Using surface and chair lifts while snowboarding

Lifts are great. They help us get from the base to the summit. Even if the summit is 300 rather than 3,000 feet above where you start out, getting there on foot can be very tiring and unattractive. With their heavy boots and four pieces of equipment (two skiers, two poles), skiers may benefit the most from lifts. But snowboarders do as well.

Types of Lifts

Lifts can be classified into two types: surface lifts, and aerial lifts. As the names suggest, the difference lies on whether or not the skier or snowboarder keeps his feet on the ground, or whether he is lifted off the ground. Both have advantages and disadvantages for ski area management and, in some circumstances, skiers and riders as well.

The Rope Tow

The original lift, still in use today, is the rope tow. It’s a rope, in a loop, that is about 3 feet off the ground. An engine powers pulleys that keep the rope turning, much as the engine in your automobile keeps various belts moving.

Rope tows can be daunting for the novice. For one thing, they take upper-body and core strength that most of us don’t use on a regular basis. (If you’re a regular water skier, good for you; you’ll find this easier than the rest of us.) So at the end of the day, or even a lesson, you may feel like your arms have turned to rubber. But they are common, so you might as well learn how to use them.

If rope tows can be so hard to use, why do ski areas use them? There are several reasons. Ropes are easy to put into place, and simple to operate. To oversimplify things, all you need are a rope, a couple of wheels around which the rope turns, and an engine to turn the wheels. The engineering for installation is simple. Second, ski racing teams tend to like them, as they may get skiers up the hill faster than other methods, allowing them to get in more practice time. Having to use the rope also works as a tool in strength conditioning. Halfpipe and terrain park users may like having rope tows, also, since having them in place can allow for more trips through the park and pipe.

Recreational snowboarders who don’t have these needs may still find ropes in a few other locations. One example would be if a ski area wants to help customers go from one point on a ridge line to another without having to walk. For a while (and perhaps still), Vail (to take one example) had a surface lift along one of its ridge lines. The other reason you’ll find a rope tow is that it’s cheaper than putting in a chairlift.

But if you don’t care for rope tows, don’t worry; you’ll usually be able to find another way of getting to where you want to go.

Using a rope tow

It’s easy to describe what the snow slider must do:

  • Point your board uphill (parallel to the rope).
  • Put your hands on the rope.
  • Hold on while the rope takes you up the hill.
  • When you’re ready to leave the rope, let go and slide away.

Let’s break down those steps.

Point your board uphill.
Get your board close to, and parallel to, the rope. Many ski areas require that you back foot be out of a binding. This can make using a rope more difficult, as it decreases the amount of control you have over the board. Make sure that you have a stomp pad on the board, as it can give you some stability.

Put your hands on the rope.
Depending on how the rope area is laid out, you will have to hold the rope either in front of you, or behind your back. In either case, you’re not in a rowboat, in which your thumbs point to each other. Instead, make sure that they are both pointing uphill. That will make your trip easier.

But when we say “put your hands on the rope,” be careful. You need to lightly grasp the rope and then let tighten your grip. If you clamp on it with a solid force all at once, you’ll get a violent tug and most likely fall down. So don’t do it.

Hold on while the rope takes you uphill.
Expect to be leaning back some while you are being pulled up the hill. It’s something like water skiing. Keep your athletic stance of bent knees.

Throughout the day, and season, ruts will accumulate in the path underneath the rope. This will make it harder for you to hold on, as it may mean that you get into a path only to slide out of it. If this happens, momentarily shift some weight to your front foot to steer the board back into the rut.

Let go when it’s time.
If all goes well, the time to let go will be when you are at your desired destination, not before. Let go, and point the front of your board in the direction you need to go.

If you fall while using a rope tow.

Not everyone is able to successfully use the rope tow every time. If you lose your stance so much that you can’t stand up anymore, let go of the rope. Hanging on will do you no good, and it may hurt you. Safely scoot out of the way until the traffic is clear. You may walk up to higher ground from this point, slide back down, or you may walk back to the rope and try again.

Conversely, if someone has fallen in front of you and you are getting close to that person, let go and slide away. It’s unpleasant to have to do this, but it’s also the thing to do.

Chair Lifts

Chair lifts are in some ways much easier than tow ropes as means of getting up the hill. They are practically necessary for any substantial vertical distance. Yet they can be scary.

Getting on the Chair Lift

If you follow some simple rules, using a chair lift can be a safe and effective way of getting up the hill. You can even use it as a place to rest!

First, though, get your back foot out of its binding while you are still in line. Better yet, do it before you get into line, and then skate your way through the line.

Lift line etiquette dictates that you don’t go up on the lift alone if there are a lot of people in line. Pairing up makes the line go faster for everyone. But you also may wish to avoid being on a chair of three or four people if you’re still getting used to being on a chair. So if the lift attendant asks you to fill up a chair, you could say that you are a newbie and ask if you could ride on another chair. You’ll probably do alright. In a similar vein, your chairmate may appreciate it if you mention that you are still learning how to ride the lift, as well as which direction you intend to ride after leaving the chair.

At each lift there will be a line in the ground, a sign, or some other marker behind which you should wait. After the chair for the people right in front of you passes by the marker, slide up to the next marker, which will indicate where you get on the chair. Keep your board pointing uphill.

Look over your shoulder and wait for the chair with your legs slightly bent. As the chair touches the back of your leg, sit down and grab either the arm rest or a slot in the chair, as appropriate.

Riding the Chair Lift

Many lifts have safety bars that you can pull down during the ride. Using them is optional, but if it makes you feel more at ease, do it. Obviously (adults won’t need to hear this, but kids may), swinging the chair is not a good idea. In fact, if you try this, the resort may revoke your ticket or even your season pass.

Leaving the Chair Lift

Leaving the chair lift is usually more difficult than getting on the lift. The key is to be ready and maintain a proper balance. Lift up the safety bar, and point your board forward.

Move to the front of the seat, take your back hand (the one that will be towards the tail of the board) and put it on the seat, near your back leg. You’ll take this hand off the seat as you start riding away.

Put the board down on the ramp, first the tip and then the tail. Put your foot on the stomp pad, and stand up. Take your back hand off the chair and draw it toward your side; this will help establish your weight on the board. It also keeps you from getting tangled in or nicked by the chair as it moves along.

As you ride away, you may be tempted to lean back towards the tail of the board as you ride away. Don’t. That will only make it more likely that you fall down.

This is no time to stand up with straight, knee-locked legs. Crouch, even if it feels unusual.

Then quickly move out of the way.

If you find it especially difficult to dismount, you might rely on this crutch for a while: if you ride goofy foot, sit on the left side of the chair. If you ride regular, sit on the right side. This will make it easier for you to control your glide away from the chair by one, getting out of the way of your chair companions, and two, dragging the toes on your back feet for control. Many people will find it easier to control their run out by pressuring the toe side of the board rather than the heel side.

If you have trouble turning when you dismount, you can try several options, in addition to trying to pick where you sit. First, put even more weight on your front foot, since that’s the foot that is in the binding. Also, simply ride for as far as you can without making a turn, and then buckle in as appropriate.

Leave a Reply