, where he worked as an engineer for a shipyard. While
on the train, Ringer drew up a sketch for a chairlift design that
he had and was hoping to get a patent for when the war ended. His
design was marvelous. Instead of being like an ordinary double (no
doubles had been built at this time yet), the design also included
a swivel system that enabled the chair to open up as people were
about to unload from the lift.
A photo from 1952 of the Double-Swivel
chairlift at Holiday Hill, California.
When Ringer came to America in 1950, he had already known a lot
about its ski impressions. Ringer first visited America in 1938
when he was with some of his classmates that were touring the country
yodeling and schuhplattling (traditional Bavarian dancing).
It was during this period that Ringer learned about the first chairlifts
that had been installed at Sun Valley in the world.
In 1950, Ringer wasted no time on developing his Double-Swivel
chairlift. In 1951 he was quickly able to sell two of his lifts
to Chewelah, Washington and Holiday Hill, California.
The swivel feature enabled passengers to just stand up as they
were getting off the lift because the chair would swivel around
them, but the loading the procedure for this type of lift was essentially
the same as any other double chair. The two-passenger seat was actually
cut in half and each hinged side was weighted and cantilevered to
open when the riders stood up and created resistance against the
seat with their backside. The chair simply passed by the riders
as they stood up and the seats would then later swing back together.
During the Korean War, it caused several problems for Ringer, because
metal could no longer be used for recreational facilities. However,
Ringer had already dealt with this type of situation over in Germany
while building lifts and knew how to over come it. This was accomplished
by looking around in scrap and army surplus yards.
Although in 1952, Ringer was hurting for lift parts for a lift
that he recently installed at Snow Summit in California, which made
history as America's first monocable detachable lift. The lift opened
in January of 1953 and had a length of 5,000 feet with a vertical
of 1,500 feet. For this lift, Ringer used the automatic couplings
off old German cable-car sets Ringer made the necessary modifications
to make this lift work. Each chair had a sheave with the clutch
that was attached to the grip. The lift was operated by a person
who pushed the chairs around the contour to the area where the riders
would board the lift. Then the operator would push the chair further
to a spot where the spring-loaded clutch would open the jaw and
then close onto the moving haul rope. When the chair arrived at
the top station, the clutch would disengage, allowing the grip to
detach from the haul rope. Once the riders unloaded from the chair,
a lift operator would then push the chair around the contour and
send it back down.
Karl Ringer (seated left) is sitting
in his patented Double-Swivel chair at the 1950 Los Angeles
Snowball. The man sitting next to him is Sepp Benedikter, who
was one of the founders of Holiday Hill, California.
Unfortunately, the final story on this detachable lift wasn't a
happy one. Dick Kun, who is the president of Big Bear Resorts, which
owns Snow Summit remembers "The design was unnecessarily advanced
and complicated for the technology of the times. It was labor-and-parts
intensive." The first season the lift operated, a chair fell
of the haul rope when its clutch failed to engage properly. The
riders sustained injuries, but luckily didn't die. But the fallowing
summer, the chair derailed on the uphill side, knocking the sheave
off the chair as it crashed into a tower dropping the chair and
killing one passenger. The lift was never operated again after this
However, Ringer continued to install his fixed grip Double-Swivel
chairs design even after the fatal accident at Snow Summit. His
eighth and final lift was installed at Terry Peaks, South Dakota
But the fatal accident at Snow Summit wasn't what led to the demise
of Ringer Chairlifts going out of business. In 1953-54, Ringer traveled
to Switzerland to talk to various lift manufacturers about a license
for his patent. Ringer signed an agreement with Bell for a small
down payment plus royalties on lifts using his patent. He thought
he had just made it big, but later found out that Bell had bought
his patent in order to take it off the market rather than use it.
This is what led to an end of installing chairlifts for Ringer and
Ringer later went on to a successful career centered around the
Cold War. He spent most of his time developing starting ramps for
the intercontinental Minuteman missile and then on to designing
and developing a graphical representation for the planning phase
and controls for IBM. Karl Ringer finally retired in 1971 in Bad
Even though Ringer's skilift career was short, his Double-Swivel
chair design is what made his lifts so unique. Heinz Steinman, who's
a son of one of the founders of Holiday Hill, California said, "When
you look at it on paper, it looks like a terrific idea, but people's
instinct was to run away from it rather than standing still and
letting it go by you. Then, when you demonstrated that the chair
would split in half, well, can you imagine the looks on their faces?"
Out of the eight chairlifts that Ringer installed, none of them
are still in operation today.
The illustration above is from a Ringer
ad that ran in the March 1953 issue of Ski Magazine. The captions
for the three illustrations above are: 1) Loading and riding
are conventional; 2) Unloading: Riders just stand up chairs
swivel around them; 3) Chairs return automatically to loading
All pictures and content were gathered from SAM
Magazine, May, 2000 ©