How to Use The 5 Most Common Ski Lifts

Ski expert Conor Doyle explains how to load and unload from the most common lift types around the world: Carpet Lifts, Tow Ropes, Poma Lifts, T-Bars, and Chairlifts.

Photo by Steven Taylor
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When you’re a beginner, getting on and off any type of lift can be one of the most intimidating things you will do all day. You should never let this stop you from getting out there and getting after it!

Becoming confident and owning the lifts is something you can master in less than a day! But doing it right will make sure that you stay safe and keep other skiers safe while you load and unload from any lift—whether it is at the beginner area or off the summit chair.

We are going to look at how to load and unload from the 5 most common lift types that you will see all over the world: Carpet Lifts, Tow Ropes, Poma Lifts, T-Bars, and Chairlifts.

Carpet Lifts

We will start with the easiest lift of all, the Carpet Lift. You will usually find these in the beginner area at just about every mountain. They are a conveyor belt that takes skiers from the bottom of a beginner area to the top of a relatively mellow slope. These are the only lifts that involve no seat or handles.

Before you get onto the carpet, make sure to take your pole straps off of your wrist and place your poles in your non-dominant hand. This is something you will do when getting onto any lift! This helps to make sure your poles don’t get snagged on anything which could spell trouble if you were still attached to them with the wrist strap!

To load onto the lift and go up, simply walk up to the bottom of the belt or “carpet” and step on. Once both of your skis are on the carpet, you are off! When you are on your way up, remember to keep your skis pointed forward at all times and stay standing. You now just let the lift do the work—it will feel a lot like a moving walkway at an airport.

Now you're approaching the end of the lift at the top of the beginner slope. Remember to stay relaxed and be ready to ski out away from the lift—there are other skis behind you that will need to unload too. As you come up to the top of the lift, keep your skis pointed forward and let them glide off the carpet and onto the snow. Once your skis are onto the snow, simply push yourself away from the lift. You can always use your poles to help you get some momentum.

You’ve tackled your first lift! Now we’ll move onto some bigger slopes with new kinds of lifts.

Tow Rope

The second kind of lift you may come across is usually in either beginner areas or terrain parks; these are tow ropes. Tow rope lifts are a thick loop of rope attached to two pulleys. The rope continuously spins to allow skiers to get up a slope similar to the carpet lift.

Again, make sure you take your poles off your wrist and put them both in one hand. For a tow rope, make sure this is the opposite hand from the one you will be grabbing the rope with. Now simply ski up to the rope and grab on with one hand. It may take a second for your hand to catch the rope, but that is no problem, there is no rush!

Once you are holding on to the rope, you’ve done it—you’re on the lift! Now just focus on keeping your skis pointed uphill. This will be important on any lift that involves your feet being on the ground. If your skis cross or start pointing to the sides, your body will follow and you may fall. If you do fall, stay calm and work your way back to standing. For a tow rope, you can just grab back onto the rope and continue up the hill!

Once you get to the top of the tow rope, simply let go and ski away from the rope. Put your poles back on your wrists and you’re ready to go!

T-Bar and Poma (Button) Lifts

The next type of lift is a two-in-one! These are T-Bar lifts and Poma or Button Lifts. Both work the same way, but they are slightly different shapes so there are some small differences between them. These will likely be your first step into slightly bigger and steeper slopes.

For each of these lifts, there will likely be a lift operator or “lifty” there to help get you onto the lift and slow it down if you need it. Their entire job is to make sure you get uphill in one piece so don’t be afraid to talk with them and let them know it’s your first time! Once you are ready, take off your poles and ski up to the loading area which will be right next to the lifty, usually marked by a thick line on the ground. Often, they will tell you when to ski up, so be ready.

No matter if it’s a T-Bar or Poma, these lifts work by pushing on the back of your thighs and dragging you up the hill. For a T-Bar, you (and maybe a second person if you are comfortable) will be dragged up the hill by what looks like an upside-down T. When you ski up to the lift, they will place the lift onto your thighs with the top of the T coming in contact with your leg. The longest part of the T will be next to you attached to the cable pulling you up the hill. For a Poma, the lift looks like a cable with a circle on the bottom. This circle or button will sit between your legs and pull you up the slope. For these types of lifts, the lift operator will usually have you stand with your legs slightly apart and they will hand the cable to you and help you place it between your legs. One thing to keep in mind is the lift is still moving so this all happens quickly! Still, take your time and stay calm, liftys are there to help!

Now you are off, but there is one big thing to remember - DON’T SIT DOWN! These lifts are meant to drag you up the hill, not to be seats for you to sit down on. Keep your knees slightly bent and skis pointed uphill, the lift will do all of the work for you so just lean back and relax.

Once you’ve reached the top of the lift, the ground will flatten out and you simply take the cable and move the T or circle out from behind you and ski away. Don’t worry if the lift flys away a bit, they are made with springs to have some give to it—that happens! Clear the lift area so others can get off and you are good to go!

Chairlifts

Two snowboarders sit on a chairlift. The ground is not visible below them to they appear to be floating. A snowcapped mountain range extends across the background.

Photo by Jason Blackeye

This final lift will take you nearly everywhere on the mountain and will open up a world of possibilities for your skiing! Chairlifts are the most popular type of lift at all mountains and they are also some of the easiest to get both on and off of.

First things first, take those poles off of your wrists. You don’t want them to get caught on anything when you are getting on or off the chair, so holding them in one hand will help to keep that from happening. Now hop into the lift line and wait your turn to get onto the chair and head up!

Once you reach the front of the line, you will be getting on the chair with likely a few other people—chairlifts can range from 1 person up to 8 people at some mountains! As the chair picks up the group in front of you, ski up to the loading line where the lift operator is standing. Make sure to be quick when you do this since the chairlift is always moving and if they stop it for you, they have to stop it for everyone else that is already on! Once you reach the line for loading, stop and turn around to watch the lift coming behind you. Once the chair is about to reach you, bend your knees and get ready to sit. Sit down on the chair and make sure you are comfortable. The chair will keep moving and pick you up off of the ground and you are done loading—enjoy the ride up!

Some chairlifts do have a bar that can be lowered to sit in front of all of the riders on the chair. This can be really helpful if you are new to riding a chairlift or if you’re riding with small children. To use it, you simply reach up, grab the bar, and pull down slowly until it is even with everyone’s waist. Some people prefer to not use the bar so be sure to ask the entire group on the chair before you pull it down. Make sure to watch out for where your poles are so they don’t get stuck!

Now you are nearly at the top of the lift and you need to get ready to unload. First things first, if you did pull down the bar, raise it up. As you come into the unloading area, make sure to keep your ski tips pointed up so that they don’t get caught on any lip in the snow. Let your skis come in contact with the snow and get ready to stand up. Once you reach the far end of the flat area, sometimes marked by an “Unload Here” sign, stand up and ski away from the lift. When you stand, make sure to stand straight up and try not to bump anyone else on the lift. This should help you avoid any kind of falls when you unload.

You’ve done it! You are ready to tackle any lift on the mountain and get to just about any terrain you could want. And if you need any gear to get you ready to get out there, reach out here on Curated and let me or one of my fellow Ski experts know. I am here to make sure you are ready to tear it up, no matter if you are brand new to skiing or have been at it all your life.

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Written By
Conor Doyle
Ski Expert
Skiing for over 12 years from Chicago to wherever there is snow. Spending summers dreaming of winters.
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