Learning how to use ski lifts is something that is commonly overlooked by new skiers – especially if they are learning without an instructor.
With many people now deciding to learn the basics of skiing on artificial slopes, it’s common for new skiers to be able to descend a slope without having learned how to use many of the most common types of ski lift.
If you would like to improve your ski lift knowledge, or just save some embarrassment when you arrive at the lift station, then this article is for you.
The ‘Magic Carpet’ is likely to be one of the first ski lifts you will ever encounter. You can often learn how to use one on your first day skiing.
Magic Carpets are conveyor belts that sit at floor level on the side of a slope. These are the most basic lifts to use and are most commonly found at beginner areas.
The Magic Carpet is a very slow moving lift, making it suitable for beginners. However, this slow speed also means that Magic Carpets are not normally used for any great distances.
When using a Magic Carpet, you simply slide onto the bottom of the conveyor belt with your skis pointing directly up the hill. The moving carpet will pull you up to the top of the slope.
Once you have arrived at the top of the Magic Carpet, you can slide off onto the snow. There will usually be very short, gentle slope at the top, allowing you to slide away.
Like most ski lift types, many Magic Carpets have increased in length and quality in recent decades. With many of them even including sheltered ‘tunnel’ roofing.
Rope Tows were some of the first ski lifts to have ever been invented. Dating all the way back to the 1930’s, their simple yet effective design allowed them to finally put an end to long walks up the slope!
The Rope Tow is still a common type of lift, especially on beginner slopes and long flat areas.
A Rope Tow is a waist high cable that will continuously circulate along the side of a slope. It is one of the easiest ski lifts to use.
With your skis on, you just need to grab and hold on to the rope with your hands, allowing it to pull you up the hill.
Some Rope Tow variations also come equipped with handles that you can hold on to, making it easier for the skier.
The Rope Tow is commonly only seen on terrain with a very gentle gradient. This is because it would be very difficult to maintain grip on the rope under the pressure of being pulled up a steep hill.
Rope Tows are also usually only seen on very short slopes and are most common around beginner areas.
Button Lift (Also Known as ‘Drag Lift’ or ‘Poma Lift’)
The Button Lift (or ‘Poma Lift’) is one of the most common ski lifts you will see in any resort. However, it’s also one of the lifts that can cause the most problems for beginners.
The Button Lift consists of a very high circulating cable. Hanging from the high cable are poles, which have rounded (or button) seats on the bottom.
Each pole uses an extending, spring-loaded rope, allowing the button to be pulled up and down. This allows for the height differences of skiers and stops the poles from dragging along the slope when not in use.
The Button Lift poles will be circulating around the high wire, leaving sufficient space between each pole (and therefore each person riding it).
Button lifts are commonly found on beginner slopes or in places where the distance that needs to be covered is short (such as terrain parks).
You will usually only see button lifts on reasonably gentle terrain, as they can be difficult to use on anything steep.
How To Use A Button Lift
- When you arrive at the button lift, make sure you are holding both ski poles in one hand.
- When you are ready, move onto the ‘track’ and stand with your skis pointing up the hill. Make sure your skis are completely parallel.
- When a pole comes around, grab the pole with your free hand. You can pull the pole down and put the ‘button’ in-between your legs. Make sure the button is high enough so it’s sitting between your buttocks.
- Do not sit down on the button. Keep standing upright and allow the Button Lift to pull you up the slope. Make sure your legs are kept close together so the button is held in place.
- Keep your skis completely parallel for the duration of your ascent up the slope.
- The lift will finish on a flat section at the top of the hill. Once you are on the flat, you can pull the button out from between your legs and release the pole.
- Once you have released the button lift, quickly move away from the lift. Make sure that the person coming up behind you doesn’t crash into the back of you!
Common Button Lift Mistakes
- Sitting down on the button. If you sit on the button, the button will go downwards and you will finish sat on the floor! Make sure you keep standing upright at all times.
- Not keeping the skis parallel. This can result in either your skis crossing, or you going off the track and falling off the lift. Keep both skis parallel and facing up the hill at all times.
- Using your grip to let the lift pull you up the slope. If the button seat is positioned correctly between your legs, you should not have to use arm strength to hold on to the lift. In fact, once confident, it’s possible to use the lift without holding on at all.
- Holding on once you have already fallen off. If you are a beginner, it’s likely you will make a mistake and fall off the button lift at least once. If you fall, release your grip immediately and move away from the track to allow the other users to pass.
T-Bar Lifts are almost exactly the same as Button Lifts in their make-up. However, by using a different seat, they have the capacity to transport two skiers at one time.
The T-Bar consists of a very high, circulating cable. Hanging from the rotating cable are poles. Each pole is spaced evenly apart (usually around twenty meters) to leave a space between each user.
The poles are attached to the cable using an extendable, spring-loaded rope. This allows for the poles to be pulled up and down from the cable.
Each pole has a bar at the bottom, which when attached to the pole resembles an upside down ‘T’ shape. This crossbar will act as the ‘support’ during use.
T-bar’s are probably the most challenging lifts for beginners to use. However, they are a vital part of the mountain and most commonly found on gentle terrain. This means that beginner to intermediate skiers will need to use them frequently.
How To Use A T-Bar Lift
- When you arrive at the T-Bar, you will need to see if you are riding it with somebody else or not. If you have someone next to you on approach, you will know which side of the crossbar you will be using.
- You will need to hold both of your ski poles in one hand. This means that you can hold the pole with one hand and your poles in the other.
- When you’re ready and it’s your turn to go, move onto the ‘track’. Stand with both your skis pointing directly up the hill and make sure they are parallel.
- When the pole approaches, grab the pole with your hand and position the ‘crossbar’ behind your butt. However, do not sit down! Keep standing completely upright and allow the bar to pull you up the slope.
- If you are riding the T-Bar with another person, the weight will be balanced equally. However, if you are using the T-Bar by yourself, you will need to adjust your balance to ensure you can maintain your control as you ascend the slope.
- Keep standing with your skis completely parallel and allow the T-Bar to pull you up the hill. Keep your skis parallel throughout the whole ride and make sure your weight stays balanced over both feet.
- Once you reach the top of the hill, you will be on flat ground again. You can then proceed to remove the bar from behind you and release the pole.
- After releasing the pole, be sure to move away from the top of the lift as quickly as possible. This is to allow space for the people coming up behind you to also exit the lift.
Common T-Bar Mistakes
- Sitting down on the bar. If you sit on the bar, the bar will go downwards and you will end up sat on the floor. Make sure you keep standing upright at all times.
- Not keeping the skis parallel. This regularly results in crossing either your own skis, or your lift partner’s skis! It can also cause you to swerve off course and fall off the lift. Keep your skis straight and parallel at all times.
- Gripping the pole too tight. It’s important to stay relaxed on the T-Bar. If your muscles are tensed, your balance will be negatively affected. Using the T-Bar is about balance, not strength.
- Not moving out the way when you reach the top. Remember, somebody is also coming up the lift directly behind you. Once you release the bar, move away from the lift as quickly as possible.
- Holding on after you have already fallen off. If you are a beginner, it’s highly likely you will fall off a T-Bar at some stage. If you fall, let go of the T-Bar and move to the side of the track as quickly as possible so others can pass. Do not try to continue holding and get dragged along the floor.
Chairlifts are the most common lifts associated with skiing.
Chairlifts operate using a constantly rotating cable, which will run from the bottom to the top of the lift. Suspended from the cable are the ‘chairs’ for skiers to sit on, allowing them to be transported up the mountain.
Chairlifts have become the most common lifts as they allow you to sit down and relax while ascending the mountain. They are also fast, efficient and capable of crossing any terrain.
Like everything else in skiing, Chairlifts have evolved over the years. Since the first ever single-seat Chairlift was invented in 1936, they have improved to the point where they regularly hold eight people.
These days, it’s even possible to see Chairlifts with ‘hoods’ and heated seats!
Chairlifts are designed to be as safe and comfortable as possible for everyone. This means that there will always be somebody there to help you get on and off the lift.
The lift attendants can also slow down or stop the lift in case somebody takes a tumble!
How To Use A Chairlift
- Make your way to the front of the queue (if there is one) with your skis on. You will be required to go through a turnstile and scan your lift pass to get to the lift.
- Once you are at the loading area for the lift, you will be stood behind a barrier. At this point, make sure your pole straps are detached from your hands.
- When it’s time to enter the lift, the barrier will open automatically for you. Use your poles to push yourself forwards, sliding through the open barrier. There will be a line marked on the floor; you should stop when your skis reach the line.
- Once you reach the line, you should hold both poles in one hand. The Chairlift will now be approaching you from behind. When the Chairlift reaches the back of your legs, carefully sit down onto the chair.
- Once everybody is safely seated, pull down the safety bar. Once the safety bar is down, it will also provide a lower bar for you to rest your feet on.
- When approaching the top of the lift, you should aim to lift up the safety bar around 10 meters before the exit point. This is usually indicated with a sign.
- Once at the top, the lift will slow down and your skis will be resting on flat ground, with a small down slope in front of you. You can now stand up and slide away from the lift area.
Common Chairlift Mistakes
- Not moving forward fast enough when the entrance barrier opens. Once the entrance has opened, it’s important to move up to the line quickly. If you’re too slow, you will not be ready for the chair coming up behind you.
- The safety bar hitting you on the head when you pull it down. Make sure you watch your head and move out of the way of the bar when pulling it down, otherwise you could end up with a minor concussion!
- If you’re the only person on the lift, sit in the middle. If you sit to the side of the Chairlift, it’s going to lean a long way over and could be dangerous.
- Dropping something off the lift. This occasionally happens, even to the best of us. If this happens don’t panic. Tell the lift operator and they will often help you to retrieve your item. Commonly dropped items include; gloves, poles etc.
- Multi person crash when getting off the top of the lift. When you near the top of the Chairlift, make sure you know which direction your fellow passengers are heading. It’s a common sight to see everyone turn into each other as they ski away.
The Gondola is commonly the main ski lift that will take you up to the skiable area from the resort. The majority of ski resorts will have at least one Gondola.
Gondolas use a circulating cable, which is suspended in the air and runs from the top to the bottom of the lift. Hanging from the cable will be the ‘Gondolas’.
The Gondolas are enclosed cabins. They usually contain bench seating on each side, and on average hold around six people. Although Gondolas hold an average of six people; they can hold as few as two, or as many as fifteen people.
The Gondola is a popular lift as it’s easy to use, enclosed (meaning protection from the elements), can carry multiple people and is versatile (e.g. it can also carry other objects).
When using the Gondola, you will need to carry your skis (not wear them).
When it’s your turn, the barrier will open. As you approach the Gondola cabin, you will see a rack on the outside when you can place your skis. Put your skis in the rack, but keep hold of your poles.
Step into the cabin holding your poles. Now you can take a seat, relax and enjoy the view!
Once you reach the top, the doors will open automatically. You can then retrieve your skis from the rack and walk to the top of the ski slope.
Cable Cars are sometimes seen in larger ski resorts. If the resort you visit has a Cable Car, this will usually be the biggest lift on the mountain.
The Cable Car will use a large, enclosed cabin suspended in the air by a cable. Instead of the cable circulating (like other ski lifts), it will only move back and forth. This means that only 2 Cable Cars will make up one lift. When one Cable Car goes up, the other will come down.
Although you may need to wait longer for the Cable Car to arrive, they can hold a lot of people. Some Cable Cars are even capable of carrying upwards of 100 people.
The Cable Car will often start at the foot of the mountain and transport people a long way towards the top.
Cable Cars are very simple to use. You will need to carry your skis on to the Cable Car, not wear them.
When it’s your turn to embark, the barriers will open automatically. You can carry your skis and poles into the Cable Car with you.
Usually Cable Cars will be standing room only, allowing for a high capacity. Simply stand and enjoy the view as you ascend the mountain.
Once at the top, simply exit the lift station and you will be at the top of the slope.
The Funicular is usually the fastest mode of transportation in any ski resort they occupy.
Unlike other ski lifts, the Funicular runs on rails. This makes it comparable to a ‘mountain train’. They often run ‘through/under’ the mountain, transporting you to areas of the mountains that are difficult to access, or far away!
Funiculars work on a ‘pulley’ system, meaning that only two cars can run at one time. Working in tandem, they will pass each other as they go up and down.
The Funicular will usually start from within the ski resort, and is designed to carry a large amount of skiers to their destination.
When using the Funicular, you will be carrying your skis and poles (not wearing them).
Using the Funicular is much like using a regular train, where you can enter and exit when the doors automatically allow you to do so.
If you’re heading up the ski lift for the first time, we hope this guide can turn a potentially stressful situation into an enjoyable one!
It’s always our aim to get you ready for the slopes and share the knowledge. Always be prepared, knowledge is power.
James is the founder of SnowSunSee. He started skiing when he was five years old and has been a qualified ski instructor for 8 years. He has taught skiing in many countries, including UK, Europe, Japan, China and Malaysia. When he’s not on the slopes, James spends his time travelling the world one trail at a time.