Ski Industry News

World's 10 Highest Chairlifts

by Dan Giesin | December 20, 2016


Ever wonder how high you could get riding a ski lift?

No, not that kind of high. We’re talking about elevation, as in feet above sea level.

Well, the answer would be 15,420 feet, which is the top of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain resort in Yunnan province in southwest China, near where the world’s highest peaks are situated in the Himalaya and the Karakoram ranges. This small resort, which is about 15 acres in size and has about 560 feet of vertical, is reached via 2.9-km-long gondola from the lower elevations (at the end of a road at 11,010 feet) and has two drag lifts suitable for beginning and intermediate boarders and skiers who are able to acclimate to the altitude.

Next on the list would be Gulmarg Resort, in the India-controlled part of Kashmir, which tops out at 13,058 feet. This budding mega-resort in the western Himalaya has a two-stage gondola that rises more than 4,363 vertical feet above the Gulmarg village base and services kilometers of off-piste back-country terrain for skiers and snowboarders that include chutes, bowls and some trees. At the village, there are three surface lifts for beginning skiers (no snowboards, please).

Familiar names

The next three highest resorts are pretty familiar names to American skiers and boarders: Breckenridge, in Colorado, which has the world’s highest high-speed quad (the Imperial Express unloads at the 12,841-foot level); Zermatt, in the shadow of Switzerland’s famous Matterhorn, one of whose lifts reaches 12,792 feet above sea level, and Loveland, also in Colorado, which rises above I-70 and the Eisenhower Tunnel to the 12,700-foot mark.

 We return to Asia — Iran, specifically — for No. 6 on the list of the world’s highest lift-served resorts. The base area of the Tochal resort, which is situated in the Alborz Mountains just north of Tehran, is reached via a 7.5-km-long gondola, and from there you can ascend another 984 vertical feet via one of the resort’s three lifts to reach the resort’s apex at 12,631feet above sea level.

Back in the Alps

Another well-known European ski and snowboard playground clocks in at No. 7.  Chamonix in the French Alps, has a tram that will bring you to the top of the Aiguille du Midi at 12,605 feet, whence you can make turns down the Vallee Blanche for 20 kilometers or so and more than 9,000 vertical feet.

 Mt. Elbrus, in Russia’s Caucasus Mountains, is the highest point in Europe (18,481 feet), and on its flanks is the eighth highest ski lift in the world. Elbrus resort has a two-stage gondola and four other lifts, one of which, the Garabashi chair, tops out at 12,598 feet and gives a visitor 4,290 feet of vertical back to the base area.

The last two resorts in the top 10 are in Colorado: Telluride, whose Revelation lift reaches the 12,570-foot mark, and Snowmass, where you can ride the Cirque lift to 12,510 feet above sea level.

Changing world

 One final note: But for climate change, the last four resorts cited above — Chamonix, Elbrus, Telluride and Snowmass — would not have made this top-10 list. However, massive glacial recession has closed the lifts at Chacaltaya, Bolivia (which topped out at 17,785 feet, higher than Everest base camp in Nepal); the Dagu Glacier (15,889) in Heishui County in central China; the Meren Glacier complex (15,700) in the western part of Papua New Guinea, and the Merida resort (15,640) in Venezuela.

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