Ski Lifts Explained: An Essential Guide To The Different Ways Of Getting Up A Slope

All them ski lifts got your head in a spin? Let's break it down for you.

Photo: iStock.

Have you ever been skiing or snowboarding, looked up into the air, and said to your mate Dave: “Dave, mate. What the hell is that?!” And then Dave, because Dave is such a nice friend, has proceeded to cooly and calmly explain that what you’re looking at is in fact a chairlift…and that they’re actually quite a common sight in ski areas. Cheers, Dave! #Legend

7 Of The Strangest Ski Lifts In The World

10 Of The Best Books About Skiing

For beginner skiers, the sheer amount of skiing words and skiing things there are can seem rather intimidating (and there’s not always a Dave at hand to help). Fortunately for the rookies among you, Mpora is here to explain stuff in a way that’s hopefully as informative as it is entertaining.

Right, so. Enough intro fluff. Let’s talk about ski lifts.

The Magic Carpet

Pictured: Ski area magic carpets…not actually that magical (photo via iStock).

How it works: There’s nothing particularly magic about a human conveyor belt, sorry guys. But yes, in a nutshell it is exactly that. Ski/ board/ step onto the conveyor belt and allow it to whisk you back up to the top of the hill.


  • Covers a small amount of space efficiently: ideal with beginner slopes.
  • No trickery involved, you don’t need much practice to hop on and off this lift.



  • It’s not very magic though, is it? Disappointing.
  • Good luck with keeping your balance on the first go.

The Poma/Button/Drag lift

Pictured: An unoccupied button lift (photo via iStock).

How it works: One-man only. Ski poles in your other hand, face up the slope (snowboarders unstrap and face sideways up the slope). Wait your turn. Grab onto the pulley and tuck the circular seat between your legs and allow it to pull you, on your skis/boards, up the mountain.


  • Quick and convenient: Doesn’t have to cover huge expanses of space which is ideal for those of you who just want to quickly hop up to a certain area, i.e. the top of the park again.
  • Solo-riding: You don’t have to make small talk with your lift companion.


  • Takes a trick or two to master the art of riding this lift. It’s pretty much guaranteed you’ll face plant spectacularly in your early attempts.
  • That being said, if you fall off, you have to go all the way back down to the bottom and try again.
  • Not hands-free: Depending on how confident you are, you can’t exactly take a break from concentrating on the motion of your skis/boards in front of you to check out your sick GoPro footage on the way up.
  • Kind of slow. You might spend a fair bit of time alone with your thoughts.


Pictured: T-Bars are good if you like your friend. Less good if you don’t like your friend (photo via iStock).

How it works: Who knows?

In all seriousness though; this one or two man lift works similarly to a poma/button lift but the seat is, you guessed it, T-shaped. Tuck the bar behind your legs (skiers) and let that pull you up. Snowboarders, tuck the bar in between your legs or behind your hips and cling on for dear life. Two skiers facing forwards can master the T-bar together, as is perfectly possible with two snowboarders but the art of getting on-and-off takes a little perfecting.


  • Quick and convenient: does exactly the same job as a poma/button lift.
  • You can hang out with your mate/girlfriend/boyfriend.


  • Slow. More time for pondering your existence.
  • No escape from your mate/ girlfriend/ boyfriend.
  • Snowboarders will need some practice.


Pictured: Chairlifts. Like a park bench; a park bench that believes it can fly (photo via iStock).

How it works: Imagine an overly zealous waiter called Gustav tucking a chair in behind you at a restaurant. You sit down and on cue, the chair comes up behind you. Now imagine that chair is suspended a hundred feet above snow and you’re whooshing your way upwards towards powdery heaven.

So you’re at the barrier for the chairlift. What do you do? Well, wait for the barrier to open, then slide up to the marked line and wait as the chair comes up behind you. There’s a bar that comes down in front of you for safety, and you can share the chair lift with up to eight people seated in a row, or on your lonesome. At the top, you raise the bar and dismount.

Photo: iStock.


  • Super fast, convenient, comfortable and sociable method of transportation.
  • Hands free experience: Sit back and enjoy the stunning mountain scenery dashing past around you. Check your GoPro footage if you must, phone your Mum (she cares about you), look at pictures of your ex, eat some chocolate, down a tinnie… the possibilities are endless.
  • Safe: Chances are falling off are fairly slim.
  • You can chatter with your friends… Or sit in stony silence. The choice is yours.
  • You can try out some of your sick chat up lines that seasonaire in the bar told you have a 90% success rate.

Skiing Words Defined: A Beginner’s Guide 

11 Time When Humans Tried To Ride Ski Lifts… But Failed Miserably


  • Exposure to the elements: on a whiteout day you betcha your face will be blistered pink by the time you get to the top.
  • Sitting next to strangers: Especially when they suddenly decide to question you on your Brexit stance/ask if you’re from ‘near London’/light up a cigarette in your face. Yeah, chairlifts can incredible awkward.
  • Missing the chairlift your friends managed to get, and having to get the one behind on your own/with strangers is a horrifying and humiliating experience.
  • You might actually forget to get off the chairlift.


Pictured: A gondola doing its thing at an Austrian ski area (photo via bergbahnen-wagrain)

How it works: It’s a bit of a no brainer, really. Pop your skis/snowboards off, carry them into the bubble of the gondola (or put them in the ski/board holder on the outside of the bubble), make yourself comfy in a box surrounded by a number of other people, enjoy the vistas as you travel up to the top of the mountain, hop out again and off you go.


  • Super fast, safe and convenient: the gondola bridges much bigger expanses of space (i.e. connecting the town to the start of the pistes) in much quicker times, and due to the doors locking shut, it can sail up over huge heights where chairlifts cannot.
  • Can carry you and your buddies together. That way, the squad doesn’t get separated.
  • You don’t need any practice when it comes to getting on to the gondola. Great for beginners.
  • Sheltered: you’re inside a protected safe capsule, away from the wind and snow on a whiteout day.
  • Spontaneous gondola sing-offs can be a hoot.



  • If someone farts or burps you’ll probably know about it.
  • Not the one for those of us who are scared of heights (because yes, they can go super high).
  • Spontaneous gondola sing-offs can be annoying as f*ck.

Cable car

Pictured: A cable car in Chamonix (photo via

How it works: Like a gondola. But bigger.


  • No limit to the number of party people you can pack into one small, enclosed space (actually there probably is a capacity. Maybe 50.)
  • Quick, convenient, caters for more than just skiers and snowboarders.
  • Generally, all round, pretty great.
  • You can sleep in a cable car…


  • There’s usually a cable car in place where other methods of transport fails or are hideously inconvenient. For example: bridging Avoriaz and Morzine.
  • Watch out for ordinary pedestrians. Don’t bash them with your skis/ snowboards even though the old-timey slapstick comic value is quality.

You May Also Like:

Ski Resorts For Beginners: 10 Of The Best Beginner Ski Resorts

10 Best Skis For Beginners


Newsletter Terms & Conditions

Please enter your email so we can keep you updated with news, features and the latest offers. If you are not interested you can unsubscribe at any time. We will never sell your data and you'll only get messages from us and our partners whose products and services we think you'll enjoy.

Read our full Privacy Policy as well as Terms & Conditions.