zoa personal ski lift
The Zoa PL1 personal ski lift on the build table; (photo/Zoa Engineering)

Personal Ski Lift: Zoa Unveils Tow-Rope Concept You Can Bring Anywhere

Zoa’s new portable ski lift is the size of a VHS tape and can theoretically tow you 2,600 feet up a run.

Do you like to run backcountry laps but don’t like skinning, shoeing, or post-holing back up the mountain between each one?

Instead, pack the 10-pound Zoa PL1 — and 1,000 feet of included parachute cord — and rig up a personal ski lift anywhere in the backcountry. If it works according to spec, the new gadget could profoundly change the game.

After 3 years of development, the PL1 launches in January 2022 on the strength of a crowdfunding campaign. According to the company, the final design resulted from “hundreds” of iterations and is currently in pre-production testing.

 

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Zoa Portable Ski Lift Details

Zoa says the personal ski lift can tow a person up to 2,600 feet on a single charge. The lithium-ion battery resists temperatures down to -40 degrees Fahrenheit and swaps out without tools to enable more laps.

Developers Eric and Robert Button designed the rig to accept standard 550 paracord (as included). But the machine will reportedly also work with a variety of small-gauge lines.

If you’re on a long run, 550 cord might be your best bet. At 0.07 ounces per foot, the 1,000 feet of included line weighs under 4.5 pounds.

zoa pl1 personal ski lift
The Zoa PL1, somewhat bigger than a can of “Zoa Engineering”; (image/Zoa Engineering)

And using the PL1 looks as simple as the concept would reasonably allow:

  • Step one: Skin, snowshoe, or hike the cord up to the top of the run.
  • Step two: Tie it off to either the included snow picket anchor or a natural anchor like a rock.
  • Step three: Ride, paying out your line on the way down.
  • Step four: Rig the PL1 at the bottom, hit the “go” button, and glide back up.

In a lot of ways, the design looks like it was hiding in plain sight. A tow system is inherently basic: The idea of a wheel attached to a motor that pulls a cable is not new. In skiing, it only makes sense to make it small and light enough for the skier to carry and operate themselves.

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GearJunkie Experts Weigh In, Testing Hiccup Changes Production Outlook

GearJunkie’s internal communication channels crackled to life on Tuesday morning as our in-house backcountry skiers evaluated any weak points in the PL1 design. General appreciation for the idea was widespread, but the machine’s efficacy remains unproven.

One possible shortcoming is battery life. It’s a long tow up to 2,600 feet, and sticky, wet, or choppy snow could shorten the range considerably. Other potential issues include slipping, icy lines, and clogged internal components.

In the testing videos, one key disparity between PL1 towing and traditional backcountry ski ascent stands out: noise. The unit emits a not-unobtrusive electrical whine similar to a Power Wheels or a lithium-ion drill.

Rarely is there progress without compromise. If you want to try out the PL1 this season, you’ll still have to wait. Zoa reports that an unexpected lapse in testing created a lull in the production process just before New Year’s.

While the brand has resolved the problem, it hasn’t issued a new date to begin production. For now, go to Zoa’s website to learn more. Pricing information has not been released.

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Sam Anderson
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Sam has roamed the American continent to follow adventures, explore natural wonders, and find good stories. After going to college to be a writer, he got distracted (or saved) by rock climbing and spent most of the next decade on the road, supporting himself with trade work. He's had addresses in the Adirondack Mountains, Las Vegas, and somehow Kansas, but his heart belongs in the Texas hill country.