A quick internet search of “weird ski lifts” or something similar will yield some bizarre results. It becomes very obvious very quickly that the humble ski lift has become a project of choice for eccentric engineers over the years.
From an impossibly treacherous alpine peak to the relatively gentle gradient of a Scandinavian Fell, skiers and snowboarders are treated to a variety of unique ways to get from bottom to top (and sometimes back down again). Rather than bore you with a list of them all, we’ve picked our TOP 5 based on, well, just how weird or wonderful they are!
1. The Single Chair – Mad River Glen, Vermont, USA
Officially retired as of Easter 2007, the original single-seater chairlift is woven into skiing folklore in ‘The East’. If the hardpacked, bitterly cold skiing conditions in New England are the true test of a skier’s mettle, then riding the Single Chair was as much of a rite of passage as skiing down General Stark Mountain itself.
At the beginning of the new ski season in the same year as it was decommissioned, a re-incarnated chairlift using the original 1940s designs was unveiled to the delight of local skiers. Despite most resorts building bigger, more modern lifts at every opportunity, the skiers at Mad River Glen think it’s worth holding on to a bit of nostalgia. Guess they simply just don’t make them like they used to.
2. Aiguille du Midi Cable Car – Chamonix, France
Alpine folk have always been on the forefront of mountain pursuits. Whether it’s climbing up, skiing down or jumping off them, the mountains provide extreme challenges that are just too hard to resist. So when, in the 1950′s the idea was proposed to build a cable car to the 3842m summit of the Aiguille du Midi, it was like a red rag to a bull and in 1955 the world’s highest cable car was completed, a record it held for 20 years.
The feeling of isolation and the vastness of the landscape during every ride in this amazing cable car makes the last journey to the summit just as thrilling as the first. Any trepidation you had to ski the Vallée Blanche whilst waiting in line at the base station probably gets tripled on the way up!
3. Titlis-Rotair – Engelberg, Switzerland
The Swiss – masters of the clock movement. If any country would pioneer a rotating ski lift it would be the Swiss… and they did. In 1992 the rotating gondola which links the mid-mountain with the top of 3020m Titlis Mountain in Engelberg ski resort was opened. At the time it was the first of its kind in the world.
The usual hustle and bustle on a big mountain peak gondola as people vie for the best photo-taking spot doesn’t happen on this unique feat of engineering. Everyone gets the same views at some point on the 5 minute journey to the summit, making for a more peaceful journey all round. Last year the gondola cabins were upgraded from just having a rotating floor to ones where the entire capsule rotates on its axis – quite remarkable.
4. ‘Roca-Jack’ Va a Vient – Portillo, Chile
Not so much a ‘lift’ as a veritable human sling-shot, the Roca-Jack simply has to be experienced. The biggest challenge isn’t the start, it’s disembarking at the summit along with four other riders – as you can probably imagine, there’s high chance of a slapstick ‘yard sale’ style pile-up of skiers, skis and poles!
Installed on a ski run named after one of the pioneers of Portillo ski resort, American bobsledder Jack Heaton, the Roca is just one of the va a vient lifts synonymous with the South American ski area. Ironically, it’s the safest construction method due to the loose geology of the area preventing more substantial and permanent chairlift towers being built. Like a button lift on steroids, the Roca-Jack provides as much fun on the way up as you’ll have skiing back down!
5. The Sauna Gondola – Yllas, Finland
If you’ve ever visited Scandinavia you’ll be more than familiar with a sauna. They come in all shapes and sizes in varying degrees of eccentricity. If you’re not sure what’s behind an inconspicuous door in Norway, Finland or Sweden chances are it’ll be a sauna. But can sauna-innovation go too far? Evidently not as far as Yllas ski resort is concerned; home to the world’s only sauna-gondola!
Unfortunately, stripping out of your ski gear down to your togs and grabbing a quick 20 minute sauna half way through your ski day isn’t possible. It’s a far more serene experience. Once the lifts close down for the day, your two hour session in the mountain-top spa can begin. Fully equipped with a 12 person sauna (on terra firma), a hot tub and a bar as well as the sauna-gondola cabin it’s a truly unique après activity! The gondola takes around thirteen minutes to reach the bottom, where you can hop out into the cold (if you dare) for a few minutes before riding back to the top for a bubble in the hot tub. Loistava!
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