How to Avoid Ski Lift Accidents
Most chairlift mishaps happen when skiers are careless. Learn how to ride safely
Part of the fun of downhill skiing is going up — gliding to the top of the slope on a chairlift, enjoying a birds-eye view. Even though you’re suspended above the ground by nothing more than a cable, you’re quite safe.
In the past 42 years — during which skiers took more than 16.3 billion chairlift rides — only 12 people have been killed, according to the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA). In fact, you’re eight times more likely to get hurt riding an elevator than hitching a lift up a mountain.
Taking care in midair
Still, it’s important to play it safe. When accidents, both fatal and nonfatal, occur, it isn’t likely the lift malfunctioned. A 10-year study of chairlift accidents in Colorado found that 86 percent of the time, injuries and falls happened because skiers made mistakes. Dave Byrd, director of risk management for the NSAA, offers these tips to help you steer (and ski) clear of danger:
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ride a chairlift (or ski) if you’ve been drinking.
Seems obvious, but if
that Irish coffee you had at lunch has left you woozy, stay in the lodge. You
need your balance and reflexes to be at their best when you’re on the ski lift,
not to mention on the mountain.
Stay alert in line. While waiting to board a chairlift, keep your eyes off your phone and your ear buds out of your ears. Pay attention to the people in front of you. “If the group ahead of you has a hiccup in their loading, you don’t want to be pushing them to move faster,” Byrd explains.
Know you can go slow. If you need extra time to get on the lift — because, say, you have a small child with you — ask the operator to slow it down or even stop it momentarily. For more child safety tips, visit kidsonlifts.org.
Put your backpack on your lap. If you’re carrying a knapsack, set it face-up in your lap. Straps can sometimes get tangled on equipment or clothing, making it tough to disembark safely.
Keep your ski poles in one hand. They’ll be easier to keep track of and less likely to trip you up than if you hold one in each hand.
Sit in the middle of the chair if you’re riding alone to keep it balanced. Lower the restraint bar, if there is one, as quickly as possible once you’re on board.
Encourage kids to lean back in the chair. “Because their legs are short and skis are heavy, children tend to lean forward,” Byrd says. They can fall out, he says, "if they’re leaning forward and someone raises the bar too soon.”
Pay attention as you near the peak. There usually will be signs telling you when to begin lifting the restraint bar, if the lift has one. Do not try to get off sooner or wait much later than the sign says.
Raise the bar as a team. When you’re sharing a lift with others, make sure everyone knows when it’s time to move the restraint bar. “You may be paying attention, but someone else may be checking the sports scores on their phone and not realize you’re almost at the end of the ride. Telling everybody you’re about to lift the bar may save someone from getting bonked on the head with it,” notes Byrd.
Ixnay the horseplay. Just because a chairlift feels like an amusement park ride doesn’t mean it is one, Byrd warns. “I’ve seen people throwing snowballs at each other or trying to get the chair to tilt right or left,” he says. That kind of messing around can cause accidents. Follow the rules and you should reach the top safely. It will all be downhill from there.