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Ski Resort Life

The 9 Most Iconic Chairlifts in North America

According to the Twitterverse, these are the must-ride chairlifts at ski resorts across the continent. Do you agree?

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When we took to Twitter a few weeks ago to ask skiers their opinions on the most iconic chairlift in North America, we got oodles of replies. There was, however, one clear winner. With over 25 percent of the votes, Palisades Tahoe’s KT-22 snagged the title.

One user put it best: “It’s funny how people are throwing out all these (admittedly cool) options, but only one chairlift is so iconic that you don’t need to name the resort: KT-22.”

Turns out that the Motherlode, as it’s called, is in good company. Here are the most iconic chairlifts at North American ski resorts, complete with their stats and a little history, as voted by you.

9 Classic Chairlifts That All Skiers Should Ride

1. KT-22, Palisades Tahoe, Calif.

  • Debuted in 1958, upgraded 1995
  • High-speed quad
  • 1,800 vertical feet in 6 minutes
  • 2,100 people per hour
Palisades Tahoe RG23
The terrain off of KT-22 is some of the most legendary at this already legendary ski resort. (Photo: Courtesy of Palisades Tahoe)

KT-22 easily reeled in the most votes from the Twitterverse. The lift got its name from Sandy Paulsen, the wife of Palisades Tahoe founder Wayne Paulsen, who, in 1946, spied a rocky, intimidating 8,100-foot peak within the resort boundary and decided to hike it. On the way down, she linked 22 kick turns. When they ran a lift up said peak in 1958 for the 1960 Winter Olympics, they named it KT-22.

The terrain served by this legendary quad is some of the toughest on the mountain. There are no easy routes down. One of the toughest lines is named in memory of Shane McConkey, who called these slopes home. From the top of the lift, keep an eye out for the double spires of McConkey’s Run, as well as the sculpture of a metal eagle designed by Hansi Standteiner in with input from McConkey’s wife Sherri.

2. Single Chair, Mad River Glen, Vt.

  • Debuted in 1948, updated in 2007
  • Fixed-grip single chair
  • 1,970 feet in 8.7 minutes
  • 500 people per hour
"Mad River Glen Chair"
The Single Chair got a safety update several years back, but still represents the wild and independent spirit of Mad River Glen. (Photo: Courtesy of Mad River Glen)

MRG founder Roland Palmedo strung his first single chair up the slopes at Stowe before deciding that he wanted to support a less commercial resort, purchasing land from the Ward Lumber Company that would eventually become MRG. The single chair opened December 1948 and was the fastest lift of its kind at the time.

That might not be the case today, but that doesn’t matter to the folks who know and love the Single Chair. The chair is the only route to the summit, and its low capacity preserves the experience that Palmedo was after. Black diamond runs like Chute, under the lift line, Paradise, and Fall Line are a few of the options to challenge yourself off of the Single Chair.

3. Peak Chair, Whistler Blackcomb, B.C.

  • Debuted in 1986, updated in 1998
  • High-speed quad
  • 3,330 feet in 3.40 minutes
  • 2,200 people per hour

The Peak Express is your ride to the summit of Whistler Mountain, at just over 5,000 feet. The high-speed quad is the gnarliest lift on the mountain thanks to the 100-foot cliff just beneath the summit that it glides over, giving riders an up close and personal view of the steep drops on offer. You also cruise over ancient glaciers and reward yourself with a magnificent 360-degree view from the summit, including a glacial lake. The terrain served is black to double-black diamond, including classic pods like Little Whistler Bowls and Surprise.

4. Chair 23, Mammoth Mountain, Calif.

  • Debuted in 1982
  • Fixed-grip triple chair
  • 1,121 feet in under 6 minutes
  • 1,500 people per hour
Chair 23 at Mammoth is exposed to wind, snow, and all of the elements, making for an interesting ride. (Photo: Courtesy of Mammoth Mountain)

The simply named Chair 23 was one of the steepest and most complicated chairlifts ever constructed when it was built at the direction of then resort owner Dave McCoy. (The lifts are not numbered based on their geographic location, by the way, but rather the order in which they were built.) Chair 23 can be a scary ride, stretching over steep and rocky terrain below, which seems appropriate given the terrain it serves: Cornice Bowl and Scotty’s Run are a couple of the classics, but there’s really no easy way down.

5. Pallavicini Chair, Arapahoe Basin, Colo.

  • Debuted in 1978, updated in 2020
  • Fixed-grip double chair
  • 1,329 feet in 7.50 minutes
  • 1,200 people per hour
Pallavicini Lift Arapahoe Basin
The original Pallavicini chairs (pictured) were black and had no safety bars. The new chairs, updated in 2020, have bars. Photo: Getty Images

One of the coolest things about the Pali Chair and its double-black terrain is that you can easily see it right from the parking lot. The classic two-person chair that was constructed back when Ralston-Purina owned the ski area in the late ’70s serves some gnarly steeps, but there’s also cruisy blues you can get to off of Pali, so don’t be scared to take the ride. Tree-skiing lovers should check out 6th Alley Glades, a great tree run mid-way down the frontside off of the Pali Chair.

6. Red Chair, RED Mountain, B.C.

  • Debuted in 1947, updated in 1973
  • Fixed-grip double chair
  • 1,331 feet in 8.20 minutes
  • 1,400 people per hour
Red’s original lift, the Red Chair, can be seen to the far left, stretching to the Red Mountain summit. (Photo: Courtesy of RED Mountain Resort)

One of the oldest chairlifts in Canada, the Red Chair was the lift that turned the Rossland resort from a ski club gathering spot into a promising ski area. The chair, which replaced a rope tow, was built by Nordic miners who’d never even seen a chairlift, nonetheless rode one. It serves some of the resort’s toughest and steepest runs, including double-black Hole in the Wall and the tight trees in Poochie’s and War Eagle. 

7. Wildcat Lift, Alta, Utah

  • Debuted in 1980
  • Fixed-drip double chair
  • 1,221 feet in 8.50 minutes
  • 1,000 people per hour

“Kitty,” as it’s called by local powderhounds, is your ride to the fun and wild lower-mountain steeps at the Wildcat base. The center-bar two-person chair with no safety bar is the only remaining fixed-grip double at the ski area and lovingly represents the soul and heritage of the skier’s-only resort. There have been attempts to modernize it, including a 2016 proposal to upgrade Wildcat to a high-speed quad and double its carrying capacity, but none have been successful so far, thankfully.

8. Lift 9 (The Plunge), Telluride, Colo.

  • Debuted in 1985, updated in 2023
  • High-speed express quad
  • 2,000 feet in 6.50 minutes
  • 1,800 people per hour
Lift 9 The Plunge Telluride
The new, speedier Lift 9 opened to the public in February 2023. (Photo: Courtesy of Telluride Ski Resort)

The new high-speed Plunge just opened in February, but the original fixed-grip triple will never be forgotten. The original lift, built to provide connecting access from town via the Oak Street lift (#8) straight to the goods, lets locals and visitors staying in town bypass the gondola ride to Mountain Village. The lift might be faster, but the terrain it serves is the same. Look for the classic tree run Kant-Mak-M and namesake Plunge trail amid the all-black or double-black diamond runs. You can also ride it to cross over onto the frontside, and now get there faster than ever.

9. Superstar Express, Killington, Vt.

  • Debuted in 1987, upgraded in 1997 and 2004
  • High-speed express quad
  • 1,173 feet in 3.50 minutes
  • 3,000 people per hour
killington Superstar trail
U.S. Ski Team mogul specialist Hannah Soar makes it look easy on Superstar. (Photo: Couresy of Killington Resort)

The chairlift that often spins the longest in the East, Superstar quickly gained popularity after its mid-’80s debut thanks to its easy access, short ride time, and fun terrain. Superstar serves the World Cup Slalom race on its eponymous run and is also home to the resort’s iconic spring-skiing cellys under the April and May sunshine. Don your speedo and shred the slush bumps with the rest of the Killington devotees, and be glad that Superstar continues to do the heavy lifting … literally.