Beginner’s Guide to Ski Lifts

I often find that one of the major causes of anxiety for novice skiers who have just booked last minute ski holidays is not the skiing itself, but using ski lifts for the first time. These can be daunting for first-timers, particularly when everybody else appears to be so used to them, so I thought it would be helpful to explain the different types that you might encounter. Hopefully this will build some confidence and ensure that you know what you are doing when you get out there.

Aerial Lifts

Chairlift – This is the most common type, yet one that still causes plenty of nerves for beginners. The rider sits on the chairlift and pulls down the safety rail, and they are then transported in the air on a cable. Typically, they carry anywhere between two and eight people and come in various styles and shapes.

Gondolas – Gondolas also circle on a cable, but they are large enclosed cabins which can carry up to 40 passengers at once. The smaller gondolas will have seats, whilst the ones that carry more passengers will be standing room only, keeping your equipment with you. These are less intimidating and also protect you from the elements, but they will be closed in high winds due to safety.

Surface Lifts

T-Bars – T-Bars and other surface lifts are more common in beginners areas and involve the skier being transported whilst their skis remain on the ground. A T-Bar drags the user up a slope with the use of a T-shaped bar, which the user places in between their legs.

Rope Tows – Rope tows involve the user holding onto an endless looped rope that is driven by the motor, allowing them to be slowly hauled up the slope.

Magic Carpets – Similar to a rope tow, a magic carpet is a conveyor belt at snow level that the user stands on and is taken up the slope. This is comparable to an escalator and one of the easier lifts to use.

Cable Railways and Funiculars

Cable railways operate on a pulley system where one cabin goes up when the other goes down. They can carry large groups (The Vanoise Express can carry over 200!), but they can be closed in adverse weather conditions. Funiculars are a type of cable railway which run on underground rails and have numerous carriages – these are usually the fastest method of transportation and can carry large groups.