When faced with what many believed was an insurmountable engineering challenge, in 2007, Sun Group turned to Doppelmayr-Garaventa, the world's leading manufacturer of ropeways, cable cars and ski lifts. Ever since, the two groups have been continually ‘conquering the impossible’ and making history in Vietnam.
Throughout the ages, the Alps have been at the centre of many historic engineering feats and innovations. Over 2,500 years ago, the ancient Celts lived on the foothills of the mountains and powered the Iron Age around the blacksmith’s forge. In more modern times, the engineering ingenuity has continued. Who in the world hasn’t heard of Swiss watchmakers?
Perhaps, considering the mountainous terrain, it was inevitable that modern engineers would also devise a way to make it easier for people to traverse the Alpine slopes. The first ever ropeway installation was built in the early 1900s, consisting of a barrel and a tractor system that was driven by horsepower or watermills. Following the end of the First World War in 1919, tourism began to flourish for the first time in Lech and Zürs (Austria). Skiing had developed into a popular regional sport and pastime, not just for the elite. This led to an expansion of the region’s infrastructure and the need to provide access to the ski slopes.
It was a family-owned company called Doppelmayr that first manufactured a ski lift for the practice slope in Zürs. Previously, the company started off by building small material and passenger ropeways. In 1925, the world’s first fully automatic elevator was introduced. Only 10 years later, Doppelmayr built its first ‘giant’ ski lift in Zürs.
Kondrad Doppelmayr and the company’s first ski lift
Completed in 1937, the installation was 390 meters long, had a vertical rise of 150 meters and an hourly transport capacity of 420 passengers. This was Austria’s first surface lift and marked the start of a long ropeway tradition in the country and beyond its borders.
In 1967, Artur Doppelmayr, the grandson of the founder Kondrad Doppelmayr, became managing director of the company. As alpine recreation rapidly expanded around the world during the last half of the 20th century, the pioneering Artur ensured Doppelmayr would be a world leader in ropeway construction. The company soon established many new world records only to break these records soon after.
A historic alliance: Sun Group and Doppelmayr
Fast forward to 2007, when the founders of Sun Group in Vietnam were seeking a solution to a difficult problem: awakening the sleepy tourism destination of Ba Na, once a mountain retreat for French emigres, back in colonial times, but long since forgotten due to limited road access.
In those days, it took several hours to reach the top of the mountain on a zigzag road. Sun Group’s leaders quickly realised that a cable car would be the perfect solution. But, they wondered, who would actually be able to build a cable car system in Ba Na Hills, which sits an elevation of 1,485 metres, and over 42km from the city of Danang, near the coastline of Central Vietnam?
They realised to conquer the highest peak in Ba Na Hills, the cable car could be one of the longest cable cars in the world. Additionally, this cable line would have the largest height difference between the upper and lower stations in the world.
While cable cars are especially popular in ski resorts, they had always been situated up high on the flat plateau in the mountains with a high elevation above sea level. But, the foothill of Ba Na Hills (in the suburbs of Da Nang) would have to be the departure station, which is located quite close to sea level. That’s why the distance between the foot of the mountain and the summit would have to be vast.
To achieve such a colossal project, Sun Group knew they had to turn to Doppelmayr as the world’s leading manufacturer of ropeways, cable cars and ski lifts. At that time, the late, great Artur had just retired. However his son Michael was an even more ambitious and more adventurous visionary than his predecessors. In 2002, Doppelmayr had merged with the Garaventa Group, a Swiss expert for aerial tramways and funicular railways, to form Doppelmayr/Garaventa Group.
Despite having so much experience of building cable car systems across the globe, the construction of the Ba Na Hills cable car was something very special even for the Doppelmayr/Garaventa Group. There was an extra environmental element challenge. Sun Group made it clear from the beginning that they would only pursue this project if it could be done without destroying the forest. Doppelmayr/Garaventa Group agreed that it could be done but, to ensure the unique natural setting around Ba Na Hills was protected, the workers literally inched their way up the precipitous slopes, day by day, to put the cable-car system together piece by piece.
Upon opening to the public on 29 March 2013, Ba Na Hills cable car immediately set two Guinness World Records as the longest cable car in the world with a total length of 5,042.62m, and for having the largest difference between the upper and lower stations in the world, with a distance of 1,292.81m. Doppelmayr/Garaventa and Sun Group had succeeded in their shared mission: conquering the impossible.
Their visionary creation is now an established world-renowned attraction and continues to amaze visitors. More recently, it was named the “World’s Leading Cable Car Ride 2019” at the World Travel Awards (WTA) – often described as the ‘Oscars of the world tourism industry’.
The landmark project has not only awakened the ‘sleeping beauty’ of Ba Na Hills, but also transformed the city of Danang, which now draws more and more tourists.
Ever since teaming up to work on the Ba Na Hills cable car project, Doppelmayr/Garaventa and Sun Group have also maintained a close partnership and worked on many other iconic projects in Vietnam, setting many more world records, and transforming the country’s tourism industry in the process.
In another incredibly challenging feat of engineering, a cable car system was developed by the two corporate giants to link the former hill station of Sapa to the peak of Fansipan, the highest mountain in all of Indochina. At the UNESCO world heritage site, Ha Long Bay, Doppelmayr/Garaventa also created an exceptional installation in a truly special place. “Installing the ropes of the Ha Long Queen Cable Car was a significant challenge,” said Arno Inauen - CEO of Garaventa AG, the subsidiary of Doppelmayr Garaventa in Switzerland. "It was certainly an unforgettable experience. Our team overcame difficult challenges as the entire rope installation operation had to be performed at a height of 50 meters above sea level.”
Upon opening in June 2016, the new tramway in Ha Long broke two world records, one for having the world’s biggest aerial tramway cabins (230 passengers per cabin) and another for having the world’s tallest ropeway tower (188.88 meters). In recent times, Doppelmayr/Garaventa Group stressed that they could not have completed any of these aforementioned projects without the dedication and hard work of the Vietnamese engineers and workers.
All of the above projects have also transformed the local tourism industry. For a century, Ba Na Hills and Mount Fansipan in Sapa could only be accessed by taking winding, dangerous roads. Meanwhile the unique and heavenly scenery of Ha Long had only ever been viewed at eye level or on a tour boat.
They say that a pioneer is someone who sees potential and an innovator who is willing to try new things, in which case we can say that Sun Group and Doppelmayr/Garaventa Group definitely qualify as both trailblazing pioneers and innovators. All the ropeway installations that were designed and built by Doppelmayr/Garaventa and Sun Group have been recognized by Guinness World Records and helped to raise Vietnam’s profile all around the world. “The latest achievements in Vietnam are exceptional and we’re very proud to share these accomplishments with our future partners,” said Arno Inauen.
Cable car at Sun World Ba Na Hills
Ha Long Queen Cable Car
Fansipan Legend cable car at Sapa