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How to Survive a Chairlift Ride

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Downhill skiing is an exhilarating sport enjoyed in the colder regions of the world. The concept is pretty simple - gravity takes you down the mountain, and the chairlift takes you back up. Experienced skiers usually have no trouble with going either up or down. But the chairlift is another story for beginning skiers.

The ride up can be just as frightening (and painful) as the trip down. It is easy to be intimidated by a chairlift, but once you have the hang of it, you won't give it another thought. Please note: This Entry is concerned with skiers using chairlifts, the instructions are slightly different for snowboarders.

Getting on the Chairlift

The first step in getting on the chairlift is waiting in line. The line will usually be quite long, but waiting a few hours gives you a chance to mentally prepare for the task at hand. It also gives you some time to watch how other skiers get on the lift.

If you are lucky enough to be waiting for a modern ski lift, getting on the chair shouldn't be too much of a problem. Although newer lifts travel pretty fast while in the air, they move much slower in the boarding station. Unfortunately, many older lifts move fast the whole time, making your timing essential.

When you are next in line, make sure that you stop at the entrance to the boarding area. The people in front of you are waiting to get on a chair. As soon as their chair passes, enter the boarding area, and stop at the indicated position. If you haven't reached the boarding entrance by the time their chair passes by, do not rush to get on. This will probably leave you with a chair lodged in your back. Instead, wait for another chair to pass by before you enter

When you have stopped in the boarding area, turn to look behind you. Do not turn your entire body (including skis) around to look. It is critical to turn the proper direction. The reason for this is that you will need to grab onto the chair when you sit down, and turning the wrong way can make the process even more difficult than it already is. The direction you turn depends on the type of chair and where you are going to sit.

  • Four-person chairs will have a post on either outside edge, and some will also have a divider in the middle. If you are in one of the outside positions, turn to the outside to find the post. If you are in one of the inside positions, turn to the inside to find the divider. If the chair does not have a divider, you will have to grab onto the back of the chair.

  • Three-person chairs will only have the outside posts. Turn to the outside, if you are in the outside position. If you are in the middle, you will have to grab onto the back of the chair, and it does not matter which way you turn.

  • Two-person chairs usually have the outside posts, and you will have to turn to the outside. However, some older two-person chairs only have a post in the middle, in which case you will need to turn to the inside.

At this point, the chair should be about to reach you. As it does, grab onto whatever you need to, and sit in the chair. Make sure you judge the speed of the chair and sit at the appropriate time. This will be an awkward process the first several times, but eventually you will be able to do it without thinking. Be aware that the chairs on some older lifts jump up as they leave the boarding area. You can actually use this to your advantage, if you time everything correctly, as you will barely need to sit down - the chair will come up to meet you. But if you are not careful, the chair might knock you over instead.

In the first moments after you sit on the chair, it is very important to keep your skis fairly straight and level. If you turn them to the side, they can easily be knocked off your boots by a chairlift support or a fellow rider's skis, and if you angle them up or down you can smack them into the ground below.

Riding the Chairlift

Once you've survived the boarding process, you can sit back and enjoy the ride. You may be a little higher above the ground than you prefer, but at least you have something to hold on to. If you are lucky, there might even be a safety bar in front of you. Holding on is highly recommended. Some skiers don't bother, and most manage to stay in their seats, but why take a chance? Your poles may get in the way at first, but you can hold both poles with one hand, and the chair with the other.

You may notice other skiers performing different versions of the Chairlift Olympics. For example: sitting on their poles; swinging their skis; cleaning their skis with their poles; stretching, turning around to talk with the person in the chair behind them; or, most impressively, talking on a cell phone while reading a map and eating a candy bar. None of these activities are recommended for the beginning skier. Feel free to chat with your fellow riders, or just hang out and enjoy the scenery, but do try not to get carried away.

Getting off the Chairlift

Don't relax too much during the ride, because you still have to get off before you can ski down and do it all over again. This might not seem like a good incentive to get off; but if you don't, you'll have to ride the chair all the way down as well. This is not recommended, because it is not actually considered 'skiing'.

As you get near the end of the chairlift, prepare yourself to get off. If there is a safety bar in front of you, raise it before you get too close. Generally the lift exit will be at the top of a hill, and if so you will want to elevate your ski tips slightly. If you don't do this, you will bury your skis in the hill.

As you reach the lift exit, keep your skis facing forward, and continue to hold your poles with one hand. Place your other hand on the edge of your seat, and when you reach the designated spot, usually a sign that says something like 'unload here', push yourself off the chair. You don't need to push really hard, but you do need enough speed to get away from the chair before it smacks you from behind.

The last thing you have to do before you are safe is to ski away from the lift exit. Do not stop immediately after getting off the chair, because the people right behind you aren't planning to stop. You have three choices when you get off: you can go straight, to the left, or to the right. You can go left or right if no one is to that side of you. But going right when someone on your right tries to go left can be disastrous. Straight is obviously the safest choice. A good strategy is to discuss your options with the others on your chair prior to unloading.


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