The West Coast ski scene is the land of extremes, with Mt. Baker holding the record as snowiest and Whistler Blackcomb the largest in North America. Access to the best of that snow and the rowdy terrain it blankets is provided by the workhorse of the mountain – the chairlift.
There are many worthy contenders for the top spots, but a few are standouts. Here are the Top 10 Chairlifts on the West Coast, in no particular order:
Chair 6 – Crystal Mountain, WA
Vertical Rise: 912 ft
Top Elevation: 7,002 ft
The biggest ski resort in Washington offers up some big skiing. The Chair 6 lift provides access to a 40-degree powder bowl, no-fall zones right under the chair, backcountry access to Silver King & Campbell Basin makes this chair a winner.
“In addition, doubles are still the lift du jour for the area’s prime terrain (off High Campbell), keeping lines fresh well into the afternoon.”
Chair 23 – Mammoth Mountain, CA
Type: fixed-grip triple
Vertical Rise: 1,121 ft
Chair 23 at Mammoth is known for providing access to “beast mode” terrain, all with the benefit of scoping it out riding the lift. With 2/3 of the mountain at your disposal from the top, the options are numerous, particularly if you’re looking for cliffs, rocks, chutes, or cornices – and the views are photo-worthy. Mammoth Times referred to Chair 23 as a “madcap carnival ride.” Adding fuel to that impression, Mammoth’s CEO has stated …
“It’s definitively a sphincter-tightening ride,”
– Mammoth Mountain Ski Area CEO Rusty Gregory
Peak Express – Whistler Blackcomb, Canada
Type: Detachable quad
Vertical Rise: 1,316 ft
Top Elevation: 7,160 ft
As the largest ski resort in North America, this west coast resort gets two nods on this list. The Peak Express on Whistler drops you at the top peak of the mountain at 7,160 feet. It opens up access to almost 5,000 acres of terrain stocked with alpine bowls, chutes, and glades galore.
“On a powder day, as you ride up the Peak Express, enjoy watching the athletes hitting this zone hard and fast. On extra deep days, Whistler’s adrenaline junkies jump over a frozen waterfall known as Air Jordan. This is a chairlift spectacle you don’t want to miss.”
– Debbie Cook, Whistler Tourism
KT-22 Express – Palisades Tahoe, CA
Type: Detachable high-speed quad
Vertical Rise: 1,767 ft
Top Elevation: 8,070 ft
Voted North America’s favorite chairlift from numerous sources, KT22 is the gateway to the famed terrain of The Fingers and McConkey’s. This “expert’s nirvana” provides 2,000 vertical feet of rip-roaring, rowdy terrain packed with steeps, chutes, and cliffs.
Chair 8 – Mt. Baker Ski Area, WA
Top Elevation: 5,089 ft
Mt. Baker ski area is the snowiest ski resort in North America, averaging 655″ a year. Chair 8 to Shuksan Arm is the one to take if you’re angling to access some of the steepest and snowiest backcountry terrain found anywhere.
“Ski Shuksan Arm, a huge ridge accessible from the top of Chair 8, is mentioned over and over again by reporters as hands-down the best gravity train in the nation.”
Palmer Chairlift – Timberline Lodge, OR
Type: Detachable Quad
Vertical Rise: 3,690 ft
Top Elevation: 8,470 ft
The Palmer Chairlift gives Timberline Lodge the longest ski season in North America. Unique to this chair is that it only operates during the summer months due to high winds (100mph) during the winter months and regular big storms that bury the chair under mountains of snow and ice.
“In the summertime, everyone who is anyone in the ski business is on Palmer. It keeps it interesting. It appeals to a different level of skier or snowboarder.”
– Steve Kruse, Timberline’s GM of Mountain Operations,
Cornice Express (Chair 6) – Kirkwood, CA
Type: High-speed quad
Vertical Rise: 1,363 ft
“Powder Day: From Chair 6, hit the rocky, 40-degree chute called Chamoix to skier’s left. Once through the crux, bite hard right through a keyhole into Oops and Poops, a steep, 10-foot-wide, and often overlooked corridor. The last run to get skied out along Kirkwood’s six-mile ridgeline is Palisades, a far traverse skier’s left of Chair 6. It also gets hammered by the sun, so ski cold north-facing areas in midwinter or south-facing corn in spring.”
Northwest Express – Mt. Bachelor, OR
Type: High-speed quad
Vertical Rise: 2,365 feet
Top Elevation: 8,065
The Northwest Express Quad at Mt. Bachelor grants access to over 400 acres of ungroomed powder, chutes, and all-around good-times terrain.
“The majority of Mt. Bachelor’s above treeline volcano terrain is reserved for experts. This high alpine playground features some of the most unique and playful skiing and snowboarding in the U.S.”
Summit Six – Alpine Meadows, CA
Type: High-speed six-pack
Vertical Rise: 1,560 ft
Summit Six is a main lift at Alpine Meadows as it provides access to most of the terrain here. Of particular intensity is Keyhole:
“Standing at the top of this sharp, 55-degree drop is pretty exhilarating. The snow here is usually amazing even when the rest of the resort isn’t ideal. It’s usually soft and chalky since it’s located in a colder, drier, north-facing part of the resort.”
– The Life Report
Glacier Express – Whistler Blackcomb, Canada
Type: Detachable quad
Vertical Rise: 1,915 ft
Top Elevation: 7,011 ft
The Glacier Express is the second to make it onto this list from Whistler Blackcomb. The highest chair on Blackcomb Mountain, it accesses extensive terrain options over thousands of acres. Traverse over to the Couloir Extreme or boot pack up Spanky’s Ladder to get into four massive wide-open bowls filled with chutes, cliffs, and all sorts of exciting terrain.