Skiing and Chairlift Safety

For some, riding a chairlift is part of the fun of skiing, allowing for the legs to rest while you take in peaceful sights.  For others, riding a chairlift is a necessary evil that you have to do in order to get back up to the top of the run.  No doubt, dangling from a chair high off the ground isn’t always a natural feeling.

Whether are one of many who gets a little anxious on chairlifts — which is completely reasonable — or just someone who wants to teach their kids the right way to ride a chairlift, there are a few basic rules.  We won’t get into chairlift etiquette — we will lave that one for another time.  Rather, here are a few tips for making sure you and your group stay safe on the lifts.

  • Focus on the mount and dismount. The fact is that you are much, much more likely to have a problem on the actual slope than you are on the chairlift.  Here are a few time-tested tips for making sure you and your family practice chairlift safety.Work on the mount / dismount. There are not great statistics on chairlift mishaps, but anecdotes suggest that most issues with chairlift riders happen at the beginning or end of the ride.  Getting on a chairlift, the chair often comes fast.  If you are in the wrong position to get on, or have scrambled up to the front of the line and are not ready to sit on the chair, you could have an issue.  Put your poles in your hand, peek back to see the chair coming, and sit down when you feel the chair approach your legs.  It is as simple as that.  As for getting off, it is a good idea to know which way you want to go once you get off the lift, make sure you are not going to run into other riders on your chair, and not be fidgeting with your phone, poles, goggles, etc. when it is your turn to dismount.
  • Use the bar. Many chairlifts nowadays have a bar that can rest in front of the riders’ torso, and others have a more substantial bar that also includes a footrest.  We recommend you use the bar, especially if you are nervous with heights or are riding with children.  Having a physical barrier between you and the ground could help in the case of an emergency, but more importantly probably allows nervous riders to not be quite as tense when they are riding the lift.  Note that some purists or snowboarders might grumble a little bit if you want to pull the bar down, but you have every right to use the bar even if they don’t want to.
  • But… be careful of the bar. While we recommend that you use the bar we also have witnessed the bar actually create issues for chairlift riders at the point of dismount.  Often, it creates a last-minute scramble as you near the point of getting off the chair, as you try to lift a heavy bar or find that a pole might be caught in the footrest, and that scramble can in itself cause a bit of a headache.  Gently raise the bar well before the point of getting off the chair.  As for getting on the chair, it is a common courtesy to make sure the others on your chair know the bar is about to come down, just so you don’t smack them in the back of the head.
  • (make your kids) Face forward and sit still. Chairlifts are generally pretty safe, but they are not amusement park rides.  Especially if you are riding with children, you may want to remind them that the only safe way to ride is to face forward.  We often see kids turning around, joking with the people on the chair behind them, and that makes us pretty nervous.  Also, never bounce the chair.  A good chairlift is made of a very heavy cable on pulleys.  It is not meant to be bounced, something that we sometimes see.  We don’t want to point fingers, but teenage boys tend to be the offenders on this one.
  • Pick the right lifts. If you are a Nervous Nelly when it comes to chairlifts and have some anxiety when riding them, do some research on the ski area you will be at and try to stick to the right lifts.  Any type of high-speed lift usually has the bar and often a footrest, which can take a bit of the edge off when riding.  Also, you will get to know the various lifts, and if there is one in particular that goes higher off the ground than you are comfortable with or has other qualities that bother you, try to find runs you like closer to the lifts that you enjoy riding.