“It’s the journey, not the destination, that matters most” just might apply to some of the cool chairlifts and gondolas found at ski areas across North America. These speedy, warm, record-setting or quirky contraptions make it fun to ride to the top of towering mountains before pointing ski tips down for the (admittedly) more fun run down the slopes.
Check out these nifty chairlifts and gondolas you might encounter on your next ski trip:
Vail, Colorado: Gondola “One”
This state-of-the-art gondola is brand new this ski season, replacing the old Vista Bahn Express (#16). It’s dubbed “One,” to commemorate Vail’s original gondola in that location in Vail Village. The cabins carry 10 passengers and each features heated, cushioned seats and Wi-Fi access. With a speed of 1,200 feet per minute, the gondola is the fastest gondola of its type in the world, creating a 40 percent increase in uphill capacity. I love that Vail’s Lift Operations team helped design the equipment racks, which allow for fat powder skis, tapered tips and up to eight snowboards.
Canyons Resort, Utah: Orange Bubble Express
I thought the “Orange Bubble” was just a nickname for the quad chairlift at Canyons Resort; but it turns out that’s the official name of the high-speed lift that has an orange, opaque shield in the back that seemingly evokes looking at the mountain (if you turn around to look out the back) through orange ski goggles. Another nice feature: seats that heat up to 50 degrees in 20 seconds.
Snowmass, Colorado: “Skittles” gondola
The official name of the six-passenger gondola that runs from the bottom of Fanny Hill to the Snowmass Village Plaza is the Skycab. But everyone calls it “Skittles” because the colorful cabs are bright green, red and yellow – just like the candy! What’s notable about this lift: it’s free to all passengers, which is great if you’re not skiing for the day, but want to avoid the hike up from Snowmass Base Village to the plaza.
Squaw Valley, California: KT-22
This legendary quad lift is speedy: it climbs 1,800 vertical feet in six minutes. The name dates back to a 1940’s story about area founder Wayne Poulsen and his wife, Gladys “Sandy” Poulsen. Sandy reportedly needed 22 kick turns to ski down the peak. Wayne started using the name to tease Sandy’s skills, and the name stuck. The lift, dubbed “The Mothership” by locals, accesses intense and steep terrain – not necessarily for beginners!
Mad River Glen, Vermont: Single chair
This Vermont ski resort is the only one in the continental United States to use a single chairlift – and visitors embrace its quirkiness, even if it is a solitary 10- to 12-minute ride (depending on volume of skiers loading at the base). In 2007, the resort totally renovated the aging lift, but chose to keep the single chairs, even though it would have cost less to install a modern-looking double chair!
Sunday River, Maine: Chondola
This lift with the funny name is comprised of both detachable six-person chairs and fixed eight-passenger gondola cabins. Clever, right? From the top of the Chondola, skiers and boarders can access six of Sunday River’s eight peaks.
Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia: PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola
This record-breaking gondola spans two peaks (Whistler and Blackcomb) across 2.73 miles of cable, so you can go up one mountain and come down the other. It features the world’s longest unsupported (free) span of 1.88 miles between the two towers furthest apart. The highest vertical point is over Fitzsimmons Creek at 1,361 feet – the world’s greatest distance above a valley floor.