The Many Types of Ski Lifts Explained

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Skiing is one of the most extreme sports out there when you consider you’re basically sliding down the snowy mountain slopes on two planks, maneuvered with two shorts sticks!

As ridiculous as that may sound when it is put that way, skiing attracts thousands of passionate skiers annually, just waiting to jump from steep mountainsides and right into the neverending snowy valleys below.

But how do you reach these high-rise and steep mountain points, to begin with?

Well if that’s what has been keeping you up all night before your upcoming winter holiday…

Basically, a ski lift is a system of transport that helps the racer get to the highest point of a top run. These generally consist of a set of moving seats that are attached to a cable that takes them high up for the starting point of a race.

But, the thing is, it doesn’t end here. There are several types of ski lifts.

If you fancy learning more about the different types then sit back and read this article – it’s sure to be uplifting! Seriously, we hope you’ll learn more about the lifts that you may well be using when you next go skiing.

Different kinds of lifts

Ski lifts are mainly divided into three main categories. These depend on the type of mechanisms that have been used and the ways they employ for transportation.

Drag Lifts

There a quite a few ways of transportation in this department. What happens in drag-lifts is that your feet stay on the ground while the mechanism moves you from place to place. These may not always go up the hill and can include flat sections of grounds as well. Since these can be quite exhausting, the duration or distance covered by drag lifts is generally not too long.

Lifts like this snow tunnel can be a stunning way of not only getting you from point A to point B but, also taking in the stunning scenery around you.

Some popular lifts in this category include:

  • Travelator/ Magic Carpet- This is a kind of “moving walkway” you stand on to get transported to other places.
  • Rope- You hold onto it, and it drags you along. These may also have bars to make it easier for you to hold on to.
  • Button (or Poma)- This is a hanging pole that has a disc on its end. It may look like a seat, but the disc goes between your legs to drag you along while you’re standing.
  • T-Bar- This is an upside-down T-shaped lift mechanism that transfers two people at once. Going on this is easier for people who are of the same height.

Aerial Lifts

Aerial lifts take you high up in the air and carry you up the mountain or hill to the starting point of the run. These are significantly less exhausting than using drag lifts and are used to transport racers over a somewhat medium distance. Certain longer aerial lifts are split up into points so that you can get off at a mid-point.

Lifts such as these gondola style lifts, enable you to sit back and relax as you make your way up to for the next great run, they’re great vantage points to learn more about the slopes and take some fab photos.

The types of aerial lifts are:

  • Chair Lift- These have plenty of room for transporting large groups of people.
  • Cable Car, Bubble or Gondola Lifts- These comfortable cars allow you to take off your skies and relax enjoying the spectacular views as you cruise uphill.
  • Chubble or Chondola Lifts- These have both chairs and bubbles alternating on the same cable but in separate queues.
  • Lobster pot- These open-air lifts allow you to remove your skis off and stand comfortably admiring the view as you make your way up the mountain.

Rail Lifts

The Rail Lift or Funicular feels similar to getting on a regular train just with your ski equipment. These generally cover long distances. The trains run up and down the mountain and pass through tunnels or viaducts. A fantastic way to soak up the scenery and explore the area around your hotel or cabin.

So what are these major aerial ski lifts exactly?

So, now that we have given you a gist of the kinds of ski lifts that you might use, we’ll go into them in a little more detail. This will help you understand the concept and structure of the lifts better and give you an idea of what you can expect from them.

Chairlifts (6 or 8-person)

These are the most comfortable and simplest ones of all the other aerial lifts. The system includes 6 or 8 seats for the passenger. These have pretty high transport capacity and are especially advantageous for winter ski purposes as it can accommodate ski and other equipment like snowboards etc. This dispenses the need for reruns.

The 8 seaters can transport up to 4000 passengers per hour while the 6 seaters can comfortably accommodate 3200 people per hour.

The coupling mechanism (of Doppelmayr) ensures safe boarding and exiting at a slower speed at the lift station and up to 6 m/s on the lift route. You could also, avail Bubbles that have weather protection covers or the ones with seat-heating and automatic closing mechanism.

This gondola lift station allows for quick and safe loading and unloading of passengers.

Gondola Lifts

The gondola lifts consist of a comfortable ropeway system that works ideally for a feeder lift in any winter sports area. This style of lift is seen across the world and isn’t just reserved for ski resorts. Gondola lifts are often used to transport tourists up and down scenic mountains and can be seen in many cities and towns across the globe.

They are a comfortable and family friendly (and seniors too) way to get safely to the top (and the bottom sometimes – if you’ve got a tired child or have just had enough for the day) of the mountain while you enjoy the views.

A really advantageous aspect of these is the incredible family and senior-friendly approach that the system ensures, owing to its Doppelmayr installations.

The closed cabins of these vehicles protect the passengers from inclement weather and ensure further safety for all. The cabins can hold up to 20 passengers at a time. These are connected to a “haul rope with detachable grips.”

Basket or Caged Lifts

A basket or caged lift is mainly a “reversible ropeway” having a reversible haul rope that consists of “fixed-grip baskets” fastened on to them. These baskets that often have a roof over them can accommodate two passengers at a time. These usually don’t slow down at the time of exiting or boarding so you need to be ready. This makes it a bit unsafe for the elderly and children.

Funicular Railways

Funicular railways look similar to a regular train with covered carriages. They are linked by a haul rope that’s powered in the mountain station.

Sometimes the engine system is coordinated and worked with a counter rope depending on where the propulsion system is located and how steep the route is. It is then weighed and measured at the counter station with a hydraulic cylinder or using a tension weight to achieve the required level of tension.

These vehicles are propelled by a haul rope and while on shorter routes it is possible to have two parallel track lengths, on longer routes a single track with a passing track is often used.

Helicopter- Okay, so this isn’t technically a ski lift but, for the ultimate way up the mountain, this has to be it! Typically used for fans of heli-skiing, the helicopter takes the more adventurous skier to places no chair lift will ever reach. For some serious backcountry skiing, heli-skiing is the way to go. If you want to know more about heli-skiing then look out for our in-depth guide which we plan to publish later in the season.

But for the rest of us, I guess we’ll have to stick to a button or chair lift!  

Have fun in the mountains and stay safe out there.

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