Complete Ski Lift Types List


Lifts are nothing new in the skiing world. If you are a snow hobbyist, you have probably used one to go up the slopes.

A ski lift is a unique form of transportation used by skiers and snowboarders to go uphill. It saves you the hassle of hiking up a mountain in both piste and off-piste skiing.

There are three main types of ski lifts namely; aerial lifts, surface lifts, and cable cars (railways). Let’s look into these in detail, shall we?

Aerial Lifts

Aerial lifts are used to ferry skiers while slightly being suspended from the ground. They comprise chairlifts, gondola, funitel, and trams.

An aerial lift is mostly used in mountainous regions where it’s impossible to build roads. It is most effective when crossing ravines and rivers. Here is a list of the different types of aerial lifts:

1. Chairlifts

These are the most common ski lift types. Skiers have to sit on the chair and pull a safety bar to secure themselves.

Chairlifts can carry two to eight passengers. The old non-detachable models carry around two or three passengers while the newer models can accommodate up to four or six passengers in one go.

2. Gondolas

Gondolas operate on a cable that circulates in a single direction. A single gondola can carry four to thirty people at once.

Skiers can choose to have enclosed cabins that can store their ski gear in outside racks or those with standing spaces.

A gondola is large and skiers can stand in it with their equipment. It protects them from elements such as bad weather and high winds. The most iconic example of gondolas in the United States can be found on Aspen Mountain

3. Funitel

A funitel is a type of cable car that is used to carry skiers to a high altitude. It has the potential to carry up to 30 people. A funitel has no seats, which could be uncomfortable for people traveling a long distance. Additionally, it can be tiring for skiers and snowboarders, as they have to carry their skis and snowboards by hand.

4. Aerial Tramway

In this transport system, passenger cabins are fixed to either one or two cables and one cabin can accommodate more than 100 people. Due to its large capacity, the cable must stop to allow passengers to either board or alight.
One disadvantage of the aerial tramway is that it has a limited hourly capacity and is susceptible to wind disturbance. A good example of ski resorts with the best tramways includes Squaw Valley in California and Jackson Hole in Wyoming.

Advantages of Aerial Lifts

  • Gondolas are usually enclosed and keep you warm
  • Good for children and beginner skiers as they are pretty easy to use
  • One can easily jump off them
  • Fast and convenient

Disadvantages of Aerial Lifts

  • Chairlifts are not suitable when it is snowing as they tend to move quickly
  • Not suitable for people afraid of heights

Surface Lifts


A skier does not leave the ground; they are usually towed up the ground with their skis. Passengers are required to hang onto a support or sit on a seat till they get to their destination.

Surface lifts are effective for short distances or for transporting skiers across one slope to the other. They are not as famous as the aerial lifts and are often recommended for beginners who tour peripheral slopes and small ski areas.

The most common types include T-bar, button lifts, magic carpet, and rope tow among others. Here is a list of the most common surface lifts:

1. T-bars

These can carry two people at a go. If you are going to use a T-bar, you will need to be able to hang to the T- shaped support to ensure a comfortable drag up the slope.
One important tip when boarding T-bars is to ensure that one’s back foot is out of the ski bindings when gliding into the loading area. One should also rest their rear foot on the anti-slip pad to keep their balance.

Passengers are advised not to squat too low on the T-bar as they might fall forward if the lift makes an abrupt stop.

The most recognized T-bar in the United States is the Horseshoe Bowl that is used to access Breckenridge Resort in Colorado.

2. Button lifts

Button lifts are used to carry skiers and snowboarders in areas that are too narrow or up steep slopes. As the name suggests, these ski lift types have button-shaped seats that are usually suspended from a moving cable.

Skiers often hold on to poles as they move up the slope. They are a bit complex to use by beginner skiers. In fact, in some areas, they are only reserved for intermediate and expert skiers.

3. Magic carpets

Magic carpet lifts are much easier to use compared to their button and T-bar counterparts.
They have either seats or handholds hooked to a waist-height moving cable.

Magic carpets have a moving travelator–like a belt that makes it easier for children and adults to board and disembark. Due to their slow speed and limited distance, they are perfect for beginners or when skiing with kids.

4. Rope Tows

Also known as handle tows, rope tows are one of the earliest methods of going uphill. Skiers must position themselves well to give the rope a firm grip. However, they should not shake the rope, as this might affect other skiers moving uphill.
Most times the rope pulling force needs to be counterbalanced by a downhill center of gravity that normally varies according to the slope gradient, surface conditions, and the rope’s speed.
When one reaches the top, they must determine how to release the rope through careful timing, balance, turning, and propulsion, which needs experience.

An example of a ski resort that has a prominent rope tow is Alta Ski Area in Utah that goes between Wildcat base and Albion areas.

Advantages of surface lifts

  • One can alight before reaching the top
  • Can operate in strong winds
  • Require low maintenance

Disadvantages of surface lifts

  • They are slow
  • Have a lower capacity
  • Require more passenger skill

Cable Cars

Cable cars usually operate on a pulley system and have two cabins. Although they are two with one going either up or down, it can take a while to catch one.

A cable car is recommended for when you are looking for a faster ride up the mountain. It is effective when skiing with a group and wants to travel together. The most common type of cable railway is the funicular.

Funicular Ski Lifts

Funiculars are also known as incline railways and are mostly used on steep inclines. They have the ability to carry a large group of skiers at once.

They are regarded as the fastest means of transport with numerous carriages and the ability to run on underground rails.

Funicular lifts are not affected by weather conditions and therefore can hand handle strong winds. They use two cars at once on each side of the pulley with the descending car pulling the ascending one upwards and the ascending car preventing the descending one from going out of control.

Advantages Of Cable Railways

  • They are enclosed, which makes them warm
  • They are comfortable
  • Their ability to carry many people at once makes them convenient
  • You can sleep while you wait to get to your next destination

Disadvantages of cable railways

  • No privacy to conversations due to the high number of people it a cabin per trip

How To Get On And Off Ski Lifts

You now know the different types of ski lifts you expect to find in a ski ground, but if you have no idea how to board one, your efforts become futile. Here are a few tips for getting on and off a ski lift that could make all the difference.

Getting On

  • The first thing that you need to do is to establish a suitable mountain and the type of ski lift on that mountain.
  • Depending on the type of ski lift you are going to board, you can put on your skis, but avoid strapping your hands.
  • Be ready by getting into the line for the lifts and observe as people get on the ski lift if you are a newbie.
  • Move into the lifting area and ensure that you keep your ski poles close to you.
  • Follow the people ahead of you and stop at the “wait here” sign. Be alert and wait for your turn
  • If you decide to sit on the right, put your poles in your left hand and look over your right shoulder. If you decide to sit on the left, do the opposite. However, if you decide to sit in the middle you can do it either way.
  • Ensure that you bend your knees slightly to avoid being hit by the lift coming from behind if you are using a chairlift.
  • When the people ahead of you move towards their lift, follow them until you get to the area marked “load here”.
  • As the lift approaches, reach for it using your free hand
  • When you feel the lift touches your knee from the back, sit down carefully. Follow the rules and regulations indicated on how to safely strap yourself once the lift starts to move.
  • Sit back, relax, and avoid rocking the chair. Also, remember, the higher the mountain the lift goes, the faster the lifts might move, so do not panic.

Getting Off

  • When you are close to the top, look out for signs from the big tower to see whether it is time to disembark
  • When you see the unloading area sign, start preparing to disembark by unstrapping yourself and collecting your ski gear
  • Check whether any piece of your ski equipment has been caught on the chair.
  • Slide forward and point the tip of your skis in an upward manner.
  • When the skis touch the ground, lean forward and once ready, stand up.
  • As soon as you can balance on your skis, glide off quickly from the unloading area.

Safety Concerns About Ski Lifts

People often wonder whether it is safe to ride on a ski lift. Well, using a lift is one of the safest forms of transportation. However, risks such as human and operator errors are bound to happen when machines and people come together.
Despite riding on a ski lift being safe, ski areas cannot always prevent accidents, as people can easily fall off from the lifts if they are not careful. Always observe ski safety to avoid accidents and ski injuries.

Lift attendants are always on standby to caution people against making silly mistakes while riding on a ski lift. Make use of their advice.

Consult with your doctor if you have any medical condition that can put you at risk while on a skiing adventure.

Safety Tips For Beginners

  • It is important to follow instructions whenever you are on a ski lift
  • Notify a lift attendant if your ski gear falls off while underway so that they can retrieve it for you
  • Learn how to get on and off the ski lift before using one
  • Never lean forward nor rest your arm on the restraint bar.
  • Relax and wait for your turn to board or disembark

Globo Surf Overview

Ski lifts are designed to make it easier for you to move up the slopes. It is therefore important to be aware of the rules and regulations about boarding and disembarking from the different types of lifts if you are planning to use one.

Always ask for assistance from the lift attendant whenever you are not sure about something to avoid making silly mistakes that could put you in harm’s way. Remember to remain calm until you get to your destination. It is also crucial that you make time to learn and perfect the art of getting on and off the lift to avoid injuries.

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  1. How To Get On And Off A Ski Lift, com
Globo Surf
My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!