What are the Different Types of Ski Lifts?

I was talking to a friend of the family and she asked me about tips when going skiing with their children and we started talking about all the different types of ski lifts and how they work, and I thought, that will make a great article.

Because skiing or snowboarding downhill is just half the fun of a ski trip, and many times I’ll find that the ski lift taking you up the magnificent snowy mountain can be just as beautiful as going down.

But if it’s your first time skiing, it can be difficult and scary to ride ski lifts, especially if you don’t know what they are and what you’ll do once inside.

More so, you really can’t just walk up the mountain to your slope — that’s a complete waste of time and energy!

So to get you prepped for your ski resort visit, here are the different types of ski lifts, how they work, and what you need to do while riding it:

Most common ski lifts

The type of ski lifts depends on the layout of the resort and the difficulty of slopes and tracks.

When building a ski lift, resorts would choose the best type to get you to the top of the mountain as quickly as possible without having to wait for too long.

Here are the three most common ski lifts that you’ll probably see in your ski resort:

1. Chairlift

If you think of ski lifts, a chairlift is usually what comes to your mind. Most ski resorts use chairlifts to get you to the top of the pistes.

Basically, a chairlift is a row of seats suspended from a cable. It normally has two to eight seats per lift with safety bars that can be pulled down from above or swung around from the side.

Usually, your feet will hang in a chairlift because you’re already wearing your skis. But modern ones have modifications installed like ski rests to put your feet on, plastic bubbles to protect you from wind and snow, and heated seats.

Depending on the kind of chairlift you’re on, you might have to brace yourself and jump off! But don’t worry, it won’t be as high as you think it is and you’ll get the hang of it after you tried it once.

2. Gondola Lift

Many of the big ski resorts use gondolas to transport skiers up the mountain simply because it can carry a lot of people at once.

A gondola is a set of multiple cabins suspended from a cable that can fit between four to 40 people at once.

When riding a gondola, you have to remove your skis from your feet and bring it inside with you or put it outside the ski rack.

Aside from that, all you really need to do is to enjoy the amazing view and the ride up.

3. Cable Car or Funicular

You might mistake cable cars with gondola since both of them have suspended cabins that you ride on to go up the mountain.

But the only distinction between a cable car and a gondola is that a cable car only has two cabins moving the opposite way.

One cabin is pulled up while the other one is pulled down.

Cable car or funicular are commonly used by ski resorts when the terrains are steep, and they need something more powerful to get the passengers up.

Riding a cable car is the same as riding a gondola. Just make sure not to leave any skiing equipment behind and be mindful of other passengers!

Other types of ski lifts

Although the most common, chairlift, gondola, and cable cars are not the only ski lifts used by resorts.

Also, not all of the ski lifts are suspended in the air. Here are other types of ski lifts that you might encounter:

Drag lift

A drag lift basically drags you up the slope while you stand on your skis. This lift is commonly used in beginner slopes where it’s not to steep.

Chances are, this is a ski lift you’ll use especially if you’re only starting to ski.

It may look like it’s hard, but a drag lift is essentially a fishing hook that you’ll hold on to while it pulls you up the snow.

To use it, you just have to grab the lift and put it between your legs. But don’t sit on it!

Drag lifts aren’t meant to hold all of your body weight so you’ll definitely fall.

Rope tow

A rope tow is also used on beginner ski slopes. This is one of the earliest and oldest methods to go uphill.

Rope tows are still found at many small ski areas especially if they’ve been there for years.

They’re pretty much straightforward: you’ll grab on to the rope and let it pull you up the hill.

Make sure that you keep your balance on a rope tow and keep your skis on a parallel line. Lean back slightly so you’ll get good traction and let the rope do its job.

Magic carpet

The magic carpet is a ski lift that replaced the majority of rope tows in beginner areas.

Since walking uphill takes a majority of your energy that you need to reserve for going downhill, ski resorts have placed magic carpets where the slope is not that steep or long that there’s a need for a chairlift.

Basically, a magic carpet is like a conveyor belt that you stand on to while it transports you uphill.

But before you go on a magic carpet, check how steep the ride would be as some it might be too vertical for a beginner.

Is it safe?

Now that you know what the different kinds of ski lift are and how to use it, you’re probably wondering about how safe it is.

You probably came across some trending video of spinning chairlifts and people falling off of it.

So can you be sure that you won’t fall off any ski lifts?

The bottom line is ski lifts are extremely safe. To put it in perspective, only 13 people have died from a ski lift (chairlift) malfunction in the last 47 years.

The total number of lift passengers? A minimum of 17 billion. Those statistics are way too small to even produce a good percentage.

Still, there are practices that you can do to make your ski lift experience safe. Here are some of them:

Don’t hesitate to ask the ski lift conductor your questions

If you’re unsure about what to do, you can always ask the ski lift conductor or any stationed personnel.

This is important especially if you’re using any surface lift that will pull you up the hill.

You should ask how steep it would be or how fast will it drag you.

Take your time

If you’re really nervous about using a ski lift, excuse yourself from the line and just take your time.

If you’re on a ski lift all panicky instead of being alert, then you’ll expose yourself to a higher risk of an injury.

Check your clothing

When using any kind of ski lift, it’s important that you check your clothing and make sure that you don’t have any loose straps or clothing items that might get caught in the lift equipment.

Common ski injuries are caused by getting dragged by the lift when undocking because a part of their clothing gets stuck.

To avoid this, make sure that you, your clothes, and your equipment are properly secured.

Mind yourself after disembarking

This is important especially if you’re getting off the chairlift. Don’t just stand after you get off the lift.

Move to the side immediately because the oncoming chair can hit you.

The general rule is to stay at least 10 meters away from the drop point.

Follow all safety protocols

If the resort requires you to not wear a certain kind of clothes or tells you not to do something while on a ski lift, follow them.

There is a good reason why these protocols are placed and that’s to keep you and other skiers safe.