Ski Lift Advice for Beginners

During a ski holiday, you will spend more time on a ski lift than you may have anticipated.

Luckily, most main resorts have identified that comfort and queuing time are important factors of ski-lifts and that a ride up a snowy mountain should be something to enjoy, not endure! If you’re new to skiing, you may be a little anxious about how and when to use the lifts.

Here’s some information and a few handy tips on the different types of ski lifts around:

Drag Lifts
With a slow speed and a small incline, drag lifts are usually situated on beginner terrain and come in four different types; Button, T-Bar, Rope tows and Magic carpets.

Button lifts (also known as Poma lifts) consist of equally spaced vertical poles, attached to an aerial steel loop that rotates on wheels and is powered by an engine. Attached to the bottom of each pole is a circular plastic seat that is placed between the skiers legs and pulls them uphill.

T-Bar lifts rely on the same technique as the button lift except there are cables rather than vertical poles and the ‘seat’ is in the shape of a ‘ T’ thus allowing two skier to travel at the same time.

Rope tow lifts involve the same mechanics as the above lifts. Unfortunately, there is not ‘seat’ on this type of lift; the skier grabs onto one of the hanging vertical pieces of rope that are equally spaced out and are then pulled uphill.

Magic carpet lifts are similar to an uphill travelator. These type of lifts simply allow the skier to stand on a moving belt which is easy to get on or off as necessary.

Skiers (especially beginners) can easily lose balance and unintentionally dismount a drag lift. If this happens, don’t get embarrassed or panic; it’s happened to most of us! A member of resort staff will stop the lift and come and assist you either back to the start of the lift or if possible, help you mount it again.


Skiers sitting on a Chair Lift

These types of lifts are used for longer and steeper inclines that cannot be made on a draglift. Chairlifts are a type of aerial lift that circles on a wire and carries a series of chairs.

A skier sits on the chair and then pulls down a safety rail to hold them in. They can carry between two and eight passengers and sometimes come with luxury functions such as a waterproof ‘bubble’ hood.  When waiting to load a chairlift, take some time to observe the speed at which the chairs are travelling through the mounting station (most travel much slower than they would during the journey).

It’s also important not to panic; every chair is spaced equally to give you plenty of time to move through the gate once it opens, and get yourself into the correct loading position. There will always be a member on staff nearby who will be able to assist you.

Peak2Peak Gondola at Whistler

Gondolas operate in the same mechanical way as chairlifts and are used for prolonged, steeper journeys. These types of lifts can carry between four and thirty people and are usually in the form of a cabin (some with seats) with transparent sides (perfect for taking a few scenic photos).

Passengers mount a gondola not wearing their skis; these are either held by the skier or placed in a specific holder (if present). The mounting and dismounting speed of a gondola is considerably slower than that of the travelling speed giving the skier plenty of time.

This is a Guest Post from

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Robert Stewart

Ski Editor at Snow.Guide

Rob has extensive knowledge and experience of winter sports and has been qualified to instruct and teach Alpine Skiing for over 25 years. He is also an experienced off-piste and backcountry skier and has competed in freestyle and freeride events around the world. Now a full-time ski writer and Director of Ski Press, Rob is Snow.Guide’s Ski Editor and contributes to many other snowsports, national and lifestyle publications.

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