Create a chair lift

Grade Level: 
High School
STEM, Transportation Engineering

Provided by TryEngineering -

Lesson Focus

Lesson focuses on unique challenges in transportation engineering, such as devising a method for skiers or hikers to get to the top of a mountain.  Students work in teams to design a "chair lift" out of everyday items that can transport a ping pong ball in an open front cup from the bottom of a "valley" to the top of a "mountain" along a clothes line or wire without the ball falling out.  Students design their chairlift on paper, execute their design, test it, reflect on the challenge, and share their experiences with the class.

Lesson Synopsis 

The "Chair Lift" lesson explores how engineers develop transportation systems to operate in different and sometimes challenging environments. Students work in teams to design a chair lift made out of everyday materials that can carry a tennis ball up a rope line and back down in a controlled manner so that the ball does not fall out of the cup.  They sketch their plans, consider material selection, build their system, test it, reflect on the challenge, and present their experiences to their class.  

Time Needed

One to two 45-minute sessions.

Lesson Objectives 

- Learn about engineering design and redesign.

- Learn how engineering can help solve society's challenges.

- Learn about teamwork and problem solving.

Lesson Activities 

Students explore how engineers work to provide safe transportation options in different environments and climates.  Students work in teams to construct a chair lift or system to move a tennis ball up a line from the valley of the floor to the mountain at the top of a chair. Teams build their system out of everyday materials, test their design, reflect on the experience, and share with the class.


Internet Connections

- TryEngineering (


Aerial People Movers (


Doppelmayr (


National Science Education Standards (


- ITEA Standards for Technological Literacy (


Optional Writing Activity 

Write an essay or a paragraph about an environment or location where you think an aerial lifts could help lessen ground traffic congestion. 



- Student Resource Sheets

- Student Worksheets (available at

 Student Team Materials: ping pong ball, string, floral wire, pipecleaners, bendable aluminum wire, straws, paper

towel tubes, paper clips, tape, balloons, glue, string, foil, plastic wrap, pully, other items available in the classroom. 


Note: Teacher should cut the cup so that the edge is about 1/2 the height of the ball -- making it possible for the ball to drop out if the ride isn't smooth.  



1.  Show students the student reference sheets.  These may be read in class or provided as reading

material for the prior night's homework. 


2.  To introduce the lesson, consider asking the students if they have ever seen an aerial lift or ski lift.  Have them consider the engineering challenges of building such a transportation system.


3. Teams of 3-4 students will consider their challenge, and consider how the available materials might be used to create a chair lift.


4. Teams will develop a detailed drawing showing their lift design including a list of materials they will need to build it.


5. Students build their lift, and test it under teacher supervision.  Each lift must be able to transport the tennis ball "up the mountain" and "down the mountain" without the ball dropping out of the cup.


6. Students should observe the chair lifts that other teams create.


7. Teams reflect on the challenge, and present their experiences to the class.


Student Resource:

What is a Chair Lift?


An elevated passenger ropeway, or chairlift, is a type of aerial lift, which consists of a continuously circulating steel cable loop strung between two end terminals and usually over intermediate towers, carrying a series of chairs. They are used extensively at ski areas, but are also found at amusement parks as well.  Depending on carrier size and loading efficiency, a passenger ropeway can move up 4000 people per hour, and the swiftest lifts achieve operating speeds of up to 12 m/s (26.8 mph; 43.2 km/h).


Aerial Lifts

An aerial lift is an increasingly popular means of transportation in which cabins, cars, gondolas or open chairs are hauled above the ground by means of one or more cables.  These are becoming popular in urban environments where ground space is at a premium.  Over 600 years ago aerial systems were used in China to help move people and goods over streams.  During the 1800’s, the technology was improved by the by the mining industry to assist in the transport of minerals over difficult terrain. Aerial lifts are being installed in some cities to assist with urban transportation.


Safety is always a concern on chair lifts, which is why engineers have incorporated many safety features into them including lift bars (which provides the passenger with a horizontal bar to hold onto, and locking devices so the cable cannot move backwards.


The mechanism at the top of a chairlift allows for the steel rope to wind horizontally, returning empty chairs down a mountain.   


Student Resource:

News Release: 


New Ropeway to be Built on Top of the Highest Mountain in Europe


In early 2011, Doppelmayr Italia GmbH was awarded the contract for the construction of the new ropeway on the Mont Blanc. The new installation will replace the old ropeway from the 1940s and 1950s. The installation is located on the Italian side at the foot of the Mont Blanc and connects the tourist resort Courmayeur with the Pointe Helbronner.


The future ropeway to the Mont Blanc scales the Pointe Helbronner at approximately 3,500 m above sea level in two new sections. The three line sections of the old installation will be demolished upon completion of the building works for the new ropeway. Glass and steel will set architectural highlights for the station buildings and the futuristic cabins. The stations are spacious and allows for views over the impressive mountain scenery by means of observation platforms.


The cabins have a round shape, are completely glazed and rotate about their centre axes. Doppelmayr has already implemented this advanced technology in other famous locations: for example in Cape Town, Palm Springs, at the mountain Titlis in Switzerland and at the Monte Baldo at the Lake Garda. But it is still a challenge for Doppelmayr: Never before has a rotating cabin been used in such height.


In each section a total of 4 carriers with a capacity of 80 passengers each is planned. The overall line length is 4.3 km and a difference in height of 2,140 m is overcome with an operating speed of 9 m/s (approx. 30 km/h). The track ropes are approximately 7 cm thick.


The drive consists of two electric motors with an output of 600 kW each. Per hour 800 and respectively 600 passengers can be transported.


The interior fittings of the cabins are of state-of-the-art design: heating elements integrated into the cabin floor and walls, sound system, and video screens. On these screens pictures made by the camera that is attached to the outside of the cabin floor are shown through a wireless connection. In addition, the screens show information such as weather data and event tips. Other features the high-tech cabin offers are air conditioning, adjustable LED lighting and intelligent sway dampers – to only name a few.


The construction period of the new ropeway on the Mont Blanc is four years, the start-up is scheduled to take place in 2014.

(Source: Doppelmayr Italia GmbH


Student Assignment:

Build a Chair Lift


Research and Planning

You are part of a team of engineers who have been given the challenge of building a chair lift to carry a ping pong ball up the mountain (from the floor of your classroom to the top of a desk or chair) using materials provided to you.  Your lift must both carry the ball up the mountain and also back down without the ball dropping out. How you design your chairlift and what materials you use are up to you!


Design Phase

You have been provided with many materials from which to design and build your own chairlift.  Consider which materials you would like to use, and list them in the box below.  On a separate piece of paper, draw a diagram of the chairlift you intend to build.


Build it!  Test it!

Next build your chairlift and test it.  You may share unused building materials with other teams -- and trade materials too.  Be sure to watch what other teams are doing and consider the aspects of different designs that might be an improvement on your team's plan.


You may decide to completely change your design when in the manufacturing phase -- and you may ask for additional materials, or try different solutions as you build.



Complete the reflection questions below:

1. How similar was your original design to the actual chair lift your team built?


2. If you found you needed to make changes during the construction phase, describe why your team decided to make revisions.


3. Was your chairlift able to carry the ping pong ball up and down the mountain without it falling out of the cup?  


4. Which chairlift that another team developed was the most effective or interesting toyou?  Why?


5.  Do you think that this activity was more rewarding to do as a team, or would you have preferred to work alone on it? Why?  


6. If you could have used one additional material (tape, glue, wood sticks, foil -- as examples) which would you choose and why?


For Teachers:

Alignment to Curriculum Frameworks


Note: All lesson plans in this series are aligned to the National Science Education Standards which were produced by the National Research Council and endorsed by the National Science Teachers Association, and if applicable, also to the International Technology Education Association's Standards for Technological Literacy or the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics' Principles and Standards for School Mathematics.


 National Science Education Standards Grades 9-12 (ages 14-18)

CONTENT STANDARD A: Science as Inquiry

As a result of activities, all students should develop

- Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry 

CONTENT STANDARD B: Physical Science 

As a result of their activities, all students should develop understanding of

- Motions and forces 

CONTENT STANDARD E: Science and Technology

As a result of activities, all students should develop

- Abilities of technological design 

- Understandings about science and technology 

CONTENT STANDARD F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

As a result of activities, all students should develop understanding of

- Science and technology in local, national, and global challenges 

CONTENT STANDARD G: History and Nature of Science

As a result of activities, all students should develop understanding of

- Historical perspectives 


-Standards for Technological Literacy - All Ages

The Nature of Technology

- Standard 1: Students will develop an understanding of the characteristics and scope of technology.

- Standard 2: Students will develop an understanding of the core concepts of technology.

Technology and Society

- Standard 4: Students will develop an understanding of the cultural, social, economic, and political effects of technology.

- Standard 5: Students will develop an understanding of the effects of technology on the environment.

- Standard 6: Students will develop an understanding of the role of society in the development and use of technology.

- Standard 7: Students will develop an understanding of the influence of technology on history.


- Standard 8: Students will develop an understanding of the attributes of design.

- Standard 9: Students will develop an understanding of engineering design.

- Standard 10: Students will develop an understanding of the role of troubleshooting, research and development, invention and innovation, and experimentation in problem solving.

Abilities for a Technological World

- Standard 11: Students will develop abilities to apply the design process.

- Standard 13: Students will develop abilities to assess the impact of products and systems.

The Designed World

- Standard 18: Students will develop an understanding of and be able to select and use transportation technologies.