Are Ski Lifts Safe?

Are Ski Lifts Safe?

People who are unfamiliar with the mountains and are about to make their first ski trip may look at the various ways to get up the mountain and wonder, “are ski lifts safe?”

To the uninitiated, these contraptions may look more dangerous than actually skiing or snowboarding. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

In this article, we will put your mind at rest by discussing how safe ski lifts are, the different types, how to use them, and give you top tips on how to use ski lifts safely.

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How Safe Are Ski Lifts?

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Statistics show that very few people are injured by ski lifts. As with most things, there are risks, such as mechanical malfunctions, operator error, and skiers not using them correctly, but on the whole, ski lifts are incredibly safe.

The famous incident that may be at the front of your mind when it comes to ski lift safety is the incident in Georgia. A chairlift malfunctioned, which usually means that the chairlift just stops until it is fixed.

However, in this incident, the chairlift started to go in reverse. As the chairlift gained momentum, it got faster and faster, causing the chairs to crash into each other at the bottom lift station.

The occupants of the chairlift had to jump off their chairs before being smashed into the twisted metal of the crashed chairs. Miraculously only eight people were injured, none of them too serious.

These unfortunate incidents are extremely rare, but most of the time, the dangers are the result of the skier’s behavior.

Let’s look at the different types of ski lifts and highlight the dos and don’ts of each one.

Types Of Ski Lifts

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The Magic Carpet

The magic carpet is usually the first type of ski lift you use as a beginner skier or snowboarder. They are great for beginners, as they are slow-moving conveyor belts that gently take you to the top of the bunny slopes.

You don’t need any skiing or snowboarding skills to ride a magic carpet; you just have to stand on it and get off at the top. Once you have learned the basics of skiing or snowboarding, you will have the skills to use the other ski lifts to get to other parts of the mountain.

The Drag Lift

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There are different types of drag lifts, but they all work on the same principle. They consist of a cable running up the length of a slope, running around a wheel at each end.

The cable has something for the skier to hold onto or put between their legs attached to them. Most drag lifts have several T-bars or buttons so that many skiers can be pulled up the slope at once.

Drag lifts are super safe to use, but some people can be intimidated by them. Beginner snowboarders often find drag lifts challenging, as they are still getting to grips with the basics of riding their board.

Snowboarders have to unstrap their back foot to ride drag lifts. This may sound counter-intuitive, but it actually helps, as you can dab a foot down if necessary. You can even drag your toe or heel to help you stay in control of tricky sections.

The trick with drag lifts is to relax and just go with it. Keep your head up and look where the lift is taking you. This way, you won’t have to ski back down and re-join the lift line after a fall.

The only real danger of drag lifts is when people weave from side to side. They can often go too far out of the tracks, get stuck in a rut, and fall over. But this still isn’t that dangerous.

It is only when the skier weaves so much that they crash into one of the towers that suspend the cable. Even though it would be a slow-speed accident, you could hurt yourself and damage the lift.

So, keep straight, look up, and get ready for any changes in the track until you reach the top.

As you approach the top of the drag lift, you will see a sign indicating how far you have to go. Get ready to slip the button or T-bar from between your legs so you can leave the lift smoothly and safely.

It is best to let go of the bar just as the slope starts to flatten out. This way, you don’t get too much speed for turning away from the lift.

The Chairlift

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The chairlift is the most common type of ski lift. They consist of two lift stations, one at the top of the hill and one at the bottom. Each lift station has a big wheel that the cable goes around. One of the wheels is rotated by a big electric motor, usually at the top station.

The cable is suspended high above the slopes and has many chairs attached to them. Some only carry one or two people at a time, while others can carry up to eight skiers and snowboarders.

To get on a chairlift, you wait for the barrier to open and slide forwards as the chair comes around behind you. All you need to do is sit down as it scoops you up.

Some chairlifts see their chairs fixed to the cable. This means that they run at a continuous speed throughout their trip around the cable.

However, some chairlifts detach their chairs from the cable at the top and bottom lift stations. The advantage of this is that the chairs slow down, making them easier and more pleasant to mount and dismount.

Skiers need to hold their poles in one hand and make sure they don’t get in the way of the safety bar. Snowboarders need to unstrap their back foot to sit more comfortably and put a foot down at the top if they need to.

You should pull the safety bar down to be safe on the chairlift. This bar often has footrests to make your chairlift ride more comfortable.

It is not compulsory to pull the safety bar down in most U.S ski resorts, but in European ski resorts, the lift operator will stop the lift if you don’t. It makes sense to pull the safety bar down, as you are high above the ground on a moving lift. Doing so does not negatively impact your comfort or your experience of riding the lift.

Some safety bars have extra bars that go between your legs. These are to prevent small kids from slipping under the bar.

When you approach the top of the ski lift, raise the safety bar at the sign indicating you to do so. As you arrive at the lift station, stand up and ski away.

It is essential to clear the area at the top of the lift. Many people will get off the lift behind you and will crash into you if you don’t move.

Cablecars And Gondolas

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Cablecars and gondolas are the most straightforward ski lifts to use. They vary in size depending on where they are located and how many people need to get up the mountain.

Cablecars and gondolas are usually used to get people to the main part of the ski area or high-altitude slopes.

To get on a cablecar, all you need to do is walk into the car with your skis or snowboard in your hands. Some cablecars will have seats inside, while others will require you to stand.

At the top of the mountain, just walk out of the car and head to the snow.

Gondolas also vary in size; some will require you to take your skis and snowboards inside. But it is common to slide them into a rack on the outside of the car.

Make sure you put your skis and snowboards into the racks correctly. They are pretty secure, but you don’t want to lose your equipment due to a gust of wind.

Why Does The Ski Lift Stop?

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Ski lifts can stop for various reasons. The main reason you are left waiting is that someone has fallen over getting on or off the lift.

Other reasons a ski lift may stop include technical issues, high winds, or a helicopter is operating nearby. Helicopters responding to a rescue or medical problem create a downdraft that can cause the chairs to swing. If this happens, the lift operator will stop the lift to ensure everyone is safe.

A ski lift may also stop to allow children and adaptive skiers onto it. These people need a little more help and time than others to get on and off.

When the lift stops, there is no need to panic. Just sit there, wait, and enjoy the view.

If the ski lift stops due to a technical issue, the maintenance team will get it running as soon as possible. Each ski lift has a backup diesel engine to ensure everyone can get off safely.

On very rare occasions, the lift won’t be able to restart. The resort safety crew can rescue people from the chairs using ropes and climbing equipment if this ever happens.

Are Ski Lifts Maintained?

Ski lifts are strictly maintained and are subject to random unannounced inspections.

Maintenance teams do daily, weekly, monthly, and annual checks to ensure that the ski lifts are safe and running perfectly.

If you get up early in the morning, you will notice that the lift will be running for a while before anyone is allowed on it. This is part of their morning startup routine to ensure that there is nothing wrong.

Also, sometimes the lift will stop for a few seconds while you are riding it. This is often a safety test to ensure the ski lift is working within its weight limits.

Top Tips For Using Ski Lifts

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Most ski lift accidents are the result of human error. Here are some top tips to stay safe and make your lift to the top of the mountain stress-free.

Don’t Forget To Sit Down

Many skiers and snowboarders don’t pay attention to the chair coming around behind them when getting on a chairlift. They often just stand there, which means the chair hits them on the back of the legs.

Most of the time, they will fall backward onto the chair, but sometimes they will be punted forwards. This means that the skier will fall over, and the lift operator will have to stop the lift before the chair goes over their head or hits them for a second time.

All you need to do is watch the chair come around and calmly sit down as it collects you.

Put The Safety Bar Down

We mentioned this earlier, but it is worth bringing up again. The safety bar is there for a reason. There is no reason why someone should fall from a chairlift.

The boy in this video was lucky, as the people riding the lift with him could hold him while bystanders got ready to catch him.

However, when you bring the safety bar down, ensure everyone you are riding the chair with is ready. If you bring it down too soon, you can hit them on the back of the head or trap their legs under the bar.

Give everyone time to sit down and settle before bringing the safety bar down.

Don’t Forget To Lift The Bar At The Top

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As you ride the chairlift, you may be talking and thinking about the next run or where you are going for après. So it can be easy to forget to lift the safety bar in time to get off at the top.

If you don’t lift the safety bar in time, you won’t be able to get off, resulting in you going back around. The lift operator will stop the lift quickly, but it will be awkward to get off the lift and leave you red-faced with embarrassment.

Alternatively, you will panic, as you have less time to get ready to get off. This often causes crashes, which can be pretty bad if you are sharing a chair with multiple people.

In addition to this, don’t lift the bar too soon when you approach the top. Doing this isn’t necessary and can make nervous people feel vulnerable.

There is often a safety net at each lift station, but you don’t want to use it!

Don’t Forget To Stand Up

When you get to the top of the lift, you must stand up on your skis or snowboard. Some people freeze or panic; this causes them to fall, which you can see in this hilarious video from Warren Miller.

Don’t Swing The Chair

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The chairlift is one of the safest modes of transport, but if you abuse it, things can go wrong. Chairlifts can swing quite a lot, especially when it’s windy or when it stops quickly.

You can easily get a chair to bounce and swing by swinging your legs. But this can cause your chair to crash into the supporting towers or put you at a dangerous angle.

There is no point putting yourself and others in danger by swinging your chair. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the view until it’s time to get off.

Get Out Of The Way

Any kind of ski lift acts as a conveyor belt for people. There will always be someone coming up behind you.

If you fall while using a drag lift, roll out of the way immediately. If you don’t, the person behind you has nowhere to go and will crash into you. In turn, this leaves nowhere for the next person to go, causing a chain reaction of people piling into each other.

The same goes for when you get to the top of the lift. Chat with your friends, sort your gloves and goggles out somewhere else; a lot of people are coming up behind you.

Don’t Park Your Car Under A Chairlift

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This tip is a little different, as it concerns what you do before you even put your skis on.

Some chairlifts go over parking areas and roads, which is pretty risky for anyone who has parked their car under them. Skiers drop their poles, phones, cameras, etc., when riding the chairlift.

These items can get quite a lot of speed up as they fall, which can damage your car. Many people have had windshields smashed and their roofs dented from people dropping stuff, so find somewhere else to park.

Pay Attention To The Lift Operator

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The lift operator is not just there to press the buttons. They are there to keep you safe, and they will often give you instructions or tell you when to go and wait.

You may be excited to be on vacation or still buzzing from your last run, but you need to listen to what the lift operator tells you. It keeps the lift turning and everyone safe, so please pay attention to them.

Be Careful Of Your Backpack

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Backpacks have lots of straps, especially ones used for skiing and snowboarding. These straps are great for attaching your skis to your back for hiking etc., but they can get caught on chairlifts.

When your backpack hooks on to a chairlift, you can’t get off it. Therefore, most lift operators will ask you to take off your backpack and carry it.

Some backpacks have low profiles, while others are bulkier. You can often ride a chairlift with smaller packs, but larger ones can prove tricky or dangerous.

Large backpacks push you further to the edge of the seat, which can be dangerous, even with the safety bar down. So you may want to carry yours for extra safety.

Know How To Use Your Lift Pass

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Ski lift operators often have to leave the main part of the lift station to help someone use their lift pass. But ski lift passes are straightforward to use, as all you need to do is hold it close to the RF reader at the barrier.

You don’t even need to take your lift pass out of your pocket, as the reader will detect it through your jacket. Using your lift pass properly allows the lift operator to look after people who need help getting on the lift, which is more critical. It also means the lift line can continue to move freely.

If your lift pass doesn’t work, it may be invalid. Another reason it may not work is if you have a pass from another ski resort in the same pocket.

Final Thoughts

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So, are ski lifts safe? Ski lifts are absolutely one of the safest modes of transport. As with most things, the dangers come from a lack of common sense and the human factor.

If you don’t know how to use a specific type of ski lift, don’t just get on it and hope for the best. Stand and watch other people use it first to get a good idea of what to do.

You can also ask the lift operator what to do. There is nothing wrong with asking them for advice; it is what they are there for. Also, they would rather give you advice than have to stop the ski lift and restart it after you have got it wrong.

There is no need to worry when it comes to using ski lifts. It would be best if you regarded them as part of the experience, as they give you incredible views of some of the best natural views in the world.

Riding ski lifts is also an excellent opportunity to take a rest. This is your chance to recuperate some energy, eat a snack, and drink some water, ready for your next epic run.

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Are Ski Lifts Safe

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Peter Salisbury

Pete is the Owner of Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, he grew up kayaking, fishing, sailing, and partaking in outdoor adventures around the Great Lakes. When he’s not out on the water, you can find him skiing in the mountains, reading his favorite books, and spending time with his family.

Welcome! I’m so glad you are here :-) I’m Pete. I am the owner of I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, I grew up kayaking, fishing, sailing, and partaking in outdoor adventures around the Great Lakes. When I am not out on the water, you can find me skiing in the mountains, reading my favorite books, and spending time with my family.