The 9 Oldest Operating Ski Lifts in North America

Joseph Puetz | | Post Tag for BrainsBrains
single chair
Mad River Glen boasts the oldest operating chairlift in its Single Chair. PC: madriverglen.com

The up is never as fun as the down. The chairlift is just a means to get that next face shot or to continue the hunt for the perfect turn. No one ever talks about how insane the tram is as they’re about to crap themselves when they realize how psycho Corbet’s Couloir truly is. No. The magic of floating up a mountain is lost. It’s time we appreciate just how special this sport is that we can sit on our butts for half the time. This list names the chairs that have been cradling backsides the longest.

#1: J-Bar – 1935

Location: Black Mountain, NH

Originally installed as a rope tow by Moody’s Inn to service their small ski hill back in 1935. The current configuration as a J-Bar was put into place by Black Mountain Ski Resort in 1954 to make riding the lift easier. Over the years, the J-Bar has seen numerous refurbishments and repairs, and in 2022, it was restored to its original appearance and colors.

J-Bar at Black Mountain, NH. | Credit: Black Mountain

Hemlock Chair – 1937

Location: currently Boyne Mountain, originally Sun Valley, ID

While most people know of the first ever single ski lift at Sun Valley, ID, in 1947, many do not realize that this lift is still in use today. The first-ever chairlift was put up for sale by Sun Valley in 1946 and was purchased for $2000 by Boyne Mountain, MI, where it can now be found today. While this lift has undergone several repurposes and improvements, such as being converted from a single chair to a double chair in 1960, some parts of the top and bottom loading stations are still original, meaning that the first-ever chairlift has never fully been replaced.

Hemlock Chairlift at Boyne Mountain, MI. Parts of the top and bottom stations are still from the first-ever ski lift in Sun Valley, ID. | Credit: Lift Blog

#2: Single Chair -1939

Location: currently Mt. Eyak, AK, originally Sun Valley, ID

Similar to the Hemloack Chair at Boyne Mountain, Mt. Eyak’s single chair was one of the oldest chairlifts originally built at Sun Valley, ID. This single lift originally served on Mt. Baldy but was put out of use in 1969. In 1974, the lift was sold and moved to Mt. Eyak, Alaska, which sits near Cordova, AK, where it still operates today.

Single chair at Mt. Eyak. | Credit: Mt. Eyak

#3: Single Chair-1948

Location: Mad River Glen, VT

This lift services one of the three mountains in the country that bans snowboarding, and this lift is the reason for the ban. Mad River Glen was one of the first resorts to allow snowboarding in the 1980s but then banned snowboarders from the Single Chair only because of safety concerns while loading on the chair. According to Mad River Glen, a confrontation between the owner, Betsey Pratt, and some local riders led to snowboarders being banned entirely in the 1991-1992 season. You know a lift is legendary if it leads to an entire sport being banned from a mountain.

single chairThe Single Chair at Mad River Glen, VT. PC: Mad River Glen

#4: Chair 1/Vista Cruiser-1956

Location: Mt. Spokane, WA

This Riblet-style double services the advanced terrain near Lodge 1 at Mt. Spokane. Riblet refers to the way the lift attaches to the haul rope. It is attached to a clip inserted into the haul rope rather than a clamp that most chairlifts have today. Byron Christian Riblet founded the Riblet Tramway Company of Spokane, WA, in 1896 when he began building lifts in Nelson, BC, according to Riblet Tramway Company.

Mt. Spokane
Chair 1, now called Vista Cruiser, is in Mt. Spokane, WA. PC: liftblog.com

#5: Bateau T-Bar-1956

Location: Sugarloaf, ME

Finally, a surface lift! Costing a whopping $57,000, according to liftblog.com, it is the only lift at Sugarloaf that can open on windy days. Newenglandskihistory.com lists it at 960 vertical feet and that Leitner designed it. It’s over 60 years old, and it’s the most reliable—no school like the old school.

T bar
Bateau T-bar at Sugarloaf, ME. PC: newenglandskihistory.com

#6: Chair 2-1957

Location: White Pass, WA

This double chair with a center pole is a classic in the Pacific Northwest. It only operates on weekends and holidays these days as it is adjacent to the detachable quad Great White Express. According to liftblog.com, this is a Riblet-style double as well.

double chair
Chair 2 at White Pass, WA. PC: liftblog.com

#7: Summit-1957

Location: Kelly Canyon, ID

This is the lift that caused Kelly Canyon to black-list itself from the Riblet Tramway Company. Instead of buying a second lift from Riblet, Kelly Canyon decided to use this lift as a template and build a second lift for themselves. This didn’t sit well with the lift company, and they didn’t sell another lift to Kelly Canyon, according to liftblog.com.

Riblet
The Summit lift at Kelly Canyon, ID. PC: liftblog.com

#8: Banff Gondola-1959

Location: Banff, AB, Canada

This lift operates year-round and travels 2,292 vertical feet in 8 minutes. In the summer months, visitors can exit the gondola and walk to Sanson’s Peak. According to banffjaspercollection.com, Norman Sanson summited Sulpher Mountain every week for 30 years to check the weather until 1945, when he was 84 years old. In 1997, there were 40 new cabins installed, which were the third set of cabins, states liftblog.com.

Banff
Banff Gondola on Sulphur Mountain in Banff, AB. PC: banffadventures.com

#9: 7th Heaven-1960

Location: Stevens Pass, WA

Another Riblet double chair with that classic PNW center pole. If you’ve never ridden a chair like this, it takes some practice. These chairs stop the most on busy weekends as they can be intimidating for newer skiers and riders.

If you’re privileged enough to take one of these classics for a spin, pause to appreciate its grace as it thanklessly shuttles you off for another epic run. 

Riblet
The loading zone of 7th Heaven lift at Steven’s Pass, WA. PC:liftblog.com

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19 thoughts on “The 9 Oldest Operating Ski Lifts in North America

  1. Thanks for replying Joseph. I would add Secundo lift in Colorado is still running this year and originally built in 1954, as Aspen chair 3. It will be replaced in 2024. Some of the best powder Aspen glade skiing in the world off Segundo chair.

  2. Mt eyak in cordova ak has the oldest opperating single chair, built in 1939 by american wire and steel, removed from sun valley, and installed on mt eyak in 1974. Owned by the city of cordova ,opperated by sherridan ski club.

  3. This list is so far off, but it never seems like they actually do all their research for these types of articles.

    First of all, this list doesn’t even mention rope tows, but it gets a pass for that because it’s often very difficult to determine how old a rope tow is.

    Second, the MRG Single was almost completely replaced less than 10 years ago.

    Third, Whitney’s J-Bar at Black, NH is significantly older than any lift on this list (it originally opened in 1935).

    Fourth, there are many other lifts which fit in this list that completely skips over. For example, the T-bar which is now at Veterans Memorial was originally built in 1953.

    In short, this article has little to no credibility, although it does highlight a few old lifts.

  4. Chair 2 at white pass rarely operates. And when I say rarely I mean almost never. It’s just kept around as a backup in case the HSQ is down so i wouldn’t classify it as operational. Also, I believe 7th heaven at Stevens has had some significant upgrades in recent years. But vista cruiser at Mt Spo is the real deal. Old and scary and still running. The fact that so many of these lifts are in the PNW tells you something about the ski culture here.

  5. How about the Hemlock chair at Boyne Mountain, Michigan? The FIRST chairlift, 1936. With an asterisk for some minor upgrades and relocation since. While visiting the Boyne resorts, try the world’s first triple and quad chairlifts, too.

    1. Thanks for mentioning this one Grant! After sifting through articles and comments on liftblogs.com I decided that this lift has been modified and overhauled too many times to consider it the original lift that was built in Sun Valley, ID. It appears that it was originally a single chair, converted to a double chair, and then completely overhauled by Riblet in the 60’s and 70’s.

    1. According to rosslandmuseum.ca the original Red Chair was replaced in 1973. An iconic chair nonetheless!

    1. Geoffrey I thought the same thing originally. According to the Alta Historical Society the original Collins and Germania lifts were replaced by the newly built Collins lift in 2004.

    1. I believe the j-bar is no longer operational. Pictures that I found on liftblog.com show the j-bars are no longer attached to the cable, and the comments led me to believe that it hasn’t been operational for some time. However, it is very cool that the structure is still standing!

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