Yes, the downhill rush is why we all love skiing and snowboarding, but these days a ski vacation can include some pretty exciting modes of transportation. Today we toast all the machines that move you up the mountain, from chairlifts and t-bars to trams, funitels and funiculars.
Surely you’ve ridden many chairlifts on ski vacations, but Squaw Valley’s KT-22 lift might be the most spectacular in North America. It is a front-row seat to all the hot-dogging and cliff-hucking that substantiates the resort’s “Squallywood” nickname. Plus, it takes fewer than six minutes to get to the top, putting the spectators back in the spotlight very quickly.
If a chairlift is judged by the terrain it accesses, we have to include the Deep Temerity chairlift, located in our backyard at Aspen Highlands. Constructed in 2006, this three-seater added 1,000 vertical feet to the iconic Highland Bowl and tied together hundreds of acres of double-black diamond terrain. After the hoot-inducing ski down the bowl, this lift took away the leg-burning traverse and replaced it with a quick ride up to do it all again.
For the views, Sunshine Village’s Great Divide Express four-person chairlift is the perfect seat to soak in the spectacular vistas of Banff National Park, one of the most picturesque places on earth.
If comfort is your top priority, Lech and Zurs in Austria have a fleet of ultra-modern lifts including an eight-person, high-speed chairlift with bubbles to block the wind and heated seats to warm cold legs!
If you need to warm up between runs, gondolas do the trick, and Vail’s Gondola One takes the cozy-factor up a notch with heated, cushioned seats and free Wi-Fi. Plus, you’ll get to the top in no time; Gondola One is the fastest of its kind, traveling at 1,200 feet per minute.
If you’re taking the ride for the views, Whistler Blackcomb’s Peak 2 Peak gondola is spectacular. With nearly two miles of unsupported cable, this gondola is a modern marvel. You might get lucky and step into the glass-bottomed car; the view down 1,430 feet to the valley floor is… exciting.
T Bars and Pomas
These are surface lifts often built above tree-line to access exposed terrain when high winds can shut down higher-profile chairlifts. While skiers and riders may have to batten down the hatches, so to speak, this mode of transportation often pays off with wind-loaded, powder-stashes and steep-and-deep rewards. Two of the best stateside surface lifts are Breckenridge’s T-Bar, which accesses the wide-open steeps of Horseshoe Bowl on Peak 8 and several double-black lines on Peak 7, and Snowmass’s Cirque Poma lift that tows skiers up to 12, 510 feet to some of the area’s steepest runs.
South American ski resorts take surface lifts to the next level. Ski Portillo in Chile has a handful of “va et vient” lifts, which is French for “coming and going.” Used in steep areas prone to avalanches that may mow down lift towers, these lifts are multi-person pomas that literally slingshot riders up the mountain. This is one you might need to see to believe, so here’s a video to satisfy your curiosity:
The fixed-grip and higher-capacity cousin of the gondola, trams are present at many ski resorts in North America, including Jackson Hole, Heavenly, Big Sky and Snowbird. These lifts are built in rugged terrain where it’s not possible to position in-line towers. Cabins can be quite large and function more like aerial buses, especially on super high-capacity trams in Europe.
Chamonix’s Aiguille du Midi might be the most well-known tram in Europe, famous for taking its passengers to the top of some of the most extreme lift-accessed terrain in the world. After gaining 2,800 meters of altitude in 20 minutes, riders are deposited at 12,602 feet where they can see three countries sometimes catch a glimpse of the Matterhorn on the border of Italy and Switzerland.
A comparatively new type of lift, funitels are like gondolas, but they have a dual cable, which makes them capable of long spans between towers and less susceptible to wind. Squaw Valley is the only U.S. ski resort with this type of equipment, but many European resorts use this technology, including Val Thorens which developed the funitel concept and now has four that ferry its skiers across several peaks.
A truly unique funitel, the Galzigbahn funitel in St. Anton is a spectacular cableway innovation designed like a Ferris wheel. Riders enter one of the 28 gondolas at ground level and then rotate to the top of wheel to start moving up the mountain. This is another one that you might need to see to believe:
This type of lift carries passengers in a car traveling on rails and uses the weight of the descending car to counterbalance the weight of the ascending car. Deer Valley Resort built a funicular in 2009 and is the only U.S. resort to use one. Val D’Isere’s Funival is an underground funicular which dives deep under the mountain and emerges on the ski slopes at 2,800 meters (9,000+ feet).
Are you inspired to expand your horizons beyond your local mountain’s two-seat chairlift? Chat now with a Mountain Vacation Specialist who can help you book your ticket to ride one of these amazing modern machines.