Winter sports involving snow-covered hills and gravity are really only fun if you’ve got an easy way to get back up that hill. For those times or places where a ski lift isn’t available, the PL1 is a portable tow rope system that can be quickly set up on-site and easily carried in a backpack.
If you grew up where enough snow falls in the winter to make activities like sledding possible, you probably learned at a young age that the fun and thrill of sliding down a snow-covered slope is almost completely negated by the grueling climb back up. Winter resorts and ski hills with tow rope systems or ski lifts vastly improve the experience, but they’re not free, and more often than not are extremely crowded and you’ll spend a lot of your time waiting in line to get back up.
For skiers and snowboarders who prefer to venture into the uncrowded wild for a backcountry experience on fresh powder, or for that secret sledding hill that few people in your town know about, the PL1 solves the problem of getting back up the hill with a device that essentially serves as a handheld winch that works with a paracord line that seems just as easy to set up.
The system still requires users to get up the hill under their own power the first time (you could always rent a helicopter or snowmobile for a drop-off). From there, you secure the end of the paracord line to a tree or a snow anchor using a lightweight snow picket that gets buried in the snow. The paracord, which is stored in a rope bag, is then laid down along a relatively straight path by making a slow first descent down the hill or mountain until the end of a run is reached—or a user simply runs out of rope.
From then on out, getting back up the hill is a process assisted by the PL1, which is a handheld device featuring an electric motor and a series of pulleys and guides the rope is threaded through. Unlike a winch that winds the rope around a spindle, the PL1 instead pulls it through its powered mechanism and spits it back out again, leaving the line in the same place to be used for ascents again and again. But for the final run, the PL1 can also be used to wind the paracord back into the rope bag so packing everything away is just as easy a process.
Unlike the lifts and tows used at winter resorts, the 10.5-pound PL1 is completely self-contained and as a result, its runtime is limited by its rechargeable batteries, which can struggle in colder temperatures. The distance it can pull a user is also dependent on their weight (including any additional gear they’re carrying) as well as the slope of the hill or the mountain. For example, on a 15-degree slope, the range can be anywhere from just over 4,0o0 feet for a 140-pound user, to a little over 1,700 feet when it’s hauling up to 280 pounds.
For any kid who’s lamented the end of an afternoon of sledding coming to an end because they’re just too tired to get back up the hill, the PL1 seems like the answer to their prayers. But you can’t find it in stores just yet. Instead, the PL1's creators have opted for a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to help bring the device to consumers. It’s already surpassed its funding goal of around $40,000, but the PL1 isn’t a cheap solution. Pre-orders require a crowdfunding contribution of a little over $1,000, and that’s just for the PL1 ascender itself. If you want the whole kit, which adds a snow anchor, 1,000 feet of paracord, and a rope bag, the price goes up by an extra $100.
Although the PL1 has been in development for a few years and prototypes are currently out in the field, delivery for the earliest backers isn’t expected until October, later this year, but that’s an ideal timeline. Its creators warn that the supply chain and chip shortage issues could play a part in the PL1's progress, and further delays are very likely.