The 5 Steepest Chairlifts in the United States

Quintin Mills | | Industry NewsIndustry NewsBrainsBrains
Kachina Peak, Taos, NM
Kachina Peak Lift at Taos Ski Valley – Courtesy of Kurt Schmidt

For seasoned skiers and adrenaline junkies, there’s an undeniable allure in venturing outside one’s comfort zone. The exhilarating rush that comes with steep skiing can be both the ultimate challenge and the ultimate source of joy.  These are the moments that skiers and riders chase. Your mind steadies, your spine tingles, your vision tightens, and it seems like the world stops spinning as you descend.   

In the United States, steeps are abundant across different resorts and terrain. In this article, we will dive into five of the steepest lifts in the United States where you fearless lot can test your fortitude against gravity. 

5. Pallavicini Lift – Arapahoe Basin, Colorado

Pallavicini Lift at Arapahoe Basin, CO
The Pallavicini Lift at Arapahoe Basin, CO – Courtesy of Arapahoe Basin

The Pallavicini Lift is legendary in the Colorado ski circles and around the world. The lift has many different nicknames and aliases like “Pali” or “the black jewel in the crown of the Basin.” The lift was installed in 1978 to supplement some steeper terrain in the area and was an instant hit. 

Pali has an incline of 50 degrees and goes up 1,329 vertical feet to an elevation of 12,310 feet at the Pali Outpost. The lift was upgraded in 2020, but they wanted to keep the old-school style and left it as a two-seater. 

4. Lone Peak Tram – Big Sky Resort, Montana

Lone Peak Tram at Big Sky Resort
Lone Peak Tram at Big Sky Resort, MT – Courtesy of Ulderico Granger

The Lone Peak Tram at Big Sky is an iconic tram that gives access to thousands of acres of skiable terrain, including off-piste areas, gnarly chutes, big cliffs, and steep skiing. The top of Lone Peak offers panoramic views of the Spanish Peaks and the Madison and Gallatin Ranges. 

It’s approximately 48 degrees at its steepest point and ascends 1,450 feet in just four minutes. It is a highly sought-after lift, where wait times at the bottom can be up to two hours, but it’s well worth it.

3. Highland Bowl – Aspen Highlands, Colorado

Highland Bowl at Aspen Snowmass
Highland Bowl – Courtesy of Aspen Snowmass

Although it’s not a lift, we thought it deserved some attention for its steepness and overall glamour. The Highland Bowl is accessible by boot backing, and if you’re lucky, they sometimes have the snowcat running.

It’s about a 782 vertical foot hike that usually takes 40 minutes, with the steepest pitches ranging from 38-48 degrees. It’s a relatively open bowl above the treeline with three different zones to choose from. The line options vary from wide open turns to more narrow chutes to tree skiing toward the bottom. 

2. Chair 23 – Mammoth Mountain, California

Chair 23 in Mammoth, CA
Chair 23 – Courtesy of Mammoth Mountain

Mammoth locals will tell you that Chair 23 is the best lift in the world, and it definitely has a claim to that name. The CEO of Mammoth, Rusty Gregory, has said the chair is “…definitely a sphincter-tightening ride.”

It climbs 1,121 vertical feet in about five minutes to the peak of 11,053 feet. At the top, you’ll get to take in some of the best views of the Eastern Sierras, and on your way down, you’ll understand why it’s one of the best lifts in the world. 

1. Kachina Peak – Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico

Kachina Peak, Taos, NM
The top of Kachina Peak – Courtesy of Taos Ski Valley

Taos sometimes flies under the radar, but it’s becoming increasingly hard for the resort to keep its best lift a secret. This old-school triple climbs 1,100 feet to the top of the 12,450-foot Kachina Peak. It used to be accessible only by hiking, but in 2014 Taos installed this behemoth. 

It initially received criticism from some locals who were skeptical about letting the general public up this massive face, but it proved to be worthwhile as they worked out the kinks in the first few years. It’s not always spinning, but when it is, you can guarantee it will be worth a ride to the top.

The determination of the steepest ski lifts is a topic of ongoing debate due to the challenges involved in precise calculations. Factors such as overall steepness, steepest pitches, and access to the steepest runs all come into play when disputing the steepest lifts in the United States. Nevertheless, all these lifts on this list are steep and provide access to steep terrain.

Which ones will you be riding next season?

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6 thoughts on “The 5 Steepest Chairlifts in the United States

  1. Kachina Peak lift is a normal speed triple, not a high speed quad. One of my favorites anywhere.

  2. Since you have one here that doesn’t even have a lift, you might as well include Tuckerman’s Ravine.

    1. Length over Vertical drop is the standard equation for steepness of lifts.

      Snow King, Jackson, Wy – 1571′ tall, 4000′ long.


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