The trend towards faster chairlifts and gondolas has been well documented, but in recent seasons more and more resorts are looking to go one step further - and this is where the market for luxury lifts has boomed in the past few years.

Sitting on a warm, padded, leather seat, protected from the elements by a coloured bubble is now a normal part of the ski day in many resorts across the world. Indeed, never before have our ski lifts been more comfortable – but just how much further will it go? If the past few years are anything to go by, expect more exciting and innovative developments in the coming years.

Seat heating – the original luxury

On Boxing Day 2004, the first heated seats on a chairlift were offered to skiers at the Austrian resort of Lech. Lift manufacturers Doppelmayr were only able to heat five of the chairs at that point in time, but technology has come a long way since then!

Austria once again is leading the way and is home to the vast majority of world’s heated lifts – in fact the 18 heated chairlifts and gondolas at Saalbach is almost as many as the whole of France, Italy and Switzerland combined (based on stats from skiresort.info). This is an extraordinary statistic and when you consider that USA only built their first (at Canyons – now Park City) in 2010, Scandinavia (at Trysil in Norway) waited until 2012 and even bitterly cold Canada (at Sunshine Village) built their first in 2015, it is clear that Austria is the king of heated seats. So if you’re prone to suffering from the cold this should be the destination for you.

Leitner

High-end comfort

There is nothing worse than sitting on a soaking wet and hard chairlift seat or sitting in a bone-jarring, rickety old gondola. Most modern lifts are now at least built with padded seats, but others have gone that step further to enhance comfort and feature ergonomically designed, high end leather seats that would not look out of place in a luxury car or in a high-end airport lounge. Kitzbühel’s Brunn chairlift, a fast 8-seater built by Leitner last winter is the perfect example of this as it was first to feature Leitner’s Premium chair design, which aims to bring “business class to ski resorts”. Anyone lucky enough to have written it will attest to how much of a difference there is compared to old chair designs. The very same chair (albeit with blue designs) will be used at both Val Gardena and Ratschings in their new lifts for the winter ahead.
outsideonline.org

Ferrari & Porsche have got in the act

The design work does not just stop with making a luxury product for skiers and boarders to sit on, but also for people to look at. Keen to market to skiers at high-end resorts, car brands were quick to get in on the act and partner with lift manufacturers to make lifts look as striking as possible. If you’ve skied at Ischgl and used the new Pardatschgratbahn you will have ridden in a Ferrari designed cabin – this same design will be used at Stubai and Zermatt too. Then if you’ve visited Lenzerheide or Laax, Porsche have put their hand into the ski industry by designing a gondola at the former and a chairlift at the latter.

Michael Portmann

Rotating chairlifts & other “gimmicks”

With so many new lifts being built each year (this year well over a 100 have gone up at major resorts) the need to stand out is very important for resort marketing teams in particular, but also to provide guests with a unique ski experience. The aforementioned Porsche lift in Laax is the prime example of this. It rotates 45° as you leave the bottom station to give you a panoramic view of the stunning scenery in the valley that the lift runs up. Elsewhere, the rotating cable car concept developed at Titlis above Engelberg has been used in the new Mont Blanc Skyway on the Italian side of Europe’s highest mountain – ideal for showing off 360° panoramic views.
BMF Bartholet

So what’s next?

It is clear that lifts have come a long way but there is still more to come for certain. In the next five years, look out for the majority of new lifts to be designed to include heated leather seats and weather-protection bubbles. Surely resorts outside of Austria will also begin to catch up with the world-leaders too, the seat-heating on the new Solaise Gondola in Val d’Isere and on Italy’s two new 8-seat chairs are perhaps the starting point.

Also keep an eye open for further gimmicks that set a new lift apart from the rest. Whether this is more rotating chairlifts, wacky designs painted on to gondolas or a cable car capable of dishing out hot coffee – who knows?!