Why KT-22 at Squaw Valley, CA is the Best Chairlift in North America

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kt-22
KT-22. Credit: SnowBrains

Brought to you by Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows

Shane McConkey once called KT-22 “the greatest lift in America.” McConkey also said, “There’s just a helluva lotta fun to be had on that mountain.”

As the story goes, in 1946, Sandy Poulsen, the wife of Wayne Poulsen, founder of Squaw Valley Ski Resort, hiked to the top of an intimidating 8,100-foot peak. To get down the steep mountainside, she traversed back and forth, making 22 kickturns (KTs), and from that experience, a name was born. KT-22.

KT-22 has been ranked the #1 chairlift in North America and is regularly found on the top ten lists. 

It’s undoubtedly one of the best chairlifts in North America. Because 1,800-vertical-feet of kick-ass skiing has a way of making its way into the collective psyche of skiers and riders everywhere. Besides, KT-22 has created the legends to prove it. Skiers like Scot Schmidt, JT Holmes, Ingrid Backstrom, CR Johnson, Michelle Parker, and Cody Townsend got their start on this lift. There’s a reason it’s nicknamed the Mothership. It’s where things originate.

Smashing a turn on KT-22 at Squaw Valley, CA. Credit: Casey Cane / SnowBrains

What makes KT-22 so great?

We’ll let snowboarding legend Jeremy Jones answer that question:

“I have never seen a lift with more technical lines or landable cliffs. The amount of steep, technical lines is in the 100s. It has all aspects, so you can always find a smooth surface. It is littered with spines, chutes, pillows, steep walls, cliffs, gaps. Add in the fact that it is at the base of the mountain and is a high-speed quad so you can ride for two hours and get in 20,000 vertical feet of technical riding. Patrol treats it differently than the rest of the mountain. Basically, everything is open. Simply put it is the lift service version of the cable car at La Grave or the Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix.”

That kind of says it all… but we’ll say a little more.

KT-22 accesses so much terrain it could be its own ski resort. If all there was at Squaw Valley was KT-22, skiers and riders would still flock to Squaw to test their mettle.

When the snow is firing at KT-22, the place is tough to beat. The legendary lift averages 400 inches of snowfall per year, making it a powder paradise.

Locals line up for the KT chair at 5 am on a powder day because if you get a fresh line down the West Face or Chute 75, you’ve basically enjoyed the equivalent of a world-class heli-ski run (for far less money).

The Fingers off KT-22 at Squaw Valley. Credit: Miles Clark / SnowBrains

There’s really no easy way down. Don’t come up here expecting a mellow groomer to the bottom. But if you want to sample KT-22 in the mildest way possible, head right off the chair and follow the ridge to the Saddle. That’s going to be your most straightforward descent.

New here? There’s a ski patrol shack near the top of the lift. Patrol won’t guide you down or tell you what you’re capable of skiing (if you have to ask, you probably shouldn’t be here), but if you’re polite and wait till they have a minute, they may tell you which aspect is holding the best snow.

When big storms, heavy winds, and limited visibility shut down lifts on the upper part of the mountain, patrol can often get KT spinning since it’s lower in elevation. On a storm day, head left off the chair, traverse along the ridge and lap the trees off Red Dog Ridge, which holds deep snow and gives you some protection from the weather.

The double Olympic Lady chair rarely spins, and the lines under this lift—including steep gullies and perfectly-spaced glades accessible from the top of KT-22—are often overlooked. 

McConkey’s (Eagle’s Nest) at Squaw Valley. Credit: Miles Clark / SnowBrains

When you’re riding up the lift near the top, take a peek at the crown jewel of KT: the twin spires known as Eagle’s Nest or McConkey’s. A few brave souls ski these exposed lines, but at the very least, take note of the metal eagle perched atop the cliff in memory of Shane McConkey. The sculpture is visible from the chair. The eagle was designed by skier and metalworker Hansi Standteiner, with Shane’s wife, Sherry McConkey.

On a powder day, you don’t even need to ride KT-22 to feel the energy. Just stand at the bottom of the lift and wait for the cheers from the crowds as the first set of skiers and riders launch the Fingers, the set of rocky chutes directly under the chair. It’s like watching a ski movie in real life.

KT-22 Statistics:

  • Ranked #1 Chairlift in North America by many publications on numerous occasions
  • Averages 450” of snowfall per year
  • From 6,200 feet to 8,000 feet in under 6 minutes
  • Built for the 1960 Olympics, replaced by a high-speed quad in 1995
  • Hourly capacity of 2,100 people
Squaw Valley, trail map, 2021
Squaw Valley, CA trail map

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5 thoughts on “Why KT-22 at Squaw Valley, CA is the Best Chairlift in North America

  1. KT-22 has another notable and unique claim to fame. It is one of the only chairlifts in the world to have it’s own song. The song, “I Love KT”, by Eric T. & the Skis, was released in 2018 as a tribute to the infamous pea, it’s legendary terrain. and those that cherish it. Eric T., a ski music pioneer (and former marketing director at Squaw Valley) who also wrote title tunes for several Warren Miller films “back in the day” penned the tune to pay homage in recognition of KT’s allure and the incredible energy that it generates for skiers and boarders. The raucous and rowdy tune is a must for any skiers music quiver. I Love KT is available on all major music streaming platforms. For more information, visit skimusic.com.

  2. Worked the Gondola there in the 80’s and it was great to watch Schmit & co. bomb it all day for the Jimmy Huega challenge. Loved seeing him soar off the jeep trails down the face. Thx for the memories:)!

  3. It used to be the best chairlift but now it mostly rains on KT. In another 10 years it will probably be closed most of the time.

  4. The runs served by that lift have made me feel invincible and have embarrassed the bejesus out of me.

  5. Thats a known given for decades, some of the gnarliest lift access terrain in the country, why peeps like Shane M. and others made a life well lived here.
    Now corp dweebs want to ruin such with a gondola to Alpine and mid station at top of kt where the existing ski patrol shack is now, blocking access to Chute 75 and West Face proper aka Moseley’s and for what purpose, oh right more corporate marketing hype which won’t access any new skier terrain.
    Alpine skiers ski alpine and Squaw skiers ski squaw, name change or not.
    Oh and have never seen former squaw ceo Andy Wirth or current Ron Cohen ever ski 75 Chute or West Faces. But they sure can ruin world class chairlift accessed terrain with idiotic decision making to put in a not needed gondola.
    Ski ya later

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