How Much Weight Can a Ski Lift Hold?

by Anthony Schwabe | Updated: October 27th, 2022 |  Skiing Articles

Dangling over the slopes can be pretty scary for anyone that isn’t a fan of heights. This can bring up questions about safety and safe maximum weights. Thankfully, these lifts are designed to be as safe as possible. Let's go over the types of ski lifts you'll typically encounter and talk about their max weights.

The weight capacity of a ski lift is dependent on the type of ski lift and its prescribed carrying capacity. Typically, elevators and lifts have been designed to safely carry close to 10 times the maximum weight indicated by signage. In the case of a four-person chairlift, it is likely it can safely carry more than 2,000 kg. 

Ski Lift

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Before We Start…

ski lift chair

When trying to gauge the maximum capacity of a certain type of ski lift, it is important to know how these types of equipment are designed. 

In the worst-case scenario, a ski lift can fail and hurt people. For that reason, the engineering team behind their design has to add a safety factor to keep people safe. Without going too much into detail, this is basically a way of making sure the weight capacity is never exceeded. 

In the case of elevators, this number is typically about 11. That means if an elevator is, for example, rated for a maximum of 300 kg, it will only likely fail at a capacity of 3300 kg. 

As ski lifts are very similar to elevators, it is likely this safety factor is close, if not, about 11 as well. For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume this number is about five in the case of ski lifts. 

Types of Ski Lifts

The first step to understanding how much weight a ski lift can hold is understanding the different types of ski lifts you will likely encounter at a ski resort. This is because every ski lift will have a different weight limit. 

I’ve put the most common types of ski lifts below. You might notice that the lifts are in ascending order from smallest to biggest, which can help you determine the weight capacities you can expect. 

1. The Drag Lift

ski drag lift

Drag lifts are typically the smallest of the lift types. They are usually meant for only one or two skiers or snowboarders at a time. In the case of two-person drag lifts, there is definitely nothing to worry about regarding weight capacity as it is meant for two. 

Due to their size, drag lifts are most often used for beginner runs as they cannot comfortably go very far. There is basically zero concern with how much a drag lift can carry because they will only ever tow a maximum of two adults.

Also, if it breaks - the risk of injury is lower - because you're not in the air.

2. The Chairlift 

skier chair lifts

There is a wide variety of chairlift configurations out there. They come in all shapes and sizes, as well as capacities. The most common chairlifts are between four and eight-person. 

Smaller chairlifts are found at almost every reputable ski resort, while larger chairlifts are typically found in both higher-end ski resorts and busier ones. This is simply to better accommodate large masses of people in comfort. 

Chairlifts have a range of capacities because of the variation in the number of passengers they can take. A six-person chairlift will usually have a capacity of about 3,200 passengers/hour, while an eight-person chairlift can accommodate 4,000 passengers/hour. 

If we are considering a safety factor of five, it is likely a six-person lift can safely carry up to 3,000 kg.

3. The Gondola 

ski gondolas

Gondolas are usually the biggest and most comfortable way to get to the top of a ski slope. These are usually large enough to accommodate up to 30 people fairly comfortable. This is even more impressive when you consider there has to be enough space for everyone to hold their ski gear.

Gondolas are definitely one of the safest ways to get up the slopes because of how many people they accommodate. Based on that safety factor thing I mentioned, it is likely a 30-person gondola has a max weight of about 15,000 kg. 

Gondolas typically have a capacity of approximately 3,600 passengers/hour.

4. The Cable Car

red cable chair
Photo by Andrea Schaffer licensed under CC BY 2.0

Cable cars are very similar to gondolas. They usually accommodate a large number of skiers at the same time. There are even some cable cars that can carry up to 200 people at a time. These lifts are usually used to cover very far distances. 

Cable cars vary quite a bit in their capacity, but they typically range between 3,500 passengers/hour and 6,000 passengers/hour. 

Again, if you consider that the design of the cable car compensates for safety, that means a cable car could be handling about 1,750,000 kg every hour.

Do Chairlifts Have a Weight Limit? 

chair lift

For anyone concerned with the weight capacity of a ski lift due to their own weight, the answer is no. Chairlifts are usually meant for at least two full-sized men. Further still, these types of machines usually have a safety buffer in their design. 

This means there is an extra amount of weight added to the design process to protect users. So you can rest easy, knowing that individuals do not need to worry about their own weight exceeding a lift’s capacity. 

Without going into too much detail, this added weight is typically four times the expected maximum capacity. This means on a four-man chairlift, the maximum capacity is likely 800 kg or about 3,500 lbs. 

How Powerful is a Ski Lift?

Ski lifts come in a variety of power ratings. This makes sense considering the wide variety of ski lift types and their respective carrying capacities. 

The carrying capacity of the lift is not the only factor that determines the required power though. Other factors like the distance and steepness of the route it must take are also very important to consider. 

Smaller ski lifts typically have power ratings of less than 7.5 kW or 10 hp. On the other hand, a larger eight-person lift could have more than 750 kW or 1,000 hp, especially if this lift has to cover a large amount of steep ground. 

Can You Fall Off a Ski Lift?

Two Snowboarders
Photo by Chiara Coetzee licensed under CC0 1.0

Unfortunately, yes, you can fall off of a ski lift. This is definitely the short answer though. Falling off a ski lift is a result of the type of ski lift in question and typically a degree of misuse on the part of the skier. 

Larger ski lifts like gondolas and cable cars usually have closed doors during the trip, making it incredibly unlikely to fall

It is possible to fall off a smaller chairlift. There are safety precautions like safety bars in place to protect you from this happening. That is where misuse comes in. These safety precautions cannot help you if you do not use them properly, and that is usually how people fall. 

In Conclusion

For anyone concerned with how much weight a ski lift can safely carry, rest assured. 

To prevent injuries and the subsequent lawsuits involved, the designers have to account for even the worst-case scenarios. This usually means a ski lift can safely carry far more than it would ever need to realistically.