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Avant Ski's 11 Best Ski Lifts Out West

Updated: Apr 6, 2022

We considered every chairlift, gondola, tram, funitel, funicular, POMA, t-bar, rope tow, cabriolet and magic carpet in western North America. We asked: How high? How far? How long? How many people? How much fun? This is our list, it's entirely subjective. Enjoy the ride. Lifts are ordered by elevation gained, measured in vertical feet.

Chairlifts are crucial to the mountain experience. K-22 at Palisades Tahoe courtesy of the SF Chronicle.

Summary of our Top 11 Lifts (by vertical feet): * Click the lift name to jump to that section

  1. The Aerial Tram Jackson Hole, WY (4,139 feet)

  2. Golden Eagle Express Gondola — Kicking Horse, BC (3,400)

  3. Challenger – Sun Valley, ID (3,143)

  4. Snowbird Aerial Tram — Snowbird, UT (2,900)

  5. Collins Lift — Alta Ski Area, UT (1,833)

  6. KT-22 — Palisades Tahoe, CA (1,800)

  7. The Wall (Chair 10) — Kirkwood CA (1,640)

  8. Lone Peak Tram — Big Sky, MT (1,450)

  9. Pallavicini Lift — Arapahoe Basin, CO (1,329)

  10. Peak Express — WhistlerBlackcomb, BC (1,315)

  11. Chair 23 — Mammoth Mountain, CA (1,119)


*Resort names below in blue link to the related Avant Ski Resort Guide.


The Aerial Tram — Jackson Hole, WY

The iconic tram at Jackson whisks riders up 4,139 feet from Teton Village to Rendezvous Summit.

Elevation Gain: 4,139 feet

Lift Type/ Capacity: Tram/100 passengers per tram

Ride Time: 9 minutes

Top Runs Serviced: Rendezvous Bowl, Corbet’s Couloir

> Visit our Jackson Hole Expert Itinerary for the best Tram experience


There’s one way to the top at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and it’s on the Aerial Tram. The tram carries up to 100 passengers from the Teton Village base to the summit of Rendezvous Mountain. The music played by the tram operators becomes the soundtrack to sprawling views of the Snake River, the Jackson Hole valley and Gros Ventre Mountains. If you ride facing the mountain, your view crescendos into Corbet’s Couloir.


As the tram swings into its wind-swept dock, covered in rime snow, the tram operators provide the lay of the land and a memorable, "know before you go" warning. Steps from the tram dock is Corbet’s Cabin, offering a respite from the elements and waffles. If Corbet's Couloir is open and you want to give it a go, make a left and follow the ridge. Corbet's is not for everyone and there's no shame in traversing right to enter the wide open, Rendezvous Bowl. The tram is also the gateway to Jackson's backcountry access gates along the edge of Rendezvous Bowl. Just beware, the tram is no secret and lines to ride can be very long.


> For more on Corbet's Couloir, check out Avant Ski's 11 Most Extreme Inbounds Runs in North America


Golden Eagle Express Gondola — Kicking Horse, BC

Golden Eagle is the main artery at Kicking Horse. Courtesy of Lift Blog.

Elevation Gain: 3,400 feet

Lift Type/ Capacity: Gondola/8 passengers per cabin

Ride Time: 12 minutes

Top Runs Serviced: Glory, Crazy Legs, CPR Ridge


The Golden Eagle Express Gondola is the main artery of Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. This is the only way to access the resort’s eye-popping 4,300 vertical feet of skiing. Even more impressive is the efficiency with which the gondola accomplishes this feat — total ride time is only 12 minutes. Kicking Horse skis like two different mountains. The upper mountain is famed for its technical steeps and bowls, while the lower portion is known for its long, gladed slopes.


While the gondola accomplishes the hardest part of the journey, finding the goods still requires some work. There's a good reason Kicking Horse has earned the moniker "champagne powder capital." The physical effort required to access the resort’s best zones is a differentiator. A single lap can consume close to an hour, though you can hike easy knowing that the skiing stays better for longer. The gondola achieves a harmony with the resort’s terrain that ensures it will be a memorable part of your day here. Make sure you take in the views at the top and wave to Boo, the grizzly bear, as you fly over his den.


Challenger — Sun Valley, ID

Challenger may just be the most efficient lift anywhere. Views of Ketchum are great too. Courtesy of Lift Blog.

Elevation Gain: 3,143 feet

Lift Type/Capacity: Express Quad

Ride Time: 10 minutes

Top Runs Serviced: Warm Springs, Limelight, Picabo’s Street


Challenger at Sun Valley travels the most vertical of any chairlift on our list, rising 3,143 feet from Warm Springs Day Lodge to the summit of Baldy. Challenger is mostly in the shade. The shade coupled with a ride time of ~10 minutes can make for a long, cold ride. Don’t worry, the long, steep groomers under the lift will do more than warm you up. You can lap this chair and ski perfect, steep, top to bottom groomers for days (e.g., Limelight, Warm Springs, Picabo Street).

Not only is Challenger a prime lift for stacking vertical feet, it’s a treat on powder days too. From the top of Challenger, you can drop into Sun Valley’s wide-open back bowls. Also, the crowds tend to go to River Run rather than Warm Springs, making the lift lines at Challenger shorter, allowing you to get to the powder faster. Even including the time from the parking lot, this is one of the most efficient lifts anywhere.


Snowbird Aerial Tram — Snowbird, UT

Red or blue? The Tram accesses nearly all of Snowbird's terrain. Red courtesy of Snowbird.


Elevation Gain: 2,900 ft

Lift Type/Capacity: Tram/125 passengers per tram

Ride Time: 10 minutes

Top Runs Serviced: Silver Fox, Great Scott, Gad Chutes

A red cabin…a blue cabin...a photogenic icon. The Snowbird Aerial Tram climbs along a ridge from the Snowbird Center (8,100 ft) base to Hidden Peak (11,000 ft) at the summit. The ridge accesses chutes, bowls, glades, and moguls. The side of the ridge that drops into Peruvian Gulch has some of Snowbird's most iconic runs, like Tower Three; Lower, Middle, and Upper Cirque and Silver Fox. If those don’t catch your eye, try the Gad Chutes on the other side of the ridge or the bowls off Knucklehead Traverse. From Hidden Peak, you have access to Snowbird’s entire frontside…or you can head straight into Mineral Basin on the backside. Pro tip - Mineral Basin is in the sun in the morning so on cooler days, head here first. However, you can really go anywhere. Or, just lap the tram.



Collins Lift — Alta Ski Area, UT

The excitement builds riding Collins on a storm day. Courtesy of Alta Ski Area.

Elevation Gain: 1,833 feet

Lift Type/Capacity: Express Quad

Ride Time: ~10 minutes

Top Runs Serviced: High Boy, The High Traverse, Yellowtail, Ballroom

>To best enjoy Collins, check out our full day itinerary for experts at Alta here


Where else can you show up at 2pm and feel like you can get in nearly a full day? None other than Collins Lift at Alta Ski Area, rising 754 feet from Wildcat Base to mid-station and then another 1,079 to the top. Collins is your ticket to all of the amazing terrain off of Alta's High Traverse and it spins until 4:30pm daily.


Collins is the third oldest chairlift in the world with an initial opening date of January 15, 1939; lift rides at this time cost 25 cents. The lift was re-vamped in 2004 and now runs in two parts, connected by Angle Station, convenient for staying on the upper portion of the mountain and a quick break to refuel at Watson Shelter, adjacent to Angle Station. The lifties leave every tenth chair open after 11am for mid-station loading.


If you are lucky, chat up a local on Collins to determine the best route off of the High Traverse. Some of our favorites include Jitterbug, Christmas Tree and of course, High Boy. From the top of Collins you can also come around the ridge to Yellow Trail and Glory Hole. For a more mellow, but enjoyable route, exit right and traverse across into Ballroom, a blue rated, wide open area. Though traversing is required, there is no end of terrain accessible from Collins.


KT-22 — Palisades Tahoe, CA

Some consider riding the famed KT-22 at Palisades to be a right of passage. Courtesy Snowbrains.

Elevation Gain: 1,800 feet

Lift Type/Capacity: Express quad

Ride Time: 6 minutes

Top Runs Serviced: West Face, East Face, The Fingers, Chute 75


Hailed as The Mothership, KT-22 at Palisades Tahoe is the de facto favorite chairlift by many seasoned shredders, some even consider riding this chair as a right of passage, required to be considered a true expert in the sport. Rising from the base area, KT-22 towers 1,800 vertical feet above Olympic Valley and is eye-catching as soon as you enter the resort.


On a powder day, the line starts assembling in the wee hours of the morning; familiar faces and newcomers alike gather with a palpable sense of nervous excitement for a chance at first tracks. Most of the first few chairs will make a mad dash back down the chairline, with experts racing for The Fingers, a large cliff band near the bottom that’s become a cliff-hucking showcase almost as famous as the chair itself. All of the terrain on KT is an expert skier's dream, from the long continuous fall lines of the West Face to the early morning sun and lake views of the East Face.


KT-22 is also the ideal storm day lift as its orientation shelters it from the harsh winds of the Sierra Nevada. Long time locals will tell you it’s the reason they decided to call Tahoe home, and no one would blame you for spending your whole day lapping this one chair. In fact, you probably won't be the only one!


The Wall (Chair 10) — Kirkwood, CA

Experts only. This chair is no joke. Soak in the views before facing steep lines. Courtesy Snocountry.

Elevation Gain: 1,640 feet

Lift Type/Capacity: Fixed-grip triple

Ride Time: 11 minutes

Top Runs Serviced: The Wall, All The Way, Norms Nose


The Wall, or Chair 10, at Kirkwood Mountain Resort just feels special. As you approach you’ll notice several black signs with the words “Experts Only” placed below a skull and crossbones. This symbol has become an icon of the famed chairlift; while serving as a warning to some, to others it's part of the lift’s storied mystique. This fixed-grip triple feels like a long ride up more than 1,600 vertical feet, but the views are well worth the wait.


The Wall’s fame comes from the impressive amount of expert skiing it services. Fortunately, the ride offers full panoramic views of all of The Wall's offerings: from the pillows and cliffs of Norms Nose to the long fall line steeps of the main face. Most will experience a mix of fear and joy as they stand at the top. For those with something to prove, head west down the ridge until you reach the rocky outcropping known as The Sisters. Peer into any of the chutes — The Notch, Once is Enough, The Heart, or The Sister Chutes and suddenly, the giant skull flag flying at the top of the chair makes perfect sense. Though not for the feint of heart, The Wall's legacy is stamped into the chairlift hall of fame and into the minds of all those lucky enough to ski and ride its steeps.


Lone Peak Tram — Big Sky, MT

Lone Peak Tram is the gateway to inbounds terrain unrivaled in North America.

Elevation Gain: 1,450 feet

Capacity: Tram/15 passengers per tram

Ride Time: 4 minutes

Top Runs Serviced: Liberty Bowl, Big Couloir, North Summit Snowfield

> Our Big Sky Expert Itinerary kicks off with a section titled Lone Peak Jammin'


Lone Peak Tram at Big Sky Resort is the gateway to extreme inbounds terrain that is unrivaled in North America. The tram feels European and the skiing feels Alaskan. This is truly big-mountain skiing inside a resort: chutes, bowls, couloirs, cliffs, snow fields, steeps, and no fall zones. The resort coined the triple black diamond to rate its burliest runs.

The Lone Peak Tram rises 1,450 feet from the bottom of The Bowl to the top of Lone Peak. The base of the lift sits in a basin surrounded on three sides by massive exposed chutes and faces. There are two tube-shaped tram cars that fit 15 people each. The limited capacity ensures the runs remain relatively empty and, as a result, the powder lasts a long time. No storm; no problem. The prevailing southerly winds create packed powder regardless recent snowfall.


The ride takes four minutes—plenty of time to get a glance of The Big Couloir, a bucket list resort run. Liberty Bowl, on the South Face, is the easiest way down. Avalanche gear is recommended. Due to increased popularity and to preserve the big mountain feel, guests are required to buy a separate Tram Access Pass, to ride the tram. Day passes, multi-day packs and enabling auto-charge on your pass are available here.


Pallavicini Lift — Arapahoe Basin, CO

The Palli is a legend at the legend. Courtesy of Arapahoe Basin.

Elevation Gain: 1,329 feet

Capacity: Fixed-grip double

Ride Time: 7:10 minutes

Top Runs Serviced: International, Pali Main Street, The Steep Glades

Pallavicini Lift is a double chair so beloved that when Arapahoe Basin replaced it in 2020 they shirked the quad and kept it as a two-seater. The legend was preserved. This double chair allows skiers and riders to meet one another. It's more personal. More human.


Known locally as ‘Pall E,’ this lift services some of the resort’s most notable expert terrain directly from the base. It begins in front of The Beach, a ski-in ski-out parking lot, and almost immediately starts climbing straight up. It’s a steep, yet leisurely ride. It accesses long steep glades. One of its most beloved runs is plainly named, The Steep Glades.

Pallavicini hosts the A-Basin Enduro, a competition to see which skier and/or rider pair can lap the Pallavicini the most in 10 hours. While that can make for a long day, many locals enjoy a "Pall E power hour" to see how many laps they can complete in one hour.


Peak Express — WhistlerBlackcomb, BC

An iconic Ihukshuk, Whistler's symbol of the 2010 Olympics, awaits at Lookout Peak. Reachable only from Peak Express

Elevation Gain: 1,315 feet

Lift Type/Capacity: Express Quad

Ride Time: 3.6 minutes

Top Runs Serviced: Whistler Bowl, The Cirque, The Couloir

The Peak Express at Whistler Mountain will have you wide eyed with nervous excitement. On most weekends, and most powder days, while riding up, you will catch a glimpse of young racers launching off of the rocky ledges, often marked by frozen waterfalls, below. The largest of the cascades is referred to by locals as "Air Jordan."


Peak Express is easy to access from the Whistler Gondola, the Garbanzo Express or Big Red Express; the ride takes 3.6 minutes and it's the only way to reach Peak Lookout, Whistler's Summit, marked by the iconic Inukshuk. On the way up, you can get a good look at Whistler Bowl. This bowl can sometimes be dicey to enter, but once in, there's room for wide turns, bumps, jumps and everything in between. You will want to make several laps to fully explore the expert terrain from Peak Lookout. For some of the softest snow on the mountain, follow the ridge to the skier's left to access north-facing Monday's in West Bowl. Or, head to the skier's right for some of Whistler's steepest lines on the Cirque/Couloir. It's easy to get right back on Peak Express, or for a prolonged burn, catch Grand Finale from Whistler Bowl or West Bowl and make your way all the way down to the base of Big Red Express.


Chair 23 — Mammoth Mountain, CA

A view down the spine from Chair 23 at Mammoth. These chutes have precarious entrances and are long.

Elevation Gain: 1,119 feet

Lift Type/Capacity: Fixed-grip triple

Ride Time: 5:28

Top Runs Serviced: Cornice Bowl, Dropout and Wipeout Chutes, Paranoid Flats

> Visit our Mammoth Expert Itinerary for the insider scoop on Chair 23


Chair 23 at Mammoth Mountain is a fast, fixed-grip triple; it comes in hot, slams you into the air, and whisks you straight up a spine to the top of the western half of Mammoth’s upper mountain. From here, take your pick of extended steeps. Cornices hang above long steep chutes that empty into bowls.


This is the lift everyone’s trying to ride on powder days. However, it may actually be better between storms thanks to the wind. A prevailing southwest wind blows snow from the backside of the mountain and dumps it right underneath Chair 23, creating a few inch thick layer of wind buff. Some call it packed powder or fast powder. Regardless, it's smooth and dreamy. Under the chair to the looker’s left are the Dropout Chutes and to the right are the Wipeout Chutes. Way off to the right are the Palisades. Way off to the left is Cornice Bowl. About 1000 feet of extended steeps.


 

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