How (NOT) to Use Ski Lifts

by Simon Naylor | Updated On: February 15th, 2019
ski lift

Images used on this page are under creative commons license. We may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page.

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.

So what types of lifts are there?

There are five main types of lifts that you will be likely to encounter.

  1. The Gondola
  2. The Chair Lift
  3. The Button & The T-bar
  4. Bonus Lift: The Magic Carpet

Don’t be scared – all these lifts are fun in their own uniques way. Riding the lifts with 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 an off each type of lift, so when it’s your turn you’ll know exactly what to do.

ski lift view

How to use a Gondola?

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.

The gondola Is a cabin that fits between 5 to 30 people (depending on the size), which transports you up the mountain suspended by a moving cable above the snow.

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 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.

What is a button lift?

These lifts are also known as a drag lift or a Poma lift (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 beginners skiers who don’t yet have much control over their skis and are still getting used to balancing on snow.

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 your 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.

What is a t-bar?

A t-bar 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.

How to use 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 and 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 are 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.
Iglu Ski Expert Guides | How to Use A Drag Lift

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.

If possible your first chairlift experience should be on a baby slope or green run for beginners (look out for a green sign next to your lift). The lifts here usually run twice as slow as other ski chair lift and the people working the lifts are always on hand to stop the lift if anything goes wrong.

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. Now, look behind you, as the lift approaches, place on 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 place your skis on the bar to take the weight of your legs.
How to Use Beginner Lifts - Tips for Ski Holidays

Follow these chair lift tips to stay outta trouble.

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.

Ski Martock Magic Carpet Lift

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.

How NOT to use a ski lift.

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

Here are some unlucky souls who’ve been filmed attempting to use a ski lift and failing miserably.

Warning: Don’t watch this video if you’re worried about using a ski lift!

Funny Ski Lift Fails ⛷ [Epic Laughs]

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….


…JUST BRING SNACKS! whatever you choose, enjoy your day out on the mountain.

If you enjoyed this article please share, if you have a question leave a comment below.

Simon Naylor, the founder of New To Ski, started skiing in 2005. He has continued to practice his skills and wanted to share his journey and knowledge with other new skiers. He launched New To Ski in 2018 to help first-time skiers have more fun on the slopes and get out and explore the mountains safely.