In recent decades, ski lifts have been getting faster, more comfortable, and able to carry more and more people. Nearly 110 years ago, the first dedicated ski lifts were invented in the Black Forest of Germany and, since the turn of the century, the technology behind them has been greatly improving.
Companies like Doppelmayr are building lifts that can carry even bigger loads (One of the lifts they built for the Sochi Olympics was capable of carrying cars as well as people), that are even higher above the ground and that require fewer support towers for less environmental impact. Some resorts, like the ones below, are doing entirely new things with ski lifts.
Revolving lifts rotate as they ascend the slopes, meaning that passengers get a full 360-degree panorama, without needing to turn their head.
Two revolving lifts in Switzerland, the Rotair and the Stuckli Rondo, have circular cabins. The Stuckli Rondo, the world’s first revolving lift, was built by Doppelmayr and has 18 eight-passenger cabins. It’s about a six-minute ride from the tiny Swiss village at 800m above sea level to the Mostelberg at 1200m.
A number of resorts have seen the benefits of using a gondola cabin for romance, and some have gone further than others.
One lift that serves the highest summit of the Bavarian Forest in Germany contains a special “Cuddle Cabin” with tinted windows and leather seats. Although the cabin officially seats six, only a single couple are allowed in at any given time for the four-minute ascent.
In Gstaad, couples can rent a gondola on their wedding day, decked out with flowers and decoration. The actual ceremony is then held at a mountain restaurant at the top of the lift.
The Double Decker Lift
Ten years ago, two of the world’s largest ski resorts, the les Arcs and la Plagne in France, were linked together by the Vanoise Express. The double-decker cabins of the Vanoise Express are each capable of holding a record-breaking 200 passengers, as it travels nearly 1,000 vertical feet above the valley floor.
Today, the Vanoise Express is a major engineering attraction in its own right, and recently celebrated its 10 year anniversary with an avante garde paint job and a performance by a high-wire walker along the cable between two cabins.
The Private Funicular
One of the world’s coolest ski lifts is, without doubt, the private personal funicular lift. This lift links the remarkable Tschuggen Grand Hotel in Arosa, Switzerland to the local ski slopes about half a mile away.
Hotel guests use an electronic lift ticket which calls the two-carriage mini train to the bottom or top station if it is not already waiting there, with each cabin’s roof opening like a sports car to allow entry. It’s all very James Bond.
This winter, the Tschuggen Grand opened another spectacular lift that links the resort’s slopes to those of its larger neighbouring resort Lenzerheide, creating a huge 225km ski region.
The Porsche Chairlift
High-speed, comfortable chairlifts with heated leather seats became so common in the Alps, they were starting to get a little passé. In 2012, the leading Swiss resort of Laax decided that they needed to do something different with their latest lift to make it stand out from the crowd.
Their answer was to commission the iconic car brand Porsche to design the chairlift. The result is a chairlift that not only looks very cool, but also features a ’wellness seat,’ which can be set to ‘Panorama Mode,’ tilting 45 degrees sideways to allow superb views. The lift is also eco friendly, using solar power to heat its seats.
The Open-Top Lift
In the past year, we’ve seen several ‘open-top’ trams open in Austria and Switzerland, including a spectacular new lift at Austria’s Dachstein Glacier, where snowsports are offered year round.
A special access platform was built at the top and bottom stations so that those who want to ride in an open-air section on the roof can do so, as it ascends high above the ground.
The Sauna Gondola
Have you ever ridden up a mountain in a packed lift and thought, “It’s like a sauna in here!”
Well, in the Finnish resort of Ylläs in Lapland, you can get the real deal, as the clever Finns have converted a gondola cabin into a wood-clad sauna.
Simply strip off in the sub-zero temperatures and hop in for your ascent to the top station at 718m above sea level with up to three friends.
Once at the top, a ‘normal’ sauna awaits for private use. The system can be used by up to 12 people at once on a two-hour booking, taking turns to jump in and out of the gondola sauna as it circuits.