How To Use Ski Lifts (Beginners Guide)

by Simon Naylor | Updated: October 27th, 2022 |  Skiing Articles

As a beginner skier, everything is new and unfamiliar. Your first day on the slopes is going to be challenging to put it mildly. Not only have you got to learn how to slide down a mountain on skis for the first time - you've actually got to get to the top of the mountain.

So you’ll need to learn how to use one of the many lifts that you’ll encounter at a ski resort. The first thing to is - what types of ski lifts are there?

ski lift

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There are 5 main types of ski lifts that you will be likely to encounter:

  1. Gondola
  2. Button / Drag Lift
  3. T-bar
  4. Chair Lift
  5. Magic Carpet

Don’t be scared - all these lifts are fun in their own unique way. Riding the lifts is a great time to enjoy the views, chat with your mates and rest your tired legs ready for the next run.

In this article, I’ll explain exactly how to get on and off each type of lift, so when it's your turn you’ll know exactly what to do.

1. What is a Gondola Ski Lift?


In most ski resorts you head up from the town to the ski station using a gondola. This is the first part of the journey and the easiest.

Glass sides give you an amazing view of the area and the mountain below that you'll soon be learning to ski down.

A gondola is one of the easiest ski lifts to get on and off. You will usually be in a queue waiting for the next one to turn up, they come in fast but will slow down on approach and you will have about 15 seconds to get you and your group of friends into the gondola before the doors close and it starts taking you up the mountain.

Some gondolas have a rack on the outside where you should place your skis and poles, but on most gondolas, you bring all your equipment inside the lift. Carry your skis, don’t wear them.

Once you are in the gondola enjoy the views and the anticipation for the day ahead. Once you can see the end of the ride approaching, make sure you've got hold of your skis and poles and all your belongings.

Your entire group will need to exit the gondola in less than 15 seconds before it swings around and heads back down the mountain.

Always have a quick look back to see if you’ve dropped anything. And if you have left something behind, just tell the person working the lift. They’ll be able to radio down to the bottom so that it can be brought back up.

2. What is a Button Ski Lift?

These lifts are also known as drag lifts or Poma lifts (named after the French manufacturer). Unlike most other lifts, the button lift is an individual lift and you’ll be traveling up one at a time.

These lifts can be the most difficult for beginner skiers who don’t yet have much control over their skis and are still getting used to balancing on snow.

ski button lift

It’s best to practice using your skis for a bit on the baby slopes before attempting to use a button lift (unless you're at an indoor ski center or that's the only way on the beginner slopes) That way you’ll have some control if things go wrong and are less likely to end up face planted in a bank of snow.

Using a Button Lift

How to get on?

  1. Make sure your ski poles are held together in one hand, leave one hand free.
  2. Take your time getting on the lift, if you miss a button pole, it doesn’t matter. Wait till you’re ready before grabbing the pole with your free hand.
  3. Place the pole between your legs so that the button sits just beneath your buttocks. Close your legs BUT don’t sit down. Stay standing. (The button won’t take your weight if you try to sit.)

How to stay on?

  1. Make sure your skis are parallel (together facing the same direction) and pointing up the hill. You don’t want your legs to be too far apart or you’ll do the splits & you don’t want your skis too close or you can trip yourself up.
  2. Make sure the button is pulling you up by your buttocks/thigh region and not by your arms, or you can fall out behind it and be dragged across the snow.

How to get off?

  1. Don’t let go of the lift until you are on the flat, otherwise, you can roll backward.
  2. Release the pole and ski down away from the lift, don’t stop too soon or pizza out of it, or the person behind may bump into you.

3. What is a T-bar?

A t-bar ski lift is similar to a button or drag lift in that it drags you up the hill in the same way. It uses cables instead of vertical poles and the ‘seat’ is in a T shape rather than a button. T-bars allow two skiers or boards to travel up at the same time. You use it the same as you would a button lift.

4. What Is a Chairlift?

Chair lifts are the most common type of lift that you’ll likely use on your ski trip or holiday. It’s a metal bench suspended in the air by cables that takes you from the bottom to the top of the slope.

They’re typically used for longer and steeper journeys and to carry you over the terrain at speed.

Chair lifts can fit between two and eight people and sometimes come with a bubble hood to protect you from the snow and wind.

The lifts always slow down when approaching the beginning or end of the journey and are evenly spaced out so you have enough time to get into position.

They know that for most people this is their first time on the lift and they’re ready to hit that stop button and try to save you from dangling off or crashing into someone (another reason to wear a ski helmet)

Still, if you know what to expect before you go skiing, you can avoid falling over and hurting yourself before the day has begun.

chair lift

How to use a Chairlift.

  1. Head to the ski queue with your skis on and your poles held in each hand (with your hands not in the straps).
  2. Glide or push yourself to the lift area using your poles. Push into the snow with the poles and bend your knees. You’ll slide forward. Stop at the marked line or gate barrier.
  3. When the next available chair is ready for you, the barrier will swing open and you’ll have about 5-10 seconds to slide forward and get into position as the lift approaches you from behind. Stop again at the marked line or where the ski lift operator directs you to wait.
  4. Look behind you as the lift approaches, place one hand behind you, and touch the lift to support you as you sit back onto the chair.
    Once you’re all sat down, pull the bar down and lift and place your skis on the bar to take the weight of your legs.

Follow these chair lift tips to stay out of trouble.

  • If you’re alone, sit in the middle.
  • If you're with other people, evenly sit across the whole length of the bench.
  • When you pull the bar down make sure your head is out of the way (If you’re tall like me, the bar can come down and hit you on the head, so pull it gently down and lean back or duck down.
  • When you place your skis onto the bar to rest, be careful not to collide with your other skis as they can sometimes come off (Bindings for beginner skiers are often loose and the boot and ski can come off when pressure is applied.)
  • If something falls off the lift, wait till you get to the top of the lift and tell the lift operator. He can either radio down for it to be brought up by someone on the lift or you can ask a more advanced skier to collect your fallen item. (don’t attempt to go off-piste if you are a new skier, it's rocky, icy, and will be dangerous for you).

5. What is a Magic Carpet?

A magic carpet is so-called because it moves you magically uphill. A magic carpet is a moving walkway for you and your skis. Slow and for shallow inclines, magic carpets are found on beginner and baby slopes.

If you are a first-time skier and have the choice of lift to use, then opt for a magic carpet ride. Kept comfortable using your skis as best you can before attempting other, more complex lifts.

How to use a magic carpet.

  1. Keep your skis together and parallel and slide towards the beginning.
  2. Slide yourself on, slightly bend your knees, dig your poles into the snow and push forward to propel yourself.
  3. Once you’ve slid on, keep your skis facing forward and your legs still. Enjoy the ride.


Not everyone can master the ski lift the first time and it takes some practice to feel confident with each maneuver. Over time it becomes very easy and you don’t have to think about it.

If you’ve seen enough and you really don’t want to take a ski lift, you can do what these guys do and hike up!



Can You Ride Ski Lifts Without Skiing?

It depends on the type of lift and the ski resort in question. Most ski lifts in the winter season cannot be used by non-skiers.

However Gondolas and other larger lifts that take people to destinations such as lookout points, high-altitude restaurants, etc - can be used by non-skiers. You'll still need to buy a lift ticket - but it's usually cheaper.

During the summer season, most ski resorts continue to operate part of their lift network for hikers, mountain bikers, and other summer activities.