Going Uphill Fast – Best Resorts for Fast Lifts

STORY BY Patrick Thorne 7th April 2017

We all look forward to our annual ski trip and one we reach resort we can’t wait to get on to the slope and get some snow under our skis.

But, oh no, “groan” – it’s a huge queue for the inadequate snow lift!  We’ve chosen a famous resort but it’s a resort that’s rested on its laurels, relying on its reputation, not upgraded its lifts, …and they can’t cope with demand.

So rather than spending our precious week whizzing over the snow, you spend much of it stood in queues or sat on slow old lifts.

Of course there’s more to it than lift speed and capacity – you need a well designed resort with the lifts strategically located to maximise skier flow around the area and break up potential bottle necks.

But it tends to be the same resorts that are well designed that invest in the latest lifts to get their guests whizzing around their slopes.

Here are some of the big spenders that have created the biggest and best lift systems in the world today.


Saalbach Hinterglemm, Austria

It’s a bit of a long name but the ”Skicircus Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang Fieberbrunn” – one of Austria’s biggest and most popular ski areas has invested more than €432 million in modernising and improving their ski lifts and other facilities since 2000.  The big spend has been on gondolas – they just love them and are now one of the world’s three biggest operators of gondolas – although there are lots of high-speed chairlifts too.  Saalbach thinks nothing of upgrading a T Bar drag lift to a €10m gondola and this season year they added another two state-of-the-art 10 passenger gondolas to their world class fleet of 70 lifts.


Vail, USA

Vail Resorts are not (arguably) the most successful ski resort operators in the world without good reason.  The huge Vail ski area is very efficiently accessed by a total of 31 lifts, including no less than 17 high speed quad and six-seater chairlifts (plus a couple of gondolas), making it fast and easy to get around Vail Mountain (Vail’s boss Rob Katz,  above, knows how to build a sucessful ski resort).


Ski in Ski out Rail Station In the Dolomites - InTheSnow Magazine

Kronplatz, Italy

With 185km of runs Kronplatz is one of the biggest sectors of the Dolomiti Superski region but its not one particularly well known to the UK market.  It ought to be though.  It’s 32 lifts include no less than an incredible 20 gondola lifts, plus five high speed 4 and 6 seater chairlifts, a remarkable fleet.  The resort even added a railway station a few years ago so that you can hop straight off the train and onto a gondola for fast, easy access.


Whistler, Canada

Whistler was once in competition with Vail and the two resorts seemed to battle, unofficially of course, to offer the most efficient lift network in North America.  Now both are owned by Vail Resorts, but Whistler’s lift network, which includes its famous $50m Pear2Peak gondola linking its Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, remains state-of-the-art.  North America’s biggest ski area is served by around 16 high speed chairlifts, most of them quads.


Meribel, France

The world’s biggest ski area wouldn’t be a lot of fun if you got stuck on a slow lift trying to makes the most of all 600km of it, so fortunately the central Meribel Valley, marketed as the beating heart of the 3 Valleys in fact, pumps skiers around and through the huge network quickly and efficiently.  To do so it has a stack of high speed, high capacity chairlifts and is one of the world’s top three operators of gondolas, along side Saalbach and Kronplatz, with 15 of them.


Grandvalira, Andorra

The largest ski area in the Pyrenees grew out of the merger of several smaller areas but Grandvalira – which includes the resorts of Soldeu El Tarter and Pas de la Casa among others and boasts 210km of runs – has a remarkable uplift capacity of over 100,000 skiers and boarders per hour provided by 65 very efficient lifts.  These include 20 high speed 4 and 6 seater chairlifts, in fact more queue-gobbling high speed six seater chairs than any other resort.


Rosa Khutor, Sochi, Russia

It is not known how efficiently they operate, but some five years ago in the run up to the Sochi Olympics the region’s four ski areas spent an unprecedented estimated $1 billion (the exact figure is unknown) on dozens of state-of-the-art chair and gondolas lifts – the biggest shopping basket of ski lifts in history in fact.  Rosa Khutor, best known of the resorts, installed 15 or so of the most efficient lifts ever built including a high capacity giant 3S gondola capable of carrying 4500 skiers per hour (a world record) and even to carry cars up the mountain in specially adapted cabins.



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