Types of Lifts Used at Ski Resorts

Types of Lifts Used at Ski Resorts

Nothing beats the thrill of schussing down a steep, almost never-ending slope.

You get into your element when you assume the tuck position and reach incredible downhill speeds.

After what seems like a few seconds of bliss, you’re back at the slope’s base. Heart thumping from the adrenaline rush, you want to have another go and try the next trick.

But it’s a long way up the slope.

And that’s where lifts come in. If you had to trudge up the mountain after each descent, skiing or snowboarding would be exhausting and less fun. For this reason, ski resorts invest in various types of lift systems to convey thrill-seekers up the mountain.

There are mainly three types of lifts used in ski fields:

  1. Aerial lifts
  2. Surface lifts
  3. Cable rail/conveyances

It seems easy enough to ride any type of lift – hop or grab on and ride, right? However, knowing the different types of lifts and how to use them correctly may help prevent accidents and avoid injuries.

So to help you have a safe and pleasant experience, we’ve created a handy ski resort lift guide. You’ll also learn:

  • How to use the different ski lifts correctly
  • The type of lifts used by skiers and snowboarders of different abilities
  • Safety tips to help keep you and your family safe

1 Aerial Lifts

These lifts convey skiers and snowboarders up the mountain while suspended off the ground. They can be either open or closed. This group of lifts includes:

  • Chairlifts
  • Gondolas
  • Cable cars
  • Trams



These are the most common types of aerial lifts.

Chairlifts are mainly used for steeper and longer slopes and for conveying skiers quickly over a terrain. As they are high up, they give riders incredible views of the resort and the landscape.

Chairlifts vary in design and size, from bubble-hooded types to simple seats. They fit between two and eight people. There are also single-chair lifts available in some resorts.

How To Ride on A Chairlift

  1. Push yourself or glide over to the line showing ski tip limits.
  2. Hold your ski poles in one hand and look over your shoulder for the approaching chair.
  3. Sit gently as soon as the chair arrives, and let your skis slide to the end of the platform.
  4. When the chair clears the platform, pull down the safety bar gently. 
  5. Place your skis on the ski rest to avoid dangling them.
  6. When you get to the end of your ride, raise the bar and take your skis off the rest. Then, plant your skis on the ground and push yourself gently off the chair.

Safety Tips When Using Chairlifts

  • If you’re alone, sit in the middle or evenly across the bench if with others.
  • Make sure your head is out of the way when you pull the bar down.



These are enclosed cabins that operate similarly to chairlifts. They vary in size from four-seater types with seats to gondolas that can hold up to thirty standing people. You hold your skis in the latter lifts, but the former types have racks on the outside.

They are typically used for tourism and feeder lifts during snow sports events.

Families with kids love gondolas because of the privacy and seats.

How To Ride on A Gondola

Gondolas come in fast but slow down as they approach the boarding platform. You board when it’s your turn in the queue and will have about 15 seconds before the doors close.

As you ride up the mountain, enjoy scenic views of the resort and surroundings through the glass sides.

Once the gondola reaches the end, you’ll have 15 seconds to exit before the cabin starts its descent down the mountain. Ensure that you’ve not left anything in the cabin. If you have or suspect so, you can radio the operator at the bottom to have the item brought up.

Gondolas are generally safe to ride due to their closed nature. However, they are negatively affected by adverse weather and usually close during high winds.

Note: A Chondola or Combined Lift is a system of high-speed lifts that combines gondolas and chairlifts. Their boarding platforms have designated sections for boarding and exiting each lift type. Due to its flexibility, this system suits resorts with both summer and winter tourism.

Cable Car

Cable Car

Cable cars resemble gondolas except that they occur in pairs, moving back and forth the incline.

They are attached to a common pulley system and can carry many people. For example, in France, the Vanoise Express that links Les Arcs and La Plagne has a capacity of 200 people, and it travels back and forth on a two-kilometer journey.

Like gondolas, these lifts are adversely affected by extreme weather such as high winds leading to closure.

Most cable cars are designed for riders to stand. However, some resorts are slowly introducing modern cable cars with varied comforts. For example, the Kronplatz cable cars in Tyrol, Austria, have heated leather seats designed by Porsche.

How To Ride A Cable Car

  1. Take off your ski or snowboard and carry your gear while waiting in the queue.
  2. When it stops, board the car and maintain an upright position during the journey.
  3. Hold your ski or snowboard upright to make room for the other riders.
  4. When the car gets to the top, be patient as the other riders exit and avoid pushing or shoving.

Like gondolas, riding in cable cars is safe. However, mind your ski gear to avoid injuring the other riders. Likewise, watch out for objects on other people’s gear that may hurt you.


Trams are similar to gondolas but are larger and can carry more people. For example, the tram at the Jackson Hole resort in Wyoming can carry up to 100 people with their ski gear.

Trams are wind-stable and are ideal for high altitudes and rough terrains. They are also fast; some take only four minutes to travel up to two kilometers.

These lifts are unpopular with many skiers and snowboarders due to a lack of personal space. However, for deep fresh powder higher up the mountain, the few minutes of discomfort are worth it.

Riding a tram is similar to riding a gondola.

2 Surface Lifts

These lifts transport skiers while their skis remain on the ground. They are common on beginner slopes for transporting novice skiers and snowboarders from one slope level to another. The most common types of surface lifts include:

  • T-bar
  • Rope tow
  • Magic carpet



These lifts drag skiers and snowboarders up the slope to their desired stop. They allow two people to ride in tandem by grabbing onto the middle piece. T-bars are more common on beginner slopes.

As T-bars are challenging to ride for beginners, it is recommended that you first learn to balance yourself on skis. Some resorts prevent single riders from using T-bars for safety reasons.

How To Ride A T-Bar Lift

  1. Hold your ski poles in one hand and position yourself ready to grab a T-bar
  2. As the T-bar comes around, grab the middle section and position your bottom on one half of the T-bar (without sitting on it, as it is not designed to take the rider’s full weight).
  3. When you get to the end of the ride at a flat section, detach from the bar, release the middle bar and ski off.

Safety Tips When Using a T-Bar Lift

  • Don’t sit/lean on the bar.
  • Look straight ahead. If you look sideways, your body will pull you in that direction, and you may eventually fall off.

Though a fun ride, some people have had an awful experience using the T-bar. For example, some riders hate the fact that it is hard getting a co-rider of equal height. The taller rider often pulls the lift towards them. This makes the shorter rider get pulled forward, sometimes falling off.

Note: T-bar lifts work the same way as the Poma (or button lifts). The only difference is that Poma lifts are used by a single person. Poma lifts are named after the company that invented them. T-bars are also similar in operation to the J-bars.

Rope Tow

This is a simple lift that consists of a moving waist-height rope attached between two pulleys.

Users grab onto the rope (cable) that pulls them up the slope. Like the T-bar, the rope tow is common on beginner snow fields.

The magic carpet has gradually replaced the rope tow, though a few small snow resorts still have them.

How To Ride a Rope Tow Lift

  1. Glide or ski closer to the rope tow.
  2. Grab both of your ski poles in one hand, opposite from the hand with which you will be holding the rope.
  3. Grab the rope with your free hand, and you’ll start moving up the slope. As you move, keep your skis parallel and lean back slightly.
  4. Once you get to the top, let go of the rope and ski off.

Safety Tips When Using a Rope Tow Lift

  • Young children should never ride alone and unsupervised.
  • If you don’t keep your skis parallel, they may cross or point to one side, leading to a fall.

The rope tow is easy to use. However, while its slow speed may favor beginners and kids, it can quickly get tedious.

Magic Carpet

Magic Carpet

The magic carpet is a better alternative to the rope tow. It consists of a conveyor belt that takes riders to a mellow slope from the bottom of a beginner run.

Like the rope tow, this lift is found in many resorts with beginner runs. It is also the only lift that has no handles or seats. You simply step on when ready to ascend and step off when you reach the top.

How To Ride The Magic Carpet Lift

  1. Grab your poles in one hand and advance to the lift, making small steps on your skis
  2. After you place the edge of your skis on the moving carpet, you will be carried to it.
  3. Stand still and maintain your balance as you get carried up the slope
  4. Once you reach the top, ski off the belt.

Safety Tips When Using the Magic Carpet Lift

  • Remember to take your pole straps off your wrists to prevent being dragged along if the poles snag onto the conveyor.
  • Always look forward as you ride the carpet and keep your skis pointed forwards to avoid losing balance and falling.

3 Cable rail/Conveyance

These transport riders using railcars that glide along rail tracks, pulled up the slope by a cable. The most common lift types in this category are the funiculars.


Whenever available, these are the fastest ways up the mountain.

They are carriages that run on rails and are used to carry a large number of people quickly over steep inclines and great distances. A haul rope pulls the carriages with a propulsion system located at the mountain station.

Funiculars are wind stable and can withstand adverse weather conditions. Most are located above ground, but some move underground. They are more common in Europe than in North America.

Riding a funicular is similar to riding a cable car, and the same rules apply.

Plan Your Next Skiing or Snowboarding Winter Adventure with Brealpa Today

Whether you are a seasoned pro used to being whisked great vertical distances or a cautious novice, a trip up a slope is always exciting. Each unit of vertical distance scaled heightens the anticipation for the main attraction – downhill powder shredding.

Ski resorts feature various kinds of lifts, from simple rope tows to multi-carriage furniculars and double-decked trams. While it may be nerve-wracking for beginners to ride aerial lifts, riders are often treated to scenic views of the resorts and surrounding landscape. Skiers and snowboarders are also treated to fun experiences by surface lifts.

Are you planning to shred powder this season? With carefully curated information, Brealpa has everything you need to know to plan the perfect winter getaway. Get firsthand information on:

  • The best ski resorts from around the world
  • Activities you can take part in various ski fields
  • How to get to the resorts
  • Accommodation and dining options available
  • Why we think a specific resort is a good choice for your next holiday

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Written by Brealpa

July 28, 2022

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