Lifting materials Ochsenstäfeli-Muttsee. Photo: © Doppelmayr. From a two-story elevator that hovers over a mile-high canyon and a 17 km/h traction in 5 minutes, to a 360-degree rotating cabin – we’ve rounded up some of the tallest, longest, scariest and top constructions in the world. All in all, the world’s most amazing ski lifts. Many of them are incredible feats of engineering. Some of these systems are capable of carrying not only passengers but also machinery, bulky materials, cars, trucks, and even machines. Canyons and valleys, rivers and lakes, roads and jungles are no problem for the past and present generation of enterprising elevator engineers.
Skyway Monte Bianco, Courmayeur – Italy
The Mont Blanc Skyway has now been completed above Courmayeur, going to Pointe Helbronner and replacing the old cable lines. The new three-story lift is constructed primarily of steel and glass, with revolving spherical glass ropeways providing skiers with 360° views of the entire area. At Pointe Helbronner, 3452m above sea level, a circular terrace 14m in diameter also allows a 360° view of Mont Blanc at 4,810m, of Dent du Géant and Vallée Blanche.
Vanoise Express, La Plagne and Les Arcs – France
The two-story elevator hovered over a mile-high canyon, and in December 2013, two walkers had a rope that slid between the two cars. Paradiski is the name of the joint ski area created by the Vanoise Express between La Plagne and Les Arcs. However, most skiers at one or the other resort only pass by once during a week’s vacation, as both resorts have plenty of skiing of their own. Elevators can also get crowded – especially in the middle of the week.
Roca Jack, Portillo – Chile
The four Va et Vient (‘Come and Go’) lifts are famous for their multi-person rickshaws going up avalanche-prone slopes. They shoot you up the mountain and provide access to avalanche-prone terrain. After an avalanche, they simply dug the ropes, leveled the debris, and the elevator was back up and running. The biggest game – Roca Jack – features five skiers, standing side by side as they are pulled up the mountain on some sort of giant T-bar at 17 km/h knee-jerk – a bit like uphill skiing! Portillo in Chile is famous for its off-piste skiing and its policy of only selling 450 lift tickets per day, which means how many beds the resort has for guests.
Galzigbahn, St Anton – Austria
Galzigbahn. Photo: © Doppelmayr. The Funitel Galzigbahn in St Anton is designed a bit like a big fairground wheel. You get into one of the 28 gondolas on the ground floor and then rotate to the top of the wheel to start moving up the mountain. The building is illuminated at night and looks more like an avant-garde art gallery than an elevator station.
Gondola, Gulmarg – India
The small isolated hill village is located in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, at the westernmost tip of the Himalayas and 35 miles from the state capital Srinagar. This area is close to the disputed Pakistan-India border, so there is a regular military presence. In addition, Gulmarg has the world’s tallest gondola, installed in 2005. It leads to the ski area from the resort up to almost 4000m and offers more than 2200m of vertical slope, with a view of K2. The resort is growing rapidly and is opening more lifts and terrain with the aim of becoming India’s first complete ski resort with international appeal.
Peak2Peak, Whistler – Canada
Peak2Peak. Photo: © Doppelmayr. The gondolas connecting the Whistler and Blackcomb mountains in British Columbia run at nearly two miles by unsupported cable. Some of them have glass bottoms, so if you’re lucky enough to step into one of those places, the view from 436m down to the valley floor is quite a treat.
Hirafu Peak Lift Chair, Niseko – Japan
An incredible number of single-seat elevators still exist – most of them in Japan, Eastern Europe and Germany. This one in Niseko is old, doesn’t have a safety bar and doesn’t have much support either. As you can see, it was a lonely uphill ride. Skiing on the northernmost Japanese island of Hokkaido is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before. You ski through bamboo racks, eat noodles and sushi in mountain restaurants, and bathe in public hot springs after skiing. The resort is one of the snowiest you’ll find anywhere, with an average seasonal coverage of 15.11 meters – and it seems to snow almost every day in winter. The Japanese mainly cling to the lines of the pistes, leaving a seemingly bottomless layer of dough.
l’Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix – France
Enter the Void. Photo: © Compagnie du Mont Blanc The two cable car lines from Chamonix were originally built in 1950 and 1955 but were overhauled in 1990. Passengers are taken to the top of some of the most inhospitable lift terrain on world and, after riding two cable cars in 20 minutes, you are dropped at 3842m with views from France over Italy and Switzerland. Step Into The Void opened in December 2013 – it’s a technological masterpiece, from the terrace at 3842m, you stand inside a glass box with more than a thousand meters of nothingness at your feet. Not for vertigo.
The Tram, Jackson Hole – USA
There is no easy access down from the Jackson Hole tram. When you’re on the lift it’s done – and a loud speaker announcement on the way up tells you it’s unlikely. If at the top you don’t like what you see, return to the cable car and go down. “The JH Tram is definitely the king of them all with an enormous amount of air and charisma,” says Arnie Wilson, a mountaineering connoisseur who has skied at 729 resorts and has been to Jackson 26 times, “” the others have nothing in common with similar mysticism.”
Penken Combibahn, Mayrhofen – Austria
Penken Combibahn. Photo: © Doppelmayr. Chondola is a combination of gondola and chairlift on a cableway, so you have your choice of how to get up the mountain – depending on the weather. The largest chondolas include those in Mayrhofen, Alpe d’Huez, Are in Sweden, Kaprun, Lech and Obertauern. Mayrhofen’s chondola sits eight on a chair and ten on a gondola.
Imperial Express SuperChair, Breckenridge – USA
The tallest chair ladder in the northern hemisphere rises to 12,840ft (3914m) and opens up about 400 acres of treeline on Breckenridge Peak 8, which was previously a 45-minute walk. From the seat you feel like you are on top of the world, with views of Breckenridge, Mount Baldy, Quandary Peak, Lake Dillon and Keystone Resort.
Titlis Rotair, Engelberg – Switzerland
Rotair Engelberg. Photo: © TVB Engelberg / Swiss-image.ch. Titlis Rotair in Engelberg is the world’s first revolving cable car. It rotates its way from the middle station at Stand Up to the top of the mountain at an altitude of 3020m. During the 5-minute cruise, the gondola’s deck rotates 360 degrees, giving you panoramic views of steep rock faces, ravines and distant peaks. New cabins introduced in winter 2014-15 are fully rotatable.
Lessieres booster chair, Val d’Isere – France
Also known as The Up-and-Over, the lifts go up and down both sides of the high ridge separating the Solaise and Le Fornet areas of the ski area… some people find this chair lift in the Val d’Isere worthwhile scared, while the others were just enjoying the view. Scary or not, what people share is the feeling of wanting to put your belly somewhere else when you’re lounging on top of a mountain. Skiers have been known to risk their lives and limbs by jumping off the top and sliding down the far side.
Grimentz-Zinal Cable Car – Switzerland
Grimentz-Zinal Cable Car. Photo: © OT Sierre-Anniviers. It looks a bit like the Jackson Hole Tram and opened in 2014 when the ski areas of the small but sweet Val d’Anniviers resorts of Grimentz and Zinal were finally linked. The base of the cable car has a window so you can see the forest, the cliffs and the chamois from above.
Pardatschgratbahn, Ischgl – Austria
Is this the biggest cable car in the world? In 2014, the 3-S Pardatschgratbahn A3 became the first cable car to open with all its seats heated for the entire journey up and down the mountain. Killington in Vermont has eight-person gondolas with heated benches. The seat ladder has so far only had heated seats when in the valley station.
Here are some interesting videos of unusual and historical elevators from around the world
The first includes Peak2Peak in Whistler, Lessieres in Val d’Isere and Va et Vient thang in Portillo, as well as lots of historical footage…… and this one includes the Galzigbahn in St Anton, the Vanoise Express commercial in Paradiski, and Some unique footage of destroyed elevators!
Are there any lifts you think should be added to our list?
If so, let us know in the comment box below. For more information on ski lifts around the world, you can also visit Lift World.
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