(CNN) — Ski lifts, like skiers, come in all shapes and sizes, with varying degrees of technical merit, but only a few have the X factor.
Whether it’s a revolutionary design, nerve-jangling ride or historic aura, some lifts offer more than just a fast track to the top of the mountain. It might even have more to do with the setting and the terrain they access than the cabled contraptions themselves.
Here are 11 ski lifts that put the “X” into extreme, and give as good an experience going up as gravity does on the way down:
1. Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix, France
Auguille du Midi promises high altitude panoramas.
Patrik Lindqvist/Getty Images
The 20-minute journey rewards light-headed tourists with high-altitude panoramas and offers alpinists access to the wilds of the Mont Blanc massif. To reach the famous Vallee Blanche glacier, skiers walk through an ice tunnel and rope up to scramble down a knife-edge before descending 20 kilometers to Chamonix.
Did you know? Mont Blanc was first climbed on August 8, 1786 by Jacques Balmat and doctor Michel Paccard. The first ascent by a woman was in July 1808, when Maria Paradis summitted, with Balmat as her guide.
2. Skyway Monte Bianco, Courmayeur, Italy
The slick Skyway Monte Bianco has skiers peering across the roof of Europe.
The 110 million euro ($131 million) lift, which opened in June 2015 to replace an older gondola, breaks its journey at the Pavillon du Mont Frety (2173 meters) before soaring like a speck of dust through the imposing scenery on the south side of Mont Blanc.
The futuristic top station peers across the roof of Europe toward the big “4,000ers” of Mont Blanc, Monte Rosa, the Matterhorn, the Gran Paradiso and the Grand Combin, plus offering high-altitude access for skiers and climbers.
3. Schindlergrat, St. Anton, Austria
The state-of-the-art gondola can hold up to 10 people and services more of the vast mountain’s terrain.
Courtesy St Anton am Arlberg
At the end of the 20189-2019 season, the mountain’s 40-year-old three-person chairlift was removed and replaced with a work of art that also happens to transport visitors up the mountain. The state-of-the-art gondola can hold up to 10 people and travels further than the lift preceding it. Its 68 cabins have the ability to service 2,800 passengers per hour.
The Schindlergrat gondola begins along more or less along the same route as the old lift, but now there’s an intermediate exit point where the former lift ended. Continuing on for another 420 meters, the gondola’s final stop is at a new mountain station near Valluga ski lift.
Kicking off the day here — at the Valluga north face — is the “classic” itinerary for advanced skiers. A steep top section opens into rolling powder fields all the way to Zurs, part of the extensive Arlberg region, and paradise is realized.
4. La Grave, France
La Grave is a quirky lift, which leads to unspoilt ski runs.
The quirky lift, more than 40 years old, rises from the 12th-century village at 1,480 meters and trundles, via two intermediary stations, to a high point of 3,200 meters amid a wild and tumbling mountainscape of glaciers, cliffs and crevasses. There’s only one rudimentary run up here, and no ski patrol. This is skiing “sauvage.” Anyone venturing from the cable car station must trust their skills and their mountain guide to get home safely.
Did you know? The old cable car’s days could be numbered. In the summer of 2017, a new 30-year lease was awarded to the Alpe d’Huez lift company with instructions to modernize where necessary. A new gondola will also replace the drag lift to the top of the ski area at 3,600 meters.
5. Peak 2 Peak, Whistler-Blackcomb, Canada
Peak 2 Peak, Whistler is an 11-minute journey across the ravine from one mountain top to the next.
The answer, opened in 2008, was the record-breaking Peak 2 Peak gondola, a 4.4 kilometers aerial tram that allows skiers and boarders to access both mountains in a single day. The lift was a record-breaker: the longest unsupported span at 3.024 kilometers, and the highest lift above the valley floor at 436 meters.
The gondola, with several glass-bottomed cabins, is an 11-minute ride from Whistler’s Roundhouse Lodge (1850 meters) to Blackcomb’s Rendezvous Lodge above mid-level in each ski area.
Did you know? Whistler, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2016, enjoys warmer temperatures because of its proximity to the water.
6. Titlis Rotair gondola, Engelberg-Titlis, Switzerland
Titlis Rotair is a fully rotating gondola that takes visitors to the summit of Klein Titlis Mountain in Switzerland.
Englebert Titlis Tourismus
Did you know? For further Titlis titillation, visitors can access the “Cliff Walk,” a 100-meter long suspension bridge — Europe’s highest — over a 500-meter deep abyss.
7. Lessieres Express chairlift, Val d’Isere, France
Lessieres Express in France is called “up and oh-ver” and after one ride, you’ll see why.
PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
It might seem like an ordinary chairlift when you get on, but the Lessieres Express packs a stomach-churning punch. It’s not called the “up and oh-ver” for nothing.
When the two-way chair crests the sharp ridge between Solaise and Le Fornet and then plunges down the other side, your stomach tends to end up in your chest. Somehow the sense of exposure is much worse going downhill. Plus, often one side is in the lee of the wind — popping over the top gives you a face-full of spindrift-laden alpine air.
Ski bums have been known to jump off the chair halfway down the Le Fornet side to access fresh powder but it’s a highly dangerous maneuver and likely to result in serious sanctions.
Because of the narrow entrance gorge and high snowfall, it remained cut off for much of the year until the access road was improved in the late 1880s.
8. Jackson Hole tram, Wyoming
At 12,662 meters, the Jackson Hole tram is the largest vertical of any ski resort in the United States.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort
At 41,541 feet, it’s the largest vertical of any ski resort in the United States, with views of the Tetons, Jackson Hole and the Snake River Valley spread out far below. The tram also flies past the infamous Corbet’s Couloir with its mandatory 3-6 meter cliff drop into the chute.
On a powder day, competition for a place in “first box” begins well before opening time and can be an extreme sport in its own right. Rounding out the tram experience, the operators gee-up visitors with pumping tunes and warnings such as “If you don’t know… don’t go.”
9. Lone Peak tram, Big Sky, Montana
Big Sky’s Lone Peak Tram transports skiers to the mountain’s most challenging terrain.
The tram tripled the amount of expert terrain on offer, and gave the leg-strong the chance to complete a 14,271 vertical feet, six-mile descent in one run. To prevent nerves on the way up, the inside of the two tram cabins were originally painted pink to have a calming effect on passengers.
Of note also is the technologically advanced Ramcharger 8, which zips passengers up the mountain in mere minutes — 3,600 skiers per hour are serviced via the high-speed lift. It doesn’t lead directly to the most advanced terrain on the mountain but deserves credit for efficiency and comfort.
Did you know? Big Sky designated several runs triple-black diamonds instead of the standard double-black diamond in an attempt to label the mountain’s most challenging terrain.
10. Jungfrau railway, Kleine Scheidegg, Switzerland
The Jungfrau railway has been climbing the mountain since 1912.
What could be more extreme than a train that bores up through the inside of the feared and revered Eiger?
The train stops twice in the tunnel for tourists to gaze through windows onto the mountainscape outside, notably the infamous Eiger north wall at Eigerwand station.
At the Jungfraujoch, daytrippers can visit the Sphinx Observatory, while alpinists can venture into the high-altitude heart of the Bernese Oberland.
11. The American Eagle, Copper Mountain, Colorado
Visitors to Copper Mountain can hop on The American Eagle or they can trek uphill.
Courtesy Curtis DeVore
Last year, one of Copper Mountain’s essential chair lifts got a facelift. The 1989 high-speed quad, The American Eagle, is now a six-person chair and a gondola. For every one gondola, there are four chairs.
Parties of up to eight people who want to avoid the blustery cold of the open-air chairlift can choose to wait in the gondola line while skiers and riders in a hurry to get up and go down can opt for the chair line.
The lift drops pasengers off mid-mountain where a bevy of ski terrain awaits. From green cruisers to increasingly steep blues and blacks, American Eagle accesses a good portion of the Colorado mountain.