TBT: The J-Bar & Where You Can Still Ride One in the Midwest



Most skiers and riders know that the rope tow has a lot of historical significance in the industry. After all, it was the first mainstream ski lift that spread throughout the world after its debut just outside Quebec in 1931. This lift would become iconic with the industry, and you can find rope tows still in operation across the Midwest. But many skiers and riders have entirely forgotten about the rope tow's younger brother, the J-bar.


The J-bar dates back to 1934 when Swiss ski mountaineer and mechanical engineer Ernst Constam invented the first ski lift with a continuously circulating overhead cable. He officially installed his first J-bar for the 1934/35 season at Bolgen Hill in Davos, Switzerland. News of this new type of lift spread quickly, and lift manufacturers in the United States, such as Fred Pabst Jr., went to work copying Constam's design.


Constam still found much success with his new lift design and spent the next few years installing dozens of them around Europe. The J-bar quickly became the new standard ski lift as skiers found it much easier to use when compared to a rope tow. However, Constam would best his original design for the 1936/37 season with the addition of a T-bar. Little did he know that around the same time, the world's first chairlift was being designed and built at the Union Pacific Railyard in Ohama, Nebraska.


Although the chairlift would eventually reign supreme, Constam's T-bars would prove more successful in the short term. In fact, by 1948, Constam installed almost double the number of T-bars in the United States compared to chairlifts during that period.


The J-bar's success proved to be critical to bringing skiing to the masses. It eventually led to the T-bar development, one of the most used ski-lifts in the 1930s & 40s.


Sadly, over the years, J-bars have been replaced with carpets, T-bars, or rope tows, but there is one that you can still ride today.


Installed for the 1973 season, Powder Ridge's J-bar was designed and built by Borvig and has been a staple in their beginners' area since. This lift is the only J-bar left in operation in the Midwest and one of the few left in the world. Although slower than the rope tow, there is something special about riding the J-bar, and others seem to agree. Although a rope tow sits less than 200 feet away, most of the crowd heads to that J-bar.


Maybe it's the short and forgotten history or the fact you don't see them very often; either way, the J-bar is a must-ride at Powder Ridge, and I think Ernst Constam would agree!


If you want to learn more about Powder Ridge and how you can ride this historical lift, head on over to their website at www.powderridge.com