Types of Ski Lifts

People on chairlift in Swiss Alps
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A ski lift is a conveyance system that carries skiers up to the top of a ski slope or trail. Most ski areas operate lifts in both winter and summer so the mountain can be enjoyed with or without snow. There are three general types of ski lifts: aerial lifts, surface lifts, and cable railways. All three are used in ski areas throughout the world. 

Aerial Lifts

Aerial lifts transport skiers while suspended off the ground. This group includes chairlifts, gondolas, and trams. Chairlifts are the most common type of aerial lift. Older non-detachable chairlifts typically carry two or three passengers in each chair, while newer detachable chairs can hold four to six passengers per chair. Gondolas are lifts with relatively small enclosed cars, often carrying six to eight passengers each. Trams are similar to gondolas but have much larger cars. The tram at Jackson Hole, outside of Jackson, Wyoming, can carry 100 passengers per car and brings skiers up 4,139 vertical feet in a 12-minute ride. 

Surface Lifts 

Surface lifts transport skiers while their skis remain on the ground. They are typically used for very short runs, such as on a beginner's "bunny hill," or for quickly transporting skiers from one slope or level to another. Common types of surface lifts include T-bar, Poma, a rope tow and magic carpet. A magic carpet is a like a giant conveyor belt that skiers simply step onto with their skis. 

Cable Railways

Cable railways transport skiers by railcars that travel along tracks and are pulled up a slope by a cable. One common type of cable railway is the funicular, which is typically used to transport passengers up a short, steep incline. Some funiculars can travel long distances and carry upwards of 200 passengers. Funiculars have been around for centuries and are much more common in Europe than in the United States.