It’s a landmark for so many of you. Just a few more turns and you’ll be in Morzine, Les Gets or Avoriaz, settling into the winter holiday you’ve been waiting for. For others, it’s Batman, surveying the valley floor from his elevated position. Where am I? Taninges Télécabines, of course.
Images by Sadie Aldridge
For eleven years I’ve passed what we’ve been calling ‘ski lift graveyard’, wondering what the heck goes on down there. With its location right on the roadside, row after row of old chair lifts, bubbles, gondolas and more fill a yard that spans 1600m2. But who do they belong to? And why are they there? Can I have one?
The story begins with Roger Gaudin, owner of the brocante (flea market) in Taninges. He’s a life-long collector of mountain heritage and is passionate about preserving the history of our area. The acquisition of a precious egg from the Flégère cable car in Chamonix in the early ‘00s inspired his sons Stéphane and Julien to take up the mantle.
In 2010 Les Gets replaced all 42 red bubbles on the Chavannes lift, Stéphane and Julien bought every single one of them and Taninges Télécabines was born. “There’s nothing else like this in the world,” Stéphane tells me when we meet in their ‘parc’ one autumn morning. “This is entirely unique,” he continues. But how many individual lifts are there? “We’ve no idea. Very many…”
We’re surrounded by ski lifts from across the Alps – from even further afield most likely. Every colour, shape, age and design can be found in this parc, and also in their makeshift showroom across the road. The lifts vary in size from ancient single-seater chairlifts to huge 80-person gondolas. The original Prodains gondolas, replaced in 2013, are immediately identifiable, whilst a carriage from the Aiguille du Midi takes pride of place. Megeve, Courchevel and several of France’s most popular resorts make an appearance.
But the big question is this… are they for sale? Well yes, and no. And there’s a waiting list. And it depends on the level of customisation you’d like. And if it’s part of a collection set aside for event decorations, then no. Stéphane and Julien take their work very seriously. This is a labour of love, not wealth. “We must protect this heritage for future generations,” they tell me.
These little pieces of mountain heritage travel to London on hire for weddings, to Monaco for corporate events. They’re part of pop-up dining experiences in Paris and they’re transformed into ticket desks for ski resorts such as La Plagne. Property developers and interior designers across France are also quick to snap them up as statement pieces and talking points inside chic alpine properties. Demand is high, but restoration is slow.
We travel further into Taninges to visit their workshop and this is where the magic happens. Julien is busy restoring a bubble lift, while Stéphane proudly shows me a beautifully restored chairlift. It’s painted mint green and the wooden slats on the seat have been painstakingly restored using local wood. There’s a customised pink egg, piste markers from Pleney, old skis painted bright red. Roger pops in to check on the progress of his sons.
“Ultimately, we want to create an international museum,” Stéphane tells me, when it becomes obvious that this is an ever-growing collection. Much, if not most, of the collection is too precious to sell on. Giving others access to the ski lifts of yesterday is their passion. “Many people stop here, they’re fascinated and they want to view the lifts. Anyone who’s ever spent time in the mountains can appreciate them,” Stéphane believes. We’d love to see this dream become a reality.
But what of Batman? Previously perched on top of a telecabine along the roadside, he’s conspicuous by his absence. “He was stolen, in the middle of the night!” Stéphane is still furious, I can tell. “It was 23rd December 2018. We’ve CCTV footage of the whole thing. They stopped, climbed up, and took him, all 60kg of him.” He’s never been seen since.
I get the impression that Julien and Stéphane are continuously amazed by the unwavering interest in their business, especially from British skiers. If this article has inspired you to purchase your own little piece of the mountains for your garden, or if you’d simply like a wander around their parc, head to their website – taninges-telecabines.com or message them on Instagam @taningestelecabines