How Often Do People Fall Off Ski Lifts? Why It’s Surprisingly Rare

by Laura Penrose | Updated: October 27th, 2022 |  Skiing Articles

Riding a ski lift is one of the first major tasks for any new skier to achieve. And for those who have been skiing for decades, it will always be a fundamental part of skiing. What goes up must come down.

When skiers or snowboarders are learning how to use a new lift, it can be relatively common for people to fall while getting on or off. However, serious accidents such as someone falling from a chairlift high off the ground are exceedingly rare.

chair lift top view

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People could fall off four types of ski lifts: magic carpets, rope tows (or nutcracker rope tows), Poma lifts & T-bars, and chair lifts. Only the chair lift will allow you to sit down and take you high in the air. 

Magic Carpets

magic carpets

Magic carpets are the most accessible type of ski lift to ride, making them ideal for beginners. You ski up to the base of the conveyor belt, ski onto it, and then maintain your balance while the lift takes you to the top of the beginner's slope. 

As they are primarily used for beginners and are great for children, you will see people fall off when they are first learning how to use this lift. However, as you are close to the ground, the injuries are typically only minor. 

Rope Tows and Nutcrackers

Before the days of magic carpets, rope tows were the main style of lift that took beginners to the top of the slope. They consist of a metal rope you grab onto and hold on to for dear life until you get to the top of the slope. 

Rope tows aren’t exactly difficult to understand, but you do need to practice and learn. Some of these lifts will also have similar grips, making them easier to grab onto. 

A nutcracker is similar to a rope tow but with a little more help. It requires riders to wear a harness with a “nutcracker” on it, where riders will attach the nutcracker to the rope to pull them up to the top of the slope. It is still a rope tow, but these are typically used for more advanced skiers and will take you to new heights up steeper slopes. 

Learning how to ride these two lifts can be a little challenging, and as such, you will see people falling off. Typically, at the start or end. 

Poma Lifts and T-bars 

Poma lifts
Photo by John M licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

A Poma lift requires riders to stand on the snow and are pulled to the top of the mountain via a pole that is on a retractable line. To ride the Poma lift, skiers must point their skis towards the top of the mountain, grab the pole when it comes around, pull it down, and place the circular disk between their legs. 

Similar to a Poma lift, a T-bar is also a type of surface lift. To ride a T-bar, skiers must grab the T-bar (or be given it), place the bar behind their bottom, and let the lift pull them up the mountain. Because of the ‘T’ shape of the T-bar, two people can ride the T-bar at one time. 

Like most types of lifts, it is common to see people fall off Pomas and T-bars when they first learn how to ride these lifts. But as they are close to the ground, falling off these lifts will usually only amount to either no or minor injuries. 

Chair Lifts 

skier chair lifts

Of all of the lift types to consider, chair lifts are the only type of lifts that take riders high into the sky, and as a result, the consequences of falling off mid-ride are much greater than any of the other lifts. 

However, when people fall off of chair lifts typically, it is when they are getting on or getting off. What is much less common is seeing people fall off the ski lift in the middle, and if this does occur, the most common cause is rider error. 

All modern chairlifts have a safety bar that comes down - over your front. This gives you a bar to rest your heavy skis and prevents you from failing out forward.

According to the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA), as of 2012, there were 13 fatalities over 38 years that can be attributed to “ski lift malfunctions” in the US. In other words, that is “0.149 fatalities per 100 million miles of passengers transported by ski lifts.” 

With that being said, falling off a chair lift is extremely rare. It generally only happens when people are learning how to ride the chair lift and have issues getting on and off. When this happens, they are close to the ground, and lift staff is there to stop the lift and help you get up. 

If you get stuck on a lift, it's wise not to jump off. It's common for chair lifts to stop forward motion and then re-start a few minutes later. This commonly happens because the lift operator will pause the lift to help someone get back on after a fall.

Incidents like the one below, are exceedingly unlikely to happen.